U.S. military forces captured more than 30 foreign fighters during recent combat in Fallujah and found equipment used by terrorists to make fake passports and documents, a senior military official in Iraq said.
“We found a lot of evidence in the city of foreign fighter involvement, to include equipment for making and forging passports and official documents, rolls, books or ledgers with names and countries of origin of foreign fighters that were located within the city,” the senior officer said.
However, al Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi and other insurgent leaders fled the city and are believed to be moving constantly. Some are operating in the Mosul area in northern Iraq, the senior officer in Iraq told The Washington Times.
One finding of the battle of Fallujah was that no single nation was the main home of the foreigners who were killed or captured. The list of foreign fighters who were identified included nationals from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan, Morocco and Algeria, said the officer, speaking on condition that he not be named.
In addition to the 30 captured foreign fighters, the remains of more than 40 others have been identified as non-Iraqis. Many of those killed in the recent fighting also may have been foreign terrorists, but did not carry any identification.
“The number of foreign fighters that were found in the city was lower than we expected,” the official said, adding that many fled the city and others were killed but not identified.
A total of 1,200 insurgents were killed and about 2,000 others were captured in the battle that began early last month. A total of 54 U.S. servicemen and eight Iraqi security troops were killed.
The official said he could not confirm published reports that said more than 400 foreign fighters were believed to be in Fallujah before the start of military action last month.
The officer said some of the terrorists who have entered Iraq “have ties to al Qaeda” and some of the attacks across the country appear linked to the group headed by Osama bin Laden.
Since April, Zarqawi used Fallujah as a base of operations and built up a supply of 400 arms caches. He used the city for kidnappings and beheadings and as a “center of command and control” for terrorist attacks, the officer said.
“They pretty much could do as they pleased in Fallujah and taking that away as a safe haven now has denied Zarqawi and all the fighters who used that from having a location where they could walk freely around the city, could communicate more openly, where they could plan operations,” he said. “And really, at this point, the insurgents are disrupted. We’re continuing to pursue them throughout the country and they don’t have any safe haven like they had in Fallujah.”
There are signs the various insurgent groups are coordinating attacks in Iraq.
“We’ve seen signs that they are working together, both the former fighters and the former regime leaders, the Saddamists,” he said. “They have two common goals: One is to get rid of the multinational forces and [a second is] to stop the elections.”
Attacks in the past were limited to small-scale attacks by groups of two to five persons, the officer said.
“We have seen an increase in the number of complex attacks that require some planning and coordination,” he said. “So we believe they are working together with that as a common goal.”
Asked about Zarqawi’s announcement that he has formally joined forces with al Qaeda, the officer said the public acknowledgment was aimed at cementing ties between the Zarqawi network and al Qaeda.
“Al Qaeda is on the run in Afghanistan and losing that as a base of operations,” he said. “Zarqawi has lost Fallujah as a safe haven and base of operations. And so they’re trying to join forces to try to continue to rally jihadist support for their operations, trying to continue to ensure that they have financing, people to carry out suicide attacks.”