Operation Iraqi Freedom - March 19/20
At 9:34 PM EST on March 19, 2003 (5:34 AM local time in Baghdad on March 20), United States and United Kingdom forces consisting of 40 cruise missiles and strikes led by 2 F-117s from the 8th Fighter Squadron (supported by Navy EA-6B Prowlers) and other aircraft began conducting military operations against the state of Iraq designed to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and to remove the Iraqi Regime from power. Less than two hours after a deadline expired for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq, the sound of air raid sirens were heard in Baghdad. A short time later, President Bush addressed the American public stating that coalition forces were in the "early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger."
According to the Washington Post, President Bush signed the launch order at 6:30 PM on March 19.
Early indications were that the strikes were on three targets of opportunity (based on perishable intelligence) on the outskirts of Baghdad and that target consisted of elements of the Iraqi leadership. Reports also indicate that the US military was transmitting over the Iraqi National Radio frequency.
The Washington Post went on to report that one of the initial targets was an anonymous home in Southern Baghdad and that the munitions were to penetrate the walls and roof of the home and to detonate at various levels including a basement.
The Red Cross released that some 12-15 people were killed during the strikes, one being a Jordanian citizen.
Fox News also indicated that another target was a refueling facility 160 kilometers west of Baghdad. Though this strike may have been part of an earlier Southern Watch strike.
The Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from 4 ships (including the USS Donald Cook, Milius, Bunker Hill, and Cowpens) and 2 submarines (Cheyenne and Montpelier) according to the Fox News citing the US Navy.
BBC and MSNBC indicated that at roughly 4 EGBU-27s were used against a target in eastern Baghdad. The New York Times however reported that only two 1,000 pound bombs were used.
One impact, likely from a Have Void, struck roughly 1/2 mile from the Al Rashid Hotel.
Reports from MSNBC indicating that there were strikes in eight or nine other locations are counting the Southern Watch strikes that took place long before the Baghdad strikes.
Navy officials reported that F/A-18 Hornets from the USS Constellation took part in strikes on targets around Basra.
About three hours after the attacks began, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein appeared on Iraqi television. He urged Iraqis to defend their country and predicted victory. It was not possible to determine whether the broadcast was live
For some time prior to these initial strikes on Baghdad, US and British Special Forces were operating within Iraq to make contact with opposition forces and to develop intelligence on potential targets or objectives such as mobile surface-to-surface missile launchers, movements of key leadership figures, and oil fields. Earlier in the day on March 19 there were a number of reports that indicated that US and British SOF were engaged in a firefight with Iraqi forces near Basra. Reports from CNN on March 20 indicated that a special forces MH-53 had a hard landing within the Southern No-Fly Zone. All soldiers were believed to have been rescued and there are indications that the helicopter was destroyed in later strikes.
Other activities on March 19 consisted of an altercation between Kuwaiti naval forces and Iraqi divers or other small boats that may have been attempting to lay mines.
Hours before the attacks on Baghdad began, Coalition aircraft monitoring compliance of United Nations Security Council Resolutions, Operation SOUTHERN WATCH Coalition aircraft used precision-guided weapons today to target several Iraqi military targets in southern and western Iraq. Targets and locations were: communication sites near Ash Shuaybah, Mudaysis and Ruwayshid; long-range artillery near Az Zubayr; a mobile early-warning radar and an air defense command center at an Iraqi air base in western Iraq; long-range artillery on the Al Faw peninsula; a surface-to-surface missile system near Al Basrah; and an air traffic control radar near Al Basrah. The Coalition struck the communications sites and the early-warning radar because they enhanced Iraq's integrated air-defense system. The artillery was struck because they were a danger to Coalition ground troops in Kuwait. The air traffic control radar was used to direct Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery fire at Coalition aircraft. The artillery pieces were GHN-45 and an Austrian 155mm gun. Type 59 field guns were struck near the Faw peninsula
In the days prior to March 19, and throughout that day, US and Coalition forces began to reposition closer to the Kuwait-Iraq border. The 3rd Infantry Division was reported to lined up along the border in snaking columns. The I Maine Expeditionary Force and British Royal Marines were preparing to launch strikes into Iraq driving towards Basra.
Following the initial strikes on Baghdad reports from various news agencies indicated that aircraft from the USS Abraham Lincoln and other aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf and Med had been surged and were headed for targets in Iraq.
Events on March 20 progressed rapidly. Shortly after the initial strikes on Baghdad reports began to emerge indicating that the Iraqi military had begun to attack American military emplacements with artillery and ballistic missiles.
At least three surface-to-surface missiles were launched from locations within Iraq aimed at targets in Kuwait. one Iraqi CSSC-3 Seersucker cruise missile apparently "landed" in the desert near Camp Commando at around 10:28 AM local time. Later in the day, around 12:27 PM local time, two Ababil missiles were fired, one headed for a Kuwait's western desert near where the V Corps was located and the other headed towards Kuwait City. Both missiles were shot down by Patriot PAC-3s according to CENTCOM. The military did not disclose how many Patriots were used, but some reports indicate that it took at least three Patriots to bring down one of the missiles.
