TIKRIT, Nov 17: US troops unleashed tank and mortar fire at suspected guerilla hideouts in Saddam Hussein’s hometown overnight, after the broadcast of an audio tape purportedly from the fugitive dictator urging holy war.

Soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division’s 1-22 Battalion fanned out through Tikrit, and the ground shook as US shells hit positions which commanders said were used by guerillas to fire rockets or mortar bombs at the US base in the town.

“For us this is not a display, we want to get the enemy,” said 1-22 Battalion commander Lt-Col Steve Russell. “The message is: ‘Give up, it’s over.’”

Flares lit up the sky and attack helicopters clattered overhead. In one attack, four M1A1 Abrams tanks perched on top of a desert cliff fired on targets in the fields below.

William MacDonald, spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division, said the barrage comprised 38 coordinated attacks, and included firing a GPS-guided missile with a 500-pound warhead at a suspected guerilla sanctuary south of Tikrit.

MacDonald said the coordinated attacks destroyed 15 safehouses, three training camps and 14 mortar firing positions. Soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division also killed six militants who attacked them in separate incidents, he said.

On the western outskirts of Baghdad, US soldiers cordoned off a section of the Abu Ghraib neighbourhood and went from house to house searching for weapons and ammunition after attacks on American troops in the area.

TOUGH TACTICS: US forces in Iraq have adopted tough new tactics this month in response to deadly guerrilla attacks and the downing of several American helicopters. On Saturday night, two US Black Hawks collided and crashed under fire in the northern city of Mosul, killing 17 soldiers and wounding five.

The disaster was the deadliest single incident for US troops since they invaded Iraq in March to topple Saddam.

Dubai-based Al Arabiya television broadcast an audio tape on Sunday said to be from Saddam. The voice on the tape exhorted Iraqis to drive occupying troops from their country.

“Fighting them...is a legitimate, patriotic and humanitarian duty and the occupiers have no choice but to leave our country... as cursed losers,” it said.

US troops hunting guerillas have captured a former Iraqi special forces officer and militia leader suspected of staging attacks on American troops in the “Sunni triangle” region around Baghdad, the US army said on Monday.

In a statement, the army said Kathim Mohammad Faris, described as “a former Iraqi Special Forces officer and a Fedayeen leader who is believed to be responsible for improvised explosive device attacks and ambushes on coalition forces”, was captured in the town of Habbaniya on Saturday.—Reuters

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