Operation Iraqi Freedom - March 23
Operations to secure Umm Qasr continued. The US advance north continued but encountered stiffer resistance in some locations, including at An Nasiriyah, where twelve US troops from the 507th Maintenance Company were reported missing. These US soldiers apparently were captured and an unspecified number of these soldiers were shot, execution style.
Coalition air forces have flown more than 6,000 sorties to date in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
A prisoner of war camp was under construction at Umm Qasr to properly accommodate the hundreds of Iraqi troops who had surrendered in the area. Work continued to make safe the booby-trapped oil installations in southern Iraq.
An RAF GR4 Tornado aircraft from RAF Marham, which was returning from an operational mission, was engaged near the Kuwaiti border by a Patriot missile battery. Both aircrew were killed.
US forces continued to experience heavy fighting outside Nasiriyah as Iraqi forces continued to assault American positions. Task Force Tarawa, after relieving the 3rd MECH, enterred the city and were engaged in street fighting. TF Tarawa secured two bridges east of the city but were engaged by an Iraqi armor unit on a two-mile stretch of road between the two bridges. The fighting was particularly intense as some 50 marines are believed to have been wounded.
Allied forces also are strengthening their northern front against Baghdad. U.S. warplanes carrying military personnel have been landing frequently in the area, which has a large Kurdish population.
The American aircraft also struck positions of Ansar al-Islam, a militant Muslim group in the north of Iraq that the United States says is affiliated with the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.
Iraqi forces also began to employ a new strategy luring US forces in by intending to surrender, only to open fire on US Marines as they came closer. As many as nine US Marines were killed in ambush. F/A-18s, AV-8s, and A-10s were brought in for combat air support.
The 3rd Infantry Division continued its movement north towards Baghdad coming within 100 miles of the city. The unit passed to the west of Najaf. The Washington Post reported that the 2nd Brigade had travelled some 230 miles in 40 hours running into Iraqi resistance that comprised of several technicals.
The Second Brigade of the Third Infantry Division fought an overnight battle with Iraqi Baath Party militiamen near the city of Najaf, on the western banks of the Euphrates River. Coalition commanders on the scene say at least 100 militiamen were killed and 20 were captured in the battle.
US and British forces in the south continued to face fierce fighting outside the city of Basra as Coalition forces attempted to pacify hostile activity. According to the Washington Post a heavy tank and artillery battle took place outside the city.
Umm Qasr was still not firmly in allied hands, however. Forces from the coalition today were still reported to be contending with Iraqi guerrillas in the city.
During combat air operations at approximately 3:40 p.m. local time Monday, a U.S. F-16 fighter engaged a U.S. Patriot battery approximately 30 miles south of An-Najaf, Iraq. The F-16 pilot executed the strike against the Patriot while en-route to a mission near Baghdad. No soldiers were injured or killed by the strike. The incident is under review to ensure the future safety of the Patriot crews and aircrews.
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