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Multinational Forces Roll Into Iraq, Occupied Kuwait

By William Claiborne and Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, February 24, 1991; Page A01

Post time line
DHARHAN, Saudi Arabia, Feb. 24—Allied tanks and armored vehicles roared across sand-dune barricades along Saudi Arabia's northern border early today and punched into Kuwait and Iraq as the United States and its allies launched their long-awaited ground assault to liberate the Iraqi-occupied emirate.

Allied forces captured the small Kuwaiti island of Failaka, which commands sea approaches to Kuwait City, the British Broadcasting Corp. and the Kuwaiti News Agency reported.

The Kuwaiti agency, quoting "an informed source," said the island was taken "after the destruction of Iraqi tanks {on} it was completed." The agency said between 500 and 1,000 Iraqi troops had been stationed on the island.

U.S. forces were reported by news agencies to have driven as far as nine miles into Kuwait and were said to have taken large numbers of prisoners. A Kuwaiti source told Knight-Ridder Newspapers that troops had moved into the Umm Qadir oil field in southern Kuwait and toward the town of Wafra and that there was heavy helicopter activity over Kuwait City.

French forces, including Foreign Legion troops, penetrated Iraqi territory and were driving on into Iraq, French radio said. A correspondent with France's Operation Daguet force quoted its commander, Gen. Michel Roquejeoffre, as saying the 1st Foreign Legion regiment was at the head of the attack.

"They are continuing to advance," France Info's radio reporter, Serge Martin, said. The force included anti-tank helicopters, artillery and infantry.

In London, Britain's Press Association news agency said the British 1st Armored Division, which is said to be under the control of the U.S. Army's VII Corps, was "pushing across the Saudi border into Iraq well to the west of Kuwait." The British Defense Ministry declined to confirm the report.

Official Cairo radio said two divisions of tank-led Egyptian troops were in the forefront of allied troops moving into Kuwait, Washington Post special correspondent John Arundel reported from Cairo. Egyptian intelligence units entered Kuwait several hours before the attack to gather information and were successful in infiltrating the Iraqis' lines, officials said.

The BBC reported that the battleship USS Missouri was shelling targets in Kuwait, and CBS News reporter Bob McKeown reported from one mile south of the Kuwaiti border at 6:40 a.m. (10:40 p.m. EST Saturday) that he could hear "exceedingly heavy" bombardment of Iraqi positions inside Kuwait by a U.S. battleship in the Persian Gulf. "We hear the shells going overhead," he said.

The allies launched their massive push into Kuwait at 4 a.m. local time (8 p.m. EST Saturday), according to British officials in London. Details on the operations underway today were not available from official sources, and Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney said information would be withheld to avoid jeopardizing the safety of allied troops.

Britain's Press Agency reported that the allied forces were engaging in diversionary tactics and feigned assaults to deceive Iraqi commanders. The agency said two U.S. units, the Marines' 2nd Division and the Army's 18th Airborne Corps, moved into eastern Kuwait. To the west, Army troops reportedly moved into Iraq.

Arab military sources in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, told the Associated Press that the coalition forces pushed in three assaults from land and sea into Kuwait and one from Saudi Arabia into Iraq. Tehran radio also reported allied strikes into both Iraq and Kuwait, and said the allies appeared to be moving toward the Iraqi port city of Basra in a bid to cut Iraqi communications and supply lines.

None of the reports could be independently verified.

An Arab source involved with the coalition said that allied forces were "meeting not much resistance" on the eastern and western fronts as they pushed into Kuwait, Post correspondent Caryle Murphy reported from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Almost all the Iraqis holding Failaka Island wanted to surrender, the source said.

The Arab source said that the advancing troops on the western front had not yet made direct contact with Iraq's elite Republican Guards, and that there was relatively little artillery fire.

According to the source, allied forces have also succeeded in reaching and using Ali Salam air base in western Kuwait.

