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RAMADI, Iraq — Officers with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division — the unit that commands troops in Ramadi — said that their most recent reports indicate that roughly 12 enemy fighters were killed Wednesday in an exchange after a building the enemy was firing from was targeted by highly precise, guided rockets.

According to The Associated Press, Iraqi authorities said the dead in the incident included women and children. A six-hour firefight erupted after troops were attacked with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades arout 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Marine spokesman 1st Lt. Shawn Mercer told the AP.

The officers said that they had not received reports that civilians were killed as a result, although they said that such collateral damage was possible, given the dense urban terrain. They said, however, that before any such guided munitions strikes could be launched, it had to be approved on a number of levels.

“We exercise a great deal of restraint before firing,” said Lt. Col. Thad McWhorter, deputy commander of the 1st Brigade. “There are many times when we don’t fire. Among the things we look at first are whether there is anything in the air at the time and whether there are friendly troops or civilians in the area.”

McWhorter said that while U.S. troops strive to avoid civilian deaths, it was a reality of urban warfare in a populated city that some civilians would find themselves in peril.

“Most of these episodes of contact occur at night, in the dead, dark deep of night, when there’s a curfew,” McWhorter said. “If the AIF (anti-Iraqi forces) go into somebody’s apartment and starts shooting out the window, we are going to shoot at the guy with the gun. That’s the unfortunate thing about being a civilian in the midst of combat.”

The battle was just the latest episode in an ongoing U.S. operation aimed at clearing enemy fighters from the city’s violent downtown area and extending a network of joint U.S. military and Iraqi police outposts there. In the last week, commanders say they have captured at least one suspected cell leader and have killed between 30 and 50 enemy fighters.

“There are only a few areas of the city that are still considered to be hotly contested, and we’re trying to stamp them out there,” McWhorter said. “Our goal is to litter that city with blue-shirted policemen.”

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