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American Forces Press Service

Military Ops Along Euphrates River Prompt Deadly Attacks

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 3, 2005 "A very lethal and, unfortunately, adaptive enemy" is responsible for the deaths of 21 U.S. Marines in Iraq over the past three days, a senior military officer said here today.

Fourteen Marines from Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), died in an attack in Haditha this morning when their amphibious assault vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device. Two days before, six Marines from the same unit were killed by small-arms fire in the same area. A suicide car bomber killed still another Marine from RCT 2 Aug. 1.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with those Marines and their families," Army Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, the Joint Staff's director of regional operations, said in a Pentagon media briefing today.

Ham and top DoD spokesman Larry Di Rita said very few details about the attacks are available. Ham noted that a team from 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force is investigating today's attack.

The general explained that U.S. Marines and Iraqi forces are operating in several locations along the Euphrates River in western Anbar province "in an effort to deny the enemy freedom of movement, deny them safe haven."

He said it's to be expected that insurgents would resist any efforts to assert coalition -- and ultimately Iraqi -- control over these towns.

And the Marines' efforts appear to be paying off -- insurgent forces can no longer move freely in the area. "(The insurgents) are dangerous, and they certainly have a capability," Ham said. "Bus as to ... whether they have an ability to freely operate throughout the area -- I think not."

Another reason for this spike in violence could be the next looming political milestone for the Iraqi transitional government: the Iraqis are expected to complete a draft constitution by Aug. 15. Defense officials have said repeatedly that attacks could increase as progress on the political front moves forward.

"As we get close to these milestones, we anticipate additional violence," Di Rita said today. "But at the same time, the political process will continue. We're confident (and) the Iraqi leadership is confident that that progress will continue."

As they deal with the loss of 21 comrades, the Marines of RCT 2 will continue to focus on the mission at hand, said Ham, who commanded Multinational Brigade Northwest in northern Iraq for a year. "Any time any unit loses a member, it's hard," he said. "But I think one of the things that we should be very proud of is that ... they will deal with their mission, and they will continue with their mission and accomplish their mission.

"There will be a time to take pause and to grieve the loss of friends and comrades, and they'll do that in an appropriate manner," he added. "But for right now, my guess is they are very, very specifically focused on accomplishing the mission that has been assigned."

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