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U.S. Ground Forces Quicken Drive Toward Baghdad

Troops target elite Republican Guard forces in an operation that one officer described as "a major move." U.S. prisoner of war rescued by special forces in night raid.

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Heading toward Baghdad: U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division soldiers secure a field near Najaf, Iraq, on Sunday.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Chris Holden does not mince words when he talks about the fate of Iraqi forces defending the regime of Saddam Hussein. "We are going to destroy them," says Holden, a member of the 101st Airborne Division.

As the U.S.-led war entered its 14th day on Wednesday, coalition forces on the ground and in the air continued with their work of destruction.

On the ground, U.S. forces accelerated their advance on Baghdad, launching coordinated attacks on two fronts against elite Republican Guard units defending the approaches to the Iraqi capital. U.S. Marines said they seized a bridge over the Tigris River in central Iraq, while farther west the 3rd Infantry Division swept past the Shi'ite Muslim holy city of Kerbala and headed for the Euphrates River just 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Baghdad.

"Today's action is a major move," a senior Marine officer told the Reuters news agency.

The concerted moves on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers south of Baghdad followed a pause of several days in the U.S.-led advance that was ordered by commanders to shore up vulnerable supply lines and bring up munitions.

Here is a summary of the day's developments.

American POW, 19, rescued in raid

Acting under the cover of a Marine decoy assault, U.S. special forces rescued a female U.S. Army soldier held captive for 10 days, officials said on Wednesday.

Jessica Lynch

Jessica Lynch

The rescued soldier was identified as Private First Class Jessica Lynch, 19, from Palestine, West Virginia. Lynch (photo) was with a maintenance convoy ambushed by Iraqi forces on March 23.

Captain Jay La Rossa, a spokesman for the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, said Lynch had two broken legs and one broken arm, but was in good condition.

La Rossa said special forces also found the bodies of two U.S. soldiers and eight Iraqis. He said the Americans were thought to have been among those ambushed with Lynch's group.

Military sources said U.S. Marines staged the decoy attack in Nasiriya to allow special forces to rescue Lynch from a hospital in the southern city around midnight (10 p.m. Central European Time).

"U.S. Marines sent a large force led by tanks and armored personnel carriers to hit targets in the center of the city and to seize a key bridge over the Euphrates while the hospital raid was under way," a military source said.

Lynch was one of 15 soldiers listed missing, captured or killed when a 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company convoy made a wrong turn and came under attack from Iraqi tanks and fighters. Five of the captives, but not Lynch, were shown on Iraqi television as well as the bloodied bodies of up to eight men.

Questions raised about Saddam's fate

Fresh bombing Wednesday greeted Saddam's call to Muslims around the globe to wage holy war. A series of explosions shook Baghdad during the morning as the southern, western and northwestern outskirts were bombarded. Saddam's main presidential compound came under intensive attack before dawn, as it had for the previous two days.

Saddam's appeal also raised questions about the fate of the Iraqi leader. The call to arms was read on state television Tuesday night by Information Minister Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf. "Fight them in every location as you are doing today, and don't give them a chance to catch their breath until they pull out of Muslim land," the speech said. "Hit them, fight them! They are evil aggressors."

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in Washington that Saddam's failure to appear in person was "interesting." The United States opened the war on March 20 with a "decapitation" attack aimed at killing Saddam.

Iraqi officials have scorned any suggestion he may be dead or hurt. State television regularly shows him meeting with his inner circle. But it is not known if the footage is recorded.

Marines seize bridge, road

U.S. Marines seized a key bridge over the Tigris River in central Iraq on Wednesday and took control of the main Highway 6 from Kut to Baghdad, a senior Marine officer told Reuters. "That's the last big bridge we needed for an advance on Baghdad," the officer told Reuters correspondent Sean Maguire near Kut. "This was the plan. It's been successful."

The move was accompanied by heaving fight. As a result, the officer said the Baghdad Division of Iraq's Republican Guard, based at Kut, was now "irrelevant."

"We haven't had any casualties of note in the fight," the senior Marine said.

He said the Marines had now cut Highway 6 on the north bank of the Tigris from Kut to Baghdad. It was not clear which bridge the Marines crossed but it seemed it was not in Kut itself, 105 miles southeast of the capital.

Forces target Saddam's militia

U.S. troops backed by planes and helicopters attacked Fedayeen militia loyal to Saddam in the central city of Najaf. A-10 Warthog ground attack planes flew low over the city, opening fire on suspected Fedayeen fighters who have offered unexpectedly stiff resistance to the U.S.-led invasion, Reuters correspondent Kieran Murray reported.

The action around Najaf, 95 miles south of Baghdad, showed that commanders are still working to secure areas behind the frontlines where sporadic resistance has continued.

Other developments

  • Two U.S. Navy aviators have been rescued after their F-14A fighter plane crashed because of mechanical failure, said a statement released by the U.S. Central Command in Qatar late Tuesday. A combat search and rescue team recovered the pilot and radar intercept officer on Monday and took them to an allied air base, the statement said. It said initial reports indicated neither crewmember was seriously injured.
  • The United States has suffered 46 deaths so far in the war, including 38 troops killed in combat, a Defense Department spokesman said Tuesday. Six were killed in accidents and two were killed in a grenade attack by a fellow soldier, the spokesman said. Iraq says the round-the-clock air raids have killed nearly 650 civilians.
  • U.S. B-52 warplanes bombed the northern Iraqi front line between the town of Dohuk and the city of Mosul on Wednesday.

    Compiled by DW-WORLD staff with information from wire services.

    Note: Information on troop movements, victims and damage estimates are based on information from parties involved in the war and cannot be independently verified.

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