Image: Jim Miklasszewski
By Jim Miklaszewski Chief Pentagon correspondent
NBC News
updated 6/21/2005 7:33:02 PM ET 2005-06-21T23:33:02

Residents of Karabilah in western Iraq searched for more bodies Tuesday in bombed-out buildings leveled by U.S. airstrikes.

The U.S. military claims 47 foreign fighters were killed during "Operation Spear," a four-day offensive aimed at killing or capturing suicide bombers now pouring across the Syrian border into Iraq in record numbers.

Senior military officials say that as many as 150 potential suicide bombers have entered Iraq in the past month — that's five times the estimated 30 per month in March.

Suicide bombers have been an especially lethal weapon.

"Foreign fighters are what amounts to a terrorist cruise missile," says Lt. Gen. John Vines, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq. "They can target a specific element without having to worry about their own survival."

Vines also revealed the foreign fighters are willing to carry out their deadly mission for very little money, including $150 to plant a roadside bomb and several hundred dollars for a suicide attack.

"I don't know how you assign a top dollar," says Vines. "I mean, how much do you pay someone who's going to murder some other people when they kill themselves?"

But U.S. military officials tell NBC News that recently some foreign fighters and insurgents have turned on each other. The officials believe that some Sunni insurgents may be ready to stop their attacks and join the new Iraqi government, which has sparked gun battles between insurgents and foreign fighters.

Despite that, Vines said Tuesday he sees no decline in the overall level of the attacks anytime soon. Therefore, he's not ready to recommend the withdrawal of large numbers of the 135,000 American troops still in Iraq.

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