French troops likewise met little resistence, a Western military source told the Associated Press. Four hours after the allied attack began, French forces were at least 12 miles inside Iraq and continuing to advance, said the source, who asked not to be named.

The assault followed hours of skirmishes, artillery barrages and air strikes that Lt. Gen. Walter Boomer, commander of U.S. Marine forces in the Persian Gulf region, , said were "progressing obviously toward an offensive."

Boomer, speaking from his front-line desert command post hours before President Bush announced the beginning of the ground war, said Iraqi soldiers were surrendering in unexpectedly large numbers, but noted that his troops must continue to be wary of Iraqi resistance as well as accidental "friendly fire" from U.S. aircraft.

Hopes that a ground assault could be avoided evaporated Saturday when Bush's deadline for an Iraqi withdrawal expired Saturday at 8 p.m. local time (noon EST) with no indication of an Iraqi pullout.

Less than an hour before the deadline, U.S. aircraft bombed Baghdad in one of the heaviest air raids yet, according to correspondents there. Hundreds of allied pilots returning from missions at the time of the deadline heard an unidentified voice over their radios directing a message at Iraqi President Saddam Hussein: "Saddam! Saddam! This is the United States. On guard. You're out of time."

Transport vehicles clogged roads running north from eastern Saudi Arabia throughout Saturday, and air activity in the region picked up noticeably in the late afternoon and early evening as a haze of black smoke from nearly 200 Kuwaiti oil wellheads, reportedly set ablaze by Iraqi occupation troops, hung in the air.

Waving American flags and flashing victory signs, soldiers on five-ton trucks loaded with supplies and weapons streamed in convoys to their jumpoff points along the border as commanders reviewed battle plans with troops.

One soldier aboard a truck shouted, "No sleep until Brooklyn."

"Our soldiers are moving and making final preparations to attack," Army Maj. Baxter Ennis told reporters near the Saudi-Iraqi border. "Our guys are going to do whatever they have to do to liberate Kuwait."

Ennis told pool reporters, "It's a day we all hoped wouldn't have to come, but the coalition has given diplomacy every chance to work and up to this {time} every chance has failed."

As forward-based troops left their positions in northern Saudi Arabia and headed even closer to the border, many went about the task of putting their personal affairs in order.

Some burned letters and other personal documents, while others wrote home for what could be the final time.

Spec. John Wilson said he mailed 12 letters on Friday because "you never know when it's going to be the last good-bye."

The 29-year-old soldier from Parkersburg, W.Va., said: "I thanked my mom for bringing me into the world and not to worry because I'll be home soon. I also made peace with my father."

Many expressed eagerness to get on with the job that began when the first U.S. troops arrived in Saudi Arabia last Nov. 17.

Saddam "has messed up all our lives for being here so long. He'll pay dearly," said Spec. Don Hancock, 26, a forward spotter from Washington, D.C. "I want him to hurt."

"They don't have a chance," said Spec. Rich Klementovich, 21, of New Jersey, who wrote "Saddam is going to die" on the side of his mortar. "We're going to do him in."

"Whether we will be praised or condemned, this is history in the making," said Lt. Col. John Vines, 41, an Army battalion commander from Bessemer, Ala.

As allied troops headed north, Iraqi deserters were heading in the opposite direction in increasing numbers, Boomer said, and U.S. psychological operations forces stepped up efforts to lure deserters across the border with speeches and loud heavy metal music played over large loudspeakers.

Saturday night, three companies of Iraqi forces -- about 360 men -- were reportedly attempting to surrender to Marines on the other side of Iraqi minefields, Boomer said.

Boomer said he was surprised by the increasing numbers of surrendering Iraqi troops that are now coming across the border. "They're coming through gaps in the minefields," he said. "We're moving people up to help them come home."

In an indication of what the Iraqi troops face, the first video of ground fighting to be screened for pool reporters showed bewildered and terrified Iraqi infantrymen shot to pieces in the dark by U.S. attack helicopters.

