Baghdad blazes after bombing

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 21, 2003

WASHINGTON - American ground forces are 100 miles inside Iraq and driving on Baghdad, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Richard Myers said today during a Pentagon news conference.

The U.S. air campaign against Saddam Hussein's regime began with a tremendous bombing campaign against military targets against Baghdad, Kirkuk and Mosul, he said.

With the beginning of the air campaign, Operation Iraqi Freedom is now fully under way, he said.

Myers gave a chronology of the actions.

He said the operation started Wednesday with coalition strikes against air defense sites, surface-to-surface missile sites and artillery positions. "Some of these targets included radars in western Iraq and near Basra in southern Iraq," Myers said.

Later that day, coalition special operations forces went into action throughout western and southern Iraq to conduct reconnaissance operations and to take down visual observation posts on the southern Iraqi border.

Into this plan came the senior leadership target of opportunity, the chairman said. "Specifically, we struck at one of the residences in southeastern Baghdad, where we thought the leadership was congregated," he said. "We also

struck intelligence service headquarters in Baghdad and a Republican Guard facility."

Myers said coalition forces hit the targets with nearly 40 Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles. "Two Air Force F-117s also dropped precision-guided, 2,000-pound penetration wea-pons on these leadership targets," he said.

On March 20, coalition ships launched more than 20 Tomahawks against eight targets in Baghdad. One of the targets housed Saddam Hussein's Special Security Organization. Ten Tomahawks also hit three Iraqi Republican Guard targets in Kirkuk.

"In the last 24 hours, special forces have seized an airfield in western Iraq and have secured border positions in several key locations," Myers said. "Additionally, Navy SEALs and coalition special forces have seized Iraq's two major gas and oil terminals in the northern Persian Gulf."

Sailors from coalition ships boarded three Iraqi tugboats in the Khor Abdullah waterway and found weapons, uniforms and mines, Myers said. "Our naval vessels are being extra vigilant to ensure the Iraqi navy has not placed any mines in international waters," he said.

Myers said ground action started when the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, along with British allies, crossed into Iraq. He said they have secured the port city of Umm Qasr and the al-Faw Peninsula.

"They have also secured the main oil manifolds along the al-Faw waterways and have moved through the southern Iraqi oil fields," he said. "These fields, if we're successful, should be secured sometime later today, and they will be a great resource for the Iraqi people as they build a free society."

At about 10 p.m. EST March 21, "the rest of the ground campaign began in earnest when the 3rd Infantry Division rolled into southern Iraq," Myers said. "At this hour, our ground forces have pushed close to 100 miles inside Iraq."

Since Operation Iraqi Freedom began, coalition aircraft have flown more than 1,000 sorties and dropped scores of precision-guided munitions on Iraqi military targets.

Myers said the coalition is clearly achieving its objectives, and while they are following the plan, there are "many unknowns out there."

"We have dropped millions of leaflets over Iraq telling the Iraqi people our intentions and asking the Iraqi military to lay down their arms," he said.

Some Iraqi soldiers have surrendered and others are abandoning their positions, he said. "Certainly, many Iraqi military are heeding our message that it is better to fight for the future of Iraq than to fight for Saddam Hussein," Myers said.

At 1 p.m. EST March 21, the air campaign against the regime of Saddam Hussein started. Myers said that several hundred military targets would be hit over the coming hours.