AS SAYLIYA CAMP, Qatar (Reuters)
U.S.-led forces battled a column of Iraqi tanks and armored personnel carriers south of the Iraq’s second city of Basra on Wednesday, a British military spokesman said.
“There is an armored column that came out of the south-east of Basra down the Al Faw Peninsula and it has been engaged,” said the spokesman at Central Command, battle headquarters for U.S.-led forces, in Qatar.
“We have no battle damage information,” he added.
Asked about the size of the column, which some reports put at up to 120-strong, he said: “That has got to be an estimate.”
It was unclear why the column headed south from Basra toward a major British force when U.S-led air forces have control of the skies above Iraq.
“If they’re fleeing they’re going the wrong way, it’s pretty silly to go toward the Royal Marines,” a British military official told Reuters.
A television reporter with British marines south of Basra put the size of the convoy at between 70 and 120 vehicles and said that the battle was still going through the night.
“Many tanks have been destroyed, many are on fire now,” Clive Myrie reported. “Every now and again the area here shakes with the thud of missiles and bombs going into that column.”
He said that the pullout of the column seemed “suicidal.”
Defense analyst Andrew Dorman told on Sky TV: “They’re either panicking…or they’re taking advantage of the conditions (sandstorms) to engage the coalition forces and offset their technological advantage.”