Into the breach

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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




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




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.




Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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