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Tuesday, April 13

Marines battle in Fallujah

By Gidget Fuentes | Marine Corps Times

FALLUJAH, Iraq - Despite a temporary cease-fire, Marines in this cordoned-off city continued to battle sniper fire, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars Tuesday, and an ambush killed one Marine and wounded four others.As the sun set over this ``city of mosques,'' a pair of Air Force F-15s screamed across the sky, falling low and dropping chaff to confuse anti-aircraft missiles. As the jets swept low over the city, they fired cannons into suspected insurgent locations.

The sight of the jets brought cheers from some Marines and sailors with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment from Camp Pendleton, Calif., who have endured gunfire and mortar attacks daily as they patrol one sector of the city.

But as night fell, the exploding roar of a pair of rockets a few miles away reminded all that the threat remained real and that enemy forces - whether insurgents, mujahedin or terrorists - were still out there.

``Wherever these guys surface, we're right on them,'' said Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne, the battalion's commander.

Three battalions of Marines continued to control parts of Fallujah, where they have restricted most traffic.

Earlier Tuesday, a Marine force raced to secure an H-53 helicopter that made an emergency landing about 11:20 p.m. Monday Iraq time. The chopper went down 12 miles southeast of Fallujah. Byrne said he did not know what downed the helicopter, which he said was largely intact. A Defense Department spokesman said all three crew members, who were slightly injured, were rescued.

But the overnight mission turned deadly when the Marine force was ambushed with gunfire and hit with mortars while leaving the crash site. One Marine was killed and six others wounded in that attack. The helicopter was later destroyed ``rather than leave it unattended,'' Byrne said, adding, ``that way, there could be nothing of value'' left behind.

As Byrne reached a makeshift aid station, tucked in a dusty highway interchange, Humvees raced from the ambush site. Two Marines carried another, who was limping slightly from a calf injury. Navy corpsmen tended to three other men injured in the ambush. From the back of a Humvee, two Marines pulled the lifeless body of another Marine and laid him on a black litter. Several minutes later, three Marines placed him in a black plastic bag, closed it and, with the help of another Marine, put him in the back of a seven-ton truck.

The attack cast a somber mood on the battalion throughout the day.

Gunfire and explosions from rockets and mortars could be heard in the distance. Marines countered with machine guns, mortars and close-air support from AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters. The buzz from a Predator drone echoed at times in the afternoon and during the night.

``We retain the right to defend ourselves,'' Byrne said. ``They're still shooting at us, and we're still absolutely responding whenever they shoot.''