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Thursday, April 17

4th Infantry finally joins fighting

By Alex Neill | Army Times

DOHA, Qatar - The 4th Infantry Division finally is in the fight, killing some Iraqi troops, capturing others and taking control of an airfield north of Baghdad.

Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks outlined the firefight involving soldiers from the 1st Brigade of the Fort Hood, Texas-based division on Thursday during a Central Command news briefing.

In the fighting Wednesday at the Taji Airfield, Brooks said the 4th Infantry Division forces killed and wounded some of the Iraqi troops, destroyed some T-72 tanks and captured more than 100 Iraqi fighters.

Brooks said the Iraqi forces had unmanned artillery pieces, armored personnel carriers, loaded multiple rocket launcher systems, a surface-to-air missile warehouse and a number of computers.

``The site and the materials have been secured for further exploitation and examination,'' he said. ``The coalition force reported the airfield clear of enemy forces and continued its attack to the north, encountering sporadic small-arms fire and snipers.''

Further details were not available, but the combat dramatically marked the end of the 4th Infantry's long wait to get into the war. The waiting began after Turkey foiled plans for the 4th Infantry to assault from the north early in Operation Iraqi Freedom and continued with the division marking time in Kuwait while others did the fighting.

The mechanized division includes about 16,000 soldiers and hundreds of Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and helicopters, as well as artillery and support units. The 4th Infantry is considered the Army's most technically advanced division, with a tactical Internet system that enables its troops to look at a computer screen and see friends and foes on the battlefield.

The division got its deployment orders Jan. 20, with a plan to send its troops through a northern approach to Baghdad. But the Turkish parliament denied the United States permission to stage the northern assault from within its borders.

U.S. war planners then ordered the 30 ships that had been sitting in the Mediterranean Sea for two months with the 4th Infantry's tanks, helicopters and other weapons systems to go to Kuwait for offloading. The first ship arrived April 1, almost two weeks after the assault on Iraq began. The 4th Infantry's troops offloaded the gear, got it in running order and waited, spending their time training at ranges in Kuwait.

The 4th Infantry's move into Iraq comes as soldiers of the Colorado Springs-based 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment worked to ready its recently arrived gear at a port in Kuwait. The regiment's leaders predict that their mission will largely be stabilizing and securing portions of Iraq to make it safe for humanitarian aid workers.

Meanwhile, the 1st Armored Division is preparing to send about 13,000 soldiers from its headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany, and 3,500 from Fort Riley, Kan., into the region, said spokesman Maj. Scott Slaten. An advance party of about 200 soldiers will leave for Kuwait next week, he said.

``Their job will be to set the conditions for the division to rapidly download equipment and move combat-ready into Iraq,'' he said. The 1st Armored's soldiers have carried out rigorous combat training for the past six months, Slaten said.

The arrival of the new fighting forces does not mean that soldiers who have been in Iraq since early in the war, such as those with the 3rd Infantry Division out of Fort Stewart, Ga., and the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) out of Fort Campbell, Ky., will be heading home soon.

Navy Capt. Frank Thorp, a Central Command spokesman, said such movements were not in the ``near term'' picture, but some units may be moved to other sites in Iraq.

The Navy continued to lower its war profile Thursday, sending the aircraft carrier Constellation out of the Persian Gulf, leaving just the Norfolk, Va.-based Nimitz battle group to patrol the region. At the height of the war against Iraq, three carriers were launching aircraft from gulf waters.

Army, Marine Corps and Special Operations forces continued in missions scattered throughout the country Thursday. Some coalition forces fought the sporadic skirmishes that have continued to pop up even as they asserted control over far-flung regions of the country. Others were working to bring in food, water and medical supplies to Iraqi citizens as part of the huge humanitarian-aid operation now in its early stages.

Military and administration leaders have sought to showcase humanitarian efforts. They also were clearly pleased Thursday by the capture of Barzan Ibrahim Hasan, Saddam Hussein's half-brother, in a pre-dawn raid inside Baghdad.

Brooks said Hasan was an adviser to Saddam ``with extensive knowledge of the regime's inner workings.'' He would not discuss how Hasan was captured, but said he was alone when seized.