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In pockets of Fallujah, US troops still face harsh battles

In Fallujah, just four insurgents tied down a Marine company for hours in a nighttime battle.

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The four insurgents were heavily outnumbered and outgunned by US marines in Fallujah.

But armed with just assault rifles and grenades, the quartet locked an entire company in intense battle for hours, inflicting casualties in hand-to-hand combat and delivering a tough lesson for US forces as they deepen their hunt for an ephemeral and patient enemy that embraces martyrdom.

The climax of the firefight late Monday night could not have been more chaotic or more illuminating of the horrors of urban conflict.

When the team from Alpha Company finally entered the last redoubt of the insurgents - a burning house that had already been hammered by rockets, explosive charges, and tank rounds - they had every reason to believe any remaining gunmen were dead.

Instead, point man Lance Corp. Richard Caseras entered with his team and ran into the spray of an insurgent's AK-47 assault rifle. A second fighter then emerged, a pineapple grenade in each hand, with pins already pulled.

Eyeball to eyeball with their opponents, the marines shot them both dead; the grenades fell to the ground and exploded, blasting the Americans with shrapnel.

The result was a panicked war scene that could have been drawn from the film "Apocalypse Now." In the eerie light of the roaring flames, the wounded men were dragged back out to the street while marines targeted the house with steady gunfire.

US commanders say that such costly battles are taking place across Fallujah, where US Marine and Army units launched an assault more than two weeks ago in a bid to cut off the lethal insurgency that has spread across Iraq.

But the battle Monday, fought amid the maze of houses and alleyways in this ghost city that once held a population of 300,000, shows the difficult and dangerous task of uprooting insurgents who have hunkered down. Protecting civilians may also prove a daunting task as marines try to locate fighters who filter quietly back in as residents return.

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