The first U.S. and British casualties in the war on Iraq marked a day in which U.S. Marines who crossed from Kuwait into Iraq were met with scant resistance and the surrender of more than a 100 Iraqi soldiers.
Sixteen British and U.S. troops were killed when their Chinook CH-46E helicopter crashed south of Umm-Qasar in Kuwait at 3 a.m. local time Friday near Highway 801, a British military spokesman in Qatar said. He said there were no U.S. survivors, adding it was British policy to not disclose the fate of its servicemen until their next of kin were notified.
Officials said the cause of the crash was unknown, but was under investigation.
United Press International reporter Richard Tomkins, now in Iraq with the Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, of the 5th Marine Regimental Combat Team, crossed into Saddam Hussein’s territory from Kuwait Thursday. On Friday, he reported billowing smoke from torched wells over the al-Ramallah oil fields of southern Iraq and destroyed Iraqi military positions.
He said the Gas Oil Separation Plant 10 kilometers (6 miles) north of the Kuwaiti border was burning fiercely in two places, set alight in an apparent scorched earth move by Saddam’s regime. He also reported at least four natural gas facilities were spewing flame and smoke.
Bravo Company suffered less than a half-dozen casualties and none of the wounds was life threatening.
In the first two hours of Friday morning, more than 159 Iraqis had surrendered and more were continuing to approach U.S. troops, turning themselves in, he reported.
Shortly before the Marines went in Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned that a massive attack to disarm Saddam and remove the Iraqi leader’s regime was imminent.
“To the Iraqi people, let me say that the day of your liberation will soon be at hand,” Rumsfeld said. “Coalition forces will take every precaution to protect innocent civilians.”
The United States urged governments around the world to sever relations with Iraq and expel Iraqi ambassadors, while in the United States authorities began detaining Iraqi nationals they believe might pose a security threat and the Treasury announced it was confiscating all non-diplomatic Iraqi financial assets.
Thirteen more countries publicly acknowledged their support of the U.S. war against Iraq, the Pentagon announced Thursday, bringing the total to 43.
“The coalition includes nations from every continent on the globe,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
In separate briefings Thursday, Fleischer and Rumsfeld said they had received reports of three or four oil wells being set ablaze in southern Iraq — a tactic Saddam used in the 1991 Gulf War.
In other developments Thursday, the Turkish parliament approved a measure giving U.S. planes the right to fly over the country — but it did not grant rights to base U.S. troops in Turkey for use against Iraq.
Early Thursday Iraq time, the U.S. launched a massive attack on Baghdad targeting the Iraqi leadership. The Washington Post reported Friday Saddam and his two sons may have been inside a compound that was hit.
The Post quoted an administration official saying, “There is evidence that he (Saddam) was at least injured.”
It is not yet clear whether the Iraq president was hurt or killed in the attack or if he escaped. A few hours after the attack, Iraqi television showed Saddam in battle fatigues vowing victory against the attackers. The United States was working to see if the man in the broadcast was in fact Saddam and if the appearance was Thursday.
Last Monday, U.S. President George W. Bush gave Saddam and his two sons, Uday and Qusay, 48 hours to leave Iraq or face war. Iraq rejected the ultimatum. The military action began Thursday a few hours after the deadline had passed.
Also Thursday, carrier-launched fighter-bombers attacked targets in southern Iraq, particularly around Basra. Targets included anti-aircraft and communications installations as well as artillery batteries.
In return, Iraqi army units on the southern front fired five large missiles at Kuwait. There were no casualties. Two missiles, believed to be al-Samouds, were fired from the outskirts of Basra. At least one of these missiles was intercepted by a Patriot missile.
Jordan closed its border with Iraq, though U.N. agencies in Amman said that as of yet there was no Iraqi refugee movement toward the countries bordering Iraq.
War protests swept the United States and the Arab world, with most governments blaming the United States for the hostilities, although Cairo blamed the Iraqi regime. More than 1,000 people were arrested Thursday in San Francisco.
Officials in Paris and Russia, long vocal opponents of military action against Iraq, issued statements condemning the attack.
In a meeting in Brussels Thursday, European Union leaders looked forward to the post-war Iraq, calling on the United Nations to play a leading role in the country’s reconstruction.
There was some confusion over casualties of the strike in Baghdad. The Red Cross said one person was killed and 14 injured. Jordanian officials said the person killed was a Jordanian truck driver, while Iraqi officials said he was an Iraqi and in Lebanon the Palestinian Liberation Front said one of its officers had been killed.
Thursday, thousands of coalition troops were poised for action against Iraq. Bush said massive force would be used to make the conflict as short as possible. The coalition forces included 240,000 American, 45,000 British and 2,000 Australian troops.
An Australian spokesman said Friday Special Forces were operating deep inside Iraq, gathering information on enemy troops movements and identifying key military targets.
“Our Special Forces task group has transitioned from the battle preparation phase and is now undertaking active operations inside Iraq,” Defense spokesman Brig. Mike Hannan said.
Prime Minister John Howard sent a personal message to his forces.
“The government believes that not only is your cause just, it is completely legal and it is in the long-term national interests of our country,” he said in a three-minute video message that was electronically transmitted to the troops.
On Thursday, Rumsfeld reiterated a message delivered by millions of leaflets dropped near Iraqi forces, suggesting the Iraqis lay down their arms or be killed “protecting a doomed regime.”
He said the next wave of bombings — the so-called shock and awe attack — would be of a “force and scope and scale beyond anything that has been seen before.”
The war began after the United States and Britain failed to get enough support at the U.N. Security Council for a resolution that authorized war. France and Russia — permanent, veto-wielding members of the body — threatened vetoes.
The impasse at the Security Council began last September when Bush told the U.N. General Assembly to confront the “grave and gathering danger” of Iraq — or stand aside as the United States acted. In November, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved the U.S.-sponsored Res. 1441, which authorized the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq and “serious consequences” if Baghdad failed to cooperate.
Since then, Bush repeatedly said Saddam had lied to the international community and must be disarmed with force. He said if the world body did not act against Iraq, the United States will along with a “coalition of the willing.” He has maintained previous U.N. resolutions grant him the power to go to war.
”’With reporting by Richard Tomkins with the 5th Marines, Kathy Gambrell from the White House, Pamela Hess from the Pentagon, Tom Houlahan in Washington, Seva Ulman in Ankara, Turkey, Elizabeth Bryant in Paris, Gareth Harding in Brussels, Martin Walker in Kuwait City, and Hussein Hindawi in London.”’
Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.