On the road to Baghdad

Posted: Apr 04, 2003 12:00 AM

Central Iraq -- The rescue of Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch this past week by Army Rangers and Navy SEALs had all the makings of a Hollywood script -- daring, drama and heroism. Lynch is a member of the 507th Maintenance Company, the unit of mechanics and technicians who were ambushed by the so-called Fedayeen Saddam -- more accurately described as Iraqi terrorists -- which don civilian clothes and feign surrender in an attempt to delay the coalition advance on Baghdad. The joy of her rescue was not only felt by her family and neighbors in Palestine, W.V., but also here on the front lines.

I'm maneuvering with the 5th Marine Regimental Combat Team -- "the Tip of the Spear" -- which during the previous 24 hours has advanced 65 kilometers toward Baghdad thanks to its extraordinary skill and remarkable endurance, and the aid of night vision equipment.

When we stopped, Griff Jenkins, my Fox News producer, and I set up our broadcast equipment to give updates to the Fox audience. A number of the Marines gathered around to hear the latest news and listen to the press conference from CENTCOM that would shortly take place. When it was announced that Lynch had been rescued, the Marines cheered. Before returning to work, it was a brief moment to share in the happiness that a lost comrade was now found. Some of our politicians, who refuse to leave politics at the water's edge, should take a lesson from these young men and women of the armed forces who even abandon their healthy inter-service rivalries when the battle begins.

Army Rangers -- working with Navy SEALs, supported by Air Force air cover and aided by the diversion created by the Marines -- made Lynch's rescue possible. Those who were not directly involved took great pride in a job well done by their comrades in arms.

That's because the Special Operations units that conducted the raid to rescue this one American POW are typical of the kind of men and women the United States has sent over here to fight this war. They have remarkable courage and extraordinary skill. We can only hope that their accomplishments will give lie to sad stories the skeptical scribes have scribbled in the press lately, which make it appear that this war is something other than what it really is -- a very successful military campaign, planned by talented senior officers and prosecuted by the finest fighting force the world has ever seen.

The rescue of Lynch is a story from which the critics can learn a lesson. It is a story about the value of life and how the world's most powerful military employs its extensive resources and risks its most elite forces to save and rescue a single soldier -- because it views every life as precious. Because U.S. forces place such a premium on human life, they are going to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties and, in some cases, have put themselves in danger to save innocent Iraqi civilians.

The care with which U.S. forces are prosecuting this war stands in stark contrast to the illegal and immoral tactics employed by Saddam Hussein's brutal regime. Iraqi men are conscripted into Saddam's army while their wives and children are held at gunpoint. Civilians are used as human shields. The faces of captured and executed American prisoners are displayed on television, and the International Red Cross is still denied access to at least 16 other Americans and several Brits who remain missing and are presumed to be Iraqi captives. Saddam's henchmen refuse to comply with the Geneva Conventions, and Iraqi Interior Minister Mahmoud Diab Ahmed has boasted to the Arab press that American and British prisoners will be treated as "mercenaries, hirelings and war criminals."

Last week, I spoke with Maj. Sara Cope, a military policeman with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, about how prisoners are treated when taken into custody by U.S. forces. Just before we talked, her unit had taken custody of five Iraqis who surrendered peacefully. Of these five, at least two were farmers and two admitted to being soldiers, although they were dressed in civilian clothes. Cope told me all Iraqi prisoners are given food and water, and supplied with clothes and medical attention if needed.

After terrorist attacks on U.S. troops by Iraqis pretending to surrender, the Marines approach each such situation with great caution, but when the threat is neutralized or determined not to exist, they have a great capacity to care for those who have fled Saddam's brutal regime.

It is one of the qualities that makes these young men and women so special. Every old soldier likes to think that the very best ones are those with whom they served. But there has never been a military force so well prepared, so well trained and so well educated. Not only do they understand warfare and are well trained for it, they have mastered electronics, chemistry and biology, which are necessary given today's enemy and his proclivity for using the most horrific weapons.

This week, I asked Col. Joe Dunford to describe the 7,000 Marines he is leading to Baghdad. "They're just incredible," he said. "They are a great bunch, with great attitudes. They look out for each other, they trust each other, and they're ready to do whatever they're called upon to do." I can attest to that.