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ASSOCIATED PRESS



Published: Thu, March 27, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



ASSOCIATED PRESS

With sandstorms finally ended and a new front opened in the north, U.S. commanders said today they would swiftly intensify attacks on Iraqi forces. In the south, British troops destroyed 14 Iraqi tanks trying to break out of the besieged city of Basra.

In Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, 1,000 paratroopers from the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade airdropped overnight onto an airfield that they were busy securing today. It is the first large deployment of U.S. ground troops in the region; previously, only small groups of U.S. Special Forces were operating along with allied Kurdish fighters.

In central Iraq, where huge Army and Marine forces are gradually closing in on Baghdad, U.S. commanders were buoyed by arrival of good weather.

"You'll certainly see us increase our activity in the coming hours, days, given the clearing weather," an official at U.S. Central Command said, speaking on condition on anonymity.

Outside Karbala, southwest of Baghdad, small groups of Iraqi armored personnel carriers approached American positions but were hit by U.S. warplanes before getting within 10 miles.

"I can't believe they keep doing this. It's suicide to come at us like this," said Lt. Eric Hooper of Albany, Ga.

In southern Iraq, British forces destroyed 14 Iraqi tanks that streamed out of the besieged city of Basra overnight, according to a British spokesman, Group Capt. Al Lockwood.

It was the third time this week that Iraqi columns have been attacked while trying to get out of Basra, which has been ringed by British troops.

"The enemy's options are now limited," Lockwood said of the failed breakouts. "It's a suicidal approach which is irrational. ... Military cohesion is sadly lacking."

Lockwood said militiamen of the ruling Baath were threatening families of Iraqi soldiers to force them into driving the military vehicles out of Basra.

"They are obviously coercing them into this action, whereas in fact we would have wished them to surrender," he said.

COPYRIGHT 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN, OR REDISTRIBUTED.




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