DEBKAfile War News - 3/26/03

Short 400-500 Tanks For Battle of Baghdad

Kuwait says its Patriot anti-missile battery shot down one of possible two Iraqi missiles believed Scuds fired at US Ali Salem air base north of Kuwait City Thursday

Battle rages south of Basra second day Thursday as US-British artillery and warplanes pound large Iraqi tank column on way from Basra to Faw Peninsula to recover lost ground. UK spokesman reports 14 Iraqi tanks destroyed.

Southward breakouts of Special Republican Guards from Baghdad area reported Wednesday night and Thursday

DEBKAfile: Fresh movements indicate Saddam has switched tactics - sending elite forces to meet advancing US troops head-on outside Baghdad. Al Medina Division heading towards Najef, Nebuchadnezzar moving towards al Kut.

DEBKAfile: Its mission is to open and secure front line west of Baghdad - first engaging Special Republican Guards Hamourabi Division, crossing Euphrates and taking over Baghdad’s Saddam Hussein International Airport

1000 US paratroops land under cover of dark early Thursday night at Harir airfield northwest of Kurdish town of Irbil. DEBKAfile: Parachutists from 173rd Airborne Brigade based in northern Italy

Large Iraqi column of military vehicles is still moving south towards Najef in central Iraq, scene of earlier battle with US troops in which Iraqis sustained hundreds of losses.

Bush at Central Command HQ, Florida, cautions against expectations of quick victory

Second serviceman dies of wounds sustained in grenade attack on US 101st Airborne Division’s command camp in Kuwait: Major Gregory Stone, air liaison officer between Idaho National Guard and 101st. Sgt. Asan Akbar is in custody in connection with attack.

101st Airborne Steals March

Though slowed down, Thursday, March 27, US forces were holding to their lines of advance in the face of billowing clouds of sand and dust and the harassment of the hit-and-run raids staged by Iraqi irregulars determined to halt their advance and cut their supply routes.

The Iraqis are using fast-moving small pickup trucks fitted with four-wheel drives and equipped with light mortars, heavy machine guns, anti-tank rocket launchers or rocket-propelled grenades –RPGs. At every bridge crossing, they badger the rear of US forces, as happened near al Amarah in eastern Iraq and Nasiriya and Najef, in the center.

US Marines bypassing al Amarah were plagued as they crossed the Tigris to make for Al Kut, 130 km south of Baghdad. Thursday morning, March 27, the first 2,000 troops were reported to have been detached from the Iraqi Special Republic Guards Nebuchadnezzar Division and headed out of the Baghdad region towards al Kut.

At Nasiriya, US Marines came under heavy attack each time they tried to break out to the north. To the northeast, the 3rd Infantry Division circled round Najef and was caught by Iraqi fire when a Euphrates bridge gave way under its tanks. This battle was a costly one for the Iraqi assailants who lost an estimated 300 men with no known casualties to the American force. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, this crossing was constantly under Iraqi guns, with troops of the Special Republican Guards al Medina Division taking part.

The most significant development of Day Seven of the war was the sudden appearance of the US 101st Airborne Division west of Karbala, at the forefront of coalition lines on the road to Baghdad. This elite unit, which commands a fleet of 300 helicopters gunships with enormous firepower, departed Kuwait secretly on March 21, moved quietly along the Iraqi-Saudi frontier with hardly any resistance and turned up Wednesday west of Karbala. Fighting under its motto “Rendezvous with Destiny”, the 101st has been given the task of opening and securing the western Baghdad battlefront. Taking a route that passes between two lakes, the Bahr al Milh and Hawr al Habbaniyah, the unit will be called up on engage the Hamourabi Division of the Special Republican Guards, cross the Euphrates and fight to capture Baghdad’s Saddam International Airport.

Even if the advancing US forces continue to drive themselves hard, are not stalled by stiff Iraqi counter-action and reach the gates of Baghdad on time on Saturday, March 29, they will need to rest up, replenish stores, ammunition and fuel and repair their combat equipment before they can go into battle. According to DEBKAfile’s military experts, they are still short of 400-500 tanks in order to fight on a broad front and win. This problem will no doubt top the agenda of the Bush-Blair talks Thursday, however much they protest they are meeting for a “peace conference”.