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CAVALRY CHARGES; Desert Rats secure Basra stronghold.

Byline: SIMON HOUSTON in Basra

THE Desert Rats finally secured a stronghold inside Basra yesterday during one of the most important advances of the war so far.

Led by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, they were able to take control of a college campus one kilometre inside the city boundary which has until now been used as an attack platform for government forces.

This surge forward into the city was described by senior officers as "an enormous success".

By lunchtime yesterday, Scotland's cavalry had captured a huge cache of weapons, including several mortars and at least one anti- tank missile, having also taken out nearly 40 rocket- propelled grenades.

It's the first time any British forces have been able to establish a base inside Iraq's second city.

They are operating out of a forward base on the north-east bank of the strategically crucial Shatt al- Basra canal.

The surprise early morning raid by tanks from Scots DG and infantry from the Irish Guards was met by little opposition, which suggests the main concentration of enemy forces now lie mainly in the north of the city.

One British Lynx helicopter was targeted by a surface-to-air missile. It missed its target and, other than that, the advancing forces had little to worry about.

Inside the city itself, there is dreadful poverty and devastation, but for the people of Basra this has become a way of life during this war.

One bombed-out cluster of buildings was, until recently, Basra Technical College. When the war started, students were forced out of their classrooms to make way for militia. Following two weeks of concentrated artillery fire, the complex is now under British control.

We were stopped from entering most of the buildings for fear of triggering booby traps.

Yesterday, the Royal Engineers began to clear the city of clouds of smoke by cutting the pipeline which supplies an oil trench set alight by the Iraqis.

Until it is clear, attempts at any proper aerial surveillance are largely useless. Only a few hundred yards away is a shanty town of mud huts.

Barefoot children managed to smile at last as the British soldiers arrived.

Special Forces raided Saddam Hussein's fishing hideaway yesterday as the Allies closed to within four miles of Baghdad.

Elite US troops were flown behind enemy lines before bursting into the Thar Thar Palace 55 miles north- west of the capital. They found "valuable documents".

Experts said the night raid was another sign that Saddam's days are numbered.

The tyrant loves to hook fish on the huge artificial lake he had built at Thar Thar, the "Green Palace".

A lavish holiday resort for his favourite henchmen stands nearby, complete with a ferris wheel,amusement park, stadiums and luxury homes. It cost hundreds of millions of pounds to build.

But Thar Thar is also suspected of being a base for Iraq's terror weapons programme, with labs housed in tunnels under the complex.

US General Vince Brooks said special forces landed by helicopter in the palace compound after "suppressing" anti- aircraft fire.

The palace appeared to have been abandoned. The Americans found no Iraqi leaders.

Brooks said Thar Thar was used by Saddam and his two sons.

More Marines battled building-to-building with Iraqi fighters downriver at Kut, in central Iraq.

US troops jumped on rooftops and went through rooms in some buildings. Tanks roamed the city and the Marines came under small arms and mortar fire. Three were wounded.

Lieutenant Colonel BP McCoy told how a group of Iraqi fighters ran towards US tanks in a suicide attack.

He said: "They came charging in a human wave, 10 to 15 guys with AK47s. We mowed them down." McCoy said 30 Iraqis were killed, and seven enemy tanks and 20 anti- aircraft guns were destroyed.

Roads were littered with Iraqi army boots, thrown away by soldiers as they changed into civilian clothes.

Kut's people claimed Saddam's militias were forcing local men to fight the Americans and executing those who refused.

Marines around Kut went to a higher alert for chemical weapons, with troops wearing protective gear. There were reports of soldiers collapsing from heat exhaustion.

South-east of the capital, Iraqi forces fled from Zubaydiyah on the Tigris river as US Marines advanced. As massive US columns advanced, one American soldier was reported killed by friendly fire.

US officials last night refused to confirm that a Black Hawk helicopter and a US Navy F18 strike jet had been shot down by the Iraqis near Karbala, south- west of Baghdad.

Six people on the Black Hawk died and the F18 pilot is missing.

His was the first Allied plane lost in the war.

The Pentagon last night confirmed both aircraft had been lost but said they were still investigating the incident.
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Apr 4, 2003
Previous Article:US troops hit own jet with Patriot missile.
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