Marines to Use 'Knock-Out Punch' in Baghdad Fight

Sat April 5, 2003 07:56 AM ET
Reuters: By Matthew Green

SOUTHEAST OF BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A U.S. Marine commander said on Saturday American troops would use overwhelming force to crush any resistance if ordered to storm Baghdad and that the battle would cost many civilian lives.

Marines say there are signs that much of the Iraqi military has decided to give up, but U.S.-led forces are ready if necessary to take on a bloody house-to-house fight for control of the capital.

"We're not going to tip-toe into the city, it will be a forceful knock-out punch every time we go in," said U.S. Marine Captain Matt Watt, commander of Lima Company, a unit of mechanized infantry trained in urban warfare.

"We'll make sure there's no capability for the enemy to resist us, we'll go in shooting up every time," he told Reuters.

"We have to go in forcefully, and when we go in forcefully it just creates a lot of collateral damage."

In the past few days the U.S. military focus had been on the Iraqi capital, bombing command and control facilities, attacking Republican Guard troops defending the city and battling to capture its airport.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said several hundred wounded Iraqis have been admitted to Baghdad hospitals since U.S. troops reached the city and fighting erupted.

"The situation in Baghdad is getting increasingly difficult now that there's fighting in the city," Red Cross spokesman Florian Westphal told Reuters from Geneva.

Watt said Marines would do their best to avoid killing Iraqis who were not involved in the fighting, but said such a fight for the city would inevitably result in a large number of civilian deaths.

"It's very difficult for us to know who are the soldiers and who are the actual civilians, if we are to take the enemy out it may unfortunately be at the cost of a lot of civilian lives, unintentionally," he said.

Watt said that if Iraqi soldiers fired from a building, Marines would respond with artillery and air attacks -- even if there were civilians still inside the structure.

"If we start taking a lot of fire, we will simply level the building area, we'll destroy it with indirect fire and air and tanks. Then we'll go in with ground forces. That's when you get civilians who choose not to leave, and they're going to die in the process," he said.

Watt said he had seen a couple of thousand people heading south from Baghdad on Friday, but said local people had told military interpreters that most refugees were heading north, away from the U.S. advance.

"There's a lot of them (refugees) moving around, that's going to be a bigger problem as we get closer to the city," he said, adding that Iraqi forces who deliberately mingled with civilians would be to blame for their deaths.

Marines say they have not encountered the large formations of Iraqi troops they were expecting outside the capital, raising hopes that Baghdad might fall without a fight.

"Either they've abandoned their positions and given up, or they've withdrawn into Baghdad for a big fight," Watt said.

"If Baghdad ends up being like the rest of the country, maybe it'll be another week and we'll be done. If there's a good sized, hard-core force in there, it could take weeks or even months."

He said military planners had studied the city to see which areas were largely populated by Shiite Muslims, which they hoped would be more sympathetic to attempts to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who is Sunni.

Watt, who told Reuters on Friday that U.S. forces planned to surround the city, said it was unclear whether military planners intended to storm the city, or opt for a siege-style scenario.

Marines are hoping to avoid urban warfare, which makes it more difficult for them to deploy their Super Cobra attack helicopters equipped with Hellfire missiles and rockets that attack enemy forces on open battlefields.

Iraqi forces who know Baghdad well could use that familiarity to find cover and pick off invaders one by one. Watt said another danger comes from Marines shooting friendly forces during house-to-house fighting.

"The Marines are trained in the urban fight, but despite their better training, you're still going to take a lot of casualties. There's just no way round it, it's an extremely difficult fight in the urban area," he said.


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