U.S.-Led Assault in N. Iraq Town Meets Little Insurgent Resistance

By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, September 4, 2005

TALL AFAR, Iraq, Sept. 3 -- After spending the night in abandoned homes, the more than 5,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops who had swept into the northern city of Tall Afar awoke Saturday morning to broadcasts from mosques calling residents to fight the invasion.

But the troops met little resistance as they continued raiding houses Saturday to gather information about the insurgents who have controlled large parts of the city for nearly a year.

In one of the few pockets of fighting, insurgents fired seven rocket-propelled grenades at U.S. tanks from adjacent buildings in the western neighborhood of Qadisiyah. A U.S. jet destroyed much of the block with a 500-pound satellite-guided bomb, commanders said. Soldiers also destroyed at least half a dozen roadside bombs and discovered a large cache of artillery rounds hidden in one of the many lush valleys that divide the city.

For the second consecutive day, U.S. forces reported no casualties.

"We expected them to fight back more than they did today, especially given some of the neighborhoods we were moving through," said Capt. Alan Blackburn, 30, of Mooresville, Ind., commander of Eagle Troop, 2nd Squadron of the Army's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which is leading the assault.

Blackburn said the estimated 300 to 500 insurgents believed to be operating in Tall Afar appeared to be massing in the restive neighborhood of Sarai, east of downtown, where U.S. patrols are frequently attacked.

The operation in Tall Afar, considered a transit point and logistics hub for insurgents operating across northern Iraq, is the largest urban invasion in Iraq since the U.S. siege of Fallujah last November. U.S. troops led an offensive in Tall Afar, a city of more than 200,000 people about 40 miles from the Syrian border, one year ago this month, but largely withdrew soon after. Insurgents quickly returned to the city.

Soldiers from Blue Platoon, stationed in the northeastern neighborhood of Qadra, were awake hours before dawn, cleaning their weapons with steel-bristled brushes and WD-40.

"We'll be going into a considerably rougher area than we did yesterday, so we have to stay alert," Capt. Noah Hanners, the platoon commander, told his soldiers.

The soldiers raided dozens of homes, using sledgehammers and occasionally employing explosive charges to knock down doors. They confiscated AK-47 assault rifles and a set of rusted brass knuckles.

The soldiers also interviewed residents for information about insurgent activity, but a shortage of interpreters complicated their efforts. The platoon, divided into two sections, shared a lone interpreter throughout the day.

Abbas Amin Abbas, a Tall Afar physician, told the soldiers he had shifted his dermatology practice from a nearby hospital because of recent clashes between insurgents and the army.

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