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April 6, 2003
 
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(AP Photo)
U.S. Aircraft Lands at Baghdad Airport
First U.S. Aircraft Lands at Baghdad Airport As Iraqi Forces Test Defenses

The Associated Press


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Reporter's Notebook: Baghdad Fighting Intensifies
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OUTSKIRTS OF BAGHDAD, Iraq April 6

A giant C-130 transport landed at the Baghdad airport Sunday, the first known U.S. plane to arrive in the Iraqi capital since the airfield fell into U.S. hands.

Meanwhile, troops of the 101st Airborne Division exchanged gun and artillery fire with Iraqi forces probing the airport's 13-square-mile perimeter. No U.S. forces were hurt, but a dozen Iraqis were believed killed, said Maj. David Beachman, a battalion operations officer.

The airport, captured in an all-night battle last week, is expected to be a major resupply base for American forces and a key to channeling aid to Iraqi civilians. It offers critical landing strips that will let the military hopscotch over the 350-mile supply line that now stretches from the capital to U.S. bases in Kuwait.

It is also just 10 miles west of central Baghdad, adjacent to the Radwaniyah presidential residence.

Navy Lt. Mark Kitchens, a Central Command spokesman, confirmed the C-130 had landed but gave no details.

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf has insisted Iraqi forces recaptured the airport. U.S. forces say they have effective control over the airfield, despite sporadic attacks like the one Sunday.

Troops of the 101st fortified their position at the sprawling airport Sunday, digging trenches and bulldozing sand berms. Two weapons caches including one with 12 crates of shoulder-fired missiles were found just outside the airport grounds. Troops also found 35 French-made Roland surface-to-air missiles in the airport complex.

During the fighting, a mortar exploded within 40 feet of a battalion commander scouting the airport perimeter. Beachman said air strikes and artillery barrages were called in to fight off Iraqi forces.

"It's fine right now. We know who's shooting at who," Staff Sgt. Jeremy Reed, 29, of Dothan, Ala., said as blasts of artillery fire whizzed overhead.

Inside a VIP building at the airport, the troops found a hideaway believed to have been used by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Associated Press Television News reported. It features a rose garden, a hand-carved door made of mahogany, bathroom fixtures that glinted with gold plating, and an office with a false door that leads to the basement, where the soldiers found weapons.

The airport troops belong to a 101st unit known as the "Iron Rakkasans" because of strips of burlap connected to their helmets that they call "iron hairs." It distinguishes them from other fighters in the division.

The troops were brought to Baghdad because they are light infantry fighters who are highly trained in urban combat. Now that they've arrived, there's little to do but wait.

Some, like Sgt. Jason Slusser, 24, of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., are engaged in the universal search for sleep and soap. He said he was washing and doing his laundry in a small plastic tub.

"An all-out shower, no, but you can get a scrub," Slusser said.

Sgt. 1st Class Richard Clinton, 32, of Madison, Wis., said he "looking forward to the hot towels they give you on the plane on the way back."

Standing next to a dusty palm tree with a pit of trash burning nearby, he joked: "I'm reading the brochure before I sign up for the next trip."


photo credit and caption:
An ornate lounge is seen in a VIP building at the former Saddam International Airport Sunday, April 6, 2003, in Baghdad, Iraq, in this image from video. The terminal was used by top Iraqi officials allegedly including Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. (AP Photo/APTN)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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