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Major U.S. Ground Offensive Picks Up Speed

The U.S. Army Third Infantry Division, with over 2,000 tanks, armored vehicles, trucks, fuel carriers and artillery crossed into Iraq from Kuwait early Friday, meeting little opposition as they crossed the border, according to a Reuters correspondent stationed with the troops.

The Third Infantry’s initial ground attack began at 6:15pm local time (10:15 EST) and included launching a barrage of artillery and 180-mile range missiles, apparently intended for targets well inside Iraq, according to the New York Times.

The invasion also reportedly began a full day ahead of schedule after Wednesday’s cruise missile attack on buildings near Baghdad that were suspected of housing Iraqi senior leadership.

Apache attack helicopters flew ahead of the advancing military wave as the first of some 20,000 soldiers from the Third Infantry cut to the west, in a new advance away from British and American Marine operations in the southern Iraqi oil fields and port areas.

A first tank platoon of Charlie Company encountered and destroyed two Iraqi T-72 tanks according to an account in the Times.

“I came up over a ridge and saw a T-72 and fired,” Sgt. Melvin L. Green told reporter Steven Lee Myers. “I saw the turret pop off. My wing man hit the other.”

The Third Division also carries part of the Army’s Patriot missile battery and was responsible for shooting down at least two Iraqi missile attacks on Kuwait on Thursday.

The advance across the desert has encountered sporadic opposition from Iraqi forces, with some divisions encountering pockets of hostile fire or skirmishes with Iraqi armored personnel carriers.

“Every now and then they pop off to let us know they’re still there,” Lt. Col. Steve Holmes, a Marine working on clearing the way for more troops to cross into Iraq from Kuwait, told the Associated Press.

British military officials have said that they hope the coalition will reach Baghdad in three to four days.

Some 200 Iraqi soldiers reportedly surrendered to a Marine Expeditionary Unit after it crossed the border from Kuwait. U.S. officials have also said Iraq’s command structure appears to have disintegrated in the border region.

According to media reports, U.S. military commanders held back-channel negotiations with Iraqi commanders and refrained from all-out bombardment in the hopes that Saddam Hussein’s regime might completely collapses.

Air Force jets continue to drop thousands of leaflets urging Iraqi military and citizens to surrender peacefully to coalition forces.

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