US troops still fighting for control of border town
October 22, 2003
Almost six months after the official end of hostilities in Iraq, US forces are still fighting for control of Husayba, a gritty industrial town of 40,000 that is a main crossing point into Syria.
In the past three weeks, an unidentified enemy deploying ever more sophisticated military tactics and powerful weapons, including mortars and landmines, has been hitting US troops.
The town's police chief was gunned down last week, dealing a blow to the US plan to turn over authority to Iraqis.
On Friday, about 20 armed men took over the police station for more than seven hours and warned that anyone who collaborated with the US would be killed.
US troops, who moved in to secure the police station the next day, came under fire from rocket-propelled grenades, which wounded three soldiers.
"There's clearly an organised group of resisters," Lieutenant-Colonel Greg Reilly, commander of the squadron, said from his mobile command centre at the border crossing with Syria.
"I cannot control the ground around the police station," he radioed to his superior, adding he would need an infantry company to provide more assistance.
"We are not trained to fight a war like this," he said. "We're trained to fight an army face to face, to engage in direct combat, an enemy we can see."
Colonel Reilly, 41, said the attackers did not appear to include foreigners. Based on information from more than 50 men the US has detained, Colonel Reilly said he believed many of those firing at the Americans were guns for hire, paid $US500 (0). A large phosphate factory outside town, which once employed 3300 people, is idle, and unemployment is nearly 50 per cent, so there are plenty of men desperate for money.
The colonel said more experienced anti-US fighters were being sent to the town from other parts of Iraq.
Colonel Reilly's men also patrol 200 kilometres of the Iraq-Syria border. In three months, he said, they have not intercepted one foreign fighter trying to cross.
But US officials in Baghdad have a different view. The official line after one of Colonel Reilly's helicopters was forced to land when it was hit by small-arms fire was that US soldiers had caught a small group of men trying to cross the border illegally, setting off a gun battle. Colonel Reilly denied this, saying it was an attack by men already inside the town.
The New York Times
This story was found at: