US claims militants are trapped as air strike hits clinic

By Kim Sengupta
Thursday 11 November 2004 01:00
comments

As heavy fighting continued in Fallujah yesterday, US forces claimed they had taken control of 70 per cent of the city and cornered insurgents in a narrow strip of land. But it was impossible to verify the US claims, and Iraqi journalists inside the city said they doubted US forces were in control of as much of the city as they claimed.

As heavy fighting continued in Fallujah yesterday, US forces claimed they had taken control of 70 per cent of the city and cornered insurgents in a narrow strip of land. But it was impossible to verify the US claims, and Iraqi journalists inside the city said they doubted US forces were in control of as much of the city as they claimed.

Twenty Iraqi doctors and dozens of civilians were killed in a US air strike that hit a clinic in Fallujah, according to an Iraqi doctor who said he survived the strike. There are fears that heavy civilian casualties could be damaging for US-led forces. The US military said it had killed 71 insurgents, and that 10 American soldiers and two members of the Iraqi security forces fighting alongside the Americans had been killed.

"In the early morning the US attacked the clinic, a place that we were using for treating the injured people in the city," Dr Sami al-Jumaili said, describing the air strike. "I really don't know if they want to tackle the insurgents or the innocent civilians from the city."

Witnesses described dead bodies lying in the streets of the Jumhuriya district, with hungry street dogs crowding around them. Reports from inside Fallujah said residents were fast running out of food. Tens of thousands of civilians are believed to be still inside the city.

Al-Jazeera television, meanwhile, aired a videotape in which a militant group claimed to have captured 20 Iraqi soldiers during operations in Fallujah. Men wearing Iraqi uniforms were shown with their backs to the camera. A masked militant read a statement on the tape but the Qatar-based station did not broadcast the audio. The station said the militants promised not to kill the prisoners shown on the tape but would kill others captured in the future.

Further south, the Black Watch battle group had its heaviest day of action yesterday since their deployment in support of American troops, facing a series of intense attacks, and becoming engaged, for the first time, in prolonged firefights.

In the space of four hours a pilot was shot and critically injured by a sniper while flying his helicopter, a unit was ambushed and exchanged sustained mortar fire with insurgents, and the base itself, Camp Dogwood, twice came under rocket fire which injured a serviceman and damaged a helicopter.

Before yesterday the British force had already lost four dead and 12 injured. Further attacks had been expected, but mainly on the east bank of the Euphrates where they had extended their mission to intercept resistance fighters escaping from the American onslaught in Fallujah. Instead, the insurgents struck at the supposedly safer west side of the river, and the heart of the Black Watch operations, Camp Dogwood, using snipers, mortars and rockets.

The attack came on the day a group of militias threatened retribution against the US and its allies for the ongoing assault against the rebel stronghold, and showed what has been long believed - that large numbers of the resistance had slipped through the American cordon around Fallujah to regroup and launch attacks elsewhere.

The pilot of the Lynx helicopter was on a routine mission from Camp Dogwood to Baghdad when a bullet tore through the cockpit and hit him.The co-pilot managed to steady the spinning aircraft and headed back to base. The critically injured pilot was flown to Baghdad by an American Blackhawk helicopter from the Medivac unit at the airport.

The attack on the helicopter took place just after 11.20am. Four minutes later Royal Marine Commandos attached to the battle group, on patrol in Warrior armoured cars, came under mortar fire. The attack ceased after they returned fire, but the decision was taken not to find the insurgents due to the possibility of being drawn into another, closer range ambush.

Two hours and 27 minutes later, four rockets landed on Camp Dogwood. The first three exploded on the ground but the fourth hit the helicopter pad, damaging a helicopter and injuring a serviceman.

Two hours later another round of rockets caused more damage. One-third of the battle group had crossed the river, and the base was, at the time, carrying out an emergency exercise against a ground attack.

On Tuesday, British troops discovered 62 mortar rounds secreted near Camp Dogwood to be used, possibly, for attacks on the base. But there is full recognition that there are plenty more supplies as well as plenty more attacks to come.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments