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Iraq: Desert Dispatch -- Capture, Death Of U.S. Soldiers Strengthens Resolve Of Troops

Near As-Samawah, Southern Iraq; March 24 (RFE/RL) -- RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz is traveling with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division in southern Iraq. In this "Desert Dispatch," Synovitz gives more details about yesterday's killing and capture of a group of U.S. soldiers.

Question: How have the soldiers in the 3rd Infantry Division reacted to the news that a videotape of dead and captured U.S. soldiers has been shown on Iraqi television?

Synovitz: An ambush yesterday on a group of American soldiers near the southern Iraqi city of An-Nasiriyah has strengthened the determination of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division to push forward with their advance toward Baghdad and eliminate the regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. News that Iraqi state television has displayed the bodies of eight dead U.S. soldiers and five captured, including a woman, has angered the U.S. soldiers who captured the Talil airfield near An-Nasiriyah early Saturday [22 March] and have since advanced 100 kilometers further on the main highway leading north to Baghdad. The group of captured Americans was part of a team that [performs maintenance] on a Patriot missile-defense system.

Question: Do you have any more details about how the incident occurred?

Synovitz: Those killed and captured were meant to be in a convoy of reinforcements for the Talil airfield that had arrived overland from Kuwait early Sunday [23 March] morning. The main convoy of reinforcements was approaching Iraqi positions at An-Nasiriyah just as the commander of the 3rd Infantry Division's Task Force 1-15, Lieutenant Colonel John Charlton, was pushing off for areas further north. [I] watched as Lieutenant Colonel Charlton warned the officer in charge of the newly arriving U.S. reinforcements that their convoy was heading straight for the Iraqi troops. The officer turned the convoy around and repositioned it at a more secure location near the 10-meter-high earthworks of the Talil airfield. But U.S. military officials in southern Iraq say that stragglers appear to have fallen behind the main group of reinforcements in the convoy and ultimately stumbled into those Iraqi positions.