A top U.S. military commander in Iraq is reporting better than expected progress in the fight to retake the Sunni rebel stronghold of Fallujah, but says senior insurgent and terrorist leaders have probably already escaped, among them accused terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Two full days into the ground assault on Fallujah and coalition forces have already pushed deep into the city, destroying an outer ring of resistance. Now, up to 15,000 U.S. marines and soldiers backed by Iraqi troops are facing what Lieutenant General Thomas Metz describes as small groups of fighters as coalition forces press ahead, street by street, though insurgent strongholds.
"The resistance is with small arms, rocket propelled grenades and indirect fire," he said.
From Baghdad, the general responsible for coalition military activities would not give precise figures on casualties, but says there have been about a dozen among U.S. forces, while calling the number of enemy casualties significantly higher than expected.
At the same time, General Metz estimates that as many as 3000 insurgents are in Fallujah and he says the fight is far from over.
"The coming days will tells us whether or not the enemy is thickening as he moves back into the city, or are we killing the enemy or capturing the enemy or pushing the enemy back," he added. "I think we're looking at several more days of tough urban fighting."
But multinational forces did not seal off Fallujah until Sunday night and General Metz says by then, some top insurgent and terrorist leaders including Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had most likely already escaped.