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General: Apache assault compromised

This image from Iraqi television shows the downed U.S. Apache helicopter.
This image from Iraqi television shows the downed U.S. Apache helicopter.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Lt. Gen. William Wallace, commander of the U.S. Army's V Corps, revealed Wednesday that an Apache helicopter assault during the Iraq war was compromised, leading to the downing of a copter and the capture of its two crew members.

In a video news conference from the Iraqi capital, Wallace spoke for the first time about the battle near Karbala, in central Iraq, on March 24 (March 23 ET). It was the first Apache helicopter air attack mission against the Medina Division of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard.

What the coalition did not know that night was that the mission was being observed, Wallace said, and that it was compromised.

"We found out subsequent to the attack, based on some intelligence reports, that apparently both the location of our attack aviation assembly areas, and the fact that we were moving out of those assembly areas in the attack, was announced to the enemy's air defense personnel by an Iraqi observer," he said.

That observer, thought to be an Iraqi major general, was somewhere in the town of Najaf, he said.

Wallace said it is now believed the observer used speed dial on his mobile telephone to alert Iraqi air defenders of the pending attack.

As they approached their target, the Apaches met a wall of heavy Iraqi fire. U.S. pilots who returned from the battle described it as "a hornet's nest."

"Our attack aviation performed a significant role during the fight, but I must admit it didn't perform the same role that I had envisioned for the attack aviation," Wallace said.

He acknowledged the Apache mission against the Medina Division "did not meet the objectives" he had set.

One Apache was downed in the attack and its crew members, Chief Warrant Officers David Williams and Ronald Young Jr., were captured by the Iraqis and held as prisoners of war. They were eventually rescued, along with five other POWs, about three weeks later.

During the war, Wallace, who was the Army's senior ground commander in Iraq, told reporters from The New York Times and Washington Post that "the enemy we're fighting is different from the one we'd war-gamed against," leading to questions about the U.S.-led coalition's war plans.

Asked about those comments Wednesday, Wallace said he would make no apologies for the remark.

"The enemy we fought ... was much more aggressive than what we expected them to be, at least what I expected them to be," he said, noting that Iraqi forces were willing to attack out of towns and to charge toward coalition formations.

The presence of men from other countries fighting with Saddam's Fedayeen -- which the general described as "at least fanatical, if not suicidal" -- also led him to make the comment, Wallace said.

Referring to the coalition's military campaign, he said, "Sixteen days to Baghdad ain't a bad record."

CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr contributed to this report


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