The BBC reported today on the deaths of civilians during the bombing raid I mentioned yesterday where Baath Party officials apparantly had family members hidden among them. The article was titled: "US bombers strike civilians in Baghdad"
Hundreds of Iraqi civilians have been killed and wounded in Baghdad by American bombers. Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz said: "This was a criminal, pre-meditated, planned attack against civilians." Local reports say two laser-guided precision bombs hit an air-raid shelter in the middle class district of Amiriya, five miles from the centre of the Iraqi capital.
So far 235 bodies have been recovered, 12 hours after the attacks at 0445 GMT and 0450 GMT. Continuing fires and intense heat in the bunker complex - which includes a school, mosque and supermarket - have hampered rescue efforts and 300 people are still thought to be trapped inside. Many of the victims are thought to be women and children.
White House spokesperson Martin Fitzwater said the loss of civilian life was "truly tragic", but described the bunker as a well-known military target. "We don't know why civilians were at this location. We do know that Saddam Hussein does not share our sanctity for human life," he continued. One American intelligence officer said the bunker had been transmitting military signals until the moment the bombs hit.
Another US spokesperson in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, suggested Saddam had deliberately created a human shield - a tactic he has used before - to inflame international opinion against allied air strikes. The Baghdad shelter manager said: We didn't have a single military man in the shelter. It is allocated to civilians." According to intelligence sources the shelter was built during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s with a 10 to 15-foot thick concrete ceiling, reinforced with steel, designed to withstand electro-magnetic pulses from a thermo-nuclear blast.
Both sides are investigating the incident - caught on camera by US planes. Tariq Aziz has called on the UN - meeting tonight - to condemn the "hideous crime". A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar expressed dismay at such a large loss of civilian life.
On the 14th, VII Corps began to move into attack positions along the Iraqi border. More than eighteen thousand vehicles of the 1st and 3rd Armored Divisions started their shift to the northwest from their Tactical Assembly Area (TAA Thompson) southeast of the Hafir-al-Batin to their Forward Assembly Area (FAA Garcia). The 1st Infantry Division moved from TAA Roosevelt to FAA Junction City. The entire division moved one hundred fifteen kilometers in less than twenty four hours. The Big Red One took this opportunity to practice its upcoming move into Iraq. The one hundred fifteen kilometer journey was a mirror image movement of the planned offensive scheme of advance into Iraq.
Meanwhile, the 8th Engineers of the 1st Cavalry Division returned to the border berm along with a protective force from 1-7 Cavalry and MPs from the 2nd Platoon, 545th Military Police Company (pictured here). In an operation dubbed "Berm Buster I," the engineers blew three lanes through the Saudi defensive berm with cratering charges and 165-mm cannon fire from their Combat Engineering Vehicles (CEVs). The CEVs moved along the berm and fired on three border observation towers, destroying each one.
At 2200, Apache helicopters from the 101st Airborne Division crossed the border into Western Iraq for the first time since the opening moments of the war. Shielded by darkness, they conducted an aerial zone recon just north of the Saudi border. Four additional Apaches patrolled the border, while an EH-60 Quick Fix and an Air Force EF-111 provided early warning and radar intelligence support.
The USS America entered the Persian Gulf today bringing the number of US Navy carriers in the Gulf to four. This was unheard of. During the Kuwaiti reflagging operation the Navy refused to put any carriers in the shallow waters.
Another twenty eight hundred sorties were flown today. There were two hundred more attack missions flown against the Republican Guard, an average of one every seven minutes, around the clock. Another British Tornado GR.1 was shot down by two SA-2 missiles while attacking Al Taqaddum Airfield, twelve miles west of Falloujah. The pilot ejected and was captured. The navigator was killed.
Military intelligence estimated that nearly one third of Iraq's armor had been destroyed. The Bombing and artillery raids were taking their toll on the front line troops. By now I had been involved in three of the raids with another three yet to come. They were very effective. Iraqi soldiers were trickling south to surrender. Another twelve Iraqis walked through the minefield and surrendered to Egyptian forces. By the end of the day, eleven hundred Iraqis were being held as prisoners of war.
From the Iraqi Lieutenant's diary:
"I woke up at 8 a.m. this morning and said my prayers. I couldn't make my ablutions with water before praying, so I had to use the sand that had fallen on me and covered me from head to foot in an enemy air raid that had been going on continuously since midnight.
The planes launched missiles at our positions and the tanks that were with us, believing that the tanks were missile-launching sites. Smoke and dust rose into the sky and mingled with the smell of powder. None of us thought we could get out of this bombardment safely. But thanks be to God. I stood because I couldn't get into the trench on account of my illness. But, thank God, I wasn't hit."
The Five Phase Plan
The 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions, together with the Army's Tiger Brigade, were to conduct a deliberate attack to penetrate Iraqi defensive positions located between the Al Wafrah and Umm Gudair Oilfields. That attack would initiate the allied ground offensive. Marines like to pride ourselves with the motto "First to Fight." We were going to continue that tradition when it was time to kick start the ground campaign of the war.
Division commanders had envisioned a five-phased offensive. In Phase I, division units moved to their assembly areas while engineers began reducing the bermed wall of sand that marked the Saudi Arabia-Kuwait border and reconnaissance teams evaluated the trafficability of the area. This phase was completed by the end of this day.
In Phase II, four task forces would breach the first obstacle belt. Two of the task forces, mostly infantry units, were to infiltrate the obstacle belt on foot and establish blocking positions on the division's right and left flanks. They were to be followed by two mechanized task forces conducting deliberate breaches and driving forward to the second obstacle belt.
Phase III encompassed a breach of the second obstacle belt by the two mechanized task forces while the light armored infantry battalion moved ahead to cover the division's front in the vicinity of the Burqan Oilfield. In Phase IV, the division's focus of main effort was on seizing I MEF Objective A, the Al Jaber airfield. Phase V followed with the division shifting on order to an attack northward to seize I MEF Objective C, Kuwait International Airport, and link up with either 4th MEB (4th Marine Expeditionary Force) or Arab coalition forces. The division was to be prepared for an attack on Kuwait City.
The long anticipated offensive was about to happen. We could see the unceasing columns of vehicles moving supplies to Kibrit and Al Khanjar. There was scarcely a moment when the noise from fighter/attack aircraft flying to or returning from bombing Iraqi targets in Kuwait could not be heard. The division command and control center became increasingly active as General Myatt, General Keys and their staff worked with task force and battalion staffs in a series of planning meetings, operations briefs, and commanders' conferences.
It seemed the stage was just about set for the biggest show on earth. We had been preparing ourselves for the "Mother of all Battles" that Saddam swore it would be. So far, the majority of the war effort was an overwhelming success. But what happens when we engage the enemy on the ground? We had planned and trained for months. But like Mike Tyson once said, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face." Are we fully prepared, or are we in for a big surprise?
“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”