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U.S. armor decimates Iraqi forces near airport

Tanks destroy attacking pickups, dump trucks, bus

Smoke rises from one of the burned Iraqi tanks.

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CNN's Walter Rodgers says a U.S. armored column ran into an Iraqi counterattack as it approached the outskirts of Saddam Airport in Baghdad.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- As an armored column from the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division charged toward Baghdad, Iraqi forces countered with dump trucks, pickup trucks and a "suicide bus" of soldiers with rifles blazing, CNN correspondent Walter Rodgers reported Friday.

"Four hundred Iraqis made a very bad choice," Rodgers quoted an officer of the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry, as saying. Rodgers is embedded with the cavalry.

The U.S. forces in tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles punched through the Iraqi resistance, occasionally calling in the Air Force to bombard targets on the ground.

Iraqis ambushed the U.S. soldiers on both sides of the road in what Rodgers described as a "substantial push through a free-fire zone." At one point, a bus believed to be loaded with explosives charged the armored column but was stopped in its tracks.

"When they hit it, it exploded and burned much more brightly than a normal bus, moving in the direction of a tank," Rodgers said.

At other times, pickup trucks and dump trucks loaded with 10-12 Iraqi soldiers would come at the U.S. force, firing from the back.

"The Iraqis are employing everything that an irregular force can employ to try to stop the movement toward Baghdad," Rodgers said. "They come charging down the road in the direction of an armored column. A dump truck even with a 20-millimeter cannon mounted on the back is no match for a Bradley fighting vehicle."

He added: "As soon as visual contact is made, the dump trucks, the suicide buses, the pickup trucks are knocked out of existence fairly fast."

By sunrise Friday, the squadron was in the Baghdad suburbs, a few miles from Saddam International Airport, which the coalition is fighting to secure.

Rodgers said a column of about nine Soviet-era tanks and one armored vehicle came at the 3-7th Cavalry. The squadron took out six of the tanks and the armored vehicle, and coalition air support struck the other three.

"The Republican Guard units have disappeared off the scope," Rodgers said of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's elite units. He said there was speculation that those fighters had retreated into Baghdad's city center.

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