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Northern Front Opens With Paratroop Drop, New Bombings

BY Admin  March 27, 2003 at 8:25 AM EDT

Some 1,000 U.S. Army paratroopers landed in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq Wednesday, allowing the coalition forces to support “a robust flow of follow-on forces,” according to an American defense source.

According a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter embedded with the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade, 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.

British defense sources told Reuters that the base would be largely used to stabilize the region, bolster Kurdish separatist efforts and limit potential violence between the Kurds and Turkish forces.

“The focus is to come up to Kurdish lines, get interwoven with them and build a decent front that will not be penetrated,” the source told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “The main thing is to secure the line they have at the moment, and then the big issue is to ensure the Iraqis don’t end up breaching that Kurdish line.”

The senior British official said the base would not be used, at least initially, to launch an assault southward toward Baghdad.

“Baghdad and the regime remain the focus, but I would doubt that the Americans will want to move forward with the Kurds to take Baghdad,” he said. “Things change, but now the main thing is to ensure the region is stabilized.”

Despite the British comments, U.S. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks told a Central Command briefing in Qatar that the forces on the ground could be used for offensive military action if needed.

“The capabilities of that force are more than meet the eye,” Brooks said.

As troops worked to improve the airstrip, coalition aircraft continued to bomb Iraqi frontline positions throughout the north.

Aircraft struck Iraqi outposts north of Mosul and outside Arbil as well as along the road between Baghdad and the northern oil center of Kirkuk.

The northern region of Iraq has been under Kurdish control since a 1991 uprising against Saddam Hussein’s rule.