Baghdad airport taken with little resistance
03/04/2003 22:46 - (AP)
Baghdad - Coalition forces have seized Saddam International Airport, a reporter embedded with US troops reported on Thursday night.
The operation was completed, apparently with little resistance, less than three hours after allied troops launched an attack on the airport, about 16km south west of the heart of Baghdad, an ABC News correspondent reported from the tarmac.
The journalist reported seeing Iraqis waving and cheering as US tanks rolled toward the airport.
The assault began shortly after the Iraqi capital was plunged into darkness by a citywide power outage.
Elements of four regular Iraqi army divisions had been stationed at the airport to defend it against the coalition troops, US defence officials told Fox News.
Coalition forces scouted out enemy positions before the Army's 3rd Infantry Division went in.
Tracer rounds, anti-aircraft fire and artillery were reported in the area.
Reuters reported that dozens of Iraqis, including civilians and soldiers, were killed in the nearby village of Furat in what witnesses said was a US rocket strike.
Iraqi officials put the death toll at 83, but that could not be confirmed.
US Central Command said the coalition was not responsible for the power outage that struck Baghdad minutes before the airport assault began. Witnesses said three large explosions were heard in central Baghdad, and planes were flying overhead. Asked what the significance is of taking control of Baghdad's airport, Central Command spokesman Capt. Stewart Upton told Fox News' David Lee
Miller: "Any time you can take ground ? especially strategic and psychological ... it's like saying, 'We're here; you said we wouldn't be here; what are you going to do?'"
US Army paratrooper brigades had practiced jumps for securing the airport in order to help secure it as a base of operations.
Military experts were guessing that either the Iraqi troops put out the lights, thinking it would hinder coalition efforts to move on the city, or that Baghdad was crumbling from within and people were turning against the regime.
"We don't know why the power's out there," Jim Wilkinson, spokesperson for Central Command chief Tommy Franks, told Fox News. "Suffice to say, there are multiple fronts of this war," most of which he said can't be seen.
He added: "No one in the world can fight as good at night as we can. This is a regime that's on its last days. This is a regime that will do almost anything to stay in power."
Senior officials told Fox News that there is growing concern at the Pentagon that the Iraqi regime may have shut off the lights to inflict harm on Iraqis under the cover of darkness, specifically the Shi'ites in the eastern part of the city.
Efforts are being made to see if those populations are being targeted.