Coalition Land Forces Approaching Baghdad
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 3, 2003 A Navy F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet went missing and an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed in central Iraq April 2, U.S. Central Command officials said this morning.
According to military officials in the region, the Hornet "went down" at about 3:45 p.m. Eastern time. No further details were given on the location of the crash or disposition of the pilot.
Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks told reporters in a press briefing in Qatar this morning that U.S. Central Command officials are investigating. "It's too early, at this point, to determine what the cause was," said Brooks, CENTCOM'S deputy operations chief.
According to an April 2 command news release, initial reports are that there were six individuals on board the Black Hawk, though casualties had not been confirmed. "We believe we do have some casualties as a result of that (crash)," Brooks said this morning. "We don't think it was a result of hostile fire."
Brooks said command officials found it encouraging that Grand Ayatollah Sistani, a Shiite leader whom Saddam Hussein had imprisoned, issued a fatwah calling on Iraqis to stay calm and to not interfere with coalition actions. "We regard this as a very significant turning point and yet another indicator that the regime is near its end," Brooks said.
He also reported that soldiers and Marines are hammering on the gates of Baghdad as Operation Iraqi Freedom completes two weeks of combat.
Operations continue all over Iraq, and there is "increasing evidence that the regime cannot control its forces," he said. News outlets report that soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division are near Saddam International Airport about 10 miles west of downtown Baghdad.
Coalition special operations forces have conducted missions to cut the road between Tikrit and Baghdad, Brooks said. This action helps stop Iraqi Republican Guard reinforcements from moving into Baghdad.
Special operations personnel continue to hold the Hadithah Dam preventing the Iraqis from flooding the Euphrates River downstream.
Special operations forces hit a regime palace near Baghdad. Defense Department personnel described the palace as a rest area for the regime. Saddam Hussein and his sons often use the palace. Brooks said no senior Iraqi regime leaders were taken, but they brought out many documents that intelligence analysts will use in the days ahead.
"This illustrates the ability of this coalition to operate anywhere against any regime target," he said.
The land component attacks continued. The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force isolated the town of Al Kut and continued attacks west, toward Baghdad. "There's a road that runs along the northern side of the (Tigris) river, and by seizing that location and the space between it, the 1st MEF commander now has a number of strategic options," Brooks said.
The Army's 5th Corps penetrated the Karbala Gap. "It was defended by the Baghdad division and elements of the Nebukadnezar division," he said. "In crossing through this area 5th Corps was able to seize a bridge across the Euphrates River."
The bridge had been rigged for demolition, but Army engineers were able to remove the explosives. "At this point, 5th Corps is conducting a deliberate attack toward Baghdad, carefully done and developing the fight as opportunities emerge," Brooks said.
Coalition air forces continued pounding regime targets all over Iraq. However, the vast majority of targets have been close-air support to coalition land forces, said defense officials. Air forces flew more than 1,900 sorties on April 2 with 900 strike sorties. Two-thirds of those were against Iraqi Republican Guard targets.
There were 500 tanker sorties on April 2 and that increase shows the close-air support nature of the aerial fighting yesterday. "They are no longer boring in and flying out now," said an official. "Aircraft are loitering in 'kill boxes,' hitting targets and then waiting for the next mission."
Coalition aircraft hit a number of targets in downtown Baghdad April 2. Officials stressed that every piece of ordnance dropped in Baghdad is a precision-guided weapon. Overall, more than 70 percent of the weapons dropped since the start of the war March 19 have been precision-guided weapons, officials said.