- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 29, 2003

The Army's storied 101st Airborne Division went into combat last night for the first time, attacking Republican Guard troops and tanks south of Baghdad, and the Pentagon proclaimed that the allies now own 40 percent of Iraqi territory.
Scores of 101st Apache Longbows, the Army's most advanced attack helicopter, mounted a dead-of-night operation, backed by Air Force and Navy aircraft.
While the jets dropped 500-pound bombs, the two-seat Apaches hovered and darted at 50 feet to fire Hellfire laser-guided missiles at Republican Guard tanks and armored vehicles near the city of Karbala south of Baghdad.
The air strikes are softening enemy units in preparation for an upcoming major land battle between the Army's 5th Corps and Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard defending Baghdad. Two Apaches crash-landed, one while leaving base, the other while returning. The four aviators survived.
Farther south, Saddam's ragtag militias continued to attack coalition forces and civilians from Najaf to Nasiriyah to Basra.
Last night, Iraqis fired a Chinese-designed Silkworm missile into Kuwait City. It exploded in the water just short of land, damaging a shopping mall. There were no injuries.
Firing a sea-skimming Silkworm may reflect a change in tactics. Iraq has fired 13 short-range ballistic missiles at Kuwait City, with no effect. The missiles have either been shot down by Army PAC-3 Patriot missiles or have overshot Kuwait into the Persian Gulf.
Kuwait is the base for the vast majority of ground troops who invaded Iraq March 20.
The allies further limited Iraq's options yesterday when two Navy F-18 Hornets bombed three al Samoud 2 missile launchers 25 miles northwest of Basra.
"As the regime deploys death squads to slaughter its own citizens, coalition forces are working to save Iraqi lives," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said at the Pentagon, referring to the Fedayeen Saddam and other gangs terrorizing southern and central Iraq.
Mr. Rumsfeld made a stark prediction of how the military will deal with the Gestapo-like groups who are preventing lower Iraq's Shi'ite population from welcoming the alliance or receiving badly needed humanitarian aid.
"Their name, Fedayeen Saddam, is a lie, because their purpose is certainly not to make martyrs of themselves, but to make martyrs of innocent Iraqis opposed to Saddam's rule," he said, referring to the dictator's "men of sacrifice."
"But we will take them at their word, and if their wish is to die for Saddam Hussein, they will be accommodated."
In downtown Baghdad, the earth shook again for the second straight night as the Air Force dropped more huge penetrating bombs on regime targets. Thursday night, a B-2 stealth bomber released two 4,700-pound bombs on Baghdad's telecommunications building and Saddam's previously struck presidential palace on the Tigris River.
The two days of successive attacks signal that the allies are going after deep-underground hide-outs that may protect Ba'ath Party leaders and want to sever buried fiber-optic communication lines.
South of Baghdad, the U.S. Army continued to take territory, battle irregulars and set the stage for a showdown with the Republican Guard.
Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said the alliance now controls 40 percent of Iraqi territory. He said coalition aircraft flew over 1,000 missions in the past 24 hours and have released more than 5,000 precision-guided munitions, including 650 Tomahawk cruise missiles since the war started March 19.
"Overall, our plans are on track," Gen. Myers said. "We are degrading Iraqi forces, particularly the Republican Guard, by air, and that's fixed wing and rotary wing. And we will engage them with the full weight of our combat power at a time and place of our choosing."
In central Iraq, Army troops employed tanks, artillery and helicopters around Najaf to battle more than 1,000 irregulars.
The fighters continued to attack the 3rd Infantry Division soldiers, who are supposed to focus on the Republican Guard, not guerrillas.
"We don't have enough people to handle this type of mission. We need some infantry in here to do this," said Capt. Jason Conroy, a company tank commander.
After surveying Najaf, Capt. Conroy said it "looks like a ghost town."
"There's nobody there except these guys dressed in black fighting us," he said. The Fedayeen's signature uniform is black, complete with black hoods.
The Fedayeen, al Quds and other fanatical Saddam followers are acting as a blocking force for the mechanized Republican Guard. At times, they have mounted suicide charges in trucks against armored companies, trying to take out a tank with rocket-propelled grenades.
The Army's 5th Corps, led by the 3rd Infantry and 101st Airborne, hailed as the "Screaming Eagles," is trying to neutralize the fighters and has killed hundreds of them this week.
Farther south in Nasiriyah, a town the allies expected to bypass on the way to Baghdad, Marines continued to fight pesky Fedayeen, who attack critical supply convoys feeding 5th Corps troops.
In Basra, British armored forces are maintaining a ring around Iraq's second-largest city as Fedayeen forced Iraqi's regular army soldiers to fight. Reporters with the British said hundreds of civilians tried to flee the besieged city, only to be fired on by Saddam's loyalists.
For the third straight day, Mr. Rumsfeld had to answer charges that he approved a flawed war plan from Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the allied commander. Some retired officers argue the plan is light on heavy forces. The Army's 3rd is the only "heavy" division deployed.
From the men fighting in central Iraq there are persistent reports of shortages of supplies and complaints that a 300-mile supply line from Kuwait is stretched thin and not adequately protected.
The dispute was fueled yesterday by remarks made by Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, the Army 5th Corps commander. He conceded to The Washington Post and the New York Times that planners never "war-gamed" for combating the Fedayeen resistance. He said their tactics had in fact slowed operations, putting the three-star general in direct conflict with U.S. Central Command's contention that the war is on schedule.
Mr. Rumsfeld refused to enter the dispute between his generals, saying he had not read the articles.
"We're one week into this, and it seems to me it's a bit early for history to be written, one would think," he said. "The war plan is Tom Franks' war plan. It was carefully prepared over many months. It was washed through the tank with the chiefs on at least four or five occasions." The "tank" is the secure Pentagon meeting room for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Added Gen. Myers, "I stand by this plan. I think Gen. Franks put together a good plan. I'll give you a definitive statement: I think it's a brilliant plan."
Pentagon officials privately concede that planners underestimated the number of Fedayeen-type marauders that Saddam sent to southern Iraq, and the degree to which the fighters infiltrated the cities and regular army to force them to resist the Western invaders.
Mr. Rumsfeld yesterday provided this profile of the Fedayeen: "These death squads report to the Hussein family directly. Their ranks are populated with criminals released from Iraqi prisons. They dress in civilian clothes and operate from private homes, confiscated from innocent people, and try to blend in with the civilian population. They conduct sadistic executions on sidewalks and public squares, cutting the tongues out of those accused of disloyalty and beheading people with swords."
Iraq for the second time this week claimed that a coalition bomb struck a market, this one in the Shula neighborhood of Baghdad.
The allies suspect the regime may be bombing its own people and blaming the United States.
The Washington Times reported before the war that intelligence reports indicated Saddam might execute such gambits.
Iraq also claimed this week that the coalition struck a crowded market in the Sha'ab neighborhood. Central Command spokesmen say no facility remotely close to the area had been targeted and they know of no weapon that went off course at that time.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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