The New York Times reported that a fourth missile of an unknown type was also launched against Kuwait. Its fate is unknown.
One of the missiles was brought down by Patriot missiles and the rest impacted in areas in northern Kuwait (the Kabals) and in Kuwait Bay. There were no indications that weapons of mass destruction had been used.
At 3:57 PM local time the first confirmed firefight between American and Iraqi forces took place. A unit of light armored vehicles from the 1st Marine Division engaged two Iraqi armored personnel carriers south of the border with Iraq. The LAV-25s destroyed the Iraqi forces using 25, chain guns and TOW guided missiles. Initial reports indicated that the US unit involved consisted of the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.
US Marine Corps Artillery battalions began heavy barrages on locations in Iraq late in the day and reports emerged indicating that after nightfall the 1st Marine Division began to cross into Baghdad. After passing into Iraqi territory the 1st MARDIV began an intensive attack on Safwan Hill just north of the border. The hill is said to be 44 feet high (though the Washington POst reported that the hill was 550 feet tall) but is the highest feature in the region and believed to be the location of an Iraqi observation post.
As this engagement was taking place other forces were attacking Iraqi tank positions to the west near the Ramallah oil fields.
British and American marines captured Umm Qasr, a sea port, some 30 miles south of Basra, late on March 20. The town is near the mouth of the Tigris river and is a major port and access point to the Persian Gulf. Reports indicate that the town fell with little resistance. After the town was secured, British and American marines from ships in the Persian Gulf. Supplies, reinforcements and additional aircraft were brought into the airfield at the town.
Initial reports indicated that the 1st Marine Division was en route towards Basra having by 4:37 PM EST (12:36 AM local time) destroyed 2 Iraqi tanks and 3 armored personnel carriers. By 8:00 EST that evening the I Marine Expeditionary Force was preparing to engage the 51st Mechanized Division.
At 6 AM local time 15,000 marines from the 1st Marine Division struck the 51st Mechanized Division reportedly breaking the unit's back.
By 11 AM EST reports began to emerge indicating that oil fields in Basra and other locations had been lit on fire by the Iraqi military. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, responding to a question at the DoD Briefing, stated that he had no evidence to confirm or deny that story. Reports from embedded reporters with the 1st Marine Division indicated that as they approached Basra there were no signs that the wells were burning though there were reports that other wells were on fire.
A U.S. Marine CH-46E Sea Knight with 16 American and British passengers and crew crashed in the Kuwaiti desert south of the Iraq border at about 7 p.m. March 20 Eastern time -- 3 a.m. March 21 in the Gulf.
As US marines crossed into Iraq SEALs and Royal Marines raided two oil terminals, Kaabot and Mabot, both in the Persian Gulf via helicopter. Other SEALs and British forces staged and air assault on oil facilities on the tip of the Faw peninsula which was also captured. Reports indicate that AC-130s and A-10 provided air support to these operations.
Shortly after Noon EST reports began to surface regarding operations in western Iraq. As the day went on it became clear that some US forces either the brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division or the II Marine Expeditionary Force now thought to be located in Jordan may have occupied the H3 airbase.
At 5:00 PM EST reports from CNN indicated that the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment had crossed into Iraq and engaged unidentified Iraq military forces. The 3-7th Cavalry is believed to be the first Army ground units to engage in the war. Subsequent reports in the New York Times and other sources indicated that the 3rd Mech crossed over into Iraq around 8 PM local time (noon, Eastern time).
DoD news stories however seem to place the start of the ground offensive at a later time stating that the 3rd Infantry Division did not begin its offensive until 10 PM in Washington, 6 AM March 21 in Baghdad. Reports from the New York Times indicate that the invasion took place some 24 hours ahead of schedule and were spurred by fears of additional Scud strikes on troop emplacements within Kuwait.
Just after the first units of the 3rd Infantry crossed into Iraq they encountered, engaged and destroyed an Iraqi command post and destroyed two T-72s shortly thereafter. The 3-15th Infantry Regiment assaulted the command post and an observation post after crossing over into Iraq. Engineer units began to quickly clear a mine field allowing US forces to pass through behind them.
Reporters with the 3rd Infantry Division reported that the unit was averaging roughly 24 miles and hour.
CENTCOM officials disclosed late in the day on March 20 that 4 American marines and 12 British marines were killed when the CH-46 they were in crashed. Few details were available as to why the Sea Knight crashed though the Iraqi military claimed that the aircraft was shot down.
As the day progressed additional air raids were carried out against Baghdad and other locations throughout Iraq. Some of the targets that were struck included part of a presidential compound. The building in question is believed to be a 10-story building that continued to blaze into the evening.
By 4:00 PM EST (midnight in Baghdad) on March 20 there had been at least seven raids on Baghdad.
Information on events taking place in Northern Iraq were difficult to come by and largely vague. References to gunfire and other disturbances were sporadic though it was not clear which units were engaged.
Special Forces also struck command and control facilities related to the use of weapons of mass destruction.
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