- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

The Army’s only retreat in the lightning-fast war to oust Saddam Hussein came after an Iraqi general in the town of Najaf cell-phoned ahead to his troops that a regiment of Apache attack helicopters was on the way.”He used it to speed-dial a number of Iraqi defenders,” Lt. Gen. William Wallace, the commander of Army V Corps in Iraq, told reporters at the Pentagon yesterday via a teleconference hookup from Baghdad. “As our attack aviation approached the attack positions, they came under intense enemy fire.”Some 30 front-line Apache Longbow helicopters of the 11th Aviation Regiment were forced to retreat March 24, returning to a desert base nicked and punctured by a hail of ground fire. It was an Army unit’s first encounter against a Republican Guard unit, and, on this one occasion, it ended in failure.”The attack of the 11th Aviation on the Medina Division did not meet the objectives that I had set for that attack,” Gen. Wallace said.But at the time, Army briefers at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Doha, Qatar, presented a different assessment.A day after the mission, Gen. Tommy Franks, the allied commander, told reporters, “We know that they were very effective in their mission.”The command’s spokesman, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, noted one downed Apache and said, “all the other helicopters involved in the mission did accomplish the mission and returned safely to base.”Coalition sources told The Washington Times that the mission was flawed because no tactical aircraft was assigned to subdue the ground fire, to which any helicopter is vulnerable. The sources said that on subsequent deep-strike operations, A-10 attack jets were in the air and were called in to attack groundfire coming at the Apaches.Said Gen. Wallace, “I would suggest to you that we learned from our mistakes, we adjusted and adapted based on what we learned, and we still used the Apache helicopter in a significant role during the course of the fight.”This is not the first time Gen. Wallace has given a frank assessment. During the war, he told reporters the enemy he was facing was “a bit different” than the one he war-gamed against.Gen. Wallace yesterday stuck by that heat-of-the-battle assessment, saying the ferocity of Saddam’s guerrilla Fedayeen and non-Iraqi Arabs surprised him.”He was willing to attack out of those towns toward our formations, when my expectation was that they would be defending those towns and not be as aggressive,” the three-star general said. “There was also a presence of foreign fighters that we subsequently discovered to be seeded within and cooperating with the Saddam Fedayeen, which were at least fanatical, if not suicidal. So all of those things led to that comment.”He said that when he found himself forced to conduct urban combat in the central town of Najaf because guerrillas harassed his troops, he discovered that wargaming done back in Germany in the urban setting with heavy M1A1 tanks turned out to be the correct tactic.”Those battles in and around Najaf served as a rehearsal of sorts for the subsequent isolation of Baghdad,” he said.Despite one battlefield setback and the surprise, Gen. Wallace could bask yesterday in a near-flawless campaign that got his troops to Baghdad in 16 days and toppled the final Saddam stronghold, Tikrit, in 27 days.Gen. Wallace commanded all Army troops inside Iraq, directing units that included the 3rd Infantry Division, the 101st Airborne Division, the 11th Aviation Regiment and elements of the 82nd Airborne Division.His forces drove from Kuwait, along the Euphrates River, and then entered Baghdad from the southwest. As they did, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force moved on a parallel path, crossed the Tigris River and entered east Baghdad, rendezvousing with the Army in the capital’s downtown.”If somebody told me that in 16 days we would be in downtown Baghdad, I would have accepted that outcome gladly,” he said.Gen. Wallace said a key moment in the battle came a few days before he reached Baghdad. He ordered five simultaneous attacks on the Republican Guard and forces defending Najaf, as the 3rd Infantry rode through the Karbala Gap south of Baghdad.All the movement forced the enemy to reposition. “At that point, the U.S. Air Force had a heyday against those repositioning Iraqi forces,” Gen. Wallace said.

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