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U.S. Central Command Gives War Briefing

U.S. Central Command Gives War Briefing

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CAMP AS SAYLIYAH (AP) -- U.S. Marines defeated Iraqi forces near the southern city of An Nasiriyah in the sharpest engagement of the war so far, U.S. Central Command said Sunday. But in a separate engagement, Iraqi forces ambushed an army supply convoy and 12 soldiers were missing.

Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said about 10 Marines were killed in a faked surrender by Iraqi forces outside of An Nasiriyah. The Marines came under fire while preparing to accept what appeared to be surrendering Iraqis.

"We of course will be much more cautious in the way we view the battlefield as a result of some of these incidents," said Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid. But he stressed that coalition forces would continue to place high priority on avoiding civilian casualties.

"It was a tough day of fighting for the coalition," Brooks said. Abizaid called the fighting there the "sharpest engagement of the war thus far."

"But the Marines were successful," Abizaid said. "They defeated the enemy. First reports indicated they destroyed eight tanks, some anti-aircraft batteries that were in the region, and also some artillery, along with a number of infantry."

Iraqi military officials claimed earlier that 25 American soldiers were killed in the operation in An Nasiriyah, a major crossing point over the Euphrates River northwest of Basra.

Abizaid, speaking at the Qatar headquarters of U.S. Central Command, said he thought fewer than 10 troops were killed in the fighting and that "a number" of troops were wounded.

He said coalition forces encountered significant resistance in the city.

The ambush that left 12 soldiers missing came after the driver of an army supply convoy took a wrong turn. The Iraqis destroyed six coalition vehicles in the ambush, Brooks said.

Brooks said the military believed the 12 were "in the custody of the irregular forces that conducted the ambush, and their status is not known." Abizaid said the captors were either Republican Guard forces or Iraqi guerrillas.

Abizaid said some of the 12 missing soldiers "ended up on Baghdad TV."

Earlier Sunday, the Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera relayed Iraqi television footage of interviews with what the station identified as captured American prisoners, and also showed bodies in uniform in an Iraqi morgue that it said were Americans. The station said they and the prisoners were captured around Nasiriyah.

Abizaid said the airing of the footage by Iraqi television of the captured troops was a violation of the Geneva conventions because Iraqi TV is a state television station and questioning the prisoners was an effort to humiliate them.

"It is not right, and we will hold them accountable for their actions," he said.

Abizaid said he thought the main reason there haven't been mass surrenders on the same scale as in the 1991 Gulf War is that Iraqi forces were trapped in Kuwait.

"They were a long way from home," he said. When asked about the allied timetable for advancing on Iraq, Abizaid "we are on track. We will arrive in the vicinity of Baghdad soon."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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