VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu is with US forces at the Baghdad airport and describes Monday's incursion into Baghdad by U.S. troops to Al Pessin in VOA London bureau.
Pessin: What can you tell us about this incursion deep into the city by the Second Brigade that we've heard so much about?
Ryu: Well, the Second Brigade had a very, very active day. And, in fact, they're staying in downtown Baghdad tonight. From what I am told, from the military commanders here from the Second Brigade, they took over two palaces of Saddam Hussein's along the Tigris River. One is the newest palace that he has built, and the other one is a bit of an older one, but two significant palaces.
They are searching those palaces right now. Also, they encountered a similar kind of resistance from paramilitary militiamen. These are the gun-mounted truck militiamen that they have been encountering for days, since they've made these forays into town. And during their encounter, they destroyed four armed personnel carriers, about 70 trucks, and they apparently destroyed several anti-aircraft guns in the areas of the palaces, as well.
They have a staggering amount of Iraqi troops killed today. They estimate somewhere between 500 to 550 Iraqi troops that they have killed in today's battle. And there have been no U.S. casualties in the battle itself.
Pessin: Alisha, that fighting you're referring to was on the way into Baghdad. Once they got into the center, it appeared from the TV pictures, like they felt quite secure, and they were acting as if they were very secure.
Ryu: Yes, I think it was the resistance as they were coming in to the city, that they were meeting an incredible amount of small-arms fire, and those kinds of things. Apparently, they had trucks attempting to ram tanks, and those kinds of things they [Iraqis] have been doing before. Paramilitary militiamen driving around in these gun-mounted pickup trucks, and those kinds of things, but most of that had subsided, by the time they reached the center of Baghdad. I suppose that they felt secure enough that they decided to stay there, for the night at least.
Pessin: Now, we know that there was one particularly successful Iraqi attack on coalition forces. This was apparently a missle attack on the command post of that same U.S. Army unit, the Second Brigade, that had gone into the center of Baghdad. Do you have any update on that for us?
Ryu: Yes, the update that I have is, the brigade, a command post, was about 10 kilometers south of Baghdad, when the attack occurred. They still do not know what kind of missile or rocket, the make of it, but they definitely say it was not an artillery round that hit. It was a direct hit. Right now, the casualty figures is, four soldiers have been killed -- two journalists, who were embedded with the Second Brigade; there have been 15 wounded, and one critically injured. The attack also destroyed 17 vehicles, mostly trucks and Humvee Jeeps that had been parked around the command post.
Pessin: Alisha, your base of operations for the last day or so, has been the airport, the International Airport just outside of Baghdad, formerly known as Saddam International Airport. What are the conditions like there now? Have the coalition forces consolidated their position, made it into sort of an organized base?
Ryu: The area around the airport, about three square kilometers, is now extremely secure, from what the commanders are telling me. There has absolutely been no breach whatsoever. In terms of security, it is very austere. We are all living in a hangar at the moment, an Iraqi Airways hangar that apparently stood empty for quite some time.
I suppose because of the sanctions that they haven't had much activity, in terms of airline activity. But I can't tell you just how austere this place is. I've been trying all day to get a generator, to get some power.
It's absolutely pitch black out here. Of course, we have light discipline, meaning that we cannot shine direct, bright light anywhere. So, we are operating under red flashlights, and trying our best to stumble around and find our way. But, I am told, within a day or two -- the engineers are working very, very hard to restore power, to restore some water, and, hopefully, we will have both running water and power in the next coming days.