- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 19 (UPI) — Three days into the ground war, the U.S. military has found no chemical or biological weapons or Scud missiles — and neither has Iraq launched any Scuds.

Special forces have been operating in the western desert and in northern Kurdish areas. One of their first tasks has been to find and destroy Iraqi Scud missiles, 88 of which were launched during the Persian Gulf war 12 years ago, 39 against Israel.

Thus far they have found no Scud missiles, although Iraq is suspected of having two dozen.

"To my knowledge we have not discovered any to this point," U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the Joint Staff vice director for operations, said at a Pentagon briefing Saturday.

Neither have Special Forces found chemical, biological or radiological weapons or storage sites. It was the threat from Scud missiles and so-called weapons of mass destruction — and the potential that Iraq could provide them to terrorists — that President George W. Bush cited when beginning this war.

Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke warned Saturday the soldiers might have a difficult time finding any such weapons.

"We know with great certainty the Iraqi regime was extraordinarily skilled at hiding the stuff, at dispersing the stuff in very small amounts in underground bunkers. So I want to manage expectations. It could be difficult to find and exploit this stuff," Clarke said.

U.S. forces by Saturday had pushed about 150 miles into Iraq from Kuwait, about halfway to Baghdad — the Iraqi capital and Saddam Hussein's seat of power.

The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and the British Royal Marines secured the southern Rumaylah oil field late Friday, where nine wells had been set on fire before they arrived. More than half of Iraq's oil comes from that field, according to U.S. Central Command.

The northern oil fields near Kirkuk were not yet under U.S. control but the bombing campaign continued. CNN reported Mosul was under attack on Saturday.

Ground forces crossed the Euphrates river and were past Nazariyah, McChrystal said.

Back in northern Kuwait, 10 U.S. soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division were wounded Saturday in an apparent terrorist attack at their staging base, known as Camp Pennsylvania. A reporter embedded with the unit said two grenades were lobbed into two tents.

All 10 of the wounded were taken to a field hospital, a Central Command spokesman said. The reporter told CNN six of the injuries were serious.

Saturday, Iraqi forces in Basra continued to resist U.S. and British troops fighting on the outskirts of the southern Iraqi city. Coalition forces were avoiding heavy city fighting, Gen. Tommy Franks, the U.S. Central Command chief, said in Qatar. Instead, he said, forces were surrounding the city, trying to arrange for Iraqi surrenders, or ascertain that the forces there did not pose a threat to their logistics line before moving north to Baghdad.

"Our intent is not to move through and create military confrontations in that city. Rather we expect that we will work with Basra and the citizens in Basra, the same way I believe has been widely reported in Umm Qasr," Franks said.

Coalition forces Friday took control of Umm Qasr, a key port city south of Basra.

U.S. combat aircraft flew more than 1,000 sorties Friday, dropping several hundred precision munitions including 100 conventional air-launched cruise missiles on targets around Iraq. Thirty U.S. and British Ships launched 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles Friday, including some targeted at Khormal in northern Iraq, where a militant Islamic faction called Ansar al Islam is based, McChrystal said. The United States has claimed Ansar al Islam has ties to the al Qaida terrorist network.

The Washington Post reported Saturday 50 cruise missiles were used in the attack.

A Pentagon official said Central Command was still investigating reports that a Tomahawk cruise missile may have missed its target and struck inside southwestern Iran. It may have been linked to U.S. operations in northern Iraq that Pentagon officials have refused to confirm, but Kurdish sources told UPI have been ongoing since Friday night against an Islamist Kurdish group, Ansar-al-Islam.

The "shock and awe" aerial bombing campaign continued in Baghdad and elsewhere, officials said, but the intensity of the campaign was waxing and waning as Central Command watched the effects of the bombs.

"Some people I think misinterpreted shock and awe for a wave of fire and huge destruction. In fact, in an effects-based campaign, as this was, we can achieve much shock and awe by hitting just critical points," McChrystal said.

The air defenses around Baghdad — the super "missile engagement zone" — have been degraded but are still considered a threat.

"We still respect the air defenses in the Baghdad area … an integrated system of air defense artillery, radars, command and control communications and surface-to-air missiles."

Between 1,000 and 2,000 Iraqi soldiers have surrendered to U.S. forces, according to McChrystal. Among them was the senior leader of the commander of Iraq army's 51st Division. Most of his 8,000 strong unit was permitted to abandon their posts without being taken into custody.

Another 700 potential prisoners are lined up in the desert in a surrender formation waiting for U.S. forces, Franks said.

"There's a long way to go, and much of the Iraqi armed forces, highlighted by six Republican Guard divisions and special Republican Guard divisions who may still fight. So we must remain prepared for potentially tough fights as we move forward," McChrystal said.

Franks at his briefing said Iraq had launched six surface-to-surface missiles into Kuwait, though not Scud missiles. Four of them were intercepted and destroyed by the Patriot PAC-3 missile system, one of them Kuwaiti. He said one Iraqi missile landed harmlessly in the Arabian Gulf and another landed an unpopulated area in the desert.

As U.S. and British forces pressed closer to Baghdad, Iraqi soldiers lit oil-filled trenches on fire. The newest generation of U.S. precision weapons are not impeded by smoke or fire, so the trenches are unlikely to have a major effect on the bombing campaign.

Clarke told reporters she believes Saddam Hussein's forces lit the fires to make it seem as though the U.S. bombing campaign is far more haphazard than the military advertises.

"I don't think they truly thought it would impede our planes or our precision-guided weapons," Clarke said. "I think they've plan for a long time to do that to try to create very dramatic images of what it looks like is happening in Baghdad."

"The very placement of some of these trenches gives you an indication of what they were thinking, putting trenches near hospital and mosques and schools, which are clearly not targets for us," she said.

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