Marines preparing for raid on Fallujah

U.S. seeks attackers who killed 4 contractors

April 05, 2004|By Tony Perry and Edmund Sanders | Tony Perry and Edmund Sanders,LOS ANGELES TIMES

FALLUJAH, Iraq - Thousands of Marines surrounded this anti-American stronghold early today and began moving in to retake control of the city and apprehend those responsible for last week's slayings of four U.S. security contractors.

The highly anticipated action, dubbed Operation Valiant Resolve, was expected to be one of the biggest military offensives since the fall of Saddam Hussein's government a year ago.

All roads leading to this city of 300,000 were cut off and barricaded with tanks and concertina wire. Marines set up camps for detainees and residents who might flee any fighting.

Before dawn, several Marine positions on the fringes of town were hit by mortars and rocket-propelled grenade fire; one Marine was reported killed.

The Marines called in air support to take out some enemy positions and said in some cases the attackers were working in groups as large as 12. Witnesses reported gunfire overnight and said at least four homes had been hit by what they said were U.S. aerial strikes.

At daylight, Marines planned to distribute leaflets and broadcast radio messages asking residents of Fallujah to stay in their homes and help identify insurgents and those responsible for last week's killings.

Marines said they had no plans to conduct door-to-door searches; they instead intended to work from a list of addresses where intelligence suggested suspects might be hiding and weapons might be stored. Members of the new Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps were playing support roles.

Maj. Randon McGowan, executive officer of the Marines' 2nd Battalion, 1st Regiment, called the operation "the first of many steps toward bringing stability to Fallujah."

The last comparable action took place in November, when U.S. troops used helicopters, tanks and aerial bombs to rout out suspected insurgent cells in Baghdad and Tikrit, destroying several buildings and homes used by anti-coalition fighters.

The U.S. action in Fallujah comes five days after insurgents there ambushed two vehicles carrying American paramilitary security guards as they drove through the city.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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