ABCNEWS has learned that the U.S. military is ready to launch the
next wave of major air and land attacks, with Baghdad as the primary
target later today. U.S. intelligence sources told ABCNEWS that the
operational name given to the second wave of airstrikes will be
The new wave comes more than 24 hours after the "regime
decapitation" first wave of airstrikes, which began after President
Bush announced the start of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" on Wednesday
U.S. intelligence sources tell ABCNEWS that "exemplary
destruction" follows the failure of the first airstrikes to
decapitate Saddam's regime, although there are doubts within U.S.
intelligence circles about whether the Iraqi leader was hit in
Wednesday night's airstrikes on Baghdad.
Eight B-52 aircraft based in Britain are known to have left their
base at Fairford in recent hours.
Earlier today, U.S. intelligence sources told ABCNEWS that
witnesses at the site of a Baghdad suburban residential complex have
told U.S. intelligence officials that Saddam was observed being
taken from the bombed complex on a stretcher, with an oxygen mask
over his face on Thursday before dawn local time.
U.S. intelligence sources also said there had been a significant
lack of communication from the Iraqi leader to his government and
military structure since the bombing.
The report came amid doubts about whether a speech broadcast on
Iraqi television shortly after the war began on Wednesday (ET), was
made by a double. Saddam is known to have several doubles as a
At news briefing in Baghdad today, Iraqi Information Minister
Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said the first U.S. airstrikes had hit one
of Saddam's homes, but he said the Iraqi leader had survived and was
Reports of Saddam's injury came amid major gains by U.S. and
British troops rolling toward the Iraqi capital of Baghdad and the
strategic southern city of Basra. U.S.-led coalition forces in
southern Iraq today encountered hundreds of surrendering Iraqis and
some resistance from the Iraqi military before seizing control of
the southern Iraqi oil fields.
U.S. Marines encountered armed resistance as they seized the
strategic southern Iraqi port town of Umm Qasr. The American flag
and the flag of the U.S. Marines was briefly raised over the
strategic southern port, according to the BBC's Adam Mynott, who is
embedded with a Marine unit.
But a Reuters correspondent traveling with the U.S. Marines said
a brief while later that Marines returned and removed the Stars and
Stripes. Although there was no reason supplied for taking down the
flag, the Bush administration has maintained that U.S. forces were
in Iraq to "liberate," not occupy Iraq.
The dramatic gains, however, came with the first reported U.S.
combat death, when a soldier in the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force
was killed by hostile fire in southern Iraq.
President Bush was informed of the U.S. death today and expressed
It was reported just hours after four U.S. and eight British
soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash in the Kuwaiti desert.
The British military said it was not taking fire when it went down.
The casualties came as the official Iraqi news agency, the INA,
quoted a military spokesman as saying a U.S. or British fighter jet
had been downed by anti-aircraft fire and crashed in Kuwait today.
The Pentagon has denied the report.
In a ground offensive that began Thursday from Kuwait, U.S. and
British forces moving toward Baghdad seized the strategic al-Faw
peninsula in southern Iraq. It is Iraq's only access to the sea and
it was the first significant seizure of Iraqi territory in the war.
In the strategic Shat
al Arab the waterway that connects the Tigris and Euphrates rivers
to the Persian Gulf near the borders of Iraq, Kuwait and Iran U.S.
forces intercepted at least one Iraqi barge loaded with 50 "contact"
mines in an ongoing operation, ABCNEWS has learned.
and British forces have taken control of Umm Qasr in the
south, as allied troops in the north are pushing down toward
the Kirkuk oil fields.
According to U.S. military sources, the barges were between Basra
and the Persian Gulf, headed for the Gulf. U.S. forces have secured
some of the barges, but it was unclear if it involved a fight.
The gains in southern Iraq were accompanied by significant
progress in the military onslaught in western and northern Iraq,
according to U.S. officials.
In western Iraq, U.S.-led forces seized two desert airfields
overnight, called H-3 and H-2, according to ABCNEWS' John McWethy.
