By the time this reaches you early Friday, March 28, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s exclusive military sources can report that the US 101st Airborne Division will have embarked on its first major engagement against Saddam’s Special Republican Guards’ Hamourabi Division.
Barring an eleventh-hour change of plan, this attack will effectively kick off the western front of the battle for Baghdad.
Since Thursday, March 27, the 101st has been moving under cover of darkness along a northward line roughly 12 km west of Karbala and east of the Lake Razzaza (Click here for map of the war sector), closing the distance to the forward tank positions of the Hamourabi Division defending the western approaches to the Iraqi capital.
By Friday morning, American troops backed up by at least 200 helicopter gunships out of their fleet of 300 will be pummeling the Iraqi division’s tanks and artillery.
Hoping for a short, sharp battle to remove the elite Iraqi force from it path, the American division plans to sweep north towards al Ramadi and seize the Baghdad-Amman Expressway No. 1 west of Baghdad.
This change of plan means the American war command has just recalled the 101st ‘s earlier instruction to capture Baghdad’s Saddam International Airport (as we reported earlier below), targeting the international expressway to be appropriated as a landing and takeoff strip for the division’s helicopter fleet and its base of operation for the Baghdad campaign. Its capture will place 300 American gunships within striking distance of Baghdad and its environs, no more than 20 miles away as the crow flies.
After the battle with the Hamourabi is over and while the expressway is being secured, several other units of the 101st Airborne will come down at the big military airfield of Habaniya midway between Falluja and Al Ramadi northwest of Baghdad.