U.S. Paratroopers Aid in Effort to Establish Northern Front
According a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter embedded with the division, the paratroopers captured an airstrip near the town of Bashur, some 30 miles south of the Turkish-Iraq border in territory controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Party.
According to reports, a key mission of the 173rd could be to keep order in northern Iraq, home to two semi-autonomous Kurdish factions as well as several splinter groups. The division could also be involved in helping to secure key oil fields in the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk.
“I think our presence will act as a stabilizer,” the 173rd’s commander, Col. William Mayville, told Inquirer reporter Ken Dilanian. “Our presence changes the dynamics of the environment.”
Pentagon planners have said that U.S. forces would open another front in northern Iraq as part of the assault on Saddam’s regime. The majority of coalition forces have moved into Iraq from Kuwait in the south, in an armored ground advance toward the capital city of Baghdad.
“I can only tell you yes, they’ve gone in. They’re on the ground,” Lt. Col. Thomas Collins, a spokesman for the U.S. Army’s Southern European Task Force, told the Associated Press. The 173rd, which is based in Italy, is a part of the task force.
The U.S. originally wanted to use Turkey to launch a ground invasion of Iraq from the north, but the Turkish parliament refused to grant access to ground troops before the war in Iraq began.
The division’s tanks and supplies will be airlifted in following their initial landing into the area.
Earlier in the day, warplanes pounded Iraqi positions in the north of the country as efforts to open the northern front gained momentum.
Five large explosions threw up plumes of black smoke on the hilltops overlooking Chamchamal, a town in the Kurdish-controlled Iraqi enclave wrested from Baghdad after the 1991 Gulf War.
Kurds in Chamchamal, opponents to Saddam’s government, cheered after each explosion, Reuters reported. But a Kurdish commander controlling the area around Chamchamal said the Americans needed to do more to rout the Iraqi forces effectively
“I don’t like this kind of attack,” Mam Rostam told Reuters in Chamchamal minutes after the bombing ended. “It needs to be much heavier if they want to bring a swift end to this war.”
On Monday, coalition forces bombed Iraq’s Bani Maqem military barracks, which is close to the line that separates the Kurdish-held area from territory under the control of Saddam Hussein. The northern cities of Mosul and Kalak have also come under attack from U.S.-led forces.
A top Kurdish military official, Rostam Kirkuki, told the Associated Press Monday that the Americans bombed the entire corridor between Chamchamal and Kirkuk, a key Saddam-controlled oil center 25 miles west of Chamchamal.
On Saturday and Sunday, U.S. air strikes in northern Iraq targeted the militant Ansar al-Islam group, an Islamic group of several hundred fighters with alleged al-Qaida and Baghdad ties. Kurdish officials have told Reuters that recent coalition bombings have inflicted heavy losses on the group.