And allied forces in northern Iraq have been pushing towards the oil
fields around the strategic northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk after
taking control of a northern Iraqi airfield, said McWethy.
U.S. and British forces rumbling towards Baghdad from southern
Iraq have been encountering Iraqi resistance as well as surrendering
Iraqi soldiers waving white flags.
ABCNEWS' Mike Cerre, embedded with the 1st Marine Division in
Iraq, today said about 113 Iraqi POWs had surrendered to U.S. troops
along with their tanks and weapons.
While traveling northwards from the Kuwaiti desert, Cerre said
the unit had encountered Iraqi resistance and had to call for air
There were also several reports of oil wells on fire in southern
Iraq. ABCNEWS' Bob Woodruff, embedded with the 1st Marine
Expeditionary Force, said he had seen at least two oil wells ablaze,
one of which was a very large fire.
Awaiting Shock and Awe
The military officials, in Washington, said the plan is for
advancing tanks and forces to stop at a certain point, to be
followed by the war plan's main air campaign which is intended to
inspire "shock and awe" among Iraqi leaders.
Although the "shock and awe" phase of the air war has not begun,
Adm. John Kelly, commander of a U.S. carrier task force in the
Persian Gulf, told reporters airstrikes from Gulf carriers to
degrade Iraqi defenses and support advancing coalition troops
continue around the clock despite heavy enemy anti-aircraft fire.
"Folks, [Iraqi forces] on the ground realize their time is up and
we're coming," Kelly said. "We gonna win, we're gonna win it fast,
and their efforts [to ward it off] have increased."
In a sign of major airstrikes to come, the Associated Press today
reported that two heavy B-52 bombers left Britain for the region
The massive B-52s have played a major role in bombing campaigns
in the Afghanistan and Vietnam war.
Earlier this morning, just after dawn Iraq time, which is eight
hours ahead of the eastern United States, columns of tanks from the
3rd Infantry Division began rolling into Iraq, marking the official
beginning of a U.S.-led major ground offensive toward Baghdad.
Reporting from his position embedded with the 3rd Infantry
Division near the Iraq-Kuwait border, ABCNEWS' Ted Koppel said
officials expected 10,000 vehicles to sweep into the country from
eight to 12 points of entry over a 24-hour period.
Rumbling tanks and Bradley troop carriers kicked up plumes of
sand as they advanced across the border. Soldiers on board were told
to bring enough food and water to last between five and seven days,
and they have been told to drink three liters of water a day.
Koppel reported that the 3rd Infantry Division engaged and
eliminated approximately 11 Iraqi tanks prior to the U.S. division's
move across the Iraqi border.
Although the main ground advance began at dawn, the 1st Marines
had moved into Iraq earlier and initially headed in the approximate
direction of the oil-rich southern city of Basra, where explosions
were reported early this morning local time.
Air raid sirens and explosions also were reported this morning in
the northern Iraqi town of Mosul.
Baghdad Missile Strikes
On Thursday, British submarines and U.S. vessels launched two
dozen cruise missiles into Baghdad, military officials told ABCNEWS.
In central Baghdad, explosions rocked the area where the Interior
Ministry and other government buildings are located, ABCNEWS'
Richard Engel reported. Smoke and flames were seen coming from the
buildings and caused an odor that lingered in the city.
Unlike the initial strikes at dawn Thursday, or 9:30 p.m.
Wednesday ET, which were a "decapitation attack" targeted at ousting
Saddam's regime, the later missile attacks on Iraq focused on
pre-planned military targets and were not sparked by any
intelligence information regarding the whereabouts of Saddam or his
ABCNEWS' Richard Engel in Baghdad, Ted Koppel, Bob Woodruff
and Mike Cerre traveling with the U.S. military, George
Stephanopoulos in Qatar, Mike von Fremd in Kuwait City, and John
McWethy and Martha Raddatz in Washington contributed to this report.