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Fierce battle for town near Syrian border


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SPECIAL REPORT
•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
•  Weapons: 3D Models

DOHA, Qatar (CNN) -- Coalition forces battled serious Iraqi resistance Friday at a town near the Syrian border that at one time may have been a key site for Saddam Hussein's nuclear program.

U.S. Central Command's deputy director of operations, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, said coalition forces had "been effective in reducing some of the defensive forces" at Qaim but had more to go.

As a border town under Iraqi control, Brooks added, Qaim offered the possibility of escape for regime leaders as well as an entry point for weapons and fighters from other countries.

Brooks said the Iraqis spirited defense of the area -- as Iraqi forces elsewhere laid down their weapons and left the battlefield -- "causes it to be of interest to us."

"It obviously is of interest to the regime," he said.

"Qaim is an area we know to be located in such a way it could be used for the launching of surface-to-surface missiles that would range neighboring countries and threaten them," Brooks said. "We know that it historically had been used for that purpose and we know there is a capability to deliver weapons of mass destruction."

Activity reported in 2001

As recently as early 2001, German intelligence reported that activity had been observed at a uranium processing facility in Qaim, 260 miles west of Baghdad, and that Iraq could have nuclear weapons capable of reaching Europe by 2005.

Coalition forces bombed the Qaim facility during the 1991 Gulf War.

The facility, reportedly the sole producer of refined uranium ore in Iraq from 1984 to 1990, processed uranium extracted from phosphate mined at the Akashat mine southwest of Qaim.

U.N. weapons inspectors visited the mine and the Qaim facility twice during the U.N.'s last attempt to disarm Iraq before the U.S.-led coalition launched the war in Iraq.

Iraq's nuclear officials said Akashat's phosphate and the processing plant in Qaim were used only for fertilizer.

Akashat is located near the border crossing into Syria on Iraqi Highway 10, which coalition forces secured Friday with the surrender of the Iraqi colonel in charge of the crossing.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.


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