The aggression begins.
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The aggression has begun.
19/03/03 - War on Iraq section
The war has started
By Robert Fox, Defence Correspondent and David Taylor,
British and American troops were involved in fierce
fighting near Iraq's main port today as the war to
topple Saddam Hussein began.
The firefight broke out near Basra as men of the
Special Boat Service targeted the strategically vital
city and the oilfields in southern Iraq.
At the same time allied troops were flooding into the
demilitarised zone on the Iraqi border with Kuwait 40
miles away to take up positions for an all-out
Cruise missiles were also loaded onto B52 bombers at
RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, a clear sign that the
bombardment of Baghdad could be only hours away.
British troops taking up "forward battle positions"
were ordered to switch off satellite phones and allied
warplanes bombed targets in Iraq after coming under
fire in the no-fly zone.
By lunchtime, allied forces were in position to strike
from the moment the 48-hour deadline set by President
Bush for Saddam to quit Iraq expires at 1am British
time tomorrow. But the White House had refused to rule
out a strike before that.
The fighting reported at Basra was believed to involve
British special forces and US marines in an operation
to prepare landing sites for amphibious craft during
Other special units were deep inside Iraq on secret
operations to prepare landing strips in the desert for
Basra, Iraq's only seaport, lies on the Shatt al Arab
waterway where the Tigris and the Euphrates open into
the northern Gulf.
Surrounded by treacherous sandbanks and marshes it is
difficult to approach from the sea.
Artillery, infantry and the tanks of the 7th Armoured
Brigade had already moved into Forming Up Positions,
and some were already on the start line.
An attack could target Basra and proceed up alongside
the Euphrates towards the strategic cities of
Nasariya, Najaf and Karbala.
Tony Blair said he believed all MPs, irrespective of
their views on the war, now wished British troops
"I know everyone in this House wishes our Armed Forces
well," he said in the Commons.
A sandstorm whipped across northern Kuwait as the pace
of preparations suddenly quickened Kuwaiti security
sources disclosed that allied troops move into the
demilitarised zone, which straddles the Iraq-Kuwait
border, at around 11am local time, 8am UK time.
The source, working in the Umm Qasr area in the east
of the zone, said: "American convoys are still driving
towards Umm Qasr."
A US military spokesman said he could not confirm or
deny that troops were inside the zone.
A British Army spokesman said only that soldiers had
taken up " forward battle positions".
At Fairford, 14 giant American B52 bombers which will
lead the fight against Saddam were loaded up with
cruise missiles this morning.
The first flight of B52s were expected to take off two
hours before sunset to give them enough flying time to
identify their targets and drop their first
devastating payload before heading for home.
The missiles were driven to the aircraft in five
articulated lorries escorted by police at 10.30am.
Troops meticulously loaded the weapons - each costing
around ��1million - into the bomb bays by forklift
With an estimated flight time of only six hours to
Iraq the bombers are expected to play a huge part in
the initial air bombardment. A single B52 can deliver
a payload of more than 70,000lb at a range of 8,800
miles without being refuelled. They are likely to take
up positions over the Mediterranean or the Red Sea to
unleash cruise missiles or satelliteguided smart
bombs. RAF Tornados, Harriers and Jaguars are also
likely to be involved in the opening 48-hour
The Tornados will be given the specific task of taking
out air defences and barracks round small missile
batteries and air strips in the Iraqi desert.
This will enable the enemy positions to be quickly
seized by airborne forces and turned into bases for
the advancing allied armies.
The Harrier force of up to 20 planes has the job of
supporting special forces, the SAS and Special Boat
Service and American Rangers in the hunt for Scud
missile sites and any artillery shells with chemical
warheads. Intelligence suggests Saddam has given his
generals personal authority to unleash the deadly
weapons as a last desperate measure to hold the Allies
off from attacking Baghdad.
The mainstay of the bombing attack will be the 750
American and British fighter bombers from Gulf bases
and the six American aircraft carriers now at battle
stations in the Mediterranean and the Arabian Sea.
The aircraft, including RAF Tornados and Harriers,
F16s, F15s and F18 Hornets will work on a "taxi rank"
basis, forming ranks in the air before being sent in
on targets. Along with the B52s from Fairford, other
longrange bombers include the almost mythical B2
Spirit bat-wing supersonic aircraft which will fly
from bases on Diego Garcia. Also spearheading the
attack will be B1B Lancer and F117 Stealth bombers.
Action began in the air today as warplanes from the
USS Abraham Lincoln bombed Iraqi positions after
coalition aircraft - including two RAF Harrier jets -
were fired on by Iraqi forces.
"There were, yesterday, four firings against our
aircraft flying in the southern no-fly zone," Rear
Admiral John Kelly told reporters on board the
Lincoln. He said US forces had responded by bombing "a
series of targets" he described as "command and