Air attacks target Iraqi artillery near capital
SOUTH OF BAGHDAD - As I sat with US Air Force Master Sgt. J.B. Bruening in
the shade of his humvee, the voice of a special forces operative came over
his satellite radio calling in F-14 air strikes against a weapons cache and
artillery pieces in Karbala.
Bruening, 36, a 16-year veteran who fought in the Gulf War, is responsible
for coordinating air force integration with the 3rd Infantry Division 1st
Brigade's 2-7 Mechanized Infantry Battalion.
Currently, the US Army has more than 1,000 air force officers and NCOs
attached to its field units from the battalion level and up to ensure full
integration of ground and air operations.
US ground forces in Iraq, particularly the 3rd Infantry Division, are poised
to continue their northward advance to Baghdad against Saddam Hussein's
Republican Guard units after a week-long hiatus.
Ahead of the coming battles, Bruening explained that air operations are
concentrating on destroying the Republican Guard's artillery capabilities.
'The corps commander wants to take artillery out, so the air force jets are
searching for artillery. The only thing that takes precedence over this
mission is assisting troops under fire,' he said.
Bombing missions are concentrating on areas around Karbala and Hilwah and
points north that are home to the Republican Guard's Medina Division.
Hunting Iraqi artillery serves two purposes. It is a major component of
Saddam's operations aimed at destroying armored vehicles and stalling their
advance. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly according to military
sources, destroying artillery capabilities will undermine Iraqi attempts to
attack advancing US forces with chemical weapons. Artillery pieces are the
most effective means of dispersing chemical agents.
For their part, 3rd Infantry Division forces were on the move Monday. The
3rd Brigade is moving north along the Euphrates River after securing the
road from Nasiriya. The area around Nasiriya is now controlled by marines.
The 2nd Brigade moved to the northeast Sunday and Monday from around Najaf
to western Hilwah. In its new position along a bridgehead on the Euphrates,
it drew fire from Republican Guard forces.
The 1st Brigade left its encampment Monday, moving west out of Iraqi
artillery range. By nightfall, soldiers and officers in their new location
were preparing for combat operations and readying their vehicles.
The 101st Airborne Division took over positions around Najaf, and together
with the air force is quelling pockets of resistance within and around the
The Iraqis placed greater emphasis Monday on fighting internal dissent -
real or imaged - than on fighting coalition forces. In Basra, Ba'ath Party
militiamen decapitated 50 people. Civilians attempting to flee Karbala are
reportedly also being killed.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post