View Full Version : Marines win Iraq desert battle, war far from over

06-21-05, 01:01 PM
Sent to me by Mark aka The Fontman

Marines win Iraq desert battle, war far from over

By Peter Graff
Tue Jun 21, 8:09 AM ET

U.S. Marines claimed success on Tuesday in another battle against insurgents in the Iraqi desert but acknowledged that the war was far from over and that guerrillas would soon recover lost ground.

After four days of bombardment and street-to-street gunbattles, the Marines cleared Karabila -- a strategic way station near the main border crossing where the Euphrates flows in from Syria -- of foreign fighters who made it a base.

But U.S. officers and local people in the town, badly damaged by the fighting, said the insurgents would be back.

"That is another in a string of successful operations that continue to disrupt and interdict insurgent activity in west Anbar province," said Colonel Steve Davis, who commanded the 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops involved in "Operation Spear."

Battalion intelligence officer Captain Thomas Sibley pointed out, however, that any final victory was still some way off: "If this was the only thing we did, we would lose this war -- quickly. But it's not the only thing we're doing.

"Yeah, in a couple of weeks they'll be back and they'll make up for these losses. But that's fine, because we're not beating them in two weeks. We're beating them in two years."

Mohammed Solfeij, 33, whose house is on the outskirts of Karabila near where the Americans first entered the town, said the insurgents would be back "as soon as the Americans leave."

"The people are suffering. Most of them have fled to live in the desert," he said.

Relations between local tribes and both foreign Islamist fighters and the Americans can be hostile. Many of Karabila's 60,000 residents fled before the U.S. assault. And there are signs of fighting between Iraqis and foreigners.

Unlike the U.S. forces that seized in November and now largely hold the former insurgent bastion of Falluja, near Baghdad, the 20,000 Marines who patrol the vast desert remainder of Anbar province -- nearly a third of Iraq's territory -- lack the numbers to stay in areas after battles.

The result has been a series of operations to clear insurgent strongholds along the Euphrates, from Syria to Falluja, after which the Marines withdraw to their bases.

Karabila, close to Qaim, is just across the river from where the same troops mounted "Operation Matador" early in May.

The Karabila assault, which began with air strikes and an advance into the town from the south early last Friday and lasted until dusk on Monday, was a success in military terms.

Locals say much of the town had been under control of foreigners, who had even set up checkpoints in the center.

Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Mundy said the U.S.-led forces killed 45-50 insurgents. A Reuters correspondent was shown five insurgents' bodies and heard detailed accounts from individual Marines of firefights in which more were killed.

Four Iraqis were freed from a cell where they said they were tortured. Weapons, ammunition, explosives and bomb-making gear were discovered, in one case alongside a horde of passports from Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Tunisia.

Stuffed in one a boarding pass showing the bearer flew on Libyan Arab Airways to Damascus from Tripoli on June 1, buttressing Washington's complaints about Syrian indulgence.

There was a cost for civilians and the Americans too.

One Marine was killed and six wounded, Mundy said. His forces killed three civilians and wounded two in a firefight and made no count of the number of civilians who may have been hurt from afar by air or artillery strikes, although much of the town was deserted before the battle.

The chief doctor at the area's main hospital in Qaim, Hamdi al-Alusi, said on Tuesday he had counted 25 civilian dead and feared others lay buried in the rubble of their homes. Those figures could also not be independently checked.

U.S. and Iraqi troops searched every house, often only after the front gate was blown off. Weapons caches were detonated on the spot bringing houses down around them.

Whole streets were obliterated.

Marines say the devastation is the price to pay to disrupt Sunni Arab insurgents responsible for a suicide bombing campaign that has worsened over the past two months since a new Shi'ite-led government was formed. And they hope that soon they will no longer have to abandon towns once they clear them.

A company of about 100 newly trained Iraqi troops assisted the 1,000 Americans in Operation Spear -- all the local troops the Marines have to work with in their territory so far.

"In two years, or maybe one year or six months, there will be Iraqi army or Iraqi security forces that come here and stay on the territory that we push the insurgents from," said Sibley, the intelligence office. "The locals will love it."

Acknowledging that the going was still "tough" in Iraq, President Bush stressed again on Monday U.S. hopes that Iraqi forces would be trained eventually to take control.

For Suleiman Salim Hussein, 39, who said his brother's nine -year-old daughter Ulla Tahir was killed on Friday when a U.S. shell crashed into the house, that day cannot come too soon.

"We don't want anybody. No Americans, no insurgents. What we need is a government. An army. Police stations," he said.

"We need a city."