Capitalizing on a lull in fighting yesterday, hundreds of U.S. Marines pushed through a lawless region on the Syrian frontier after intense battles along the &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/war/2003/03/26/45023_.html ' target=_blank>Euphrates River with well-armed militants fighting from basements, rooftops and sandbag bunkers.
Insurgents kidnapped the provincial governor as a bargaining chip. Iraq's foreign minister, meanwhile, told the Associated Press that some of Iraq's neighbors have become unnerved by the American-backed attempt to establish a robust democratic government in Baghdad and still are not doing enough to stop militants from trying to undermine the newly elected government.
As many as 100 insurgents were killed in the first 48 hours of Operation Matador, as &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/main/2001/10/03/16970.html ' target=_blank>American troops cleared villages along the meandering Euphrates then crossed in rafts and on a pontoon bridge, the U.S. command said. Many of the dead remained trapped under rubble after attack planes and helicopter gunships pounded their hideouts, reports the Post-Gazette.
According to the Kansas City Star, since the fighting began Sunday, Marines backed by armored vehicles have moved north of the Euphrates, where the U.S. military believes a group of insurgents numbering in the hundreds has taken refuge. The remote area is home to many Sunni Muslims opposed to the Shiite-dominated government that took office late last month, touching off a bloody round of suicide bombings and other insurgent attacks that have killed more than 300 people.
American intelligence also has suggested that insurgents have used the region as a haven, often floating across the Syrian border.
Early reports say the fighting, door to door in some towns, is the toughest since the fight for Fallujah in November. Though U.S. military commanders have said their goal is to turn over responsibility for the entire country to the fledgling Iraqi army, the current offensive involves only American personnel.