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Iraq: Desert Dispatch -- Advance Toward Border Begins

  • Ron Synovitz

Our correspondent Ron Synovitz is among the more than 400 journalists currently embedded with U.S. troops. Today, Synovitz talked about the advance of U.S. troops toward the Iraqi border.

QUESTION: Yesterday (18 March), you told us that the Third Infantry Division was expected to begin a move to an advance camp sometime today. What kind of activity is under way?

Synovitz: The entire Third Infantry Division of the U.S. Army is on the move today. Thousands of vehicles and thousands of troops are moving to positions closer to the Iraqi border. Major General Buford Blount III, the commander of the Third Infantry Division, told RFE/RL today that the division is in the process of repositioning its forces forward and will say on the record that the troops are moving to within 5 kilometers of the Iraqi border. That means U.S. forces are now on the very edge of the UN's demilitarized zone, which separates Kuwait from Iraq. General Blount said the main command headquarters of the Third Infantry Division will be tearing down its command-and-control tents tonight. Inside that tent, Major General Blount is based with satellite links to the United States for mapping purposes, along with an entire army of laptop computers and officers, with representatives of his logistics, fire support, aviation, and liaison officers for the Marine Corps and the Air Force and for his intelligence.

QUESTION: You've mentioned the temperature has climbed into the 40s [Centigrade]. How is the weather affecting the troop movement?

Synovitz: The desert of northern Kuwait appears as a giant dust bowl today, with literally thousands of vehicles on the move. In addition to the units normally within the Third Infantry Division are another 3,500 support vehicles, which include fuel tankers, signals and communications corps, and, very interestingly, an entire array of T-60 armored units -- these are engineering units that are carrying pieces of bridges that would be used to ford any rivers or canals that the army comes across. High winds are making visibility very difficult in the area as this deployment is beginning. Conditions have reduced visibility to less than 100 meters and, while traveling in a convoy, to as little as 10 meters. But Major General Blount says the weather will have no other impact on his forces other than making everybody dirty and uncomfortable.

QUESTION: The army has begun dropping informational leaflets into Iraq in preparation for a possible invasion. What can you tell us about these leaflets?

Synovitz: A division of the U.S. Army involved in psychological operations has been busy today dropping hundreds of thousands of leaflets into Iraq, warning the Iraqi people what exactly they should do if U.S. President [George W.] Bush does give the order to start military action against Iraq. I've seen some of the leaflets and their warnings, [with] messages like: "The coalition is here to put the end to the oppression caused by Saddam Hussein and his regime," [and] "The coalition wishes no harm to the people of Iraq." On the back side of this leaflet is a cartoon of Saddam Hussein clutching a map of Iraq in his left hand and squeezing it, with blood dripping out of the map, his right arm behind his back. Other leaflets being dropped include messages to civilian populations such as: "For your safety, stay away from buildings where military weapons are positioned," and "Do not interfere with coalition forces. The coalition wishes no harm upon the people of Iraq." Leaflets planned to be dropped in the very near future also give surrender instructions to members of the Iraqi Army, telling them to park their tanks together in groups with their turrets turned backwards, to keep their weapons down, not to approach coalition forces with their weapons, and other details that would make it clear to the U.S. soldiers if they go into Iraq that Iraqi soldiers are surrendering.