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Apache helicopters attack Republican Guard

Three-hour firefight

Apache helicopters wait to take off on Sunday.
Apache helicopters wait to take off on Sunday.

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SOUTHERN IRAQ (CNN) -- U.S. Apache attack helicopters attacked Iraq's Republican Guard units early Monday in an intense firefight that lasted about three hours, CNN's Karl Penhaul reported.

Penhaul said the helicopters encountered a "heavy, heavy barrage" of anti-aircraft fire in the battle, about 60 miles south of Baghdad. He could not immediately say whether all of the U.S. helicopters returned safely.

The attack started sometime after midnight (4 p.m. ET) and lasted about three hours, said Penhaul, who was aboard a Black Hawk helicopter that served as the command and control craft of a unit of Apache attack helicopters. The helicopter in which Penhaul was riding was about 15-20 miles from the scene of the strike.

The Apache unit went up against the 2nd Armored Brigade of the elite Medina Division, which is part of the Republican Guard, the troops most loyal to Saddam Hussein, Penhaul said. They also attacked positions between Karbala and Hillah, which straddle the Euphrates River south of Baghdad.

Stiff resistance

As the Apaches flew in, they encountered stiff resistance, he said.

Penhaul said he could not see the extent of the anti-aircraft fire, but the pilots of his helicopter reported the Republican Guard "laid up a heavy, heavy barrage."

Some of the U.S. aircraft flying in the mission reported taking fire.

Following the mission, aircraft returned to an undisclosed location farther south of the location of the attack, and Penhaul said he expected to learn more about the specific locations of the units targeted.

Some of the elements the Apaches tried to strike were Iraqi T-72 battle tanks, the most advanced tank used by the Iraqi forces. The Republican Guard was estimated to have at least 90 of those tanks, along with multiple pieces of field artillery and armored personnel carriers, Penhaul said.

Penhaul is embedded with the U.S. Army's V Corps, 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting, in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details.

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