A U.S. Army supply convoy was ambushed by a group of “irregular” Iraqi militia outside of the southern town of Nasiriya Sunday.
“Combat operations have met with resistance in a number of locations, the most notable of which is in the vicinity of An-Nasiriya,” U.S. Lt. Gen. John Abizaid told a news briefing at Central Command headquarters in Qatar on Sunday.
As the “steel wave” of armored ground forces moved northwest toward Baghdad, several battles were reported in the ground troops’ wake in southern Iraq, leading to what U.S. Central Command called a “tough day of fighting” for coalition forces.
More than 5,000 Marines were reported to have engaged in a firefight that included using air strikes to combat at least 500 Iraqis for control of a critical crossing in Nasiriya over the Euphrates River according to a report from the BBC.
In Sunday’s Central Command briefing, U.S. military officials said that the bridges at Nasiriya, considered a key passage for coalition forces as they continue the push toward Baghdad, were under coalition control.
“United States Marines defeated an enemy attack there [Nasiriya] while sustaining a number of killed and wounded in the sharpest engagement of the war thus far,” Lt. Abizaid said during the Sunday’s press briefing.
Lt. Abizaid later added that the number of U.S. killed in the battle was likely to be less than ten.
In a second battle, a U.S. Army supply convoy clashed with a group of guerilla Iraqi forces known as “Saddam’s Fedayeen” — a fight that began when the Iraqis, disguising themselves in civilian clothes, launched an ambush on six coalition vehicles.
The clash led a number of American troops being killed or wounded. Coalition forces said it could not account for 12 U.S. soldiers and added that at least five of those had been captured and later shown on Iraqi television.
U.S. Brig Gen. Vincent Brooks said the military believed the 12 missing soldiers are “in the custody of the irregular forces that conducted the ambush, and their status is not known.”
Explosions and large plumes of smoke were reported near Nasiriya late Sunday afternoon local time.
“It looks like artillery, or possibly air strikes,” Reuters correspondent Sean Maguire reported. “There’s lots of smoke rising.”
Iraqi military officials said in a Sunday briefing that 25 U.S. soldiers were killed in the Nasiriya firefights. Iraq’s defense minister said that Iraqi forces repelled an attack on Nasiriya by coalition forces coming from three directions.
U.S. Central Command said Saturday that Nasiriya had “fallen” to coalition forces during the initial ground advance and that two key bridges were under U.S. control.
“Clearly they are not a beaten force,” Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday of the reports of Iraqi resistance. “This is going to get a lot harder.”
Several other coalition units engaged in intensive gunbattles Sunday, but the only confirmed American causality, other than those around Nasiriya, was from an Army Third Infantry Division soldier killed in a vehicle accident.
The Third Infantry made considerable ground progress Sunday, advancing to within 100 miles of Baghdad.