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Pentagon Assessing Damage From Initial US Strike - 2003-03-20


The Pentagon is assessing the damage from its initial strikes against targets in Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of soldiers in the Persian Gulf region remain poised to launch an invasion of the country. And, a helicopter carrying U.S. special forces has crashed in southern Iraq.

The crash of the special operations helicopter inside Iraq happened several hours before the first U.S. attack.

Pentagon officials say there were no casualties and troops on board were all taken out safely.

Officials say the military is taking steps to destroy the helicopter so it will not fall into Iraqi hands.

The so-called "Pave Low" helicopter is capable of carrying dozens of soldiers, although it is not known how many were on board at the time of the crash.

The helicopter flight is apparently part of a wide thrust to get elite U.S. forces inside Iraq ahead of a major ground invasion.

Officials declined to say exactly where the crash occurred, but special forces are expected to enter the country to secure oil wells, suspected chemical weapons sites and search for Iraqi leaders.

The Pentagon is currently assessing damage from its first strike by Tomahawk missiles and stealth fighter jets that was a small prelude to a larger military assault expected to be launched soon.

U.S. officials say the attacks were aimed at "decapitating" the Iraqi government.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says one person was killed and 14 were injured.

The initial attack is being described as a "target of opportunity" apparently designed to strike Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and senior officials in his government.

Although the Iraqi president appeared on television after the attack, it was not clear if the remarks were taped earlier or whether the speaker was the Iraqi leader himself or a double.

Iraq responded to the initial strikes by firing several missiles at coalition forces massed in northern Kuwait and waiting for orders to launch a full-scale ground invasion.

At least one of the missiles was destroyed by a U.S. Patriot missile.

There were no injuries reported from the Iraqi strikes and officials say the missiles were not carrying chemical or biological weapons.

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