Major Mike Slocum of the 101st Airborne Division said, ”Basically they are on the ground to go through and secure the highways and supply routes, and also they are looking to squelch any paramilitary threat in the area.”
News reports said Iraqi soldiers were firing on U.S. troops from rooftops with rifles and rocket propelled grenades. In response, American forces called on close air support bombers and artillery units to support the operation.
Soldiers from the U.S. 101st Airborne Division reportedly arrived by helicopter on the western outskirts of town Saturday and began a slow advance through the city supported by tanks and Apache attack helicopters.
The force reportedly met heavy resistance from Iraqi troops including some members of the Republican Guard and Fedayeen, elite highly trained forces loyal to Saddam Hussein.
“We are here to reduce the resistance in the town [and] to allow things to return to normal in Kerbala,” Major Eric Wick, of the 2nd Battalion of the 70th Armoured Regiment, told the Reuters news service.
Karbala, a city of 400,000, is located 68 miles from Baghdad on the Euphrates River. It is the site of the tomb of the Shiite leader Husein, who was killed in the city in 680 and is second only to Mecca in being a holy place visited by Shiite pilgrims.