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Use of force in Lynch's rescue derided, defended

By Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 29, 2003

NASIRIYAH, Iraq - The U.S. commandos refused a key and instead broke down doors and went in with guns drawn. They carried away the prisoner in the dead of night with helicopter and armored vehicle backup - even though there was no Iraqi military presence and the hospital staff didn't resist.

In the tale of Pfc. Jessica Lynch's rescue, this is the Iraqi side.

New attention has been drawn to the April 1 rescue since a BBC report this month charged that the Pentagon exaggerated the danger of the raid.

An Associated Press reporter spoke to more than 20 doctors, nurses and other workers at the hospital. In interview after interview, the assessment was the same: The dramatics that surrounded Lynch's rescue were unnecessary. Some also said the raid itself was unneeded because they were trying to turn Lynch over, although they conceded they made no attempt to notify U.S. troops of that effort.

U.S. military officers answer that the rescuers didn't know Iraqi troops had left Nasiriyah General Hospital and that the Americans had to storm in ready to deal with any circumstance. They add that U.S. troops outside the hospital were fired on and that fighting was still going on elsewhere in the southern city, which saw some of the fiercest combat of the war.

"If they had come to the door and asked for Jessica, we would have gladly handed her over to them. There was no need for all that drama," said Dr. Hazem Rikabi, an internist.

American military doctrine calls for using overwhelming force in such situations. "We don't want it to be a fair fight," Marine Lt. Col. David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, told AP this week. "The fact that we didn't encounter heavy resistance in the hospital was a good thing."

Pentagon officials bristle at any suggestion that Lynch's rescue was staged or that any details were exaggerated. They have never claimed there was fighting inside the hospital but stress that Nasiriyah was not a peaceful place.

Nasiriyah was a combat zone and American troops were being attacked by Iraqis dressed in civilian clothes, Lapan said. U.S. troops supporting the raid - though not the rescue team itself - were fired on from other parts of the hospital compound, he said.

Spokesmen for the Navy SEAL, Army Ranger and Marine commando units involved in the rescue declined requests to allow participants to be interviewed.

Lynch, an Army supply clerk, was captured March 23 after her convoy was ambushed in Nasiriyah three days after the war began.

U.S. officials have said Lynch, who is recovering in a Washington hospital, doesn't remember anything about her capture, and she has not yet commented publicly about her time in Iraq. Her family was traveling back to West Virginia on Wednesday for the first time since Lynch's rescue and planned to hold a news conference today in Palestine to discuss her recovery from her injuries.

The hospital's staff contends the Americans could have retrieved Lynch without the show of force.

Dr. Wajdi al-Jabbar said the soldiers declined an offer of the hospital's master key so they wouldn't have to break down the doors.

The hospital's deputy director, Dr. Khodheir al-Hazbar, said he had expected a raid but was surprised by its intensity.

"They were shooting indiscriminately, everywhere, at windows, between our legs, on the floor. We were terrified," al-Hazbar said.

He said it then occurred to him that no one was being hit by bullets. Al-Hazbar said he concluded the Americans were firing blanks.

Lapan said the idea that the rescue team would be carrying blanks in a combat zone was absurd.

"To ever send a force into a combat situation with blanks is just ludicrous," he said. "You don't use blanks in a war. You use blanks for training."

Weapons experts also have scoffed at the claim the rescuers fired blanks. They say the use of blanks in M-16 assault rifles and M-4 carbines requires a special attachment at the end of the barrels, and no sign of those was seen in the video of the raid released by the Pentagon.

In addition, they say, it takes time to remove the attachment and change ammunition, which would leave a soldier dangerously exposed if fighting broke out.

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