A joint US-Iraqi offensive has killed some 50 insurgents so far in battles that raged today around a blistering hot frontier town in the American military’s latest campaign to stop foreign fighters from pouring through neighbouring Syria.
Operation Spear, or Romhe in Arabic, was in its second day in Karabilah, about 200 miles west of Baghdad. Karabilah, which is part of the restive Anbar province that straddles the Iraqi-Syrian border, has long been considered an insurgent hotbed.
“The goal is not to seize territory,” said Marine Col. Stephen Davis, a commander from New Rochelle, New York. “This is about going in and finding the insurgents. This is not a walk-through-the-river exercise.”
Karabilah’s streets were empty and one family including a man sitting in a plastic lawn chair with a dishdasha, or traditional Arab robe, was on a porch with a white flag hanging from the roof. Helicopters buzzed overhead and fighter jets screamed through the air with sporadic fire in the distance. At least one home in the town had one of its gates blown off.
Three US troops have been wounded since yesterday, when the operation began, Davis said. The campaign is being waged by about 1,000 Marines and Iraqi forces, backed by main battle tanks, in Anbar province. About 100 insurgents have also been captured, the military said.
“Approximately 50 insurgents have been killed since the operation began,” Marine Capt. Jeffrey Pool said from Ramadi, the provincial capital.
Another campaign of about the same size, Operation Dagger, was launched today against insurgents operating in Anbar – this time targeting the marshy shores of a remote lake just north of Baghdad. About 1,000 US Marines and Iraqi troops, backed by fighter jets and tanks, were taking part in the second operation.
In a separate incident, the military announced today that two US Army soldiers were killed and one was wounded during a small arms skirmish with insurgents late Friday while transporting a detainee north of Baghdad, the military said Saturday.
A civilian and the detainee were also killed in the incident late Friday near Buhriz, about 35 miles north of Baghdad. Five Iraqi police were wounded, the military said.
At least 1,718 members of the US military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Operation Dagger, or Khanjar in Arabic, aims to uncover insurgent training camps and weapons caches in the southern part of the Lake Tharthar area in central Iraq, 53 miles north-west of Baghdad. The region was the focus of a major campaign in late March that killed more than 80 insurgents.
On March 23, US and Iraqi forces killed about 85 militants at a suspected training camp along Lake Tharthar. That raid turned up booby-trapped cars, suicide-bomber vests, weapons and training documents. The insurgents included Iraqis, Filipinos, Algerians, Moroccans, Afghans and Arabs from neighbouring countries, officials said.
In Karabilah, Marines and Iraqi forces backed by main battle tanks fought their way into the town. US fighter aircraft dropped bombs and the tanks fired shells at insurgents holed up inside buildings.
“Marines and Iraqi soldiers continued operations through the night securing key objectives in and around the city while conducting presence patrols in order to hamper the insurgents’ movement,” Pool added.
During their sweep, four Iraqi hostages were found “beaten, handcuffed and chained to a wall in a bunker located in central Karabilah.”
Also today, insurgents killed at least four people in Baghdad, including two Iraqi soldiers and a 10-year-old girl, hospital and police officials said. Twenty-one people – including an Iraqi journalist – were wounded.
A suicide car bomber slammed into an Iraqi army convoy in the capital’s western Yarmouk neighbourhood, killing two soldiers and wounding six near a hazardous highway – also known as the Street of Death – that leads from central Baghdad to the airport.