|The Iraq War|
Report for 2003-03-23
March 23, 2003, 1200hrs MSK (GMT +3), Moscow - The situation in southern Iraq can be characterized as unstable and controversial. Heavy fighting is taking place in the Umm-Qasr-An-Nasiriya-Basra triangle. Satellite and signals intelligence show that both sides actively employ armored vehicles in highly mobile attacks and counterattacks. Additionally, fighting is continuing near the town of An-Najaf.
As of this morning the Iraqi defenses along the Basra - An-Nasiriya - An-Najaf line are holding.
Following the yesterday's Iraqi counter strike near An-Nasiriya the US command was forced to halt the advance of its troops toward An-Najaf and to redirect a portion of available tank forces to cover the flanks of the 3rd Motorized Infantry Division attacked by the Iraqis. By late evening yesterday constant air strikes and increasing strength of American tank attacks forced the Iraqis to withdraw their troops back to eastern parts of Nasiriya, across the Euphrates river, were they assumed defensive positions along the river bank.
During the last day of fighting the Iraqis lost up to 20 tanks, up to 2 artillery batteries, and around 100 troops.
Yesterday's US losses are estimated at 10 destroyed or disabled tanks, several armored personnel carriers and up to 15 troops killed in action.
By 0700hrs MSK today the fighting at Nasiriya stopped. Currently both sides are rushing to regroup their forces and to get them ready for more fighting in this area.
Near Basra the advance of the coalition forces came to a complete halt at the near approaches to the western and southwestern outskirts of the city. The US and British forces are rushing to settle into defensive positions after failing to surround Basra. Eastern and northern approaches to Basra remain open and under control of the Iraqi forces.
More controversial reports are coming in from the town of Umm-Qasr. As early as three days ago the US command has declared that the coalition forces have captured this small port town and the adjacent oil terminal. However, throughout these three days heavy fighting continued in the town and in the suburbs. The US forces are still unable to break the defense put up by the Iraqi 45th brigade defending the town.
Moreover, several counterattacks by the Iraqi forces at Umm Qasr have pushed the US forces out of some part of the town. During last night the Iraqi 45th brigade was reinforced by a special tank battalion of the 51st Infantry Division. The reinforcement included up to 600 troops and 10 tanks. However, the coalition forces were also strengthened overnight with two tank battalions and self-propelled artillery. As of 1000hrs MSK this morning heavy fighting continues at Umm Qasr.
According to intercepted radio communications, the British marine infantry units in defensive positions on the Fao peninsula have requested emergency air and artillery support after being attacked by superior Iraqi forces. So far it is not clear whether this was an actual counterattack by the Iraqis or just a nuisance attack. The British commanders report that their positions are being attacked by up to a regiment of infantry supported by tanks.
Other intercepted radio traffic suggests that, as the British and US forces bend the Basra - An-Najaf line of defense, the Iraqi command will pull back its main forces to the Al-Ammara - Ad-Divaniya line. Already most of the Iraqi forces in this region have moved to the Al-Ammara - Ad-Divaniya positions and within the next 48 hours defense of Basra and Fao peninsula will be reduced to just the local units and garrisons. The goal of the remaining forces will be to tie up superior coalition forces in these areas.
According to radio intercepts during today's night the coalition begun airdropping troops in northern Iraq from airfields in Turkey and Jordan. These forces are being used to form mobile strike groups in northern Kurdistan and near the western-Iraqi town of Er-Rutbah. Already up to 5,000 coalition troops have been delivered to northern Kurdistan and up to 1000 paratroopers have landed near Er-Rutbah.
Russian military intelligence has uncovered a range of facts pointing to a separate arrangement between the top leadership of Jordan and the US military command. Officially Jordan has declared its neutrality in the war against Iraq and refused to provide its airspace to the coalition aviation. However, at the same time Jordan has allowed the anti-Iraq coalition to place surveillance radars and radio reconnaissance stations on its territory. Jordan has also allowed the coalition to use its military airbases.
Available information indicates that coalition special ops units, including up to 400 troops and their command headquarters, have been deployed to the Jordanian Zarka military base and to the home base of the Jordan's 71st special ops brigade.
Reports that have surfaced in the media in the past 12 hours about the capture of a US special ops unit near Baghdad are probably not true. It is likely that these reports refer to the capture of coalition paratroopers yesterday morning near the town of Akashat.
During the past 12 hours there has been a drop in intensity of air strikes against Baghdad. Analysts attribute this to the fact that most of available coalition air assets are now deployed in support of ground forces. Intercepted coalition radio traffic shows that most of the bombing attacks against Baghdad are carried out by the US strategic aviation and by sea-launched long-range cruise missiles.
So far the US was unable to destroy the air defense networks in central Iraq. As before, the Iraqis continue to covertly use their radars and SAM launchers on a limited bases while employing a huge number of decoys designed to imitate radars.
The US was also unable to disrupt the central control over the Iraqi army. The US command is forced to admit that, despite the best efforts of the coalition aviation, the Iraqi forces maintain high combat readiness and reliable command and control structure.
radio intercept units have reported the loss of two coalition planes. One of the planes was a "Tornado" strike aircraft and the other one was believed to be an F-16 fighter-bomber. The F-16 was shot down over Baghdad and is believed to have crash-landed in a desert in southern Iraq. A coalition search-and- resque unit was immediately dispatched to this area.
A CIA referent in the combat area Col. Davis (likely to be a pseudonym) and the US DoD Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) regional director were demoted due to their inadequate performance in estimating the strength of Iraq's forces and their combat readiness.
Eyewitnesses report that Gen. Tommy Franks looks extremely exhausted and irritated. Gen. Franks has cancelled the meeting with journalists planned for this morning.
Work is paralyzed at the coalition press-center in Kuwait. Journalists are not able to get any information except for the hourly press communique from the command. A variety of reasons are cited by the military to reduce the number of trips into the combat zone for the journalists. All reports coming from the journalists attached to the coalition units are now being strictly censored by the military. All live broadcasts, as those seen during the first day of the war, are now strictly prohibited by a special order from the coalition command. The required time delay between the time news video footage was shot and the time it can be broadcast has been increased to a minimum of 4 hours.
More accurate information became available regarding the losses sustained by both sides during the first three days of the war. The coalition has officially acknowledged the deaths of some 25 servicemen. However, intercepted radio communications show that the actual number of coalition casualties is at least 55-70 troops killed and no less than 200 wounded. The emergency dispatch of the "Comfort" medical ship closer to the combat zone is a direct indication of serious casualties. The "Comfort" is expected to arrive to the southern tip of the Fao peninsula later tonight.
It is more difficult to evaluate the losses of the Iraqi especially due to the air strikes. On the south front Iraqi losses are estimated at 400-600 killed, 1,500 wounded and up to 300 captured.
(Translation by Venik.)
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