Battle Rages At Nasiriya River Crossings
Fighting has reportedly increased in intensity on Monday, with U.S. forces firing heavy rounds of 155mm artillery into the city, Reuters correspondent Sean Maguire reported.
“We can see impact flashes in the city,” Maguire said late Monday local time from a position some three miles south of the city. He said that a battalion fought small arms fire as they pushed through Nasiriya, while U.S. Marines were dug in with large columns of heavy armor south of the Euphrates.
Gen. Tommy Franks, chief of U.S. Central Command, told reporters Monday U.S. forces had worked for days to gain a foothold on Nasiriya.
“Our forces are in there now and they’re going to remain in there,” Franks said.
A CNN reporter embedded with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force said the U.S. death toll at Nasiriya stood at 10, saying commanders told him it could rise further. Twelve soldiers have been wounded, while 16 others are still missing.
Meanwhile, a U.S. supply convoy continued to run for miles along the main highway to Baghdad bypassing Nasiriya on Monday. The convoy is currently using a pontoon bridge to cross the Euphrates, flanked by Marines armed with M-16 automatic rifles, the Associated Press reported.
On Sunday, U.S. officials said during a Central Command press briefing that the bridges at Nasiriya were under coalition control.
However, units of the Fedayeen, an irregular milita group loyal to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, attacked the region later Sunday reportedly dressed in civilian clothes. The group is said to have ambushed six coalition vehicles.
Five of the soldiers captured in the fighting later appearing in a videotape broadcast on Iraqi television. The videotape also showed what are said to be four dead Americans in an Iraqi morgue.
The strife caused U.S. officials to indicate that the bridgeheads were now secure, but the area in between was not, Reuters reports.
“This is one of few urban centers they really have to touch,” Reuters correspondent Sean Maguire reports. “A relatively small group of guerilla fighters can hold up a whole brigade.”
Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said on Sunday that foreign troops headed to Nasiriya had been “taught a lesson they will never forget.”
U.S. officials said that increased Iraqi resistance showed the battle at Nasiriya was growing more complicated.
“Clearly they are not a beaten force,” Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Sunday. “This is going to get a lot harder.”