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The Atlanta Journal and Constitution March 25, 2003

Allied units thrust into new territory

By Ron Martz, Dan Chapman

U.S. battlefield strategy remained fluid Monday, with American, British and Australian troops arrayed within striking distance of Baghdad.

In a war without front lines, or fixed positions, tactical improvisation seemed the rule of the day.

The stealth and speed of the 3rd Infantry Division (mechanized), which had earlier rushed northward along the Euphrates River, epitomized the dash toward Baghdad. The division, headquartered at Fort Stewart, divided its forces into various, lethal units, taking the fight to Saddam Hussein's troops in central and western Iraq.

By nightfall, elements of the 3rd Infantry had reached the town of Karbala, 50 miles southwest of Baghdad.

In all, tens of thousands of allied troops, accompanied by thousands of tanks, Humvees, artillery pieces and more, all covered by allied aircraft, have spent the last five days rushing in fits and starts from Kuwait to Baghdad.

Capt. Jason Conroy, commander of Charlie Company Task Force 1-64, said the resistance his unit had encountered appeared to be coming from isolated and uncoordinated attackers.

"These are more like terrorist attacks than organized resistance," said Conroy.

Charlie Company changed positions just before dark Monday to prevent enemy gunners from zeroing in on its position.

The Second Brigade's Combat Team and other forces of the division had expected to be farther north by now. But the resistance, weather and mechanical and logistical problems played havoc with their ambitious timetable.

Task force officials said plans for reaching Baghdad had been flexible from the beginning. Change was not unexpected.

Coalition forces have coursed up Iraq's north-south arteries from the Kuwait-Iraq border. The mechanized march was, at times, as chaotic in its staging as it was ambitious in scope. At one point, portable mess kitchen trailers were seen outpacing Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Abrams tanks.

"Great, we're invading Iraq with cooks," Maj. David Accetta of the Army's 3rd Corps Support Command cracked from the back of a Humvee.

In all, a quarter-million U.S. and allied military forces are taking the fight to Saddam.

Battle-strength details are purposely sketchy, but it is believed that more than 1,100 coalition aircraft, 850 M-1 Abrams tanks and 400 M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles are waging war against Saddam, according to GlobalSecurity.org.

With the battle shifting to central Iraq, only the narrow eastern front separating Baghdad from Iran is believed to remain without any allied forces. The allies are roughly arrayed this way:

Northern Iraq: Allies have bombed an air base and a Republican Guard base near Kirkuk. Mosul, the main northern city, has been hit hard by allied forces. The U.S. also bombed Jalawla, headquarters of the Iraqi army's 2nd Corps.

American warplanes have also reportedly landed in Kurdish territory, hitting units of an Islamic group with alleged al-Qaida and Baghdad ties.

MSNBC.com reported that elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade have been inserted into the north, not far from the Turkish border.

Western Iraq: Coalition forces have seized Iraq's H2 and H3 air bases, both considered strategically important. Part of the 3rd Infantry is also reportedly operating in the west. U.S. commanding Gen. Tommy Franks said Special Operations forces from the United States, Britain and Australia were busy in northern and western Iraq, but he declined to give details.

Southern Iraq: Allied forces control wide swaths of the south, according to Franks. Basra, in far southeast Iraq, remains a trouble spot.

Members of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Unit have secured several oil fields near Basra. British troops remain in control of the airport, but fierce resistance forced them to withdraw from the town.

British officials are considering sending in Royal Marine Commandos and the 16th Air Assault Brigade, two units that specialize in urban warfare.

The port at nearby Umm Qasr also remained unsecured, with sniper fire and fierce fighting. Yet Franks said he thought that Basra and Umm Qasr would be pacified "within a very few days."

Faced with attacks on their supply lines, Marines in southern Iraq have taken a tougher approach with Iraqis, forcing men from vehicles, questioning them and then slashing their tires to ensure they won't harass other convoys.

Farther up the Euphrates, the Marines reported Sunday they had taken control of the Iraqi navy port of Az Zubayr, near Basra. Monday, though, a Marine patrol reported artillery and mortar fire.

Members of the 1st Marine Division dug in north of Nasiriyah, the scene of heavy resistance and casualties Sunday. They battled into the heart of the city Monday. Fighting continued until sunset, with the Marines gaining control of much of the urban center but sustaining an unknown number of casualties.

Nasiriyah, spanning the Euphrates River, is coveted by U.S. forces for a pair of bridges that could be used to help a Marine division move north.

GRAPHIC: Graphic: DEVELOPMENTS

Developments as of 7 p.m. Monday EST

Coalition forces continue to advance toward Baghdad but are facing determined fights in rear areas. U.S. Gen. Tommy Franks said U.S. troops "intentionally bypassed enemy formations" and that attacks in those areas are not unexpected.

The main northern city of Mosul is hit by several fresh U.S.-led air raids.

The northern front grows, with American planes landing in Kurdish territory and airstrikes hitting positions of an Islamic group with alleged al-Qaida and Baghdad ties.

Coalition warplanes bomb an Iraqi military barracks near the Kurdish-held town of Chamchamal.

Coalition planes target Republican Guard forces just south of Baghdad. U.S. Gen. Tommy Franks confirms that one U.S. Apache helicopter and a two-man crew are missing in the action. The crewmen are later shown on Iraqi television and identified as Warrant Officer Ronald D. Young Jr., 26, of Lithia Springs and Chief Warrant Officer David S. Williams, 30, of Orlando.

Iraqi security and police officers dig more trenches around military offices in the heart of Baghdad in preparation for battle. Baghdad

Red Zone: Radius of about 100 miles surrounding Baghdad; thought to be defended by the Republican Guard.

A brutal sandstorm with howling winds and scattered but determined resistance from Iraqi forces stalls elements of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division near Karbala, south of Baghdad.

U.S. troops search for chemical weapons at a munitions depot near Najaf.

1st Marine Expeditionary Force continues to fight around Nasiriyah, where at least nine Marines were killed and 12 reported missing over the weekend. The center of the battle is reported just north of the city.

Fierce resistance forces British troops to withdraw from Basra to regroup. Officials consider sending in Royal Marine Commandos and the 16th Air Assault Brigade, two units that specialize in urban warfare.

Faced with attacks on their supply lines, Marines in southern Iraq take a tougher approach with Iraqis, forcing men from vehicles, questioning them and then slashing their tires to ensure they won't harass other convoys.

Britain suffers its first combat death in fighting near Az Zubayr.

Coalition officials cancel press tours of Umm Qasr and the Rumaylah oil fields because of continued fighting.

Sources: New York Times, Associated Press, Times of London, CBS News

Text by WAYNE SNOW / Staff
/ CHUCK BLEVINS / Staff


Copyright 2003, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution