US Warplanes Drop Massive "Bunker Busters"

March 28, 2003

U.S. warplanes dropped two massive "bunker busting" bombs on Baghdad on Friday morning, to crush Iraqi command and communication centers. The bombs, weighing 2,086kg apiece, were dropped "on a major communications tower on the east bank of the Tigris River in downtown Baghdad," U.S. military officials said. They said the strike was meant to hamper communications between Saddam and his military.

Iraq defiantly challenged coalition troops moving to encircle the capital. "The enemy must come inside Baghdad, and that will be its grave," Iraqi Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmed said. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld suggested U.S. forces might lay siege to the capital. He said nothing short of total victory in Iraq would be accepted.

But British Prime Minister Tony Blair, returning home after a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush, warned the battle may be tougher than anticipated. It would take time to "prise the grip of Saddam off the country when it's been there for over 20 years, Blair told BBC radio.

After eight days of fighting, Pentagon officials said close to 90,000 U.S. troops were in Iraq, and that an additional 100,000 to 120,000 were on the way. All were part of a military blueprint made up long ago, officials said, sensitive to criticism that commanders had underestimated the need for troops to quell stronger-than-expected resistance or protect long supply lines.

Bush and Blair were briefed on the progress of the war in Iraq after a week of fierce combat, and their meeting took place amid growing signs that Iraqi forces have dug in for a prolonged fight. Neither would set a timetable for the war's conclusion.

"However long it takes to win. However long it takes to achieve our objective. However long it takes," Bush said. "It's not a matter of timetable, it's a matter of victory."

In the war zone, sandstorms abated and the Americans and British reported flying 1,500 missions during the day as they exploited their unchecked air superiority. British forces reported destroying 14 Iraqi tanks near Basra - their largest tank battle since World War II.

Warplanes bombed positions in northern Iraq near Kurdish-held areas and hit Republican Guard forces menacing American ground forces 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Baghdad. Thunderous explosions rocked the capital after nightfall in one of the strongest blasts in days, filling the sky with flames and thick smoke after one of Saddam's presidential palaces was hit. Combat aircraft dropped bombs "just about as fast as we can load them," said Capt. Thomas A. Parker, aboard the USS Kitty Hawk in the Persian Gulf.

Cargo planes flew military supplies into northern Iraq after 1,000 American airborne troops parachuted in to secure an airfield. One source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said additional personnel were being flown in, and that an early objective would be securing the northern oil fields near Kirkuk. Invading forces took control of southern Iraqi oil fields in the early hours of the ground war.

U.S. forces had pounded the northern hills around Chamchamal over the past several days, and it appeared that the Iraqis abandoned their checkpoint and bunkers and retreated to the west.

In central Iraq, the first resupply plane landed on a restored runway at Tallil Airfield - hastily renamed "Bush International Airport" by American forces who had secured it.

Still, Iraqi resistance continued to slow the drive on the capital and kept American and British forces out of key cities such as Basra and An Nasiriyah. Its mines kept ships with humanitarian assistance from unloading their cargo at the southern port city of Umm Qasr.

More than 25 U.S. Marines were wounded near An Nasiriyah, one of the southern Iraq cities where irregular forces have put up far more resistance than American military planners expected. U.S. officials said some or all of them were hurt when one Marine unit mistakenly fired on another.

Bush and Blair met as anti-war protests flared anew in the United States. In New York, hundreds of demonstrators lined three blocks of Fifth Avenue and dozens more lay down in the street in a "die-in." At the United Nations, the U.S. ambassador walked out of a debate on the war after Iraq's ambassador accused the United States of trying to exterminate the Iraqi people.

Iraqis accused U.S. and British forces of targeting civilians. They, in turn, were accused of seizing Iraqi children to force their fathers into battle.

Iraqi officials said about 350 civilians had been killed so far, and more than 3,500 others injured.

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