US forces tighten grip on Baghdad

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SADDAM INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – US forces continued Sunday to destroy Iraqi

 

Republican Guard Units in and around Baghdad in their bid to overthrow

 

Saddam Hussein's regime. By the afternoon, 3rd Infantry Division and Marine

 

Corps units had enveloped some 90 percent of Baghdad.

 

The 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade destroyed a Republican Guard tank

 

battalion on Sunday. In the fight, 23 Iraqi tanks were destroyed from the

 

ground and the air and 125 Iraqi infantrymen were killed.

 

The brigade, stationed to the north of Baghdad, engaged the Republican Guard

 

forces as they attempted to flee their posts and reposition themselves

 

within the capital. The US siege of Baghdad has blocked both military and

 

civilian traffic to the city.

 

In the meantime, US forces from the 1st Brigade continued to defend Saddam

 

International Airport. A US military cargo plane landed at the airport late

 

Sunday, the first known US aircraft to arrive in the Iraqi capital since the

 

airfield fell into American hands, the US Central Command said.

 

Navy Lt. Mark Kitchens, a Central Command spokesman, confirmed the C-130

 

cargo and transport aircraft had landed at the airport but gave no details,

 

citing operational security.

 

US forces say they have effective control over the airport, despite sporadic

 

attacks including one Sunday against the 101st Airborne Division that left

 

two Iraqis dead.

 

The United States has renamed the sprawling airfield Baghdad International

 

Airport.

 

The coalition Land Forces Command is set to move from Kuwait City to the

 

airport in the days to come. Military sources say that the US and British

 

intend to use the airport as the interim seat for a new provisional Iraqi

 

government when it is eventually formed.

 

The main threat to US forces located at the airport proper comes from its

 

subterranean complex of tunnels. The US military believes that the Iraqi

 

regime built tunnels connecting the airport to Baghdad, as well as along

 

Iraq's north/south oil pipeline, and along main roads. These tunnels can be

 

used for transporting Iraqi forces to attack US forces.

 

The 101st Airborne Division's 3-187 Battalion found one such tunnel Saturday

 

underneath the northern-most section of the airport's three passenger

 

terminals. 'We came across the tunnel by accident,' said battalion commander

 

Lt.-Col. Lee Fetterman. 'We were told not to break down all the doors in the

 

tunnel and so we actually did not attempt to open the door that would have

 

led to the tunnel,' Fetterman said.

 

'We discovered it because Iraqi troops inside unlocked the door to leave

 

when my soldiers saw them. They chased them back into the tunnel and

 

followed them.'

 

Fetterman's men found themselves in a tunnel three meters high and a mile

 

long. 'It looked sort of like a metro station,' he said. This tunnel

 

connected the northern passenger terminal to the airport's control tower.

 

'We found food, water, ammunition as well as bedding and personal items,'

 

said Fetterman.

 

In a chase through the tunnel that last several hours, the 101st Division

 

soldiers were unable to locate the Iraqi troops. 'We took all their food and

 

water so they will probably be up soon,' Fetterman said. Although the army

 

is still attempting to locate the central power source for the airport,

 

which itself is strewn with the rubble of bombed out planes and buildings,

 

the tunnel, made of concrete, was well ventilated and illuminated by

 

electricity.

 

Fetterman notes that exploring the tunnel, located about two meters

 

underground, was a nerve-wracking ordeal for his soldiers. 'When one of the

 

guys got out he heard someone walking toward him and couldn't make out what

 

it was. It turned out to have been a dog. My soldier was so surprised, it's

 

amazing he didn't shoot him,' said Fetterman.

 

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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