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Fri, July 19

U.S. pounds Iraq via air, advances on ground

A U.S. Marines' assault amphibian vehicle AAVP 7A1 from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit crosses an oil field while opening fire in southern Iraq Friday, March 21, 2003. AP Photo

Myers said there was "no evidence to date" that the Iraqi military would attempt to blow up dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to flood vast sections of southern Iraq in hopes of slowing the U.S.-British advance.

In any event, "We have taken some actions to mitigate that," he said, declining to elaborate.

Myers said the Persian Gulf port city of Umm Qasr is secure and southern Iraqi oil fields should be by day's end.

Meanwhile, Rumsfeld asserted that, despite the intensity and fury of the bombardment, great care was being taken to minimize civilian casualties.

"The targeting capabilities and the care that goes into targeting to see that the precise targets are struck and that other targets are not struck is as impressive as anything anyone could see," he said.

The United States has an enormous fleet of Navy and Air Force warplanes that had been primed for the aerial bombardment, including B-52, B-1 and B-2 stealth bombers and a full array of fighter-bombers.

There are roughly 250 strike aircraft on five Navy aircraft carriers — three in the Gulf and two in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. These include F/A-18 Hornets and F-14 Tomcats. The Air Force's fighters are based mainly in Kuwait and Qatar, but there are many others in the region.

All of these aircraft are capable of launching precision-guided bombs and missiles.

Pentagon officials said the attack also included large numbers of Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from American ships and submarines in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea.

American and British troops encountered both hostile fire and white flags in their sprint across the desert Friday. Iraqi defenders offered stiff resistance in some pockets, firing intense artillery barrages that U.S. troops answered in kind.

The war's first casualties were reported. Two U.S. Marines with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force were killed — one in a gunfight as his unit advanced on an oil field, the other while fighting enemy Iraqi forces near the port of Umm Qasr.

Hours earlier, eight British and four American soldiers died in a U.S. Marine helicopter crash that a British military spokesman said was an accident.

Troops seized two airfield complexes in far western Iraq, known as H-2 and H-3, without much resistance from Iraqi troops, defense officials said. But they called control of the installations "tentative."

They are important partly because Saddam Hussein is believed to have Scud missiles there. The H-3 airfield has been one of Iraq's primary air-defense installations.

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