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Iraq: Desert Dispatch -- Massive Air Assault Near Karbala Against Republican Guard

RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz is embedded with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division. He spoke with NCA at 1100 Prague time today from the desert, south of the central Iraqi city of Karbala. Near Karbala, central Iraq; 29 March 2003 (RFE/RL):

QUESTION: What are the latest developments in the area?

SYNOVITZ: There was a massive air assault against Iraqi military positions near Karbala overnight. U.S. military intelligence had received reports earlier yesterday that tanks and armored troops carriers of the Iraqi Republican Guard had moved into a narrow strip of land west of the city of Karbala. That strip of land is called the Karbala Gap. It lays between the city of Karbala itself and a large lake called Bahr al-Milh.

I watched as wave after wave of U.S. fighter jets and Apache helicopter gunships last night dropped hundreds of bombs in the area while ground-based U.S. multiple-rocket launchers also fired massive barrages at the Iraqi positions.

It is not immediately possible to confirm battle damage assessments by the U.S. Air Force, which says that they destroyed up to 25 percent of the Iraqi armor in "the Gap" last night. But at dawn today, there were thick black clouds of smoke drifting across the horizon from the area.

QUESTION: There are reports of a pause in the movement of U.S. troops. Can you elaborate? We've also heard of shortages in supplies, such as food and water, for U.S. troops. What have you seen?

SYNOVITZ: There is a pause in the northern movement of the U.S. Army in Iraq at the moment. The main focus of the energy of the U.S. soldiers while this pause is going on is to perform maintenance on their tanks and Bradley troop carriers, some of which have had mechanical problems while advancing through severe dust storms earlier this week. The U.S. soldiers also are checking the sights on their combat systems and weapons to be sure that they shoot exactly where they are being aimed. In addition to this maintenance, work is being performed on the communications equipment of the U.S. soldiers to ensure that it is also functioning properly.

Meanwhile, logistical teams are working to ensure that each vehicle is stocked with enough food and water to last its crew for five days. It would be incorrect to say that there are shortages of food and water because soldiers here have been eating as much as they like and drinking as much water as they like. The logistical supplies are there. It is merely a question of loading them into the vehicles. Meanwhile, the U.S. airstrikes and rocket barrages at Iraqi targets near Karbala are continuing today.