TOPICS > Nation

Rescue Mission: Jessica Lynch

April 2, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: 19-year-old Army Private Jessica Lynch had been missing since March 23. That’s when her maintenance company made a wrong turn near the southern town of Nasiriyah, and was ambushed by Iraqi militia. Iraqi forces held Lynch at a hospital in the town. American officials have so far refused to describe her injuries. The Associated Press reported Lynch had two broken legs and a broken arm, plus at least one gunshot wound. Iraqi TV broadcast the images of five other POW’s from Lynch’s unit, the 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company. Private Lori Ann Piestewa is among seven others who were also believed to be captured, but are still listed as missing. At today’s CENTCOM briefing, Brigadier Gen. Brooks described how all branches of the military, acting on CIA information, participated in the rescue.

BRIGADIER GEN. VINCENT BROOKS: There was not a firefight inside of the building, I will tell you, but there were fire fights outside of the building, getting in and getting out. The were no coalition casualties as a result of this and in the destruction that occurred inside of the building, particularly in the basement area where the operations centers had been, we found ammunition, mortars, maps, a terrain model, and other things that make it very clear that it was being used as a military command post. The nature of the operation was a coalition special operation that involved Army Rangers, Air Force pilots and combat controllers, U.S. Marines, and Navy Seals. It was a classic joint operation done by some of our nation’s finest warriors, who are dedicated to never leaving a comrade behind.

RAY SUAREZ: Brooks showed video shot by a Defense Department combat camera crew.

BRIGADIER GEN. VINCENT BROOKS: This is a coalition Blackhawk helicopter on the ground, and PFC Lynch on a stretcher, being carried to safety. This, of course, was done under black-out conditions in the compound itself, where the helicopter landed. At this point she is safe. She’s been retrieved. And some brave souls put their lives on the line to make this happen.

RAY SUAREZ: Brave, sure, and highly trained. Michael Vickers spent ten years as an officer in army Special Forces before moving to the CIA. He says the first thing you need for an operation like last night’s rescue to work is fresh, accurate information.

MICHAEL VICKERS: Well, the critical requirement is for intelligence. So in this case, it seems like we had very good information on where Private Lynch was, and specifically, what floor she was on and what room she was in. But there’s really an insatiable demand for intelligence about one of these structures– where the guards are; what kind of materials the walls are made out of, so we could breach them; what the floor plans are like, meaning blueprints; which way the door opens; what kind of locks– all sorts of details to make one of these rescues possible.

RAY SUAREZ: Vickers says such a rescue is high-risk, and the danger was far from over when this group of elite fighters from several different services had Private Lynch in custody.

MICHAEL VICKERS: Well, this one was particularly joint in the sense that, not only did we have very good CIA intelligence, but we had a large-scale marine diversionary attack by a marine task force that was already in the Nasiriyah area. And in this particular operation, besides the marine diversionary attack, we had rangers securing the perimeter of the area, and then a special seal unit going and doing the actual rescue, and of course supported by helicopter aviation to get them in and out.

RAY SUAREZ: With Private Lynch recovered, two women may still be Iraqi prisoners. We asked retired Navy Captain Lory Manning, director of the women in the military project in Washington, if women, and the American public, are used to the idea.

LORY MANNING: I think we know women have the toughness and endurance to bear anything that men can bear. Whether we want them to, that’s a different question.

RAY SUAREZ: In Lynch’s hometown of Palestine, West Virginia, her family told reporters how they got the news last night.

GREGORY LYNCH, JR., Jessica Lynch’s Brother: We received the call last night a little after 6:00. Of course, mom was ear to ear with dad, trying to figure out good or bad news, and, you know, of course the good news came through, and the roof got a little higher, and the door got a little looser when mom came through.

RAY SUAREZ: Lynch’s father thought the call from the army was an April fool’s joke.

GREGORY LYNCH, SR.: I kind of figured, well, this being April 1, it’s a real bad day to be doing this. I asked three or four times, just to make sure they said the same name. I even went to the table and got a pencil and paper and wrote some numbers down because I just figured this just was an April Fool’s deal.

