Marine Chopper Crashes In Kuwait; 16 Killed
Cause Of Crash Unclear; 12 Of Dead Were British
POSTED: 6:04 a.m. EST March 20, 2003
UPDATED: 10:42 p.m. EST March 20, 2003
WASHINGTON -- A U.S. Marine helicopter crashed in Kuwait on Thursday, killing all 16 American and British soldiers aboard, military officials said.
The crash of the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, which was assigned to the First Marine Expeditionary Force, killed 12 British and 4 American soldiers, officials said. The chopper was based out of San Diego's Camp Pendleton.
The troops aboard the helicopter appear to be the first coalition casualties of the war.
Military officials say the crash happened about nine miles away from the border with Iraq.
The cause of the crash is under investigation, but officials say that hostile fire had not been reported in the area.
The Marines use the Sea Knight, a bus-like helicopter with two large rotors, to transport troops between ships and bases, or to forward positions.
The U.S. military grounded all 291 of the helicopters in August, after an inspection of one helicopter found a crack in a rotor assembly. A Sea Knight crash two years ago killed three Marines and injured two others.
Experts: Iraqi Forces Appear In Disarray
After two U.S. airstrikes in Baghdad in the past 24 hours, Iraqi forces appear in disarray, The Associated Press reported, citing U.S. military sources.
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Military experts interviewed by the AP say it looks as though no one, including Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, is in overall command of Iraq's security or military operations.
According to intelligence reports, there has been no coordinated response to American attacks either in Baghdad or in the rest of the country. That could mean the leadership is in chaos, or cut off from communications with field commanders.
One AP source said some commanders are launching small attacks and setting fires, while others are hunkering down.
The first U.S. strike on Iraq was an attempt to kill the Iraqi leadership, including Saddam, at an underground site in Baghdad. The sources say there's no definitive word yet on whether it succeeded.
A senior military official said military intelligence is picking up signs and "circumstantial evidence" that Saddam and his senior leadership are either incapacitated or out of communication with battlefield commanders.
On Thursday, a second round of U.S.-led air attacks was launched in Baghdad. U.S. forces fired cruise missiles at strongholds in Baghdad that house the Republican Guard, Saddam's elite military unit.
But U.S. military officials said the assault was not the beginning of the massive air campaign, informally referred to as the "shock and awe" campaign, that the Pentagon has planned. U.S. officials have said that when the full-scale war starts, there won't be any doubt because of the intensity of the firepower.
Reporters familiar with the city say television footage apparently showed Saddam's main presidential complex on fire.
U.S. military officials said it's possible that other limited attacks in various parts of Iraq could be launched over the next day.
U.S., British Marines Move Into Iraq
As coalition warplanes dropped bombs onto Iraqi positions in the south of the country, the First Marine Division moved across the Kuwait-Iraqi border.
An Associated Press Radio reporter with the unit reports the Marines have had some skirmishes with Iraqi "rear guard" units.
There were no American casualties reported, and the reporter, Ross Simpson, has heard of no Iraqi casualties so far, though Marines destroyed one Iraqi tank and engaged some infantry.
Simpson said it was too dark and dusty to see exactly what was happening.
As the Marines entered Iraq, they could see burning oil wells that sent a black cloud into the night sky under a nearly full moon. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said as many as four wells may be burning.
There were no details on the size or the location of U.S. offensive.
The first report of allied troops crossing into Iraq involved British Royal Marine commandos, who launched an aerial and amphibious assault on an Iraqi peninsula.
The report, by a Times of London correspondent, indicated that the assault used hundreds of British Marines. Before that, Royal Marine snipers and U.S. Navy SEAL teams harassed Iraqi positions, the Times said.
At a brief meeting with reporters Thursday night, Rumsfeld said, "Things are going very well ... There is no question that that regime is not going to be there in the future."
Saddam's Son Slams U.S. Raid
Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said that targeting Saddam is "a kind of stupidity" that would never succeed.
Saddam's son appealed to the militia that he leads.
Odai Hussein is urging his soldiers to fight off the invaders.
"The land of Iraq will be ours," he told Iraqi News Agency.
Odai called on the "lions of Iraq" to battle "the foreign hyenas."
A top Iraqi official is reporting an apparent death from the U.S. airstrike.
Al-Sahaf told reporters in Baghdad that the air raids targeted a customs office, empty buildings for Iraqi TV and at least two civilian suburbs.
He said one citizen was "martyred" and a number of them were injured in the attack on the customs office. The minister is calling President George W. Bush "a criminal and the son of a criminal."
Later, a report by the AP said a Taxi driver from Jordan appeared to be the first war fatality. According to the report, the man had stopped in an Iraqi building west of Baghdad to make a phone call when he was killed by a missile. (Full Story.)
He said the Americans also used special technology to distort the signal on Iraqi satellite TV.
Iraq Fires About 12 Missiles At Kuwait
There have been about a dozen Iraqi missile attacks on Kuwait so far.
There are no reports yet of casualties or damage from the missile strikes, which were in retaliation for America's pre-dawn attack on the Iraqi capital.
By early evening, Kuwait time, about a dozen missile attacks were reported, including eight missiles that buzzed above a CNN reporter accompanying U.S.-led troops in Kuwait.
One missile landed near A Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, whose soldiers were eating lunch. The company commander said, "This is not supposed to be happening."
After they got the message by radio that a missile had been fired, soldiers quickly put on gas masks and biochemical protective suits. Then they waited in the desert heat. Finally, after 20 minutes, the "all clear" came.
They had been practicing for weeks, but suddenly it wasn't a drill as U.S. troops in Kuwait climbed into protective suits and gas masks when the Iraqi missiles were on their way.
There was also a report that an Iraqi missile was launched toward Kuwait City, the capital of Kuwait. The all-clear was sounded there as well. The report came within minutes of air raid sirens sounding in the capital of Kuwait.
A spokesman for the Kuwaiti military said the sirens sounded because Iraq fired four Scud missiles at Kuwait.
He said one was intercepted, and the rest fell in the northern part of Kuwait and in Kuwait Bay.
so sad. yes, they are heroes.