St. Petersburg Times Online
Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies


Soldier held in attack on his own camp in Kuwait

By WES ALLISON, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2003

CAMP PENNSYLVANIA, Kuwait -- A U.S. soldier was being held early today in connection with a grenade attack on the 101st Airborne Division's infantry brigade. The attack killed one and injured about 15 soldiers.

Eleven of the victims were airlifted to the combat support hospital in nearby Camp Udairi.

The sergeant, whose identity has not been released, was himself wounded either before or during his capture, Army officials said. Early this morning (late Saturday night in Florida), the sergeant was being questioned along with two Middle Eastern civilians, Army officials said. Authorities declined to say whether the two civilians were suspects.

Meanwhile, scouts scoured the desert on foot and in trucks for interlopers, and soldiers remained at high alert.

The attack is believed to be the first successful terrorist attack at the string of U.S. military camps along the Kuwaiti-Iraqi border since troops began arriving last fall.

The sergeant is with the engineering unit attached to the 2nd Battalion of the 327th infantry, commanders said.

"We think he's one of the guys," Maj. Pete Rooks said.

He appeared to have been shot in the legs during or before his capture.

The sergeant, an American and a practicing Muslim, had been guarding grenades during the midnight shift. He came under suspicion soon after the attack, when he -- and four grenades -- were missing.

By dawn today, the sergeant was being held in a Humvee about 100 yards from the tents he was suspected of attacking.

Many of the 4,000 infantrymen and support staff here were roused just before 1:30 a.m. by a deep, concussive blast.

Three grenades were thrown into tents at headquarters, and a fourth was rolled into the tent of brigade commander, Col. Ben Hodges. That grenade did not detonate. Hodges was struck by shrapnel in his right arm, but was later treated and returned to duty.

A smattering of small-arms fire followed the grenade blasts.

Camp guards rousted their colleagues, screaming that they were under attack.

At the cluster of tents in the 2nd Battalion, soldiers raced to a bunker and donned their gas masks, thinking the camp was under attack by mortar fire or other missiles.

A radioman in the bunker received a report, then shouted, "There's enemy in the camp! There's enemy in the camp!"

The camp was pitch dark at the time of the attack, and many soldiers did not have their night-vision goggles. They were scattered around the camp in concrete bunkers and had no clue from which way the enemy might be coming.

Soon squads of soldiers throughout the camp quietly began going tent to tent, their rifle barrels straight ahead, looking for anyone who might have sneaked inside to hide.

Commanders have long warned that terrorism was the biggest threat to U.S. forces massing at the camps for an invasion of Iraq, and the Army has taken steps to prevent such incidents.

All entrances to the six Army camps, Pennsylvania, Udairi, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and Victory, are aggressively guarded and patrolled. Towers also are posted at and between each corner of the sand berm around the camps.

Meanwhile, on the battlefield, U.S. and British forces crossed the Euphrates River and by late Saturday had advanced halfway to Baghdad, a capital jolted by ferocious new airstrikes.

Outside Baghdad, Iraqis lighted oil-filled trenches around the capital in an attempt to shield the city with smoke from air raids. It didn't work. Baghdad was hit Saturday both day and night by missiles and bombs guided by systems that penetrate smoke and darkness.

U.S. commanders said they destroyed another of Saddam Hussein's palaces, this one west of Baghdad.

In southern Iraq, firefights flared in many places as U.S. and British forces rolled north through the desert. Allied units bypassed Basra, Nassiriyah and other population centers and set many captured Iraqis free, lest they delay the rush to Baghdad.

"The outcome is not in doubt," said U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the allied commander.

He said he had "no idea" where Hussein was or whether he was alive. Franks said U.S. officials are conducting surrender negotiations with "senior Iraqi officials" from the military and government.

Iraq showed what it said was footage of Hussein and his second son, Qusay, at meetings Saturday with senior government ministers. "They expressed their satisfaction with the heroic stance of the armed forces," the report said. It was unclear when the footage was taped, however.

As action intensified throughout Iraq, the casualty list grew on all sides.

An American and six British soldiers died when two British helicopters collided over the Persian Gulf. The Pentagon identified the dead American as Navy Lt. Thomas Mullen Adams, 27, of La Mesa, Calif.

Four U.S. soldiers, reconnaissance scouts in central Iraq, were wounded in firefights. Their names were withheld.

In addition, an Australian journalist was killed in a suicide car bombing in northern Iraq. It was in apparent retaliation for a U.S. air strike earlier Saturday on Kurdish militants who allegedly harbor al-Qaida terrorists in a remote corner of the region.

Three British journalists from the ITN network were missing and believed killed in southern Iraq.

Iraqi officials said three people died and 200 were wounded in the ongoing bombardment of Baghdad. The International Committee of the Red Cross said it knew of one dead and 100 injured civilians. The casualty reports seemed certain to grow.

"The Americans have no conscience," said Amal Hassan Kamel, tending to her 8-year-old son, Wa'ad, in the hospital with shrapnel wounds. "What have our children done to deserve this?"

Iraqi officials showed reporters the residential al-Qadassiya neighborhood, where officials said seven houses were destroyed and 12 damaged, as well as a tourist complex and an empty orphanage.

The U.S. and British forces nearing Basra were backed by a fusillade of airstrikes and AH-1 Cobra gunship missile attacks on Iraqi tanks guarding nearby bridges. After clashes through the afternoon, they captured an airport on the port city's western outskirts, but there was no sign of a ground attack against the city of more than 1-million residents.

Some U.S. officials and analysts had predicted Basra would fall with minimal effort. But U.S. forces summoned the Cobra helicopters after running into a contingent of Iraqi tanks. Although many regular Iraqi soldiers have withdrawn from Basra, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said members of Hussein's paramilitary security forces continued to defend the city.

"It's probably not going as quick as we would have liked," said Col. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

The United States and its allies acknowledged that no weapons of mass destruction had been found during the first three days of war.

Franks said special operations troops had been assigned to seize control of some Iraqi sites believed to contain chemical or biological weapons, but they came up empty, though some captured Iraqis have provided new and useful information.

"There is no doubt that the regime of Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction," Franks said. "As this operation continues, those weapons will be found."

In the United States, major antiwar protests were conducted in New York City, Washington, Chicago, Atlanta and many other cities and towns. In New York, some protesters broke away from the main group and skirmished with police.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters demonstrated in Britain, France, Germany, Chile, Indonesia, Egypt and other foreign countries.

President Bush seemed to acknowledge the dissent during his weekly radio address, though he vowed to stay the course.

"I want Americans and all the world to know that coalition forces will make every effort to spare innocent civilians from harm," he said. "Now that the conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force. This will not be a campaign of half measures."

Franks said some civilian casualties were inevitable.

"The nature of war is that noncombatants are injured and killed in a war," he said. "That's why the members of this coalition go literally to extraordinary lengths in order to be able to be precise in our targeting."

On the ground, many Iraqis welcomed U.S. and British troops as liberators, but this was not universal.

In the border town of Safwan, an angry mob demonstrated against U.S. airstrikes and a lack, so far, of humanitarian aid.

-- Times staff writer Wes Allison is attached to the 101st Airborne Division in Kuwait. Information from Knight Ridder, Associated Press and the Washington Post was also added to this report.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.