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Traveling with the Troops:  US Marines Encounter Resistance After Crossing Euphrates - 2003-03-26


As the U.S.-led military campaign toward Baghdad continues, U.S. Marines are encountering some resistance from Iraqi fighters, after crossing the Euphrates River. VOA's Deborah Block is traveling with one Marine unit. She tells News Now's Steve Norman that the Marines were under fire and returning fire, steadily, in the hours from Tuesday night into Wednesday afternoon.

Block: After hours of blinding sandstorms and thunderstorms, a convoy of Marines, aided by Australian forces, continued battles after crossing the Euphrates River north of Al-Nassariyah. The Marines shot at an ammunition cache as well as armored vehicles and tanks. And the sky lit up at night from numerous rounds of projectiles being shot by the artillery in various directions.

The Iraqis returned artillery fire, but it fell short. Later on, the Marine's artillery shot at some Iraqi mortars. The Marines are fighting some elements of the Republican Guard now as well as the regular army.

Norman: And they're fighting in extremely difficult situations. You've already mentioned the sandstorm. How are they doing with the sandstorm, the weather, that whole condition?

Block: I thought it was just unbelievable last night to see the Marines out here, still keeping watch, having to shoot the artillery in these incredible conditions. And they were absolutely incredible. You couldn't see in front of you at all. If you didn't have this blinding sandstorm that made the sky a dull orange and practically turned, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, it practically turned pitch-black, and then, right after that, you would have these raging thunderstorms that would come down. And it was just really amazing that they could keep going and function at all. And after speaking to some of them today, their spirits are still up in spite of the difficult weather conditions.

Norman: We can't help but remember the scene from the other day, when some marines came under fire, apparently when they thought they were approaching civilians. Let's talk a bit about these civilians who are being used as cover by the Iraqi fighters.

Block: Reportedly, Steve, women and children are being used as cover for Iraqi forces, not as human shields but as cover, so that they are in front of, let's say, the infantry, so that the U.S. forces don't realize there are soldiers right behind them. The Marines that I have been with are now much more careful at checking out surroundings. Not long ago, in the location I'm at, they were going house to house in the area, to make sure the homes were cleared. Even Bedouins that are herding camels across the horizon here are looked at much more with suspicion than they would have a couple of days ago. Also, Steve, just to let you know, the Iraqi Republican Guard now is apparently going door to door, telling civilians in their homes, the men, that they must go out and fight.

VOA's Deborah Block is with the 3-11 Marines Artillery Unit, somewhere north of the Euphrates River, inside Iraq.

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