Allied air attacks prove vital support
• Pop up map: day 9 on the battlefield
AFTER the sandstorm, allied pilots made the most of yesterday’s clear skies, carrying out 600 bombing missions on Iraqi troops. Yet fierce battles at three towns in southern Iraq were still slowing the advance of US troops on Baghdad.
US marines and members of Iraq’s paramilitary Fedayeen units were involved in a major battle for control of the town of Samawah, the site of a crucial bridge on the way to the Iraqi capital.
US forces used heavy guns and tank shells as well as Apache helicopters to try to dislodge an estimated 1,500 Fedayeen fighters dug in around the town’s main bridge across the Euphrates river. US military sources said last night that the town is seen as vital to coalition efforts to secure supply routes as its forces move north.
Further south, US marines continued to bomb the city of An Nasiriyah, where at least 30 American soldiers were injured in some of the worst fighting of the war to date.
US units were still encountering stiff opposition from Iraqi infantry units as they tried to secure the area. US marines are believed to be clearing the road north of the central city to make way for a huge military convoy needed for the expected decisive battle for Baghdad. In the past 48 hours, US marines have suffered up to 10 fatalities during ambushes in the area.
According to the Iraqi military spokesman, Hazim al-Rawi, Iraqi commandos had raided an "enemy column" near An Nasiriyah, destroying four armoured personnel carriers and killing those inside, although Pentagon officials yesterday denied the reports.
However, there was some good news for the allies after a C-130 Hercules plane landed at Tallil airport, Iraq’s second largest, which lies four miles outside An Nasiriyah.
Military sources believe that Tallil, captured during intense fighting on Tuesday, will become the major re-supply base for American forces.
Just what lies ahead for them became a little clearer yesterday as senior US commanders revealed huge Iraqi troop concentrations around the strategically important Shiite city of Kerbala, which would almost certainly need to be taken before an assault on Baghdad could begin.
Last night a full Iraqi brigade of around 6,000 men, including tanks and armoured vehicles, was understood to have taken up position around the city. US intelligence officers believe the bulk of the Iraqi troops in the Kerbala area are from the Medina division of the elite Republican Guard which is fiercely loyal to Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi forces are believed to be split between the west and east banks of the Euphrates, which runs through the strategically vital city.
According to Lieutenant Colonel Paul Grosskruger of the 94th Engineers’ Battalion, attached to the US 3rd Infantry Division, the battle for the city will be the defining moment of the war. He said: "Kerbala is shaping up to be a key battle. It’s being reinforced and it’s fairly well defended."
As the Iraqis continued to dig in around the area, three brigades of the US 3rd Infantry Division, totalling some 15,000 men, were making their way north towards the city. The first and second brigades of the division moved to secure the nearby city of Najaf.
US officers in the field said last night that US 7th Cavalry tank units had already fought a sharp fire-fight with Iraqis near a bridge over the Euphrates at Abu Sukhayr, south-east of Najaf. That followed a battle on Tuesday near Najaf in which Pentagon officials said 150 to 300 Iraqis were believed killed when they attacked the US 7th Cavalry.
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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