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Military tries to stop influx of insurgents


A Marine patrols outside a building where Marines believe insurgents tortured four men who were found handcuffed and blindfolded in Karabilah, Iraq, on Saturday. Some of the men were believed to be Iraqi border guards. 
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
A Marine patrols outside a building where Marines believe insurgents tortured four men who were found handcuffed and blindfolded in Karabilah, Iraq, on Saturday. Some of the men were believed to be Iraqi border guards. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Jacob Silberberg Associated Press

KARABILAH, Iraq – Helicopter gunships and fighter jets streaked across the desert sky Saturday as American and Iraqi forces battled insurgents near the Syrian border, killing at least 50 militants in two massive offensives to stanch the flow of foreign fighters from Iraq’s western neighbor.

The U.S. military reported the deaths of two American soldiers, killed north of Baghdad during an attack as they were taking a captive to jail.

Intelligence officials believe Iraq’s western Anbar province is the main entry point used by extremist groups, including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al Qaeda in Iraq, to smuggle in foreign fighters. Syria is under intense pressure from Washington and Baghdad to tighten control of its porous 380-mile border with Iraq.

On Thursday, a U.S. general called Syria’s border the “worst problem” in terms of stemming the flow of foreign fighters.

The next day, about 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi forces backed by battle tanks launched an offensive in the desert wastes around Karabilah and Qaim. The operation entered its second day Saturday in Karabilah, a dusty town about 200 miles west of Baghdad that is considered an insurgent hub.

About 50 insurgents have been killed since the operation began, Marine Capt. Jeffrey Pool said from Ramadi, the provincial capital. Three U.S. troops have been wounded and about 100 insurgents have been captured, the military said.

Dozens of buildings in Karabilah were destroyed after airstrikes and shelling, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.

“The goal is not to seize territory,” said Marine Col. Stephen Davis, of New Rochelle, N.Y. “This is about going in and finding the insurgents.”

Karabilah’s streets were empty, and the military said about 100 people fled the town. At one home, a family gathered on their porch, hanging a white flag from the roof to signal U.S. jets not to bomb their home.

Troops searching the town found four Iraqi hostages beaten, handcuffed and chained to a wall in a bunker, Davis said.

Some of the men were believed to be Iraqi border guards. Troops searching the bunker found nooses, electrical wire and a bathtub filled with water for electric shocks and mock drownings, Davis said.

Later, Marines and Iraqi soldiers took fire outside a mosque and a small band of insurgents fled inside, Pool said. Three militants were killed.

The U.S. military also reported incidents of insurgents breaking into homes and using families as human shields, resulting in injuries to 10 civilians.

U.S. and Iraqi forces also found a bomb-making factory in the town, Pool said. It contained blasting caps, cell phones and other materials to make roadside and car bombs, he said. Troops also found sniper rifles, ammunition and a mortar system.

A nearby schoolhouse believed to be used for training terrorists had instructions for making roadside bombs written on a chalkboard, Davis said.

A second offensive of similar size was launched Saturday, targeting the marshy shores of a lake north of Baghdad. About 1,000 Marines and Iraqi troops, backed by fighter jets and tanks, took part.

The second offensive sought insurgent training camps and weapons caches in the Lake Tharthar area, 53 miles northwest of Baghdad.

On March 23, U.S. and Iraqi forces killed about 85 militants at a suspected training camp along Lake Tharthar and discovered booby-trapped cars and training documents.

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