Vol. 5 Num 514 Mon. November 07, 2005  

US-led forces fight rebels near Syria border
11 Iraqis, 2 GIs killed in attacks

US and Iraqi forces battled insurgents yesterday in a town near the border with Syria as part of a military sweep aimed at preventing foreign fighters from entering the country.

The goal of Operation Steel Curtain, launched early Saturday, "is to restore security along the Iraqi-Syrian border and destroy the al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorist network operating throughout (the town of) Husaybah," the military said.

US officials have long held that foreign al-Qaeda fighters enter Iraq through the border with Syria via the Euphrates valley.

As they entered Husayba, US and Iraqi forces have encountered "sporadic resistance -- mostly small arms fire and improvised explosive devices -- from al-Qaeda in Iraq-led insurgents throughout the city," the military said late Saturday.

At least nine air strikes were called on positions described as "enemy strong points," and a separate strike was carried out against a suspected car bomb.

There were no reports of military or civilian casualties, the military said.

However there is an undetermined number of insurgent casualties, said the military, which is keeping a tight lid on information from the region.

The operation, involving 1,000 Iraqi army soldiers as well as 2,500 Marines, sailors and soldiers, is one of the biggest joint military operations in the vast restive Sunni Arab province of Al-Anbar.

The Iraqi and US forces are also housing and feeding some 400 town residents, the military said.

US officials are especially proud of Iraqi scouts, people they described as "specially recruited soldiers from the Al Qaim region," who are embedded with the front-line units that help "identify insurgent strong points and areas known to contain these homemade bombs."

Steel Curtain follows two earlier operations also along the Euphrates valley in Al-Anbar. But this operation is different because it is also designed to set up a joint US-Iraqi permanent presence along the border.

The US forces have been unable to leave garrisons in towns they have cleared of insurgents until recently, when enough trained and equipped Iraqi forces were available, US officials said earlier.

An earlier operation in the area, "Iron Fist," involved some 1,000 marines and lasted for six days in early October. It resulted in the death of some 50 alleged insurgents.

Meanwhile eleven members of the same family were killed and three wounded Saturday when armed men ambushed their minibus northeast of Baghdad, officials said.

According to officials in the village of Baladruz, 50km northeast of Baghdad, the family had come to visit relatives on the Muslim holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Earlier two US soldiers were killed in separate incidents on Friday in the Baghdad area, the US army announced on Saturday.

A soldier was killed when a bomb exploded as his patrol passed on Friday in the east of Baghdad.