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US Forces Race Toward Baghdad - 2003-03-23

U.S. Army ground forces raced to within 160-kilometers of Baghdad, while American Marines and British troops secured the port cities of Basra and Um Qasr in southern Iraq. But coalition forces are still facing pockets of resistance from Iraqi troops.

Several U.S. Army Chinook helicopters prepared on the Iraq-Kuwait border for a mission deep inside Iraq. They were scheduled to deliver critical items for Army engineers, who wanted the material in place in an area well ahead of the advancing U.S. ground forces racing across the desert.

But by mid-day, reconnaissance soldiers from the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division and other U.S. troops were still trying to secure the area where the helicopters needed to land. Persistent Iraqi mortar attacks and small arms fire forced U.S. military commanders to cancel the Chinooks' mission after a five-hour delay.

The commander of Chinook Company Bravo 159, Major Glenn Moore, says the cancellation was a huge disappointment for the pilots.

"You have pilots putting a lot of hours in detail planning to ensure that we do get the successful outcome of the mission and it just gets frustrating when you can not perform that mission," he said.

There were other reports of U.S. and coalition forces engaging Iraqi troops elsewhere around the country.

The Second Brigade of the Third Infantry Division fought an overnight battle with Iraqi Baath Party militiamen near the city of Najaf, on the western banks of the Euphrates River. Coalition commanders on the scene say at least 100 militiamen were killed and 20 were captured in the battle.

Marines and British troops in the southern cities of Basra and Um Qasr also reported encountering pockets of resistance after two days of trying to secure the area.

The Defense Department says despite the resistance, the Iraqi military command structure is showing clear signs of disarray. But Iraqi officials insist their military remains highly-motivated and intact.

Coalition forces suffered casualties, mostly due to friendly fire.

A British Tornado fighter jet was accidentally shot down near the Kuwaiti border, apparently by a U.S. Patriot missile. The jet's two pilots are missing.

At Camp Pennsylvania in northern Kuwait, an American soldier is in custody on suspicion of throwing hand grenades into three tents at a command center for the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division. One solider was killed and 13 were wounded in the early morning attack.

No one knows what motivated the attack. But several Airborne soldiers told VOA the incident has left many people in the division badly shaken.