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U.S. troops reach airport, face outgoing artillery

BAGHDAD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT—In the midnight darkness, there is no way to know just how much fighting, if any, might still be ahead to secure this airport. But there is no doubt the United States is here.

Tanks from 3-69 Armor and 2-7 Infantry of the 3rd Infantry Division are spread across the field in defensive positions a few hundred yards from the Bradley vehicles of Task Force 3-7 Infantry, which arrived here at 11:30 p.m. local time.

There is no fighting on the airfield itself. But outgoing artillery rounds can be seen exploding to the east, south and north. The U.S. forces came in from the west and now own it.

It had been a race to the airport at the end, after several hours, some of them frustrating when half of our column took a wrong turn and ended up on the wrong side of a canal headed north.

It took 40 minutes to get the vehicles turned around and another four hours for the Bradley Fighting Vehicles of Apache Company, 1-30 Infantry to burst onto a six-lane paved highway.

From there we raced north toward the airport at full throttle. The column passed the smoking hulk of an Iraqi armored personnel carrier, but did not slow.

Near the airport, an Iraqi man stood at the roadside waving frantically. His wife lay under a blanket beside the road. The man told a commander as the column stopped that his wife had been hurt and needed medical attention. A medic was sent to investigate but it was unclear if her injuries had been caused by U.S. fire.

It was 11:29 p.m. when the Bradleys from Task Force 3-7 Infantry entered the airport. There were large explosions on the horizon to the left.

Four companies of tanks from the 3-69 armor had already taken up defensive positions on the airfield. Over the radio, the commander gave a description of the airport as he saw it through night vision goggles. Many buildings appeared partially destroyed, without windows or doors.

Two large explosions lit up the horizon. Apache helicopters swirled about in the coal black sky. But the artillery was outgoing.

Capt. John Whyte, 31, of Billerica, Mass., welcomed his men to their objective: "Gentlemen, we are now entering Baghdad International Airport, formerly known as Saddam International."

Said 1st Sgt. Michael "Todd" Hibbs, 36, of Boise Idaho: "This is a historic moment right here."

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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