Fallujah's masked fighters have been fighting house to house, firing from rooftops and mosques with a seemingly unending supply of firepower, wounded U.S. servicemen said Monday, recounting tough urban combat in the Iraqi insurgent stronghold.
"They were ready to fight to the death," Lance Cpl. Travis Schafer, a rifleman with a Marine battalion, told a news conference at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where he was being treated for a shrapnel wound in his right hand. A rocket-propelled grenade had exploded 15 yards to his right in a deserted marketplace.
"It's house-to-house fighting," he said, "Rooftop-to-rooftop.”
About 70 wounded soldiers have been arriving daily at the military hospital in Germany since the week-old offensive in Fallujah began, about twice the normal number of casualties from Iraq.
The troops said the insurgents appeared well-organized and heavily armed.
"They had their own little plan of what they were going to do, a pretty set idea of where they were going to fight," said U.S. Army Spc. Kris Clinkscales, 22, of San Antonio, Texas, his right arm in a sling with shrapnel wounds.
Schafer, of Puyallup, Wash., was surprised by the fighters' firepower.
"It seemed like they have a pretty unlimited amount of RPGs and mortars. They seemed to fling those about wildly," he said.
Schafer, with the 1st Marine Regiment, said his unit had only pushed 400 yards into the city before it took heavy fire from small arms, mortars and RPGs.
"They were locking on us with RPGs and mortars from buildings all around us," the 20-year-old said. "Even from mosques they were firing — from all over the place."
Lance Cpl. Ryan Chapman with the 1st Marine Regiment, had an ugly scar over his left eye — a reminder of his encounter with a sniper.
As his unit came under sustained fire, Chapman had been tracking a sniper with the telescopic sight of his wire-guided missile launcher. But he was hit first, with bullet striking his forehead just below the edge of his helmet.
Chapman, 22, of Lawrence, Kansas, acknowledged he had been lucky, but he said he was eager to get back into action.
"It's nothing too serious. It cracked my skull, but I think it looks worse than it is," he said. "I want to go back — my buddies are out there."
He was among 419 patients admitted to Landstuhl in the last week, 233 of whom had combat-related injuries, according to doctors. The most common wounds have been from bullets or blast injuries from rocket-propelled grenades.
While most the recent casualties in Landstuhl are from Fallujah, officials do not have a precise breakdown.
Another 46 wounded troops from Iraq were en route to the hospital Monday, Landstuhl spokeswoman Marie Shaw said.
The offensive in Fallujah has killed at least 38 American troops and six Iraqi soldiers. The number of U.S. troops wounded is now 275, although more than 60 have returned to duty. U.S. officials estimated more than 1,200 insurgents have been killed.
No estimate of civilian casualties has been given.