Pentagon: Allied campaign on track despite increased resistance

Monday, March 24, 2003

Iraq has demonstrated increasing resistance against the advance of allied forces toward Baghdad, but the U.S. command emphasized that the campaign has not been slowed..

U.S. military officials said Iraqi forces have in many cases abandoned their initial bunker mentality and are engaging British and U.S. infantry and armored units moving north along the Euphrates River. They said the resistance includes units of the regular Iraqi army as well as the elite Republican Guard.

Officials stressed that the stiff Iraqi resistance has not significantly slowed U.S. forces, Middle East Newsline reported. On Monday, U.S. forces reached the city of Karbala, about 80 kilometers south of Baghdad. The U.S. advance was facilitated by the capture of a highway bridge over the Euphrates River at Nasiriya.

In contrast, officials said, Iraq's military appears to be operating without any strategy. They said Iraqi units appear in disarray and that the lion's share of U.S. casualties was the result of ambushes or attacks by Iraqi irregular forces.

"We have not seen on the battlefield a single coherent military move," Abizaid said. "These moves are dangerous to the troops in the field, but they are not dangerous to the mission."

Correspondents stationed at the front report scores of dead in battles around Nasiriya along the Euphrates River on Sunday. The U.S. 3rd Infantry Division has been operating in the area and was said to have destroyed eight tanks and anti-aircraft batteries.

"United States Marines defeated an enemy attack there while sustaining a number of killed and wounded in the sharpest engagement of the war so far," Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, deputy commander of the Combined Forces Command, told a news conference in Qatar.

Later, officials said, 12 U.S. soldiers were reported missing in the aftermath of an Iraqi ambush of a military supply convoy around Nasiriya. Four Americans were reportedly injured.

So far, the Republican Guard has not been heavily involved in the war against Iraq. Five Republican Guard divisions are deployed around Baghdad and a sixth is in Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.

[In a taped and heavily edited appearance, Saddam on Monday urged Iraqi forces to continue to fight the U.S. and British military. For the first time, the Iraqi president reviewed and praised specific combat units that battled allied forces over the last three days. But Saddam, in a move that could relate to when the appearance took place, did not mention the U.S. soldiers captured over the weekend.]

Officials said the current war strategy was a significant revision of how the United States conducted the 1991 Gulf war. They said U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Tommy Franks drafted a war plan meant to bring U.S. ground forces to Iraq within the first week of the conflict.

"Saddam Hussein expected weeks of heavy air bombardment before anything came on the ground," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said. "He thought he would be able to see the ground attack coming. General Franks flipped that around. The ground attack began before the air attack. I think we were able to secure some of the more threatening points within his arsenal, including hopefully the western desert of Iraq."

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