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Tales Of Two Rescue Raids

More than a week after she and other members of her maintenance unit were captured in Iraq, Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch is carried on a stretcher by U.S. special forces, April 1, 2003. This image was filmed though a nightscope.
AP
More information is emerging about the raids that rescued eight Americans held captive during the war in Iraq, as well as the way a few weeks in captivity fused together the seven prisoners of war freed this weekend.

Those seven had vastly different backgrounds and responsibilities within the armed forces. One is a supply truck driver who had never been out of Texas before finding himself in Iraq. Another is a single mother of a 2-year-old. A third is an Apache helicopter pilot whose father fought in Vietnam.

Thrown together by adversity, they are now inseparable.

"They became a team. They want to stay together as a team," said Col. Mark McGuire, the medical officer who attended to the former POWs when they arrived in Kuwait.

The seven are unlikely to be pulled apart, at least until they return to the United States and make their way home to families and local communities waiting to hold reunions and parades in their honor.

Since arriving in Kuwait City on Sunday after their dramatic rescue from a house south of the Iraqi city of Tikrit, the former POWs have been kept away from news media and undergone medical checks, both physical and mental, and debriefings.

The six men and one woman — five of them comrades of POW Jessica Lynch from the ambushed 507th Maintenance Support Company, the other two a downed helicopter crew — were in good shape and were being flown to Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Wednesday, said Maj. Mike Young, spokesman for the 86th Airwing at the base.

The seven will be brought to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where none were expected to stay long. Whether the group will return to the United States together depends on their medical conditions, said Landstuhl spokeswoman Marie Shaw.

The Washington Post reports the Marines who found the seven almost ended their mission and left the area they were searching without the captives.

After receiving a tip that the missing Americans would be in a particular house, the Marines had trouble finding it. Iraqi civilians began to gather around, some appearing on rooftops, and the Marines feared they were being set up for an ambush.

Then one of the seven POWs looked out and said, "I'm an American." The Marines smashed the door to the house the voice came from and led the prisoners out.

The POWs apparently told the Marines not to hurt their captors. "Don't hurt them. They're our friends. They helped us out," said Chief Warrant Officer David Williams.

The Marines told the Post that they were not sure if an Iraqi policeman or a civilian told them where the POWs were. In the earlier rescue of Lynch from a hospital in Nasariyah, an Iraqi lawyer apparently provided the crucial tip.

But the raid that rescued Lynch, who returned to the United States this weekend for continued treatment on several injuries, is the focus of new scrutiny.

Central Command has said the April 1 raid occurred under enemy fire. It has shown footage of the raid.

"There was not a firefight inside of the building, I will tell you, but there were fire fights outside of the building, getting in and getting out," Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, a Centcom spokesman, said on April 2. Inside the hospital, Brooks said, "we found ammunition, mortars, maps, a terrain model, and other things that make it very clear that it was being used as a military command post."

But the Times of London quotes Iraqi doctors and other witnesses as saying that the American mission came a day after Saddam Hussein loyalists had fled Nasariyah. The witnesses say U.S. forces bombarded the hospital area despite facing no resistance.

Witnesses claim the U.S. soldiers handcuffed and interrogated four doctors and two patients during the raid.

One physician at the hospital contends he saved Lynch's life when Iraqi soldiers brought her in with serious injuries a few days after her capture.

The doctor, Harith al-Houssona, also told the Times that in order to prevent Lynch's transfer to Baghdad, he ordered an ambulance driver to bring her to U.S. troops in the area. But the driver claims Americans shot at him, so he turned around.

U.S. forces have claimed during the war that Iraqis were apparently using ambulances for military purposes.

Lynch is being treated for a head wound, an injury to her spine and fractures to her right arm, both legs, and her right foot and ankle. Gunshots may have caused open fractures on her upper right arm and lower left leg, according to the hospital.

There is no word on how or when Lynch sustained her injuries and whether she was mistreated during captivity, although the man who tipped U.S. troops off to her location told newspapers that he saw her being slapped.

It is also unclear how eight American bodies found near the hospital came to their deaths.