How US forces captured Saddam International Airport

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BAGHDAD AIRPORT – 'We are on an offensive-oriented mission. Our job is to


destroy the enemy. We defend the airfield by destroying the enemy around


us,' explained Lt. Col. Scott Rutter, commander of the 2-7 Mechanized


Infantry Battalion, at a command briefing to his officers Saturday




The 2-7 Battalion, together with the 3-69 Battalion from the 3rd Infantry


Division First Brigade, took over Saddam Hussein International Airport on


the western edge of Baghdad late Thursday night.


The airport is surrounded on all side by sites of vital importance to the


Iraqi regime. These include Special Republican Guard headquarters, barracks,


and bases, two presidential palaces, one of which is Saddam's official


residence. There are also two suspected chemical and biological warfare


plants located in close proximity to the airport.


While 3-69 took over the main terminal building, the 2-7 Battalion is


stationed at the entrance to the airport complex on Highway 8 connecting


Baghdad to the airport.


'We are blocking potential enemy reinforcements along Highway 8 from the


city of Baghdad. This protects friendly forces securing Baghdad


International Airport. It is a major enemy avenue of approach in their bid


to kill soldiers and interdict operations,' said Maj. Kevin Cooney, the 2-7


Executive Officer.


Friday morning, while forces stationed in the terminal met with light


pockets of resistance from Special Republican Guard forces still within the


airport complex, the 2-7 Battalion was barraged by enemy fire.


From 7:30 to 11:30, Iraqi forces attacked the battalion with tanks, mortars,


artillery, RPGs, and light arms fire, most of this emanating from a


presidential palace 500m away from battalion headquarters.


The Iraqis also attempted to attack the battalion with an explosives-laden


fire truck that was destroyed by an M- 1A-1 Abrams tank round. During Friday


morning's fight, soldiers destroyed three Iraqi T-72 tanks with shoulder-


launched Javelin anti-tank missiles.


The Iraqis ambushed the battalion engineering company that was securing a


POW collection point 500m from headquarters. One soldier was killed and six


were wounded by shrapnel. The wounded were medevaced to an army surgical


hospital in the rear.


At the same time, the 2-7 Alpha Company conducted room-to-room


search-and-destroy missions in a nearby Special Republican Guard compound.



The complex had already been bombed in air force operations Thursday night.


However, the soldiers, led by Rob Smith, engaged pockets of resistance still


holed up in the rubble. 'Most of the soldiers we saw were eager to


surrender,' Smith said.


In all, on Friday the battalion destroyed six tanks and eight armored


personnel carriers and killed five Iraqi snipers.


According to intelligence officer Derek Smits, 'From the accounts we


received from the soldiers after the shooting ended, the Iraqis were trying


to fight their way out of the airport and the presidential palace and escape


to Baghdad. The troops saw them attempting to blast through a wall to escape


the palace,' he said.


Iraqi Radio reported Friday morning that thousands of civilians would march


to retake the airport at 15:00. The US forces began precision aerial bombing


a Republican Guard camp at 14:30. 'Note the timing of the bombing,' Rutter


remarked; 15:00 passed with no Iraqi attempt by civilians nor military to


retake the airport.


Learning from the previous day's experience, the battalion beefed up its


offensive operations on Saturday, taking positions inside Special Republican


Guard headquarters and directly outside a presidential palace.


'Yesterday the Iraqis attacked us in an effort to put us on the defensive.


They tried to dislodge us from a blocking position on the highway, but it


did not work. By nightfall their attacks ended. Our one offensive yesterday,


which met with minimal contact from the enemy, was sufficient to stop their


operations,' said Rutter.


The ground troops have found that even after air force bombing reduced Iraqi


complexes to rubble, Iraqi forces often remain or attempt to return.


Infantry offensives are necessary to flush out these structures and occupy




'We don't want to repeat the mistakes made in Vietnam when US forces took


terrain and then left – only to be attacked again from the same locations.


The infantry is the only branch of the military that can both seize and hold


terrain,' said Cooney.


As the battalion's Alpha Company used TOW anti-tank missiles to destroy two


Iraqi T-72 tanks and kill 10 Iraqi infantrymen still within the already


bombed-out presidential palace, Bravo tank company patrolled a bombed- out


Republican Guard training camp. There, evidence of precision Air Force


bombing from the previous night was clearly at hand. Buildings reduced to


smoldering gray brick rubble abutted others left largely unscathed. From one


such building, an Iraqi sniper shot at M-1A-1 Abrams tanks.


Rather than send in forces to find him, company commander Capt. Jimmy Lee


destroyed the building with high explosive charges. The sniper appeared


shortly thereafter. As he lay on the ground, he held up a press card and


claimed to be a journalist stuck at the compound.



'The guys asked me what to do,' Rutter, who was with Bravo tank company, said. 'I told them to handcuff him because he was just shooting at us.'

Earlier in the day, Iraqi television reported that US forces had not entered


Baghdad and that the Iraqi army had retaken the airport. This was


interesting news for soldiers, particularly from the 101st Airborne


Division's 3-187 Battalion that entered the terminal buildings on


search-and-destroy missions Saturday morning. Their initial search of the


VIP terminal turned up, 'gold, china, jewels, and other expensive items


hidden at the site,' said Maj. Rod Coffey, the 2-7's Operations Officer.


As the sun began to set Saturday evening, with black smoke billowing out


over an expanse of several hundred meters from the Special Republican


Guard's base, 2-7 soldiers took a sanguine view of their experience as the


most combat-tested battalion thus far in Iraq.



'Here we are at what two days ago was Saddam Hussein International Airport. We completed our mission to date and are thinking about our next one,' said Staff Sergeant Patrick



As he watched an Abrams tank tow a track from a disabled 1-33 armored


vehicle, Master Sgt. Timothy Cabell put things in perspective. 'We were able


to do something that many armies have tried in the past to do but failed. We


made it here to the airport at night through the maze of streets of the


towns along the Euphrates River. Thank God for our technology. Without our


night-vision, our GPS, and our troop grid tracking systems, I don't know how


we would have done it.'

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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