Infantry Division Takes Drive Through Baghdad
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 5, 2003 Members of the 3rd Infantry Division are moving through downtown Baghdad, U.S. Central Command officials said today.
Just over two weeks into Operation Iraqi Freedom, U.S. troops are operating in the heart of the Iraqi capital, Air Force Maj. Gen. Gene Renuart, chief of operations for the command, said during a press conference in Qatar.
"This was an operation conducted by two task forces of the 3rd Infantry Division," Renuart said. "They had been south of the city and conducted a raid through the city, proceeding north to the Tigris River and then continuing out to the west in the direction of the airport."
The operations chief commented about the task forces moving through the city with no U.S. casualties, a statement to the people of Baghdad and the Iraqi regime.
"I think that the message is to put a bit of an exclamation point on the fact that coalition troops are in the vicinity of Baghdad, do in fact have the ability to come into the city at places of their choosing," Renuart said. He also noted this demonstrates to the Iraqi leadership that the coalition doesn't have control in the way the enemy leadership continues to say on Iraqi television. "And I think we made that point," he said.
The newly renamed Baghdad International Airport is firmly in American hands. Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry and 101st Airborne divisions have secured the airfield and defeated a number of Iraqi attacks.
"That does not mean that there's not a threat from artillery from enemy forces, who have continued to attack throughout the course of today to varying degrees and in varying sizes, but with no success," Renuart said. "There are a number of sites on the airfield that we want to make sure we spend extra time to ensure there's not booby traps and those kinds of things. But we feel like we can operate on the airfield with ease."
Renuart said one airfield runway may be usable and functioning soon, and the infrastructure is still in good shape. "The Iraqi government still today says we're not there, so clearly they weren't expecting us, so they left the airfield in a fairly operable condition," he said.
The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force continues to hammer toward the city. News reports said the Marines had a heavy fight with foreign forces and that Egyptians, Jordanians and Sudanese were fighting against the American effort. Renuart said it wouldn't surprise him if the foreign fighters were in Iraq and pointed to the foreign fighters Al Qaeda had in Afghanistan as a precedent.
But even with these steps forward, the fight is far from over, he emphasized. Iraqi forces still control areas in the north, and Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard soldiers remain inside Baghdad.
Coalition forces now hold more than 6,500 Iraqi POWs. "We also have reports of a number of units in the country who have expressed interest in (surrendering)," Renuart said. "But as we move through the country, we haven't been able to get to some of those yet to determine whether they will choose to fight or not. We will continue to work through step by step, continuing on our plan, and we hope that many of these units will make that decision (to surrender)."
Renuart said that he had heard reports of a suicide bombing at the airport, but could not confirm it.