U.S. troops inflict 'so many deaths'

Oliver Poole

Published April 4, 2003

     BAGHDAD As thick black smoke hung over the outskirts of Baghdad last night, American troops stood stunned by the number of enemy forces they had killed.
     Bodies dressed in the uniform of the Republican Guard and burned-out vehicles were strewn around the roadways. Buildings were riddled with bullet holes.
     "I hope we don't experience anything like that again," said Sgt. Simon, 38, who gave only one name. "It is like [the 1991 Persian Gulf war]. When I see that many bodies, I just don't want to be here anymore."
     As the unit regrouped on a stretch of open land, a soldier stood looking dazed.
     "When do we know when it's over?" one Sgt. Scott said. "You could have sent two men in to kill Saddam Hussein. Why did we have to kill so many people? There were so many deaths today."
     The forces from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division had fought their way from a bridgehead secured over the Euphrates River north of Karbala, encountering strong resistance from Republican Guard units stationed in the area. At the same time, the 1st U.S. Marine Division moved northwest from Kut.
     In a day of often-brutal fighting, the troops destroyed Iraqi units equipped with T-72 tanks and infantry armed with rocket launchers and mortars. Not one American was reported killed.
     From the back of an armored vehicle, the most vivid impression of the dash for Baghdad was the impassive faces of three soldiers as the shell cases cascaded down from the volleys of gunfire.
     First Sgt. Jose Rosa stood half out of his hatch, loading grenades into a launcher and firing them at targets indicated by hand signals from the rest of the crew.
     Staff Sgt. Trey Black sat at the 25 mm cannon, rotating as he sprayed bursts of rounds.
     Even the medic in the van behind had a weapon at his shoulder, joining the cacophony of fire.
     The air was thick with the smell of cordite.
     Finally, there was a pause in the advance to call in an air strike on a foxhole ahead. News had just come in of the unit's first casualty: a scout with a leg wound.
     By the end of the day, there had been five casualties in the unit, including an Abrams tank commander, Sgt. Gerald Pyle, whose vehicle was hit by three rockets fired from hand-held launchers. None of the injuries was considered life-threatening.
     Around 3 p.m., the first units moved into the edge of the capital, and troops conducted house-to-house searches to ensure that no enemy forces were using them as cover. Abrams tanks adopted defensive formations at key intersections.
     By dusk, machine-gun fire and the occasional exploding shell could be heard. At one point, sniper fire was directed close to the headquarters and supply area. Fires still burned where targets had been destroyed by artillery and air strikes earlier in the battle.
     In a mosque, six Iraqi soldiers and two armed civilians were captured with a cache of weapons. A unit of engineers removed the weapons and destroyed them.
     A few residents ventured onto the streets. Occasionally, an individual or small group walked past, holding white flags. Medics gave two injured Iraqis first aid.
     Soldiers passed out leaflets to the owners of the homes they searched. The leaflets explained in Arabic that they had come to liberate the people. First Sgt. Rosa said he had received a warm welcome in one of the houses.
     The owners offered him food and water, but a younger man, presumably their son, had appeared more hostile.
     "He did not have good body language," he said.
     After two weeks of fighting, an advance of hundreds of miles in which the troops had withstood mortar and sniper fire and sandstorms, felt constant fear of chemical attacks and overcome often ferocious pockets of resistance, the 3rd Infantry Division had finally reached its objective.
     A tank gunner surveyed the mud-colored, two-story buildings at a dusty suburban junction and said: "I don't like the look of it much, but I guess we've arrived."

Copyright 2003 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.


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