Allied jet fighters bombed a terrorist camp in Iraq yesterday, and Army soldiers battled die-hard supporters of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, as the top U.S. military officer said that operations in Iraq to eliminate resisters will go on “for some time to come.”
“There were a number killed — large number,” Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said of enemy dead in the third day of a major U.S. sweep to kill or capture Ba’ath Party loyalists resisting the U.S. occupation.
The Army’s 4th Infantry and 101st Airborne divisions are targeting a mix of paramilitaries, non-Iraqi Arabs and former Iraqi military personnel in a triangle north of Baghdad along the Tigris River, between the towns Balad, Duluiyah and Tikrit.
“It was a tough fight,” Gen. Myers told reporters at the Pentagon. “They were well-trained or well-equipped, and clearly well-prepared for this, for the fight they had. And of course our folks were likewise.”
There were no American combat deaths reported in the mission, which was dubbed Operation Peninsula Strike.
The operation shows that when U.S. forces organize an attack and use proven tactics, they suffer few casualties while killing scores of Iraqi fighters.
But it is when the Americans are ambushed or tricked at a checkpoint that they suffer fatalities. The Associated Press reported that 40 U.S. troops have been killed in this manner since President Bush declared an end to major hostilities in Iraq last month.
To stop the attacks, Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the top ground commander, has gone on the offensive. He has begun operations such as Peninsula Strike to clean out the paramilitaries in predominantly Sunni Muslim communities still loyal to Saddam. Peninsula Strike has resulted in more than 400 captured Iraqis and scores of enemy dead.
“This is one of the many of these groups that we’re going to have to confront, I think, in Iraq for some time to come,” Gen. Myers said.
U.S. commanders are discovering that what they thought would be a relatively smooth reconstruction period is instead a daily battle with organized resistance groups.
An Iraqi intelligence document disclosed in Monday’s editions of The Washington Times directed Iraqis in January to begin planning for concerted attacks on coalition forces if Saddam was ousted from power.
“As we receive actionable intelligence, we strike hard and with lethal force,” Gen. McKiernan told a press conference in Baghdad yesterday. “Iraq will be a combat zone for some time.”
Two allied aircraft crashed during operations.
Iraqi ground fire brought down an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter. The Army quickly mounted rescue operations that recovered the two aviators. Two Apaches loitered over the site to fend off paramilitaries, while ground troops went in to snatch the two to safety.