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Weather Allows Resumption of Air Activity in Iraq - 2003-03-27

VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu is traveling with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division in Central Iraq. She spoke with London Bureau Editor Kevin Lynch about the unit's activities Thursday.

LYNCH: Alisha, can you tell us how is the weather? Are the sandstorms continuing?

RYU: No, the sandstorms have abated here. It is actually a beautiful day. The sun is out; visibility is very, very good. And, actually, the U.S. forces here are cheering the news because this allows them to sort of make up for the last of couple days of bad weather. The helicopters, the aircraft, all of the air activity that was halted now can begin. Today promises to be a very, very busy day in terms of the air war. We are not quite sure exactly what is going to happen, but I can tell you that a lot of the helicopters are already up and about, and they will have all sorts of missions today.

LYNCH: Alisha, can you tell us anything about any advances that U.S. forces are making toward Baghdad?

RYU: The latest on the fronts going toward Baghdad, we've had some reports of the U.S. forces belonging to the 3rd Infantry Division encountering some either Republican Guard units or Fedayeen - these are the paramilitary forces that are very loyal to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. We are not sure what the numbers were, but the 3rd Infantry Division units did encounter them on the road. The Air Force A-10 Warthog aircraft were called in for close air support. This occurred just north of the city of Najaf, near the Karbala gap. Around that area, the southwest area of Baghdad, is, of course, where the Medina Republican Guard unit is believed to be based, but the A-10 Warthogs did provide close air support for the 3rd Infantry Unit. We are told as soon as the aircrafts arrived on the scene, a lot of the men that were there, the Iraqi forces, scattered into buildings, so they are still not sure exactly how many and where they have gone, but there have been no U.S. casualties and there's no word on Iraqi casualties from that encounter this morning.

We were hearing all night last night about possible convoys of Iraqi forces moving down south to meet U.S. troops head on. That is still a rumor. They have had little incidents of encounters, just as the one that I mentioned this morning, but large Republican Guard units coming down to meet U.S. troops, that is still unconfirmed. I talked to the U.S. troops here about that, and they say well, actually, they would prefer to have Iraqi forces come out and do a face-to-face with U.S. forces because they can face off in the open, and the U.S. forces do not have to chase the Iraqi units in urban areas or hunt them down in urban areas where civilians could get hurt or killed.

LYNCH: Alisha, can you tell us anything about the humanitarian aid efforts now? Will the improved weather help that also?

RYU: We did have some reports this morning down in Basra that the coalition forces attacked a convoy of Iraqi tanks moving out of Basra, so I think people here believe that the Basra area, which is the port city that a lot of the humanitarian aid would come through, is still not secure. There is a little bit of information here and there, trickling in, and I am not sure if any of this information is confirmed, but there has been talk that perhaps there are some Iraqi forces, perhaps the fedayeen, again, still harassing troops and civilians in the area, so the humanitarian aid that has to come through Basra is probably being held up a bit.

LYNCH: Alisha, there are reports that U.S. forces have already opened up the northern front in the Kurdish-held areas of Iraq. Do you hear anything about that?

RYU: I asked the command center here about that this morning. They say that at least several hundred Rangers with the 173rd Airborne apparently parachuted into a Kurdish area in northern Iraq. They did open a corridor from the north, from the Turkey area, coming down into Iraq for U.S. and coalition forces. Now, of course, this corridor is very important because it will be used to squeeze a lot of the Iraqi forces up near Mosul and Kirkuk and that area, down towards Baghdad, and what the Army hopes to do is sort of do an encirclement of all the Iraqi forces around Baghdad and have them be in a controlled area.

LYNCH: Thank you Alisha. We've been talking to VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu, who is with U.S. forces in central Iraq.