U.S. Seizes Iraqi Towns; 2 Marines Killed
By: Associated Press
(Safwan, Iraq)-- U.S. and British forces took over the town of Safwan in southern Iraq and the strategic Gulf port of Umm Qasr on Friday as ground forces rolled toward Baghdad, officials said. Two U.S. Marines died in ground fighting, bringing the death toll of allied forces to 14.
Both troops who died were with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. The first Marine died early Friday while his platoon battled Iraqi infantry to secure an oil pumping station in southern Iraq. The second Marine died Friday afternoon while fighting Iraqi forces near the port of Umm Qasr.
Earlier, eight British and four U.S. Marines died when their CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter crashed south of the Iraqi border town of Umm Qasr.
Coalition troops managed to take over Umm Qasr, a strategic port in the war.
"Umm Qasr has been overwhelmed by the U.S. Marines and now is in coalition hands," Adm. Michael Boyce, chief of the British defense staff, said in London.
British forces in the area were dealing with "significant numbers" of Iraqi troops who had surrendered, Boyce said, but he could not be more specific.
The ground attack on Umm Qasr followed a night of intense shelling by U.S. and British forces.
British troops took the southern portion of the peninsula in the first hours of the ground war, but at a cost: eight British and four U.S. Marines died when their Sea Knight helicopter crashed.
The helicopter, which crashed Friday morning in Kuwait 9 miles from Umm Qasr, was assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. Officials said hostile fire had not been reported in the area at the time.
The pilot was identified as Capt. Ryan Beaupre, 30, of St. Anne, Ill., by family members who said they were notified of the death early Friday. However, Marine officials in Illinois and at Camp Pendleton, Calif., where Beaupre was based, could not immediately confirm that he was one of those killed.
Umm Qasr, located along the Kuwait border about 290 miles southeast of Baghdad, would give U.S. and British forces access to a port for military and humanitarian supplies and hasten the end of Iraqi resistance in the south.
In the Safwan area about 12 miles away, 40 to 50 Iraqi soldiers surrendered to a U.S. Marine traffic control unit.
They came down the road in the open back of a troop vehicle, their hands in the air for about a mile before they reached the marines.
U.S. Marines from the 3rd Battalion 7th Marine Infantry faced little resistance on their way into Safwan. Tanks attached to the battalion attacked five Iraqi tanks just north of the Kuwait border, easily destroying them.
Except for the destruction near the border, the town of stone buildings appeared nearly untouched by the shelling, artillery fire and helicopter-launched missiles shot over the border by U.S. forces before the marines crossed into Iraq.
Electric power lines and telephone lines remained standing, untouched.
As the convoy of Amtracks, HumVees and tanks traveled through town, marines manning 50-caliber machine guns atop hardback HumVees scanned the surrounding area for possible snipers.
U.S. forces later took control of positions mostly abandoned by Iraq's 32 Mechanized Infantry Brigade, blowing up a few abandoned tanks and armored personnel carriers and engaging in short firefights with a few Iraqi soldiers who stayed back to defend the 32nd's headquarters and barracks or were unable to flee in time.
Earlier Friday, a U.S. Marine was fatally shot after while leading his infantry platoon in a firefight to secure an oil pumping station in southern Iraq.
A second marine was killed Friday afternoon while fighting Iraqi forces near the port of Umm Qasr, the U.S. Central Command said in Doha, Qatar.
U.S. forces ran into mortar fire while taking control of the main highway from Kuwait leading to the key port city of Basra, the heart of Iraq's southern oil facilities. But reports said U.S. and Australian naval forces had secured most of the oil infrastructure around the city.
Australian forces intercepted an Iraqi patrol boat filled with sea mines and other military equipment in the area of Khawr Abd Allah, a stretch of water in the approach to Umm Qasr, a spokeswoman for British forces in the Gulf said Friday. No other details available.
British forces said they ran also met resistance as they moved against Umm Qasr to the south.
Britain's 3 Commando Brigade has secured the areas of the al-Faw peninsula, said a British spokeswoman, who spoke to journalists on condition of anonymity. The 7 Armored Brigade initiated successful offensive operations earlier Friday to protect the right flank of advancing U.S. forces and was conducting further offensive operations.
U.S. ground forces secured the Rumeila oil fields, the spokeswoman said. There was some damage to the oil infrastructure caused by the Iraqis, but coalition forces managed to prevent any further environmental damage.
Rumeila is Iraq's largest southern oil field, with a total output of 1.3 million barrels a day. Oil from southern Iraq is shipped largely from the Gulf export terminal of Mina al-Bakr.