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U.S. launches massive raids

By Times Wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 15, 2003

FALLUJAH, Iraq - Hundreds of U.S. Army troops wearing night vision equipment raided the conservative town of Fallujah west of Baghdad early today, hunting for suspected militia leaders and searching for illegal weapons in a major operation.

Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade targeted locations where intelligence reports indicated militia operations were underway or weapons stockpiled for use against U.S. forces. The operation was called "Spartan Scorpion."

The thrust against the city 37 miles from the capital Baghdad lasted only three hours - shorter than expected - and met no resistance. No U.S. casualties were reported.

The New York Times reported that the raids, the largest U.S. military operation in Iraq since the end of major fighting, had been planned for days, military officials said.

"This thing is happening all over Iraq tonight," said Lt. Col. Eric Schwartz, who oversaw raids late Saturday in the southern half of Falluja, a restive city 35 miles west of Baghdad that has become a center of armed resistance. "It's a massive, coordinated effort."

It was unclear how many Iraqis may have been killed, wounded or arrested in the raids.

The 2nd Brigade entered Fallujah and the nearby towns of Habaniyah and Khaldiyah on June 4, tripling the number of U.S. troops in the area after repeated ambushes on supply convoys. The brigade's mission was to defeat anti-American militias and help restore local government offices and infrastructure.

The raids across Fallujah by Task Force 3-15, Task Force 1-64 and Task Force Enforcer - using more than 1,300 soldiers - began at about 3 a.m., just three hours after a deadline for Iraqis to turn in heavy weapons under an amnesty program.

During the raid, Iraqis sounded sirens and flashed their porch lights in apparent warning to each other that the American troops were coming.

The raid against Fallujah followed an extensive action last week, dubbed Operation Peninsula Strike, against the so-called "Sunni triangle" north and west of Baghdad. That operation was completed successfully, the military said Sunday.

The troops, wearing night vision devices under a bright full moon, found no weapons.

To demonstrate the readiness of U.S. troops to help residents, a massive delivery of humanitarian aid was scheduled for later today.

- Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

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