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
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
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,'
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
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.