Special Operations Soldiers Saved During Sandstorm

Two critically wounded special operations soldiers are being treated at a hospital in Kuwait after a rescue team plucked them from a battlefield five miles south of Baghdad, military officials said Wednesday.

The two wounded soldiers, who have not been identified, were rescued Monday afternoon in a joint effort by the Air Force, Army and special operations forces, U.S. Central Command said. Both are expected to survive.

Two HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters and two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs launched the mission from an air base in southern Iraq, along with an HC-130P King refueler from another air base in the region.

Two A-10s, already airborne on another mission, were called to help cover the helicopters, and U.S. Army helicopters were put on alert status in case backup firepower was needed during the evacuation.

On the way to the evacuation site, the crew of the Pave Hawk helicopters learned the soldiers were in critical condition. They arranged for a Special Operations MC-130E Combat Talon I -- a plane equipped to carry the injured soldiers to Kuwait -- to meet them in Najaf, about 75 miles south of Baghdad. The MC-130E had a flight surgeon and two medical technicians on board to treat and stabilize the soldiers.

With half-mile of visibility at best, the rescue team recovered the wounded amid a storm of blowing sand and dust, and transferred them in Najaf.

It was unclear how the soldiers were injured. There was fierce fighting Sunday in the area where they were rescued when members of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division encountered attackers during a patrol. There was no report of injuries from that incident, though there were sporadic firefights in the area for several hours.