Operation Iraqi Freedom - March 22
On the third full day, March 22, of the war began with US forces continuing to stream into Iraq though strikes on Baghdad were not as intense as the nights before.
Various reports from both local and international sources indicated that between 1,000 and 1,500 Turkish soldiers had crossed into Northern Iraq. Turkish officials refused to confirm these reports though there was evidence that even more forces were preparing to cross the border.
After weeks of indecision concerning whether or not the United States would be allowed to stage the 4th Infantry Division from Turkey, US military planners decided to shift the division's equipment through the Suez Canal headed for Persian Gulf. It is not clear if these ships will make port in Kuwait as there is a possibility that this equipment could be offloaded in Saudi Arabia.
Elements of the 3rd Infantry Division had charged roughly 150 miles into Iraq, a roughly half the distance from Kuwait to Baghdad. The 3rd Brigade captured the Talil airfield after its artillery began shelling Iraqi military emplacements there. While the 1-30th Infantry protected its flanks preventing intervention by forces in Nasiriyah, the 1-15th Infantry Regiment assaulted the airfield inflicting serious losses on Iraq's 11th Infantry Division, which was defending the location.
The 11th Infantry later surrendered resulting in the capture of some 300 prisoners.
The 3rd Infantry Division's progression through Iraq consists of a "leap frog" tactic in which one of the brigades will move up towards a certain location where it will stop and refuel and rest while another brigade will pass it stopping at a position further up the road when it stops and is passed by the last brigade.
Breakdowns and complications in completing mission objectives slowed the division down considerably causing a delay of nearly ten to twelve hours in the timetable.
After capturing the Talil airfield, the 3rd Brigade captured a bridge that crosses the Euphrates River located outside the city of Nasiriya. This bridge was held by the brigade until the marines arrived on the seen at which point the 3rd Brigade continued along Highway 28 on the west side of the rivers.
The 1st Marine Division continued its drive towards Basra. While securing the oil fields outside of the city marines stumbled upon 10 Iraqi T-55s that were dug into defensive positions roughly 2 miles from the oil fields. US Marines engaged the tanks and destryoed all 10 using shoulder-fired missiles and TOW anit-tank missiles fixed on top of HMMWVs. As these forces continued towards their objective the marines experienced various skirmishes.
Eight miles south of Basra at a turnoff to Zubair, the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines Regiment took over an abandoned Iraqi command and control facility and used it as a field headquarters. The marines left this position later in the day as forces began heading closer to Basra.
While the commanding general of the 51st Mechanized Division did surrender to Coalition forces it appears that much of the fighting that occurred around Basra consisted of elements of the 51st that decided not to give up.
Though early indications seemed as if US forces would not enter the city of Nasiriyah as it might result in additional casualties, US Marines enterred Nasairiyah and encountered stiff resistance from Iraqi forces resulting in intense street-by-street fighting.
Despite repeated announcements that Umm Qasr, in the south, had been secured, reports of scattered fighting persisted indicating that Fedayeen Saddam was having some success in delaying Coalition plans.
Royal Navy and US Navy minehunters continued clearance operations in the southern waterways to allow supplies to be shipped into Umm Qasr. In particular, RFA Sir Galahad was stood by to deliver humanitarian aid.
Two Royal Navy Sea King Mk 7 Airborne Early Warning helicopters collided over the northern Arabian Gulf. There were no survivors from the six British and one US crew members aboard. Two US Marines were killed in action in southern Iraq.
Two additional missiles were launched from Iraq and were reportedly intercepted by Patriot missiles. The New York Times reported that Iraqi forces were repositioning their surface-to-surface missiles and are specifically targetting US force locations, specifically the Kabals. The New YOrk Times reported that the missile launchers were heading north out of Basra. Analysis indicates that all or most of the missiles fired from Iraq into Kuwait have been Ababil-100s and that no Scuds have been launched.
By the end of the third full day between 1,300 and 1,400 Iraqi soldiers had surrendered to US and British forces.
A U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator found and destroyed a radar-guided anti-aircraft artillery piece in southern Iraq Saturday at 5:25 EST making it the first Predator strike of Operation Iraqi Freedom, defense officials announced. The multi-role Predator used one AGM-114K "Hellfire II" missile to strike an Iraqi ZSU-23-4 Mobile anti-aircraft artillery gun outside the southern Iraqi town of Al Amarah.
March 22 marked the first day that the USS Theodore Roosevelt participated with air strikes in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. By 7:30 a.m. local, all 20 planes launched in the strike were back aboard TR.
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