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04-14-04, 05:58 AM
In face of convoy ambushes, Marines keep on trucking in Fallujah <br />
Submitted by: 1st Force Service Support Group <br />
Story Identification Number: 200441344921 <br />
Story by Staff Sgt. Bill Lisbon <br />
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04-14-04, 10:51 AM
Last modified Wednesday, April 14, 2004 8:03 AM PDT

U.S. Forces Hammer Gunmen in Fallujah


FALLUJAH, Iraq - U.S. warplanes and helicopters hammered gunmen Wednesday, straining a truce in besieged Fallujah. With more troops killed, April became the deadliest month for American forces since they set foot in Iraq.

To the south, a 2,500-strong U.S. force massed on the outskirts of the holy city of Najaf for a showdown with a radical cleric, raising fears of a U.S. attack that would outrage the nation's relatively pro-U.S. Shiite majority.

Russia said it would evacuate hundreds of its workers from Iraq after an outbreak kidnappings in which at least 22 foreigners still are held captive.

U.S. troops were holding back their full firepower on both fronts to allow Iraqis to try to negotiate a resolution, but President Bush said he was prepared to send more troops and had told his commanders to be ready to use "decisive force."

"Our work may become more difficult before it is finished," Bush said Tuesday night. "No one can predict all the hazards that lie ahead or the cost that they will bring. Yet, in this conflict, there is no safe alternative to resolute action."

With the announcement of the deaths of four more Marines, April became the deadliest month for the U.S. military in Iraq _ deadlier even than the invasion launched in March 2003. At least 87 Americans have been reported killed in action in less than two weeks. Previously, November had seen the most deaths, 82.

Some 880 Iraqis have been killed this month. Among those are more than 600 Iraqis _ mostly civilians _ killed in Fallujah, according to the city hospital's director.

A U.S. Cobra attack helicopter fired rockets and heavy machine guns before dawn at gunmen gathered on the northern edge of Fallujah. Rocket-propelled grenades streamed up toward the helicopter and a second gunship providing support, but none apparently hit their target.

A-130 gunships pounded a row of buildings from which Marines say ambushes have repeatedly been launched in a residential area of the city.

A day earlier, Marines came under two heavy ambushes, the best-coordinated and largest guerrilla operations in days, said Capt. James Edge. Two Marines were killed Tuesday and two Monday, the military said.

"I think they are absolutely taking advantage" of the truce, said Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne, commander of the 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment, on the southern side of the city.

A force of 20 insurgents attacked a Marine position in a residential neighborhood, then damaged an armored vehicle that came to support it, Edge said.

A fierce battle followed to extract the vehicle as F-15s overhead fired on gunmen. Early Wednesday, A-130 gunships fired on a row of buildings in the area from which ambushes have repeatedly been launched, Edge said.

Outside the city, an MH-53 Pave Low helicopter _ used to ferry special operations soldiers and large enough to carry 38 troops plus a crew of six _ was hit by ground fire early Tuesday. A Marine team that came to secure it was ambushed and suffered casualties.

The Marines called a halt to offensive operations on Friday to allow negotiations between U.S.-allied Iraqis and Fallujah representatives. Gunmen in the city called a cease-fire Sunday. But Marines have been responding to guerrilla fire _ and striking gunmen who appear about to attack.

Insurgents Wednesday offered the Iraqi equivalent of $7,000 for anyone who kills Mouwafak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi national security adviser, after he called for Fallujah residents to hand over militants to the United States.

"We announce a bounty of 10 million Iraqi dinar for whoever brings the head of this pig," the statement said.

Two masked militants gave the statement to an Associated Press photographer at the scene of an attack on an oil tanker near Baghdad International Airport. The tanker blazed nearby as the gunmen handed over the statement.

In the south, Iraqi politicians and ayatollahs tried to negotiate a solution to avert a U.S. attack on Najaf, home to one of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines.

A vehemently anti-U.S. cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, was holed up in his office in Najaf, shielded not only by gunmen but by the presence of the city's main shrine only yards away. He vowed to continue what he called "a popular revolution" to end the U.S. occupation.

"I fear only God. I am ready to sacrifice my blood for this country. But I call on the Iraqi people not to let my killing put an end to their rejection of the (U.S.) occupation," al-Sadr told Lebanon's Al-Manar television station.

U.S. commanders vowed to kill or capture al-Sadr, though officials suggested they would give negotiations a chance.

