Allied warplanes Friday bombed a 10-mile-long Iraqi armored convoy massing in southern Kuwait, and more than 500 Iraqis were taken prisoner in the allied recapture of the border town of Khafji.
New ground fighting broke out between U.S. Marines and Iraqi troops along the Saudi-Kuwaiti border, and an AC-130 gunship crashed Thursday during a combat mission over Kuwait. All 14 crew members were missing.Hundreds of Iraqi tanks, armored personnel carriers and trucks were on the move in an apparent effort to resupply troops in occupied Kuwait, according to press pool reports from allied positions near the Saudi-Kuwaiti border.
"Roughly 800 to 1,000 vehicles are moving now in columns, in small groups, in convoys," said British Lt. Col. Dick "Snake" White, the commander of a squadron of Harrier attack jets.
Allied warplanes, including U.S. B-52 bombers, pounded the Iraqi armored column, destroying more than 100 tanks, the pool reports said.
"There is a significant enemy force that is attempting to mass itself north of the (Saudi-Kuwaiti) border," a Pentagon official said. "We are, and have been, engaging them with air strikes with some considerable magnitude."
But Brig. Gen. Pat Stevens IV of the U.S. Central Command in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, emphasized that the massing of the Iraqi armored force does not indicate "that there is any major action about to happen."
There was renewed fighting Friday in the same area where 11 Marines died earlier. An unspecified number of Iraqi tanks crossed from Kuwait near the Saudi village of Umm Hujul late Thursday and were met by artillery fire from the 1st U.S. Marine Division, a press pool report from the region said.
Referring to that engagement, Stevens said Iraqi tanks fired on a U.S. observation post near the Saudi-Kuwaiti border. U.S. artillery returned fire, and five enemy tanks fled, he said. There was no report of allied casualties.
The British military spokesman in Riyadh, Royal Air Force Capt. Niall Irving, said the Iraqi effort to hold Khafji was a "military disaster" with "well over 300" Iraqis killed and a large number injured.
Stevens said more than 500 enemy prisoners had been taken and a Saudi spokesman said 15 of his nation's troops were killed.
Two U.S. soldiers, a man and a woman, were reported missing, and Iraq said it had captured an unspecified number of U.S. soldiers during the fighting, including women, although an Iraqi radio broadcast said they would be treated according to Islamic law, which forbids mistreatment of women.
Two Marine reconnaissance teams totaling 12 men were rescued from southern Khafji as Saudi and Qatari troops cleared that part of the city.
Col. John Admire said the teams had initially volunteered to stay in the town as the Iraqis approached to provide information.
"By the time they determined that they were surrounded, it was too late," Admire said.
The teams managed to escape detection by hiding out in buildings and calling in artillery fire against the enemy. In at least two instances, Admire said, Iraqis entered ground floors of buildings where the teams were hiding. He said the Marines simply stayed still and quiet in the upper rooms.
"The Marines could hear the footsteps. They could hear them enter - and then leave," he said.
The Marines ate food they had with them, burned secret codes to protect themselves and used encrypted radios to signal their locations.
The British Broadcasting Corp., meanwhile, quoted Iraqi radio as saying captured allied prisoners of war would henceforth be treated as war criminals because they had killed innocent civilians with machine guns.
Iraq's parading of allied POWs on Iraqi television and their use as human shields to ward off allied attack caused outrage in the West, where coalition leaders accused Baghdad of violating the Geneva convention and threatened to try those Iraqi officials responsible as war criminals.
Stevens said allied air supremacy over Iraqi positions was to the point where Iraqi radar activity Friday was the lowest since the beginning of hostilities.
He said an additional 2,500 allied air sorties were conducted Friday, bringing the total number of sorties to nearly 35,000 since the war began.
Friday's air attacks on Iraq's elite Republican Guard included 600 strikes by allied fighter-bombers and at least five by B-52 bombers, Stevens said. He said the B-52 strikes were especially effective but did not elaborate.
Stevens said no more Iraqi aircraft were detected fleeing to Iran, where dozens of Iraqi planes now have landed.