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Marines Hunt Mines, Keep Finding POWs : Combat: Most of the Iraqis were ‘just happy to see us,’ a colonel noted.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As they snaked through the fearsome Iraqi minefields on Monday--both poking the sands in primitive fashion with wooden sticks and sweeping the area with high-tech detection devices in search of explosives--U.S. Marines participating in the allied assault to free Kuwait continued to encounter another troubling obstacle.

At each bend in their path, the Marines encountered more and more enemy prisoners.

There were so many captives that correspondents traveling with the U.S. troops reported seeing hundreds of Iraqi prisoners. Some were lying on the ground, their hands tied with plastic handcuffs; others moved single-file to a holding area in a line that stretched for a quarter of a mile.

But “while some (Iraqi) units didn’t have much resolve,” said Lt. Col. Bill Clark, there were several that did. “There were several that did what they thought was right” and put up some initial resistance, he said.

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“Most of them,” however, he added, “were just happy to see us. The majority had leaflets (from the allies on how to surrender), which they were waving in the air. . . . Once they got their nose bloodied, they were not willing to continue the fight.”

As American troops pushed deeper into Kuwait on Monday, they took so many thousands more Iraqi prisoners--including an enemy general--that Lt. Gen. Walter E. Boomer, the commander of U.S. Marine forces in the Gulf, felt he had reason for optimism.

He predicted that the ground war would be over “in a matter of days, not weeks.”

As for the enemy captives, “You do the best you can,” he said on a wind-swept desert plain behind the front lines. “The prisoners have to be taken care of, but they are a drain on your resources. I suspect they got a little bit in the way last night.”

Despite the speed of the allies’ advance, the troops have been slowed as they navigate through wide minefields, which without warning, can turn the desert into killing zones.

The Marines probe the sand with 12-inch wooden sticks. They swing magnetic mine detectors in an arc ahead of them before proceeding gingerly. When mines are found, the Leathernecks clear the sand around them, them detonate them with explosive charges.

Military police then marked the mine-laden zones with red flags and barbed wire. They warned passing convoys not to veer out of the tracks of the vehicle ahead.

Beyond the Marine advance, flames shot 100 feet into the night from wellheads in Kuwait set ablaze by Iraqi troops. The ground ahead shook as hundreds of warplanes, including B-52 bombers, pounded Iraqi positions.

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In the war’s early hours, the Marines encountered heavy artillery as they punched their way through obstacle belts along the central border region of Kuwait. Six paths were opened through barriers laced with mines, barbed wire and trenches. Each was outlined in colored engineer’s tape and hundreds of tanks and troops then poured through the corridors.

Before the push into Kuwait began, Col. David Wittle, another Marine commander, had gathered his troops and warned them about the perils ahead, including the minefields.

He told his troops that the enemy possessed some of the world’s best artillery and fortified positions that had withstood one of the heaviest bombing attacks in the history of warfare. Still, he said he expected his soldiers to triumph. Why?

“First of all, you’re an American,” he said. “Secondly, you’re a Marine. Thirdly, this is a right cause. All I ask of each of you is to do your best. That is all. And collectively we will succeed.

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“And when we succeed, this is what’s going to happen: We will raise our flag over territory that is now occupied by the enemy. Each one of you, shoot straight.”

In the ranks before him, Wittle’s men snapped to attention and sang “The Marine’s Hymn.”

A few hours later, these Marines crossed the border, where, inexplicably, someone already had placed a sign on the border, reading: “Welcome to Kuwait--Dallas, Texas, USA.” The soldiers dropped grenades into Iraqi foxholes that they reached by crawling on their bellies. But most of the foxholes were empty.

Meantime, on the Persian Gulf, thousands of other Marines waited aboard their ships, in preparation for a possible amphibious assault--to support the advancing troops or to assault Iraqi positions north of Kuwait city.

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The Marine presence has tied down five or six Iraqi divisions, the allies estimate. Partly to confuse Iraq over what their intentions were, Marine helicopters conducted heavy reconnaissance flights along the beach early on Monday, making it appear for a while as if an amphibious assault were under way.

This article was based on pool reports cleared by military censors.

THE FRONT-LINE FORCES

How the front-line forces are arrayed: IRAQI FORCES

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* Army: 28 to 33 divisions in Kuwait, totaling 545,000 troops as of Jan. 17.

* Armor: Five weeks of bombing left 2,515 tanks, 1,875 armored personnel carriers and 1,615 artillery pieces.

* Republican Guard: 150,000 of the elite Iraqi troops are on the northern Iraqi-Kuwaiti border.

UNITED STATES

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* Army: 295,000 troops

* Marines: 94,000

* Armor: 2,000 tanks, over 2,000 pieces of artillery and 2,200 armored personnel carriers.

OTHER ALLIES

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* Army: 205,000 troops

THE FRONT LINES

* 10 U.S. Army and Marine divisions, over 160,000 combat troops. The U.S. combat forces include two divisions of airborne troops, three of armored and three of mechanized infantry. The Marines have two divisions on land and 18,000 men on ships in the Persian Gulf.

* The British 1st Armored Division with more than 160 Challenger tanks. The British force includes the 7th Armored Brigade with 9,500 troops, successors to the famous “Desert Rats” of World War II.

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* The French 6th Light Armored Division with 12,000 men. The French deployed a 4,000-man French Rapid Action Force, including the Foreign Legion’s 3rd Infantry Regiment with antitank missiles.

* About 36,000 Egyptian troops with 480 tanks, paratroopers, commandos, chemical warfare specialists and infantry.

* Syria’s 15,000-man 9th Armored Division, with some 270 Soviet T-62 tanks.

* The Gulf Cooperation Council’s rapid deployment force of up to 10,000 troops. The council force has 330 combat aircraft, 800 tanks and 150,500 troops from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait.

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