29/04/2004

US to send more heavy armour to Iraq

The Pentagon has confirmed that further armour, heavy tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles are to be deployed in Iraq.

The move to ship further tanks and other heavyweight military equipment to Iraq is viewed a radical change in US strategy - and marks the increasing concern of military commanders on the ground as violence continues to erupt particularly in the city of Falluja.

US forces have continued to come under sporadic attack and have used ground-based and close air support to return fire on insurgent positions in Falluja.

Last night an AC-130 gunship was used to attack rebel positions in the city for the second night running.

US military sources have confirmed that on Tuesday night Anti-Coalition forces attacked Marines in defensive positions in Falluja with rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire in violation of the current ceasefire.

A spokesperson said that two vehicles were observed transporting weapons and anti-coalition forces into the area. When these vehicles and an adjoining building were fired on, large secondary explosions were reported. "These secondary explosions often indicate the presence of large amounts of ordnance at the target site," said the spokesperson.

There were no reports of any Coalition casualties and no information was available on insurgent casualties in Tuesday's engagements.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appealed to all parties in Iraq to refrain from violence. He warned that further military action would only serve to make matters worse. He added: "The reason why I asked for caution is that the more these attacks - the more the occupation is seen as taking steps that harm civilians and the population, the greater the ranks of the resistance grows."

The Secretary-General acknowledged receiving an appeal from Falluja that the UN should intervene in the standoff.

He said: "I have spoken to US authorities about this and the need for caution, the need to do all that is possible to avoid a violent confrontation, which, as I said, would play into the hands of the resistance and also have a broader reaction in the region."

However, yesterday US President George Bush again stated that Coalition forces would take whatever actions were deemed necessary in Falluja.

An estimated 2,000 rebels have been contained in the city by US marines dug in around the predominantly Sunni muslim city which has become a focus of insurgent activity.

Among the equipment the US is sending to reinforce operations in Iraq are 28 of the main battlefield M1 Abrams tanks.

(SP)

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