Saudi troops backed by U.S. Marines Thursday took back the coastal town that saw the Persian Gulf war's first sustained ground fighting, the Saudi military said. But front-line commanders said they suspected the Iraqis were planning an even larger attack.
The U.S. military command said two U.S. soldiers - a man and a woman - apparently were missing. The two were not directly involved in the fighting at the northern Saudi port of Khafji, the military said.In Washington, a Pentagon source said a U.S. plane had been shot down. The U.S. military spokesman in Riyadh said officials were checking an unconfirmed report that the plane was an EC-130, an Air Force plane that can be used for battlefield command and control, jamming enemy communications or broadcasting propaganda.
Israel, meanwhile, said an Iraqi Scud-type missile struck the occupied West Bank, but there were no immediate reports of injury or damage. It was the eighth Iraqi missile attack aimed at Israel since the war began.
By midmorning in Khafji, the remnants of an Iraqi armored column were cornered and under siege by U.S. artillery. By evening, Saudi forces had completed the recapture of the town, allied officials said.
According to initial reports, 160 Iraqi soldiers were captured in the battle, Brig. Gen. Pat Stevens IV told reporters in Riyadh. Saudi officials said a large portion of their tanks and equipment were destroyed.
Iraq's official news agency Thursday quoted the newspaper of Iraq's ruling Baath party as saying the ground fighting was the prelude to a far bigger battle. The paper, Al-Thawra, called it "the beginning of a thunderous storm blowing on the Arab desert."
Marines on the outskirts of Khafji said they had been told five or six Iraqi divisions - at least 60,000 troops - were massing near the Saudi town of Wafra, about 25 miles to the west, and believed preparing for an attack.
The four-pronged Iraqi attack that began Tuesday evening and appeared to end Thursday involved only about 1,500 ground troops and 50 tanks and was considered a probe to test allied strength.
The fighting resulted in the first American ground casualties. The U.S. military command said Thursday in Riyadh that 11 Marines were killed. It earlier had said 12 were killed.
Staff officers at the 1st Marine Division's headquarters said the Marines were killed late Tuesday along Kuwait's southwestern border in the desert about 15 miles west of Khafji. Stevens said three light armored vehicles were lost, but he did not say whether the Marines killed were in the vehicles.
In addition to the ground fighting, battles flared in the seas and skies. British Jaguar fighter-bombers attacked a 300-foot Iraqi landing craft in the northern gulf, leaving it in flames and dead in the water.
In an interview Thursday on CNN, the commander of Desert Storm, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, said the Iraqi attack on Khafji was "about as significant as a mosquito on an elephant."
The allies have flown more than 30,000 combat and support sorties so far, and Schwarzkopf said Wednesday that Iraq is now all but defenseless in the face of the air assault.
Late Wednesday, Saudi light armored forces reached the center of Khafji, but the Marines pulled back under heavy Iraqi rocket fire. "Let's get the hell out of here!" shouted a Marine captain in a vehicle with a mounted TOW anti-tank missile.
In a communique broadcast on Baghdad radio, Iraq claimed it had captured "a number of male and female U.S. conscripts." It said the women "will be given good treatment in accordance with the spirit of lofty Islamic laws."
It was the first report of a woman soldier missing in the war.
Iran's official news agency, meanwhile, said a senior aide to Saddam Hussein and a French Foreign Ministry official arrived in Iran for talks on the gulf war.
Iran has become a safe haven for dozens of top-line Iraqi aircraft. Schwarzkopf said 89 Iraqi aircraft had flown to Iran, which has proclaimed its neutrality in the conflict.
GRAPHIC\ Iraqi forces' first ground assault
For the first time, U.S. Marines were reported killed in ground combat during the heaviest fighting so far in the 2-week-old gulf war.
1. 10:30 p.m. Tuesday
The first 1950s-vintage Soviet-built T-55 tanks cross the border from Kuwait. Some tanks have their guns facing rearward, a sign of surrender. The Iraqis are met by Marine light armored infantry and tactical aircraft.
-Iraqi losses: 10 tanks destroyed, four prisoners captured.
-U.S. losses: Two U.S. Marine light armored vehicles lost
2. Late Tuesday
An Iraqi battalion invades the deserted resort town of Khafji. Allied forces respond with attack helicopters.
-Iraqi losses: Four tanks and 13 vehicles destroyed
3. Early Wednesday
Iraqi tanks and infantrty engage the Saudi Arabia National Guard and Marine tactical air. The invaders withdraw.
4. Wednesday Morning
Forty more Iraqi tanks invade and are met by the Marine light armored infantry.
-Iraqi losses: Ten tanks destroyed, nine prisoners captured.
Source: U.S. Department of Defense, Associated Press reports