WASHINGTON -- Iraqi soldiers who chose to stand and fight as U. S. tanks cleared lanes for British tanks through Iraqi lines were buried alive in trench-breaching operations during the Gulf War, Pentagon officials said Thursday.
There was no estimate of how many were killed, Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said, but it was fewer than the 2,000 who surrendered in the battle and were taken as prisoners of war.
Williams commented on an account published Thursday in the Long Island newspaper Newsday. The incident was also discussed by Maj. Gen. Thomas Rhame, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, and briefly mentioned in various military publications. Rhame, at a press conference in May, estimated as many as 400 Iraqis were buried in the initial breaching operation.
'All I can tell you is that there were little hands and arms sticking up out of the dirt. They chose not to surrender. They chose to fight. So we buried them,' Rhame said at the time.
The Iraqi soldiers 'chose to stay and fight,' said Williams Thursday. 'Some of them were shot. Some of them were undoubtedly buried in the breaching operation. I don't mean to be flippant but there is no nice way to kill somebody in a war. There is no provision of the Geneva Convention that would prohibit this operation. War is hell.'
Williams said the division, known as the Big Red One, was assigned the job of carving lanes in the Iraqi defenses just west of the Kuwait- Iraqi-Saudi border so that the British 1st Armored Division could go through. Eight lanes were cut into an area about 10 miles from end to end, and then the engineers turned back to the south and cut eight more lanes. Then, said Williams, those 16 lanes were widened.
In cutting through the Iraqi fortifications, he said, the troops encountered high berms of sand, oil-filled trenches, minefields, lines of barbed wire and the like.
They used line charges to help cut lanes into minefields, and deep- digging rakes and blades on the front of tanks to help clear away mines in the sand. At times, U.S. armored personnel carriers fired into trenches of Iraqi soldiers rather than exposing U.S. personnel to fire by having soldiers get out and attempt to clear the Iraqis out of the trenches from outside the protection of their vehicles.
There were no U.S. casualties during that portion of the operation, said Williams.
'The Iraqi soldiers that were killed in this process were those that chose to stay in their trenches or behind obstacles and fight during the breaching operation,' said Willians. '... In this operation, most of the Iraqis chose to surrender. But those who continued to fight and to inflict deadly fire on the Big Red One were engaged either with direct fire or, if they stayed in their trenches and they stayed in an area that was to be breached, then they were buried by the tanks with mine plows.'