US and Iraqi forces battled insurgents yesterday in a town near the border with Syria as part of a military sweep aimed at preventing foreign fighters from entering the country.
The goal of Operation Steel Curtain, launched early on Saturday, "is to restore security along the Iraqi-Syrian border and destroy al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorist networks operating throughout [the town of] Husaybah," the military said.
US officials have long held that foreign al-Qaeda fighters enter Iraq through the border with Syria via the Euphrates valley.
As they entered Husayba, US and Iraqi forces have encountered "sporadic resistance -- mostly small arms fire and improvised explosive devices -- from al-Qaeda in Iraq-led insurgents throughout the city," the military said late Saturday.
At least nine air strikes were called on positions described as "enemy strong points," and a separate strike was carried out against a suspected car bomb.
There were no reports of any military or civilian casualties, the military said.
However there is an undetermined number of insurgent casualties, said the military, which is keeping a tight lid on information from the region.
The operation, involving 1,000 Iraqi army soldiers as well as 2,500 Marines, sailors and soldiers, is one of the biggest joint military operations in the vast restive Sunni Arab province of al-Anbar.
The Iraqi and US forces are also housing and feeding some 400 town residents, the military said.
US officials are especially proud of Iraqi scouts, people they described as "specially recruited soldiers from the al-Qaim region," who are embedded with the front-line units that help "identify insurgent strong points and areas known to contain these homemade bombs."
Steel Curtain follows two earlier operations also along the Euphrates valley in al-Anbar. But this operation is different because it is also designed to set up a joint US-Iraqi permanent presence along the border.
The US forces have been unable to leave garrisons in towns they have cleared of insurgents until recently, when enough trained and equipped Iraqi forces were available, US officials said earlier.
In other Iraq-related news, a UN watchdog agency said on Saturday that the US should reimburse Iraq for US$208 million in apparent overcharges paid to a Halliburton Co.
The International Advisory and Monitoring Board for the Development of Iraq conducted a special audit on Halliburton's Kellogg, Brown and Root unit for the procurement and distribution of fuel products and the restoration of Iraq's oil infrastructure.
The monitoring board cited charges of US$208 million, costs that earlier had been questioned by US military auditors.
UNCERTAINTY: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken did not specify measures NATO might take, but many believe that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project could be canceled The US has said it has evidence that Russia has made plans for a “large scale” attack on Ukraine and said NATO allies are “prepared to impose severe costs” on Moscow if it attempts an invasion. Speaking at a NATO ministers meeting in Latvia, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that it was unclear whether Russian President Vladimir Putin had made a decision to invade, but added: “He’s putting in place the capacity to do so in short order, should he so decide.” “So despite uncertainty about intention and timing, we must prepare for all contingencies while working to see to
‘TRAVEL APARTHEID’: Biden’s top medical adviser said the US was considering lifting restrictions on travel from African nations imposed after the variant was discovered The Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 is rapidly spreading throughout the US, but early indications suggest it might be less dangerous than the Delta variant, which continues to drive a surge of hospitalizations, US health officials said on Sunday. US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci told CNN’s State of the Union that scientists need more information before drawing conclusions about Omicron’s severity. Reports from South Africa, where it emerged and is becoming the dominant strain, suggest that hospitalization rates have not increased alarmingly. “Thus far, it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it,” Fauci
South African hospitals are bracing for a surge in admissions as the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 drives a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections and as more evidence emerges about the severity of the illness caused by the strain. The seven-day moving average of daily new cases in the country rose to 10,055 last week, from fewer than 300 three weeks earlier. Hospitalizations also picked up, but remain relatively low, with admissions standing at 3,268 on Sunday. Whether there would be a deluge of new patients is the biggest question. Severe symptoms in patients who contracted earlier variants typically developed between one and three
SURGE: South African infections increased to a record 3 million on Friday, data for the 24-hour period showed, with 16,055 bringing the cumulative total to 3,004,203 South Korea again broke its daily records for COVID-19 infections and deaths, and confirmed three more cases of the new Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 as officials scramble to tighten social distancing and border controls. The 5,352 new cases reported by the Seoul-based Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency yesterday marked the third time this week that the daily tally exceeded 5,000. The country’s death toll was at 3,809 after a record 70 people died in the most-recent 24-hour period of tallying, while the 752 people in serious or critical conditions were also an all-time high. Amid the Delta variant-driven surge, there is also