- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 4, 2005

Insurgents killed 14 U.S. Marines yesterday west of Baghdad in an attack that may demonstrate that the enemy is building bigger, penetrating bombs that can rip through reinforced armor vehicles patrolling Iraq.

The attack near the restive town of Haditha brought to 21 the number of Marines killed this week by insurgents operating in towns along the Euphrates River in Anbar province.

“It is, I think, very important to always remember that this is a very lethal and, unfortunately, adaptive enemy that we are faced with inside Iraq,” Army Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, deputy director for operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon.

The 14 Marines were riding in a 28-ton armored amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) designed to provide protection from mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the favorite weapon of foreign terrorists and insurgents loyal to deposed leader Saddam Hussein. An Arabic translator also died.

Six Marine snipers were killed in an ambush Monday. A bomb attack felled another Marine that same day.

Gen. Ham said insurgents have launched fewer IED attacks, but “the lethality has remained very, very high” because the fighters use “different types of penetrators, different techniques of triggering the events.”

“Coalition forces are making a concerted effort to protect personnel and vehicles throughout the country as they are moving, and the enemy is seeking ways to counter that,” he said.

The spate of casualties, pushing the number of U.S. war dead to more than 1,800 since the March 2003 invasion, underscores that Anbar remains one of the most rebellious sectors in Iraq, even though the coalition forces in November removed Fallujah as an insurgent headquarters.

The attacks also come as a new U.S.-Iraq commission met for the first time to set the conditions for a substantial American troop withdrawal in the spring. The troops number 138,000.

Yet in Anbar, U.S. commanders acknowledge that not one Iraqi unit can conduct combat operations independent of American troops.

U.S. Marines and some Iraqi troops have been conducting sweeps in recent months along the Euphrates to wipe out safe havens for foreign guerrillas coming over the border from Syria.

“Western Anbar province has been an area of concern for a very long time,” Gen. Ham said. “The Euphrates River and the towns and villages along it are likely locations for the movement of insurgents either cross-border from Syria or inside Iraq itself.”

He said allied reinforcements from other sectors have come to Anbar to bolster the riverside operations all the way up north to the Syrian border. Some Marines have been quoted as saying that there are not enough allied troops in Anbar to patrol the numerous villages where insurgents operate.

Pressed by reporters as to whether the weeks of operations had made any dent in the insurgents’ ability to operate, Gen. Ham said, “They are dangerous, and they certainly have a capability. But as to whether they have an ability to freely operate throughout the area, I think not.”

The Marines who died in the AAV attack and the ambush were members of the same unit from Brook Park, Ohio, near Cleveland, a spokesman told the Associated Press.

Larry Di Rita, chief spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said the insurgents might be trying to disrupt the constitution-writing process, which faces an Aug. 15 deadline.

“The Iraqi leadership is confident that that progress will continue, and we’ll have to deal with these kinds of activities,” Mr. Di Rita said. “The Marines in this particular case are working through that region to get it a little bit more under control.”

Gen. Ham provided only sketchy details of how the Marine sniper team was located by the enemy and attacked.

“This was a unit that was properly prepared, trained and equipped for their operation,” he said. “They came under attack and, as we know today, that six U.S. Marines were killed in that attack. Beyond that, we don’t really know much at this point.”

He said “there is no indication” the Marines were killed by insurgents who posed as friendly forces or innocent villagers.

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