BAGHDAD, Oct 26 (Reuters) U S and Iraqi security forces in the restive western province of Anbar are taking ''an aggressive, offensive approach'' to reclaim the city of Ramadi from insurgents, a senior U S general said today.
Major General William Caldwell, countering an impression that U S commanders had all but given up on tackling the violence in Anbar, said U S and Iraqi forces were making progress against the insurgents.
Asked whether five more U.S. deaths in Anbar announced today were a sign of a new outbreak of violence, Caldwell said they were linked to a deliberate policy by Iraqi and U S forces to take on ''insurgent elements''.
''They're continuing to have progress. They, in coordination with Iraq security forces, are in a daily conflict with the insurgent elements out there,'' he told a news conference in Baghdad.
''It's been a very deliberate plan that's been ongoing now for several months,'' he said. ''It's an aggressive, offensive approach to taking back the city of Ramadi, to return it back to Iraqi security force control.'' Last month, Marine Major General Richard Zilmer, top commander of US forces in western Iraq, said the mission in the sprawling Sunni province of Anbar was to train Iraqi security forces, not ''to win that insurgency fight.'' A recent transfer of troops to Baghdad to crack down on violence in the capital has reinforced the impression that US commanders no longer saw confronting the Anbar insurgents as a top priority.
Last week, dozens of al Qaeda-linked gunmen took to the streets of Ramadi in a show of force to announce the city was joining an Islamic state comprising Iraq's mostly Sunni Arab provinces, Islamists and witnesses said.
Anbar province, much of it a desert no-man's land, encompasses a third of Iraq including the restive cities of Ramadi, Falluja and Haditha.
It has been a bloody battleground for Marines and other U S troops. A U S sailor and four U.S. Marines were killed by enemy action in Anbar yesterday, the military said today.
Many of Anbar's predominately Sunni Arab inhabitants -- long Iraq's dominant sect under Saddam Hussein but now sidelined from power by Shi'ites and ethnic Kurds -- have violently resisted the US presence. Home-grown insurgents and foreign fighters aligned with al Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq have operated there.
Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver played down the significance of last week's show of force by al Qaeda gunmen in Ramadi, saying only around 60 had taken to the streets and they had dispersed after a few minutes when police arrived.
Caldwell said al Qaeda was under pressure from Iraqi civilian leaders in Anbar.
''They're experiencing increased pressure by tribal sheikhs in the al Anbar region who are dissatisfied with al Qaeda's presence and their current actions,'' Caldwell said.
''Since early August they (Iraqi leaders) claim to have now killed just over 60 al Qaeda in Iraq members,'' he said.
REUTERS PB KP2240