Coalition to Step Up Attacks After Better Weather

Coalition forces announced plans Thursday to increase attacks against Iraqi forces in the coming hours and days.

Forecasts indicate "pretty good weather" in the next three days, a senior official at U.S. Central Command said Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"I think you'll certainly see us increase our activity in the coming hours, days given the clearing weather," the official said.

The official also confirmed that coalition forces have suffered "multiple casualties" in several incidents but refused to give specifics on numbers or locations.

Near the southern Iraq city of An Nasiriyah, more than 30 U.S. Marines were injured, two seriously, in an accidental exchange of fire between American units, according to reporters for French and British media who were with the Marines.

ITV correspondent James Mates said two groups of Marines were dispatched during the night to repel an Iraqi contingent, but ended up firing at each other.

The U.S. Central Command said it had no information on the report.

Near Najaf, one of the Army's motorized howitzers misfired, caught fire and exploded during an artillery battle with Iraqi forces. The crew of the M-109A6 Paladin escaped before the explosion, but two of the soldiers were injured, one with second-degree hand burns. An Army official at the scene said the injuries were not life-threatening.

The explosion of the heavy, tank-like Paladin was captured in dramatic footage by Associated Press Television News.

The worst sandstorm in decades, with winds whipping at 50 mph and upward, began Tuesday and stalled thousands of U.S. and British soldiers headed toward Baghdad.

In the Iraqi capital, residents woke Thursday to find everything from cars to dining tables, windows and books under a coat of fine yellow desert sand.

The sandstorm also swept over the Gulf, interrupting bombing missions from at least one aircraft.