Iraq Invasion

Troops meet light resistance with push north

March 21, 2003|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

On the ground

Oil wells burn, Scuds fail, howitzers reply in Kuwait

In the air

Cruise missiles, bombs hit Baghdad palace, ministry

At home

Threat to nuclear plant in Arizona; ports on alert

WASHINGTON The U.S.- led invasion of Iraq got under way yesterday as American ground forces crossed from Kuwait into southern Iraq and began rolling toward the port city of Basra and aimed farther north toward Baghdad.

Elements of the U.S. Army and Marines met only scattered resistance as convoys rumbled across the lightly defended desert. Heavy artillery rounds fired into southern Iraq paved the way for advancing American helicopters and troops, signaling the start of the ground war.

Iraq retaliated for Wednesday nights missile strike on Baghdad by launching a small number of short-range missiles toward U.S. and British military units massed near the border in northern Kuwait.

A U.S. Patriot missile battery shot down at least one and possibly two of the incoming ballistic missiles, officials said. No American casualties were reported in the attacks.

But later in the evening, a U.S. Marine transport helicopter crashed in Kuwait, killing all four American Marines and 12 British commandos on board. The crash occurred nine miles from the Iraqi border, but was not believed to have been caused by hostile fire.

The earlier missile attacks may have led U.S. commanders to speed up their plans for moving into southern Iraq.

Under a bright moon, tanks, gasoline trucks, Humvees and other vehicles of the 101st Airborne Division headed north into enemy territory. British marines were meanwhile reported to have gained a foothold on the Faw peninsula, on Iraqs Persian Gulf coastline, about 75 miles southeast of Basra, Iraqs second largest city.

There were unconfirmed reports that U.S. forces had seized the port of Umm Qasr, south of Basra. There were also sounds of explosions near Basra, whose capture is a key U.S. military objective.

For the second day in a row, American cruise missiles struck targets in and around Baghdad. Sea-launched British missiles were also used for the first time.

Among the sites reported hit was the building near the bank of the Tigris River that contains the offices of Saddam Husseins younger son, Qusai, who was chosen by his father to head the Baghdad military district.

Two relatively brief waves of airstrikes occurred about 9 p.m., Baghdad time. Missiles fired from American and British vessels took part in the attack. But the massive show of air power that U.S. commanders had said would signal the start of an all-out war did not materialize.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said U.S. commanders would continue to adapt their war plans to changing circumstances on the battlefield. He added that the battle to come would be unlike any in the history of warfare.

It will be of a force and scope and scale that has been beyond what has been seen before, he said.

Psychological combat has already emerged as a significant element of the U.S.-led effort, and Rumsfeld followed his warning of the unprecedented battle to come with another plea to Iraqi forces to lay down their arms. He noted that some Iraqi soldiers had already surrendered to U.S.-led forces in Kuwait.

Rumsfeld said the United States is in communication with Iraqi military officials, including those in Hussein's elite Special Republican Guard, in an effort to convince them that Hussein's regime is history. He hinted there would be more defections in days ahead.

"Iraqi soldiers and officers must ask themselves whether they want to die fighting for a doomed regime," Rumsfeld said. His message was relayed into Iraq via airborne radio transmitters, according to U.S. officials.

The Americans are warning Iraqi civilians to stay home when hostilities begin in earnest and avoid any of the places where Hussein might have stashed military hardware or soldiers.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, characterized the first two days of the war as an effort to prepare the battlefield for large-scale combat operations. "Our responsibility is to give the troops the best opportunity for success and to protect their lives as best as possible. There are military preparatory actions that need to be accomplished before any major attack, Myers said.

The top U.S. military man also tried to play down expectations that the war would be either easy or quick. Warfare is dangerous, Myers said. We will have casualties.

Iraq's government said that the opening round of bombing ordered by President Bush on Wednesday against a bunker where Saddam Hussein was thought to be hiding had hit a residence of Husseins family in the Baghdad area. Other targets that were bombed included the homes of three of Hussein's daughters, Iraqi radio reported.

The Red Cross reported that one person had been killed and 14 injured in the opening attack.

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