Operation Iraqi Freedom - March 31
Coalition air operations continue to target the Republican Guard. There were about 2,000 sorties on March 31, with 800 of those strike sorties. While some were targeted against fixed regime targets, most went after "emerging targets" in the Republican Guard.
There were 400 tanker sorties March 31. And more than 20 million gallons of gas have been transferred air-to-air since the start of operations. There were also 250 airlift sorties and 125 command and control and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sorties flown March 31.
Defense officials reported that 3,000 bombs were used against Iraqi positions during the weekend, and a total of 8,000 bombs have been used throughout the campaign so far.
Fighter and strike fighter aircraft from Carrier Air Wing 8, deployed aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), pounded positions in northern Iraq for most of the night March 31, the longest night of flights and sorties since the war began March 19.
Pilots flew nearly 50 sorties on sites, including artillery installations, a barracks and a surface-to-air-missile (SAM) installation in northern Iraq. The missions were designed to pick up the pressure on ground forces and support the newly-arriving 173rd Army Airborne Brigade.
Carrier Air Wing 11, assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, announced that it was lending four of its F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 14, currently aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), to provide a mix of fighter/tanker capabilities to support coalition forces on the ground in Iraq. The first day, the Super Hornets will fly 1,700 miles with drop tanks and be refueled from tankers aboard Nimitz. The second leg of the trip will be 2,300 miles long and involve an in-flight refueling before the Super Hornets will touch down aboard Lincoln.
The ground war moved closer to Baghdad, with fighting between coalition troops and Iraqi forces reported around Hindiyah, some 80 kilometers south of the capital, and nearby Hilla. U.S. officers said Iraqi militia and Republican Guard units had suffered heavy losses. Iraq reported fighting in and around the southern city of Nasiriyah and said the Republican Guard was involved along with regular army troops and Ba'ath Party militia.
The 3rd Infantry Division attacked and successfully seized a bridge over the Euphrates River near Al Handiyah, once again preserving Iraqi infrastructure that had been rigged for destruction. Engineers with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team cleared the explosives and report that the bridge is in good shape.
Along with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, soldiers from the division's 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment worked to deny enemy access to resupply routes in the sector. During the course of the day's operations, the Division captured nearly 150 enemy prisoners of war and destroyed numerous enemy vehicles, air defense weapons, and small arms caches.
The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) attacked and seized the airfield at An Najaf in its continuing effort to isolate enemy forces in the area. The division destroyed two T-55 tanks, 15 technical vehicles, and a field artillery battery. Over 70 enemy soldiers were captured.
In operations in the vicinity of As Samawah, the 82nd Airborne Division used precision artillery counterfire to destroy an enemy D30 artillery system. The division continued operations to secure the Corps' lines of communication.
In total, V Corps units captured over 230 enemy soldiers on March 31.
The U.S. Central Command says U.S. Marines have captured what it describes as a huge ammunition depot in south-central Iraq. Central Command said the facility included 40 warehouses.
On or about March 31, 2,300 Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit were offloaded at Camp Patriot, Kuwait, on their way to Operation Iraqi Freedom. The men and women of the 24th MEU were transported ashore from their homes at sea aboard USS Nassau (LHA 4), USS Tortuga (LSD 46) and USS Austin (LPD 4) - known as the Nassau Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG).
A U.S. Marine Corps aviator, conducting a routine night training mission, ejected from his AV-8B Harrier at 7:40 p.m. local time (11:40 a.m. EST) today while attempting to land on the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau (LHA 4). The aircraft went into the water as the pilot ejected. A search and rescue helicopter from Nassau recovered the pilot, who was in fair condition.
An S-3B Viking from VS-38 "Red Griffins" in Carrier Air Wing TWO (CVW 2) aboard USS Constellation (CV 64) veered off the flight deck early this morning after making an arrested landing at approximately 5:10 a.m. local. The S-3B was the last plane to be recovered in its flight cycle. Shortly after touching down on deck, the S-3B malfunctioned while taxiing on the carrier's flight deck and slid to the port (left) side of the deck. The plane went over the side, hit flight deck safety netting and the two pilots onboard ejected into the water. The plane then went into the water. A helicopter from HS-2 "Golden Falcons" was performing search and rescue operations for the flight cycle and arrived on scene immediately. Both pilots were recovered by a Search and Rescue (SAR) swimmer and transported to Constellation where they are being evaluated for minor injuries. After completing SAR operations and recovering the pilots, scheduled flight operations aboard Constellation continued. USS Thach (FFG 43) was performing plane guard duties at the time of the incident and immediately placed a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) in the water. The RHIB arrived on the scene shortly after the rescue helicopter.
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