Big Tank and Soldier Losses: Are we losing territory at Basra and An-Nasiriya?
Situation At Basra And An Nasiriya
March 22, 2003, 1300hrs MSK (GMT +3), Moscow - Additional information about
the situation in the primary combat areas in southern Iraq became available
by 1300hrs (Moscow time, GMT +3). The US command reports about the supposed
surrender of the entire Iraqi 51st Infantry Division turned out to be a complete
fabrication. According to our sources the 51st Division continues to fight on
the approaches to Basra and we can only talk about individual cases of Iraqi
soldiers being captured in combat.
Elements of the US 3rd Infantry Division and the 1st Marine Infantry Division ended up in an exceptionally difficult situation. While attempting to encircle Basra from the north and to block An-Nasiriya elements the 3rd and 1st infantry divisions found themselves wedged between the defending Iraqi forces. The Iraqi command used this situation and delivered a decisive counterattack with up to 80 tanks in the open flank of the US forces, slicing through their combat orders. As the result of this counterattack these US units are now at risk of being separated from the main coalition forces and being surrounded.
By 1100hrs MSK Iraqi units advanced into the US attack front by 10-15 kilometers and Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of the coalition forces, ordered his troops to switch entirely to defensive operations. At the same time he issued orders to the forward-deployed coalition tank units to halt their reconnaissance operations in the directions of Es-Samaba and An-Najaf and to move immediately to support the defending US forces. However, the situation is complicated by the fact that a part of the coalition tanks are currently disabled due to the lack of fuel and are awaiting the arrival of fuel convoys. Thus the tanks are able to gradually rejoin combat in small numbers as the fuel becomes available.
Currently the US and the Iraqi tank forces are engaged in mobile head-on combat approximately 70-90 kilometers to the south of An-Nasiriya. Combat orders have been received by the carrier borne aviation in the Persian Gulf, which until now did not take part in this battle. At the same time orders were issued to all available coalition strike aircraft in Qatar to scramble in support of the defending coalition forces.
Intercepted radio communications indicate that during the morning period of March 22 the US forces lost 10-15 tanks destroyed or disabled and up to 30 other armored vehicles. Medevac helicopters flew more than 30 search-and-rescue missions, which suggests heavy coalition losses.
Our sources report that during the early morning hours in southwestern Iraq in the vicinity of Akashat the Iraqi forces have engaged and surrounded a tactical paratroop unit of the 101st Airborne Division. Some of the surrounded paratroopers were able to break out into the desert, where they request air support and finally lost their Iraqi pursuers. However, up to 30 US troops were killed or captured in this engagement. Additionally, [Russian] radio intercept units report that one of the US attack helicopters providing close air support was shot down.
The top US military command is planning to enhance the coalition command. During the Joint Chief of Staff meeting its Chairman Gen. Richard Mayers expressed strong criticism of the actions by the coalition commander Gen. Franks and proposed to strengthen his headquarters with several other senior military commanders. Gen. Franks is required to do everything he can to change the current situation on the front. Analysts believe that, if during the next 3-5 days Gen. Franks fails to achieve any significant results, than it is entirely possible that he will be replaced as the commander of the coalition forces.
Update: The coalition forces were able to capture a bridge in the suburbs of Nasiriya. Their control of the Basra airport is tentative at best as large numbers of Iraqi forces continue to resist with heavy artillery and machine gun fire. Around Basra the coalition forces have advanced at most by 1.5 kilometers. Gen. Franks has announced a change in plans: the coalition forces are no longer set on capturing Basra so not to "create military confrontations in that city." The coalition forces still do not control Umm Qasr and appear to be losing territory.