One by one they were cut down in the middle of the night by an enemy they could not see. Some were blown to bits by exploding cannon shells. Others, apparently jarred from sleep and disoriented, fled their bunkers under a firestorm.

The footage, shot through powerful night-vision gunsights, was shown in a briefing tent for the Army's 18th Airborne Corps.

Hours before Bush's deadline for Iraqi withdrawal expired, senior U.S. military officials were insisting that the campaign was merely following its charted course and that the long-awaited drive to liberate Kuwait had not begun.

"We're just going on with the campaign plan, continuing to do our aggressive patrolling {and} continuing to do as we've been doing for 38 days now. I don't think we're doing anything extraordinary or different in terms of battlefield preparation than what we have been doing for the past two or three weeks," Marine Brig. Gen. Richard Neal told reporters at Central Command headquarters in Riyadh.

In one such preparatory operation, Neal said, a Marine reconnaissance unit engaged 12 Iraqi tanks across the border at 9 a.m. Saturday and destroyed four of them with wired-guided TOW missiles before the rest withdrew.

Marine Lt. Col. Jan Huly of the Marine 2nd Division said more than 100 Iraqis had been killed in the battle. "Our troops have seen bodies lying around, but we're not counting," Huly told pool reporters.

He said three Marines have been wounded in the fighting, which began Thursday and continued Saturday.

Neal said the Marines took 143 Iraqi prisoners in that skirmish, bringing to 532 the number of Iraqi soldiers currently in U.S. hands. A total of 2,100 are being held by allied forces.

Huly said traces of a substance used in chemical weapons were found near the site of the running skirmish. He did not disclose the type of substance, but said it may have been released when allied artillery shells hit a storage depot. "From our best knowledge, we were not the subject of a chemical attack," he told pool reporters.

The discovery, made by a Fox chemical detection vehicle, was the first hard evidence that the Iraqis have chemical weapons near the Saudi-Kuwaiti border.

Troops have been told to expect to have to cross minefields, some seeded with exploding canisters of mustard gas. And in an effort to prevent Iraq from firing chemical warheads at allied troops with Scud missiles, Patriot air-defense missile systems were being moved closer to forward positions.

Earlier Saturday, Neal reported, a U.S. Army patrol attacked a complex of antiaircraft positions with small-arms fire, destroying several guns and Iraqi trucks. In another clash, U.S. assault helicopters destroyed two Iraqi tanks and a truck during a reconnaissance mission along the Kuwaiti border.

Neal said that as of Saturday morning, 1,685 of Iraq's estimated 4,200 tanks, 925 of its armored personnel carriers and 1,485 of its artillery pieces have been destroyed, Neal said.

"We think the results have been speaking for themselves," Neal said, adding that he was satisfied with the accuracy with the damage reporting procedures. Moreover, he stressed, the estimates do not include tanks and armored vehicles that have been damaged.

Neal said, however, that the proportion of tanks destroyed does not apply uniformly to all Iraqi armored units; while some units may have been rendered ineffective, others could be virtually at full strength.

Preliminary reports relayed to the Marines' Boomer indicated that a U.S. helicopter fired on Marine forces that had penetrated enemy territory, apparently mistaking them for Iraqi forces. Initial reports indicated there were no American casualties as a result of the incident. At least 10 Marines have been killed as a result of fire from American aircraft.

U.S. Central Command officials said allied warplanes flew 2,900 sorties during a 24-hour reporting period that ended Saturday, making it one of the busiest days of the air war. Coalition planes flew 1,200 missions over the Kuwaiti theater of operations alone, a record high for the 38-day-old war, as the allies raised their total number of sorties to 94,000.

Navy AV-8 Harrier jets and other seaborne attack planes stepped up the pace of their attacks on Kuwaiti islands Saturday, using cluster bombs in strikes against armor, artillery and antiaircraft guns.

Claiborne reported from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and Moore from an undisclosed location with U.S. forces in northern Saudi Arabia.

© Copyright 1991 The Washington Post

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