RAY SUAREZ: Lynch arrived in Ramstein, Germany, this afternoon, where she will be treated for her injuries.


JIM LEHRER: Next, the massive effort it takes to keep coalition troops supplied in the field. Again, Tom Bearden reports.

TOM BEARDEN: Combat forces consume everything at a prodigious rate: Food; ammunition; water; and especially fuel. The 3rd Infantry Division alone can burn 600,000 gallons in a single day. In the last two weeks, there’s been a lot press attention focused on whether the troops have outrun their supply lines. Convoys have come under attack. There have been reports of shortages at the front, that food has been rationed, that some units were running low on water. Major Gen. Dennis Jackson is central command’s director of logistics, the military term for the art of keeping forces supplied.

TOM BEARDEN: Have the attacks at all disrupted the operation?

MAJ. GEN. DENNIS JACKSON: I think the answer is no. I think when you look at the sustained movement over time of supplies, the consistent re-supply, you know, we do things in a couple of ways in the military. We provide supplies by push and we do it by pull. So when you’re talking about repair parts or some specific things that a unit needs, they’d ask for that specifically, and then we respond by letting them pull that forward. In other cases, we anticipate what they would need, in terms of fuel or food or water or ammunition, and we would push that forward to them.

TOM BEARDEN: Give me some idea of the quantities of materiel that you deliver.

MAJ. GEN. DENNIS JACKSON: Just by air, if we would have considered moving any individual city over here by air, we could have moved all the household goods in Santa Barbara, California. In fact somebody asked me how we would deal with such long supply lines, how are we dealing with this force, and I said, “the supply line isn’t 250 miles long, the supply line, the logistics train, the sustainment line, is really 8,000 miles long.” It really starts at the East and West coasts of the United States, and moves all the way to here.

TOM BEARDEN: The particular segment that people have been focused on is that 350-odd miles between Kuwait and the forces at the front. Is that, in itself, particularly long in the history of the United States army’s operations?

MAJ. GEN. DENNIS JACKSON: Well, I don’t think it’s particularly long. I think, though, it’s particularly different. This is an operation unlike previous operations that we have done. So trying to go back and compare, for example, what was done in the Gulf War in the early ’90s, or perhaps what has been done in the Korean War or the Second World War, it’s not a clean comparison — not particularly long, but the rate of advance we knew would be a challenge, so what we tried to do was organize for success.

TOM BEARDEN: Did that rapid advance cause a significant challenge?

MAJ. GEN. DENNIS JACKSON: I think it caused… there’s always challenges to these things, and the question is, have you thought about the unknown? The danger in every logistician’s life is, what is the thing I haven’t thought of — it’s that unknown-unknown out there. I don’t know it, none of my staff knows it, other people haven’t thought about it yet, and all of a sudden it occurs. So if there’s something that keeps us awake at night thinking about things, it’s that.

TOM BEARDEN: Have you encountered anything that surprised you in this operation?

MAJ. GEN. DENNIS JACKSON: It was a lot browner out there during the sandstorm than I thought it would be, you know. Weather is always a factor here, and I think the effects of that are significant sometimes. We train in all kinds of weather, so that has worked out reasonably well. I’ve been doing this job for about two and a half years, and have been to the region a number of times. We know, at least partially understand, the dynamics of this area, and so I don’t think there have been too many surprises. But it’s always the dynamic of the change, as we see the battlefield constantly moving. It’s kind of a living, breathing place out there, so there’s some degree of adaptability that has to occur.

TOM BEARDEN: Is everything that needs to be at the front getting there when it needs to be there?

MAJ. GEN. DENNIS JACKSON: I think it is. But as my boss said earlier, “Is Private Jackson out there at the front end and one squad, in one platoon, in one company, does he have everything he needs at every specific time?” Maybe not. But this distribution system depends on that 8,000 miles plus the last tactical mile, so I think in the strategic sense and in the lines of the communications forward, and in the re-supply to units forward like the 3rd Infantry Division, yes, it is.

TOM BEARDEN: The number of troops in Iraq is expected to double within the coming weeks. General Jackson says central command has long planned for their arrival, and will be able to handle the additional logistical load.