- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

KUWAIT CITY, March 21 (UPI) — The first whiffs of burning oil wells began drifting south into Kuwait Friday as American armored units raced north for the bridges across the Euphrates on the way to Baghdad. British and U.S. Marines troops ground on against stiffening resistance to take Iraq's main port of Umm Qasr and the Rumallah oil fields.

It was as though two entirely different battles were under way, one fast and daring, the other steady and deliberate, reflecting the dual objectives of the allied commanders.

But as well as the two strategic targets of Baghdad and the southern oil fields, there were other actions under way Friday. British, Australian and U.S. Special Forces were spearheading moves on the western Iraqi airfields near the Jordanian border.

In the north, U.S. and British strikes were bombing targets around the city of Kirkuk, but the refusal of Turkish permission for the 4th Infantry Division to use their territory to open a major northern front means that allied capabilities in this region are limited.

So far, there has been no sign of the "shock and awe" attack that Pentagon officials had proposed before the war began. An all-out air attack launching 3,000 missiles and smart bombs on Iraqi targets simultaneously, the "shock and awe" strike was predicted as a way to stun and cow the Iraqi military command into shocked immobility.

That plan now seems to have been delayed and possibly modified, as the allied commanders assess the morale and reaction of the Iraqi troops they have faced, hoping that they may be able to secure a mass collapse without a massive bombing campaign.

The main battles were being conducted by the 230,000 American and British troops based in Kuwait. The battle for Umm Qasr was a two-pronged assault. British Commando troops and U.S. Marines launched an amphibious assault on the Faw peninsula while British armored forces and U.S. Marines surged overland through the Iraqi frontier to attack the port from the rear and seize the Umm Qasr airport.

They had three main objectives. The troops were tasked to take the port intact as a new logistics route, particularly for humanitarian supplies; to clear the ground from which short-range Iraqi missiles had been launched against Kuwait; and to secure the hundreds of wellheads of the vast Rumailah oilfield.

Thirty wellheads were on fire, British Defense Minister Geoffrey Hoon said Friday, and allied sources in Kuwait said they believed that four small oil refineries had been fired. But the oil facilities on the Faw facilities were taken intact and U.S. Marines managed to secure at least three of the giant gas oil separation plants, a major objective of the mission.

Allied patrols were heading north towards Basra, Iraq's second city, occupied mainly by Shia Muslims who have long suffered at Saddam Hussein's hands. British and U.S. psy-ops teams were close behind the forward troops, hoping that Basra could provide the politically-needed scenes of Iraqis welcoming allied troops and their liberators.

The second battle, the bold thrust north to the Euphrates bridges and towards Baghdad, was by Friday morning New York time almost a hundred miles deep into Iraq and meeting little resistance. Led by the U.S. 7th Cavalry, the armored brigades and mechanized infantry of the 3rd Infantry Division — close to 10,000 vehicles and nearly 20,000 troops — raced north throughout the night and into the day. They stopped only to refuel and to clean their air and oil filters.

Led by the Bradley fighting vehicles with M1-Abrams tanks close behind and Apache helicopters scouting ahead, the advance was described by military sources back in Kuwait as "a classic cavalry operation — taking strategic ground fast." On the way, specialized units stopped off to secure Iraqi airfields and get them back into sufficient working order to act as refueling and service points for combat and cargo helicopters bringing forward the vital fuel supplies.

Plowing through clouds of dust thrown up by the armored vehicles, the race for the bridges across the river Euphrates would open the way to Baghdad — and to the probably decisive confrontation with the heavy armored units of the Iraqi Republican Guard.

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