Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told NBC that the four-day offensive has been “very, very successful” but acknowledged that the guerillas will likely move their fighting elsewhere. Commanders said before the offensive began that some 1,200 to 3,000 insurgents were believed holed up in the city. But the speed of the U.S. advance has led some officers on the ground to conclude that many guerillas abandoned the city before the attack so they could fight elsewhere.
“If anybody thinks that Fallujah is going to be the end of the insurgency in Iraq, that was never the objective, never our intention, and even never our hope,” said Myers.
The escalating violence in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and other cities once considered secure further supported Myers’ statement, with guerillas mounting an intense new campaign this week while American and Iraqi forces focus on Fallujah.
Masked insurgents attacked several police stations in Mosul, looting weapons and ammunition, before setting at least two of them on fire. The city governor was looking to neighboring provinces for police reinforcements, as gunfire and explosions echoed across the city.
In Baghdad, a car bomb ripped through a crowded commercial street, killing 17 people, police said, the second deadly car bomb in the capital in as many days.
But the most intense fighting continued to center on the beleaguered city of Fallujah, where U.S. forces launched a new major assault across the major highway and into the southern half of the city.
Two Marine Super Cobra attack helicopters were hit by ground fire and forced to land in separate incidents near Fallujah, the military said Thursday. The crews were not injured and were rescued.
Since Monday, U.S. and Iraqi troops have been fighting their way through the northern half of Fallujah, reaching the east-west highway that bisects the city and battling fighters trapped in the north while other insurgents fell back into the south. Eighteen American soldiers and five Iraqi National Guardsmen have died in the fighting and 69 American service members and 34 Iraqi troops had been wounded, according to the lead Marine commander.
Dozens of wounded are being evacuated to the U.S. military’s main hospital in Europe. More than 100 injured troops arrived Thursday at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, a day after 64 others were brought in. According to military estimates 600 insurgents have been killed in the offensive.
Some 15,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops are involved in the assault. Commanders say that since the offensive began, their seal around the city is tight and that rebels still inside have little chance of escape.