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'10 minutes of the most intense fighting'

Commander describes tank skirmish

From Walter Rodgers

Capt. Clay Lyle's tank rolls ahead
Capt. Clay Lyle's tank rolls ahead

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- In our War Stories series, CNN correspondents tell the story of war through the perspective of one person living through, recovering from or fighting the war in Iraq. CNN's Walter Rodgers has been accompanying the 3rd squadron of the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry, which includes tanks and other fighting vehicles, as the group moves north through Iraq.

Capt. Clay Lyle, commander of the Apache Troop, spoke with CNN late Friday about a major tank engagement as his crew rumbled along a highway west of Baghdad.

Despite being outnumbered, the U.S. group vanquished the Iraqi Republican Guard force within minutes, thanks to superior armed vehicles and devastatingly powerful ammunition.

"My commander called me, gave me the warning order to be prepared to conduct an attack on 22 stationary T-72s [Soviet-built tanks used by the Iraqis] that the [U.S.] Air Force had identified," Lyle said.

"I selected a force, tank heavy, almost all the tanks in my troop, with some Bradleys [armored fighting vehicles] to go with it."

After U.S. aircraft assailed some Iraqi tanks, Lyle's squad, despite encountering an additional battalion of hidden Iraqi tanks and being outnumbered two to one, lumbered up the six-lane highway with guns blazing, turrets swinging from side to side.

The T-72s were a formidable presence, dug in and well protected behind barriers, anywhere from a range of half-mile to a mile away.

"It's different from small-arms and RPGs [rocket-propelled-grenades.] That can be intense, but there is the relative safety of being in a tank," Lyle said. It is quite a different feeling when you are "staring down T-72s dug in, in fighting positions."

The fire fight was forceful but brief. It was "10 minutes of probably the most intense fighting," Lyle told Rodgers and CNN anchor Aaron Brown.

The main gun rounds from the Iraqi tanks, for the most part, fell short or flew too high, Lyle said.

But the U.S. cavalry squadron hit its marks, destroying an estimated 20 or more armored Iraqi adversaries, without the loss of a single U.S. vehicle.

U.S. Bradley fighting vehicles, despite being lighter, wiped out some of the Soviet-vintage T-72 tanks, a significant military milestone.

The secret for success? The Bradleys fired smaller shells, but they were of a particularly punishing variety made with depleted uranium, which pierced the armor of the heavier Iraqi vehicles.

"I had two Bradleys... One destroyed three T-72s and the other destroyed two," Lyle said.

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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