Into the breach

It's only fair to share...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+

ON THE IRAQ-KUWAIT BORDER – The few Iraqi guards on the Kuwait border fled

 

on Thursday night in advance of US troops crossing into Iraq. At midnight,

 

soldiers saw that the roof of the building housing the guards had been blown

 

off and there was rubble all around, but there were no Iraqis; neither dead

 

nor wounded. They had all run away.

 

Pilots of US jets reported that Iraqi forces expected to engage in battle

 

had also dispersed.

 

Iraqi tanks began engaging US forces at approximately 9:30 p.m. Thursday

 

night, a half-hour after the US invasion began. Bravo mechanized infantry

 

company, with its 14 Bradley fighting vehicles, engaged one T-55 and two

 

tracked vehicles. After a protracted fire fight, the Iraqi tanks were

 

destroyed, one from a distance of 400 meters.

 

Additionally, reports of two to three Iraqi tanks were later proven false.

 

These tanks were 'dead' or 'out of service tanks' that have been located

 

adjacent to the Kuwaiti borders since the Gulf War.

 

Apparently, the Iraqis were utilizing these tanks as cover for those that

 

engaged the US forces. As of 11 p.m. Iraq time, US forces were located five

 

to 10 kilometers inside Iraq and continuing their advance as scheduled.

 

The first call 'gas, gas' telling the troops to put on their gas masks came

 

at 6 p.m. on Thursday.

 

In the operations tent of the 2-7 mechanized infantry battalion most of the

 

talk under the mask was muttering against the nearby Patriot missile battery

 

for unnecessarily troubling them. The alarm lasted only five minutes and

 

then it was back to business.

 

With just hours to go before the invasion of Iraq begins, the troops have no

 

time to fret. The definitive order to open a ground offense in Iraq Thursday

 

night came about an hour after the Iraqis launched their first missile

 

attack against Kuwait.

 

The first missile was targeted at US forces at Camp Virginia. The second was

 

aimed at Kuwait City. They were both intercepted.

 

An hour before the order was given, standing meters away from the Iraqi

 

border, armored personnel carrier driver Specialist Richard Freeman from

 

Indiana said that his feeling is 'no different from any other day.'

 

 

As Khaled, a Pakistani contractor, put the final touches on Lane 8, one of

 

several lanes through which forces from the army's 3rd Infantry Division

 

will cross the 'berms' – four-meter man-made sand dunes that separate Kuwait

 

from Iraq – Freeman's head poked out the hatch of his vehicle and peered

 

into the Iraqi expanse beyond.

 

Moments later word came over the radio of the first Iraqi missile attack.

The soldiers looked to their company commander, 29-year old Capt. Michael

 

Bliss from New York State for instructions. Should they put on their masks

 

and chemical weapons suits?

 

The 2-7 mechanized infantry battalion's operations tent called in the

 

coordinates of the missile trajectory and said they were out of range.

Everything was fine, but nothing was as it had been just moments before. 'So

 

this is it, no more delays, no more politics?' I asked.

 

'I guess not,' Bliss responded.

 

Just before the report of the second Iraqi missile launch came across the

 

radio, Bliss had reported to his battalion commander, Lt.-Col. Scott Rutter,

 

that the work 'busting the berms' was complete.

 

The south to north invasion route to Iraq passes over 15 kilometers of berms

 

as well as 20 meter deep trenches and a three layer electrical barbed wire

 

fence.

 

The seven kilometers of obstacles on the Kuwait side of the border were

 

breached on Wednesday and Thursday by Kuwait contractors and forces from the

 

army's V Corps 54th engineering battalion. Over the eight remaining

 

kilometers of berms on the Iraqi side, the engineers will work alone with

 

their bulldozers and 18 meter-long truck-mounted bridges.

 

In the assembly areas all along the Kuwait Iraq border, the awesome force of

 

the army's V Corps was on display Thursday afternoon. Its 3rd Infantry

 

Division, which will take the lead role in the ground offensive will be

 

moving into Kuwait with some 10,000 vehicles.

