|Home > War on Iraq > Article||Monday March 24, 2003|
Herald Correspondent Lindsay Murdoch, travelling with a Marines artillery unit, reports on one of the war's first battles on the Iraq-Kuwait border.
There was little initial resistance as the United States Marines swept into southern Iraq early yesterday. One of the first encounters of the ground war was more like a massacre than a fight.
The Iraqi gunners fired first, soon after United States President George Bush announced the attack on Saddam Hussein was under way.
It was a fatal mistake.
The Iraqi artillery unit, preparing for the American invasion, had tested the range by firing registering shots at a likely spot where the American tanks would cross from Kuwait. US radar picked up the incoming shells and pinpointed their source.
Within hours, the Iraqi gunners and their Russian-made 122mm
howitzers were destroyed as the Americans unleashed an artillery
barrage that shook the ground and lit up the night sky.
"Dead bodies are everywhere," a US officer reported by radio.
Later in the day, the American firepower was turned on Safwan Hill, an Iraqi military observation post a couple of kilometres across the border. About six hours after US marines and their 155mm howitzer guns pulled up at the border, they opened up with a deafening barrage. Safwan Hill went up in a huge fireball and the Iraqi observation post was obliterated.
"I pity anybody who's in there," a marine sergeant said. "We told them to surrender."
The destruction of Safwan Hill was a priority because it had sophisticated surveillance equipment near the main highway that runs from Kuwait up to Basra and then Baghdad. The attacking forces could not attempt to cross the border unless it was destroyed.
Marine Cobra helicopter gunships firing Hellfire missiles swept in low from the south. Then the marine howitzers, with a range of 30 kilometres, opened a sustained barrage over the next eight hours. They were supported by US Navy aircraft which dropped 40,000 pounds of explosives and napalm, a US officer told the Herald. But a navy spokesman in Washington, Lieutenant Commander Danny Hernandez, denied that napalm - which was banned by a United Nations convention in 1980 - was used.
"We don't even have that in our arsenal," he said.
The navy admitted to using napalm as late as 1993 in training exercises on the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico, but the last cannister of a vast US naval stockpile was reportedly destroyed in a public ceremony in April 2001.
When dawn broke on Safwan Hill, all that could be seen on top of it was a single antenna amid the smoke. The marines then moved forward, their officers saying they were determined to push on as quickly as possible for Baghdad.
The first air strike on Baghdad, and Mr Bush's announcement that the war was under way, appeared to catch US officers in the Kuwait desert by surprise. The attack was originally planned for early today. But the US officers did not seem worried.
Within hours of Mr Bush's announcement, a vast army of tanks, trucks, bulldozers and heavy guns was surging to positions on Iraq's border.
Despite the early indications that Iraqi forces were showing little resistance, some US Marine units halted 200 metres inside Iraqi territory last night as they came under fire from anti-tank missiles and rifles. They called in artillery to deal with the threat.
The Pentagon subsequently issued a statement to the Herald:
Your story ('Dead bodies everywhere', by Lindsay Murdoch, March 22, 2003) claiming US forces are using napalm in Iraq, is patently false. The US took napalm out of service in the early 1970s. We completed destruction of our last batch of napalm on April 4, 2001, and no longer maintain any stocks of napalm. - Jeff A. Davis, Lieutenant Commander, US Navy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense.
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War On Iraq
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Saddam has been killed: it's an intelligence guess
Copyright 2003. The Sydney Morning Herald.
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