Stench of death pervades scene of attempted retreat WAR IN THE GULF

March 03, 1991|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Sun Staff Correspondent

JAHRA, Kuwait -- Although the sweet scent of women's cologne fills the air over a three-mile stretch of highway here, it cannot mask the overwhelming stench of death.

The bodies of Iraqi soldiers, some of them burned beyond recognition, others frozen in final acts of desperation, were all removed from the area yesterday, four days after what one U.S. Army officer called "the worst carnage" of the war against Iraq.

The carcasses of more than 1,000 vehicles headed west toward Baghdad -- ranging from tanks to supply trucks to stolen luxury cars -- jam all six westbound and eastbound lanes and spill several hundred yards off the shoulders, stuck helplessly in the desert sand.

All varieties of loot seized by the Iraqis are strewn on the ground, including not only broken bottles of perfume but also refrigerators, televisions, clothing and children's toys from store shelves, hand-crafted furniture and cassette tapes.

The scene here -- the result of a devastating combination of U.S. aerial bombardment and ground artillery fire on Tuesday -- presents the visitor with a microcosm of the four-day ground war between U.S.-led coalition forces and the Iraqi army.

The Iraqi soldiers were retreating from Kuwait City when the Americans attacked with full force. The vehicle formations betrayed an unsophisticated knowledge of defensive battlefield tactics. The large-scale destruction showed the awesome killing power of U.S. military weaponry.

"They were leaving all at one time, all on one road," said Army Capt. Drew O'Donnell, operations officer for an artillery battalion of the 2nd Armored Division's Tiger Brigade.

"It was almost a silly target."

Captain O'Donnell, of Brooklyn, N.Y., said the brigade had attacked the Iraqi convoy as part of its final objective of securing the outskirts of Kuwait City. Because the Iraqis chose a single road leading to Baghdad and did not disperse their vehicles, U.S. forces resorted to a textbook attack plan.

"First you take out the lead vehicles and the trail vehicles to cause a bottleneck," the captain said. "Then you go in for the kill."

U.S. warplanes appeared to have used cluster munitions to cover the wide area occupied by the moving vehicles. The Tiger Brigade relied on M-109 long-range artillery, one of the most potent in the U.S. arsenal.

He and other soldiers said most of the Iraqis fled their vehicles and were taken prisoner. No one interviewed at the scene yesterday could offer any estimate on the number of Iraqis who died.

"This is probably the worst carnage you'll find in the KTO [Kuwaiti Theater of Operations]," Captain O'Donnell said.

Members of a U.S. Army grave-registration unit from Fort Lee, Va., worked their way down the hill collecting the dead in body bags and piling them onto trucks. They said the bodies were to be sent to Iraq.

"A lot of them will never be identified," a soldier said.

By their appearance, many dead Iraqi soldiers made a futile attempt to escape a fiery death. One man, his lower right leg missing, died while crawling away from his truck. His left foot severed, his hair burned off and skin blackened, the dying man rested his head in his hands as if surrendering to his fate.

Several of those gathering the dead declined to discuss casualty counts or their work. One soldier, resting against the concrete highway divider, removed his black rubber gloves and smoked a cigarette. A corpse lay at his feet.

"We really don't want publicity about what we're doing, because people tend to get upset about death and things like this," he confided.

An Army sergeant who said he was part of an intelligence unit assigned to Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of allied forces, walked off with a portable radio and tape player. "I know I shouldn't be doing this," he said. "But I'm going bonkers without music."

Dozens of U.S., British and Saudi troops were wading across the cluttered landscape, assessing the damage, taking pictures and looking for souvenirs.

Some U.S. soldiers posed beside their victims and collected rifles and other weapons, which they proudly showed off to each other. The weapons were likely to be destroyed, since only those destined for military museums and intelligence analysts would be saved, officers said.

"I didn't think it was going to be like this," said Army Chief Warrant Officer Charles M. Russell of Fort Hood, Texas, as he reflected on the war and the scene spread around him. "It was too easy. It was over a lot quicker than I thought.

"This was supposedly the fourth largest army in the world, but look at this. They're thieves," he said.

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