For the first time since U.S. troops seized Baghdad's international airport six days ago, U.S. military cargo planes have begun making regular runs to and from the airport.
A U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo plane took off early Friday morning from the airport in Baghdad.
The morning departure was significant because it means U.S. military officials are now convinced that Iraq's ability to fire anti-aircraft weapons at U.S. planes has been dramatically reduced. The slow-moving planes are vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire, especially during the day.
For several days after the airport was seized on Saturday, Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery frequently lit up the night skies over Baghdad. But in the past three days, U.S. warplanes, artillery, and tanks have been pounding anti-aircraft weapons sites around the city and destroying the guns.
But a detailed tour of the airport's perimeter on Friday showed that planes flying in and out of the airport may still be vulnerable to fire from other weapons, such as rocket-propelled grenades.
On the side of a road near the airport, U.S. troops discovered at least two hidden boxes of rocket-propelled grenades and launchers, as well as several large boxes of ammunition. Another group of soldiers patrolling the northwest side of the airport on Thursday discovered several bunkers full of ammunition and nearly 300 weapons.
The sergeant major Michael Fox of the U.S. Army's 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, says the soldiers still have to be alert all times.
"The security situation is still a little hostile for us because we keep finding people here and there, caches of ammo [ammunition] and weapons," he said. "So, right now, we still stay on our toes wherever we go. We can't let our guard down, no matter what."
But U.S. military commanders consider the area secure enough that they are planning to move the combined headquarters for the Army and the Marines from Kuwait to Baghdad airport in the next few days.
The C-130 plane that left Baghdad airport Friday morning had arrived the previous night, accompanied by three other C-130s and four larger C-17 cargo jets. They all carried equipment and troops needed to lay down the groundwork for the new headquarters.