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Defense Department Report: Iraq Operational Update

Defense Department Report: Iraq Operational Update

U.S., Iraqi forces make major effort to eliminate enemy forces in Tall Afar

Terrorists have suffered hundreds of casualties and are on the run from an Iraqi city near the Syrian border, a U.S. Army colonel says.

Tall Afar, a city of some 200,000 people about 260 miles northwest of Baghdad and only 40 miles from Syria, had been under the control of terrorists and former regime soldiers who had committed brutal and widespread atrocities, according to Colonel H.R. McMasters. He commands the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, which is taking part in Operation Restore Rights in Tall Afar.

Briefing journalists at the Pentagon September 13 via videoconference from Iraq, McMasters said the terrorists were drawn to Tall Afar because of its location along routes between the Iraqi city of Mosul and Syria. Also, because the population is overwhelmingly minority -- Sunni Turkmen -- the terrorists considered it a good place to incite sectarian and ethnic violence and chaos that would preclude Iraqi governmental control, he said.

"They also moved into this area because there's very dense urban terrain in the city of Tall Afar," McMasters said. "It's difficult for our forces, organized as we are as a mechanized force, primarily, to access these areas."

When the terrorists took over the city, McMasters said, they replaced all the imams from the mosques with Islamic extremist laymen; replaced all teachers from the schools with people who "preached hatred and intolerance"; and kidnapped and murdered large numbers of people, "including a Sunni Turkmen imam and a city councilman who was shot about 30 times to the head in front of his family.

"The enemy here did just the most horrible things you can imagine," McMasters said, "in one case murdering a child, placing a booby trap within the child's body and waiting for the parent to come recover the body of their child and exploding it to kill the parents."

McMasters said elements of his regiment came to Tall Afar in early May, when they joined with a regiment of the 14th Cavalry and the Third Iraqi Army Division to begin conducting "aggressive offensive operations and reconnaissance operations" inside the city. The terrorists reacted by attacking in large numbers, he said.

"We had stand-up, conventional fights against the enemy in this dense urban terrain, where up to 200 of the enemy were attacking our troopers as they conducted operations," McMasters said. The enemy stopped these attacks after suffering 30 to 40 dead at a time, he said, and returned to harassment attacks like exploding roadside bombs, mortar attacks, sniper attacks and other hit-and-run operations.

Because the local population had been so badly treated by the terrorists, and because Iraqi Army forces were integrated into operations, McMasters said, the civilians have given very good intelligence about the terrorists’ whereabouts and activities.

The main engagements in this fight happened from September 2 through September 6, McMasters said. With between 3,500 and 3,800 U.S. forces and 5,000 Iraqi troops taking part, 118 terrorists were killed and 137 captured, he said. U.S. losses were one killed and 11 wounded, most of whom have returned to action. Iraqi losses were eight killed and 19 wounded, he said.

At length the terrorists abandoned the fight and tried to escape by blending in with the local population, he said, but the Iraqi forces were very good at spotting them and the civilians pointed them out to the coalition. A further 104 of the enemy were captured in outlying areas surrounding Tall Afar on September 12, he said.

Though Tall Afar is not yet permanently secure, McMasters said, and opportunities for the enemy remain within Nineveh province, "we are focused every day on taking those options away from the enemy, clearing additional areas.

"And the enemy is on the run," he said. "They still have some places to go, but we're going to take them away from them next."

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