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wrbones
03-23-03, 04:42 PM
(CBS) In what a defense official called &quot;the sharpest engagement of the war so far,&quot; U.S. Marines suffered heavy casualties in fighting Sunday around the key Euphrates river crossing an-Nasariyah. <br />
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wrbones
03-23-03, 05:19 PM
http://www.msnbc.com/news/870749.asp?0cv=CA01


March 23 -- U.S. Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid briefs the news media on the latest events on Sunday from the U.S. Central Command headquarters in Doha, Qatar.



NBC, MSNBC AND NEWS SERVICES

March 23 — U.S. and British forces encountered strong resistance from Iraqi forces in taking the southern Iraq city of Nasiriyah, resulting in numerous deaths, injuries and the apparent capture of several U.S. troops in the “sharpest engagement of the war thus far,” a U.S. military official said Sunday. Separately, two large U.S. forces drove north, one of them coming to within 100 miles of Baghdad as a two-pronged assault on the Iraqi capital appeared to be taking shape following the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.




IT WAS “the toughest day of resistance that we’ve had thus far,” said Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid at a Sunday press conference at Central Command headquarters in Doha, Qatar, as a heavy air raid crashed on Baghdad. He insisted the U.S. advance was still on track, however, and would soon reach the capital.
Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said about 10 Marines were killed in a faked surrender by Iraqi forces outside of Nasiriyah. The Marines came under fire while preparing to accept what appeared to be surrendering Iraqis.
“We of course will be much more cautious in the way we view the battlefield as a result of some of these incidents,” said Abizaid.
First reports indicated the Iraqis destroyed eight tanks, some anti-aircraft batteries that were in the region, and also some artillery, along with a number of infantry, Abizaid said.
Approximately 50 U.S. soldiers were wounded, some of whom were flown from the battlefield, NBC’s Kerry Sanders reported.
“Everybody was predicting they’d be welcomed as liberators, but it’s working out differently,” said one senior Arab official in the gulf. “The Americans had a hard day today.”
Evoking Vietnam and Somalia, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf warned U.S. forces they were driving into “a quagmire from which they can never emerge, except dead.”
The Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera aired footage Sunday of interviews with what the station identified as captured U.S. prisoners, and also showed bodies in uniform in an Iraqi morgue that it said were Americans. Abizaid and other U.S. officials did confirm that 12 soldiers of the Army’s 507th Maintenance Division were missing and presumed to be in the hands of the Iraqis.

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Some U.S. troops captured and others killed near Nasiriyah, U.S. defense officials say
U.S., British forces face resistance in south, central Iraq
U.S. missile shoots down British warplane
1 dead, 13 hurt in grenade attack on 101st Airborne in Kuwait; U.S. soldier held as suspect
Bombing heard in Baghdad; explosions seen in Mosul, Kirkuk
Pentagon abandons Turkey staging option



ADVANCE ON BAGHDAD
In perhaps the most dramatic advance on the ground, the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade covered roughly 230 miles in 40 hours to take positions about 100 miles from Baghdad — less than a day’s advance at that pace.
The brigade raced day and night across rugged desert in more than 70 tanks and 60 Bradley fighting vehicles. At one point the soldiers ran into an hours-long firefight, reportedly killing 100 Iraqi militiamen who confronted the Americans with machine gun-mounted vehicles. No U.S. injuries were reported in the battle.




The U.S. Marine First Division, having spearheaded the assault Saturday on Basra, is charging up the Tigris and is thought to be some miles behind. NBC’s Sanders, traveling with the division, says the Marines clashed furiously with the Iraqi 11th Infantry Division on Sunday afternoon, slowing the advance.
In addition to the troops advancing though Iraq, a senior Defense Department official told NBC News that units of U.S. special operations forces are so close to Baghdad “they can see the lights of the city.” The official said the forces moved in from the west of the country.
But allied commanders made a point of saying they expect things to get rougher as troops near the metropolitan Baghdad area, where six Republican Guard divisions are waiting and a seventh — the Special Republican Guards — has dug in near the central city.
“So we must remain prepared for potentially tough fights as we move forward,” Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal told a Pentagon briefing. “There’s a long way to go.”

POCKETS OF RESISTANCE
Military officials also reported heavy fighting between U.S. forces and Iraqi troops on Sunday night in Basra, and pockets of resistance also continued to flare around the small port of Umm Qasr.
“The impression I get from talking to several officers is that they are surprised at the level of resistance and that more Iraqis haven’t surrendered,” said reporter Luke Baker, who was 12 miles south of Najaf with the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division. Najaf, a holy city to Iraq’s restive Shiite Muslim majority, is considered a major political target for the allies, who hope to win the support of Shiites long resentful of the rule of Saddam’s Sunni minority regime.
After nightfall, Baker saw U.S. artillery open up on what U.S. officers said were Republican Guard units around Najaf. Analysts say Saddam seems to have concentrated these better-equipped forces to defend the capital.
“It wasn’t even a fair fight. I don’t know why they don’t just surrender,” said U.S. Army Col. Mark Hildenbrand.

MOPPING UP IN SOUTH
The taking of Basra, surrounded since Friday by British troops and U.S. Marines, would mark a victory for the allies. However, while Saddam’s security forces defended the city with artillery and heavy machine guns, the Iraqis long ago decided against a more serious defense, pulling their elite units back north to man an apparent defensive line south of Baghdad.

U.S. and British forces took an airport and a bridge outside the city along the road that became known in the first Gulf War as the “Highway of Death,” a reference to the carnage wrought there in 1991 by U.S. warplanes. The assault this time was led by Cobra helicopter gunships, 155 mm artillery and British and American tanks, backed by A-10 tank-busting aircraft.
“There’s plenty of prisoners, I would say hundreds,” said U.S. Marine Capt. Andrew Bergen.
Bergen said his 1st Marine Division had fought troops and tanks from Iraq’s 51st Mechanized Division through the day, and that three Marines were wounded when a man in civilian clothes fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a tank support vehicle.
With the surrender of the 51st Iraqi division, Basra was being defended by isolated remnants of the 3rd Iraqi Brigade, also a mechanized unit.