 

This number is larger than the total number of vehicles used by the US Army

 

in Europe throughout World War II.

 

Driving five kilometers through the desert up to the border, line after line

 

of tanks, artillery, Bradley fighting vehicles, multiple launch rocket

 

systems (MLRS), Patriot missile batteries, mortars, trucks, fuel tankers,

 

and anti aircraft guns were parked in columns ready to move with their guns

 

all pointed in one direction, north.

 

The Third Infantry Division is not expecting any serious Iraqi resistance in southern

 

Iraq as they begin their approach to Baghdad.

 

'Saddam will use his forces to defend important assets. The further east the

 

troops the larger the perceived threat. So the Marines, whose objective is

 

the port city of Basra, are projected to run into serious Iraqi resistance

 

first,' said Lt.-Col. Scott Rutter, commander of the 2-7 battalion and the

 

only Jewish combat battalion commander in the US Army.

 

'Across the breach [immediately over the Iraqi border] I expect minimal

 

resistance depending on the artillery attacks ahead of the advance, I figure

 

that people will probably be pretty shaken up,' he said.

 

Rutter's task force numbers 900 men and includes two Patriot missile

 

batteries. Against this force, in the initial hours of the offensive he

 

expects to be met by forces no larger than two to three soldiers at a time.

 

 

'There is almost no one here on the Iraqi side of the border. Just some

 

guard towers that we will destroy.' Two mechanized infantry platoons are set

 

to take on the main guard tower during the initial attack. 'We expect there

 

to be no more than 30 to 40 guards and they are more a police or

 

constabulary force than military forces,' he said. His projections were

 

accurate, and when his forces crossed the border, the Iraqis fled.

 

Rutter does not expect to engage in serious battle until his battalion nears

 

Baghdad and engages the Iraqi Republic Guard.

 

'I do not believe they will capitulate easily there; I expect a fight from

 

them. I think you can project that the Iraqi resistance will be less

 

threatening in the initial stages, ugly around Baghdad and then less

 

threatening in the later stages,' he says.

 

'Obviously, we will destroy any force that attempts to combat us on the

 

road.

 

We are concerned about attempts to conduct terror operations against our

 

troops, but again, we are prepared to defend ourselves against anything

 

coming our way.' Expectation of Iraqi forces destroying the oil fields

 

southwest of Basra caused the Marines to request permission to begin moving

 

as quickly as possible.

 

The repeated missile attacks Thursday caused the division to raise the

 

readiness level of the troops. Solders were instructed to don their chemical

 

warfare suits at nightfall.

 

While the Scud attacks work to focus the minds of the US forces as they

 

ready their gear for the attack, no one seemed overly anxious.

 

As they lined up for their combat rations for the next day of fighting –

 

three meals, three bottles of water – the only thing that interested them

 

was who gets a hamburger and avoids the beef and mushrooms.

 

At the same time commanders sat in the operations tent and went over attack

 

plans again and again as the day drew to a close and the hours of invasion

 

drew near.

 

Deputy battalion commander
Maj. Kevin Cooney, a sunny-faced southern

 

gentleman who personified Teddy Roosevelt's adage, 'speak softly and carry a

 

big stick,' explains: 'The coming battle will involve enemy positions that

 

we will enter after they have been attacked by direct artillery barrages. I

 

expect that any surviving enemy forces will wish to capitulate.'

 

Addressing his forces over the radio for the last time before the start of

 

ground operations, Rutter said, 'This is personal. It started on September

 

11, 2001. We were all New Yorkers that day.

 

'Our task force is a liberation force, but more importantly it is a

 

destruction force designed to topple the Iraqi regime. I am honored to be

 

your commander. We will do well. Take care of your buddy. Nothing follows.

 

Out.'

 

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

It's only fair to share...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+

No Comments

Leave a Comment