"The target is not Najaf. The target is Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia," said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy head of U.S. military operations in Iraq. "We will hunt him down and destroy him. We would prefer it not in Najaf or Karbala. We have very great respect for the shrines, for the Shiites."

Peacekeepers in a Polish-led force came under fire in three separate incidents overnight in Najaf and Karbala, but no injuries were reported, Lt. Col. Robert Strzelecki said Wednesday.

The U.S.-led coalition has been fighting on several fronts across Iraq this month _ against al-Sadr's militia in the south, against Sunni insurgents in the central city of Fallujah, as well as increased violence in Baghdad and elsewhere.

The State Department on Tuesday said four bodies have been found in Iraq, possibly the remains of private contractors missing since an assault on their convoy outside Baghdad. The identities and nationalities of the victims were unknown, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile Tuesday, a French journalist and four Italians working as private guards were reported abducted.

An AP tally shows that 22 hostages are being held, including three Japanese whose captors have threatened to kill them if Tokyo does not withdraw its troops from Iraq. At least 35 others had been taken hostage and released. Nine Americans, including two soldiers, were missing.

Dan Senor, the spokesman for the U.S.-led administration, said Tuesday that the FBI is investigating the disappearances.

Russia said it will begin evacuating some 800 of its citizens and those of former Soviet republics Thursday. France is also urging its citizens to leave Iraq.

The move came after three Russian and five Ukrainian employees of a Russian energy company were kidnapped by masked gunmen who broke into their Baghdad house Monday. They were released unharmed the next day.



04-14-04, 04:16 PM
April 14, 2004

Commander vows to restore order in flashpoint city of Fallujah

By Gidget Fuentes
Times staff writer

FALLUJAH, Iraq — The commander of a Marine Corps division poised to resume fighting in this city where a wavering, six-day cease fire has been in place vowed Wednesday to wipe out anti-coalition forces and reopen the city.
More than three battalions of his Marines, reinforced with tanks and armored vehicles and supported by aerial gunships, have been holding their lines since the top military command in Iraq ordered a temporary cessation in offensive operations on April 9.

Although the Marines have allowed some food and supplies into the beleaguered city, the worry here is in the longer term. “Our concern right now is what’s happening to the innocent people the longer we stay here,” said Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, who commands the 1st Marine Division, a 22,000-member force based at Camp Pendleton, Calif. He spoke with reporters at the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment’s outposts on one edge of Fallujah..

“Eventually we have got to open this town up,” he said. More than 60,000 residents fled after the Marines entered the city last week.

Like other Marines here, the situation has frustrated Mattis, who said the enemy isn’t abiding by the spirit of the cease-fire.

“This is bulls—t right now, and you can quote me,” said Mattis, a soft-spoken but tough commander who is popular with his troops and officers for his plain-spoken, pointed style.

Mattis said he doesn’t think the wait will be long before the Marines move on the city.

“I have no doubt that we will respond appropriately if they don’t knock it off,” he said. “And when they tell us it’s time to go, the Marines will be fired up and ready to go.”

Although Fallujah has garnered much attention in the past week, Mattis’ fighting force, along with an Army brigade, is spread throughout Anbar province, from east of Fallujah to the Syrian border. At every camp and on many combat patrols and civil reconstruction projects, Marines and soldiers have been attacked, ambushed, sniped at or mortared.

In Fallujah, despite the so-called cease-fire, the barrage is a constant.

“I tell you right now that if they move against my men, if they fire against my men, we will respond with decisive force,” Mattis said. “We are not going to permit them to get in some cheap shots and then have us play by certain rules that they want to be violated.”

Hours before dawn Wednesday, an AC-130 Spectre gunship fired dozens of 105mm artillery rounds and 40mm gunfire at two locations targeted by a Marine air controller with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. A battalion operations officer said the targets included a “safe house” and weapons cache believed used by enemy fighters that had regularly attacked one of the infantry companies’ locations and a second building that contained weapons.

For an hour, sounds of the cannons fired by the aircraft flying above and unseen in the darkened sky echoed across the battalion’s outpost, followed by the whizzing of rounds slicing through the air and the subsequent booms in the near distance.

Throughout the morning, like previous days, Marines with 1/5 encountered sporadic sniper and rocket fire. At one point, a mortar landed about 75 meters from an infantry position in a warehouse area of the city. No one was injured.

Mattis said the attacks show the “lack of good faith” among enemy fighters in Fallujah who are attacking his Marines. He didn’t hide his disdain for their tactics.