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US Claims Success In Iraq
Border Offensive

By Michael Howard in Irbil
The Guardian - UK
5-9-5
 
American troops have killed about 100 insurgents in the first 48 hours of a large-scale offensive against the hideouts of foreign militants and arms smuggling routes in a remote border area of western Iraq, the US army said yesterday.
 
The operation involved marines, sailors and soldiers backed by US air support. A US military spokesman told the Associated Press the operation began overnight on Saturday in the town of Qaim, near the border with Syria about 200 miles west of Bagh dad. At least three marines had also been killed.
 
A correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, embedded with US forces in the area, reported that more than 1,000 US soldiers supported by jet fighters and helicopter gunships had swept through villages on the edge of the city of Obeidi, near the Syrian border, on Sunday.
 
About 1,000 marines, sailors and soldiers from Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division were participating in the offensive - expected to last several days - in an area along the Euphrates river in the Jazirah desert, said Captain Jeffrey Pool, a marines spokesman.
 
In the last month, US and Iraqi forces have intensified operations against suspected militant bases in Iraq, particularly those along the porous Syrian border, where foreign fighters are believed to be entering Iraq to join the insurgency.
 
US Colonel Bob Chase said the operation to "capture and kill anti-Iraqi forces" began on Saturday in a desert region of the restive Anbar province, north of the Euphrates.
 
"Anti-Iraqi forces" is the catch-all name used by the US military to describe insurgents in Iraq.
 
The offensive had been inspired by "significant intelligence" from "brave" local Iraqis, said Col Chase. Most of the militants were foreign fighters, he added.
 
"They [the militants] have sanctuaries mostly along the Syria border where there are a series of points of entry and a series of supply lines to bring across illicit foreign weapons and foreign fighters," he said.
 
The announcement of the offensive came as US forces and Iraqi authorities tried to wrest the propaganda initiative from insurgents who have unleashed a wave of attacks in Iraqi cities in an attempt to destabilise the government of Ibrahim al-Jaafari, which took office last month.
 
More than 300 Iraqis have been killed during the recent surge of violence. In April, some 135 car bombs exploded - up from 69 in March - the largest monthly figure in the two years since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
 
Yesterday at least four people were killed and eight wounded when a suicide car bomb was detonated at a police checkpoint in southern Baghdad. A Japanese security contractor was also taken hostage after a convoy of foreigners and Iraqi troops was ambushed in western Iraq.
 
The Ansar al-Sunnah army identified the Japanese hostage as Akihito Saito, 44, and posted a photocopy of his passport, including his picture, on the group's official website. A spokesman for the international Hart security company, which employs Mr Saito, said he and several other employees were missing following an attack on Sunday in a remote part of Iraq.
 
Lethal attacks on Iraq's fledgling security forces are now commonplace, but Iraqi officials said the casualty figures did not appear to be affecting the enlistment rate.
 
"There are now, for the first time, more Iraqi security forces than US-led forces in Iraq, and the number is growing," a defence ministry official in Baghdad said. But he acknowledged that it would be some time before they were able to stand on their own.
 
Establishing an effective domestic security force is crucial to the US exit strategy from Iraq.
 
Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, said the insurgents could not sustain the car bombings at their present level.
 
"These last acts in which car bombings have escalated are evidence of weakness," he said.
 
"The overall number of terror attacks has fallen sharply," he told Reuters in Amman, Jordan, while on his first state visit abroad.
 
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005
 
http://www.guardian.co.uk/

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