Operation Iraqi Freedom - March 30
U.S. warplanes and cruise missiles again bombarded Baghdad, striking a presidential palace, an intelligence complex and a training center for paramilitary forces. Meanwhile, ground forces mounted operations in and around four key cities to the south -- Nasiriyah, Samawah, Najaf and Karbala -- to suppress Iraqi army and paramilitary units threatening U.S. troops moving north.
Three Republican Guard divisions defend the approaches to Baghdad: the Medina Division to the south, the Al Nida Division to the east and the Baghdad Division farther east around the city of Kut. The U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division has massed on the southern reaches of Baghdad, while the 1st Marine Division is approaching from the southeast.
Lead units of the 3rd Infantry Division pushed to Hilla, just southeast of Karbala, after overnight airstrikes scattered three Iraqi army mechanized and tank units guarding the city. Militiamen armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers tried to stop the advance, but they were beaten back by a barrage of artillery and rockets, allowing additional elements of the 3rd Infantry to move within striking distance of the Republican Guard's Medina Division arrayed north of Karbala.
In Najaf, along the Euphrates River about 100 miles south of Baghdad, troops from the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division used artillery and called in airstrikes to target militiamen who have been responsible for repeated attacks on U.S. military supply lines. The 101st also secured an airfield near the city, although some of the division's AH-64 Apache attack helicopters were forced to abandon their missions after coming under Iraqi fire.
In Samawah, also along the Euphrates but 50 miles farther south, two battalions from the 82nd Airborne Division engaged an estimated 1,000 paramilitary fighters. A Marine raid secured buildings held by Iraq's 11th Infantry Division in Nasiriyah, 50 miles to the sout.
The Central Command reported that in one building, Marines found more than 300 chemical suits and masks, injectors for the nerve agent antidote atropine, two decontamination vehicles and other decontamination devices. In another, they discovered more than 800 rocket-propelled grenades, along with mines, hundreds of mortar and artillery rounds and large quantities of small arms ammunition.
In the southern port city of Basra, British troops reported finding a cache of training equipment for chemical warfare, including a Geiger counter, nerve gas simulators, gas masks and protective suits.
Although the discoveries suggested that Iraqi forces were prepared for chemical warfare, it was unclear when the equipment was deployed; U.S. forces have found no chemical or biological weapons since the invasion of Iraq began with airstrikes March 20.
A spokesman for British forces in the Persian Gulf region, said Royal Marine commando units staged raids to target militiamen and soldiers who continue to control Basra. Targets included five Iraqi military officers, including a general. The commandos also killed a Republican Guard colonel who British officials believe was sent to Basra to "try and strengthen the resolve among the Baath Party militia and the paramilitaries that are operating in the area."
In Kuwait, an Egyptian electrician drove a pickup truck into a group of U.S. soldiers standing outside a store at Camp Udairi, wounding 15. U.S. officials would not say whether the incident, which is under investigation, was accidental or deliberate. Kuwaiti law enforcement official said the man, who was working at the camp, appeared to have targeted soldiers in response to the invasion of Iraq. Fourteen of the injured were treated at the scene for minor injuries; officials expected one soldier to be flown to Germany for treatment of a knee injury.
U.S. and British soldiers manning vehicle checkpoints in Iraq, or otherwise interacting with civilians, were in a heightened state of alert today after a suicide attack Saturday that killed four U.S. soldiers.
The Pentagon has identified 43 U.S. military personnel killed or missing in action, with more than 100 wounded. Three more Marines were killed accidentally today, bringing the total to more than a dozen, when a UH-1 Huey helicopter taking off after refueling crashed, officers said.
Airstrikes on Baghdad targeted military facilities at the Abu Garayb presidential palace, the Karrada military intelligence complex and the barracks of a major paramilitary training center, according to the Central Command. Several telephone exchanges in the city and a train loaded with Republican Guard tanks also were struck, U.S. officials said.
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