U.S. Forces Step Up Ramadi Offensive

U.S. forces, supported by tanks and attack aircraft, roll into the Iraqi city of Ramadi from the east. The persistent, violent insurgency in Ramadi has taken a high toll on U.S. forces stationed there.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. Renee Montagne is on vacation.

Last night, U.S. forces rolled into the east side of the Iraqi city of Ramadi. It's the capital of Anbar Province and it's one of the most violent cities in Iraq. Insurgents have been more persistent in Ramadi than almost anywhere else in the country. Over the weekend, the American troops quickly tried to make their presence felt.

(Soundbite of artillery fire)

That sound captured by NPR's Philip Reeves, who was embedded with the U.S. military during the operation over the weekend. He spent last night in the city. Philip, welcome to the program.

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Thank you.

INSKEEP: What actually happened last night?

REEVES: Well, U.S. forces went in sizeable numbers into Malad(ph) on the east side of Ramadi. Now that's an area which has been under the control of insurgents for some time now. It's considered one of the worst areas in the city by the U.S. military, and their soldiers there have been repeatedly attacked and have suffered some casualties there, particularly by IEDs -roadside bombs. And the sound that you just heard, actually, was the sound of an AC-130 aircraft hovering in the night above the city of Ramadi last night, firing artillery down on a road traffic circle to try to clear that road traffic circle of IEDs. They were trying to hit the wires which they believe detonate these roadside bombs to make it safe for their infantrymen to get into the town and to start searching houses.

INSKEEP: So how did Iraqis respond as these planes flew overhead firing and as troops moved in?

REEVES: It was extremely eerie, Steve. I was with a company, Charlie Company, 1st of the 506, and we were on the ground moving from house to house. It was very quiet. There was no response from the insurgents, although the soldiers do expect more response during these daylight hours, which have now begun. And I should add that they're still in there, there are still operations going on in there. It was dark and it was silent and deserted. I saw practically no one on the streets. But during the house-to-house searches, of course, it has to be said that the Iraqis did not welcome U.S. troops coming into their house in the night.

INSKEEP: Philip, was there some suggestion that maybe the insurgents knew the Americans were coming and stepped out of the way, at least for a few hours?

REEVES: Well, you know, it's not clear. They have said that Iraqi security forces are infiltrated, so information might get to insurgents. But the U.S. military also has spoken about this operation in the sense that they've made it clear, several days ago, that they're trying to get control of this town and to set up bases inside Ramadi in which they can put Iraqi security forces. They sealed off the south on Sunday, and now they're getting into the bad side of town for them, the east side. That's the purpose of the operation and they've never made much secret of that over the last 48 hours. So the insurgents must have been expecting something.

INSKEEP: How does the size of this operation compare with the operation in Fallujah a year and a half ago?

REEVES: Well, they've been stressing - the U.S. military - that it is smaller than that. I think they're keen to make it clear that they're not coming in to sort of storm the city, not least, because reports have been circulating that such an operation was underway, and with them there've been rumors that people have from Ramadi been deserting en masse. The U.S. military says that isn't true, several thousand people may have left, or have left, they say, but not an en masse departure and they're obviously keen to avoid that. Their plan, you have to remember now, is to get the Iraqi security forces, which, at this stage, are clearly not ready to take control of security in this country, to get them into the city and try to establish first the army there and then to transfer, over time, control to the police.

INSKEEP: Okay, thanks very much. That's NPR's Philip Reeves who's been embedded with U.S. troops in Ramadi, where the U.S. and its Iraqi allies have been very active in the last couple of days.

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