Saddam sites, elite Republican Guard units take U.S. fire

Tuesday, April 1, 2003

On Tuesday, U.S. B-1, B-2, and B-52 heavy bombers continued attacks on targets connected to the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as U.S. officials said Saddam and his family may already have fled the country.

The attacks appeared to focus on three Republican Guard divisions stationed mostly to the south of Baghdad which are known as the Medina, Hammurabi and Al Nida divisions, Middle East Newsline reported. The guard has six divisions.

Officials said the Iraqi divisions have not been in radio communications with military commanders in Baghdad. "There's no evidence of coordinated actions on the battlefield by these units," Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said. "They're being destroyed in place without much leadership from above."

Assistant Defense Secretary Victoria Clarke said the intense attacks on the palaces of Saddam and his sons have prompted attempts by their families to flee Iraq. She did not identify those who have already left Iraq, but officials said the United States suspects that Saddam and his family might have already fled the country.

"Some family members, including family members of very senior officials, are trying to get out of the country," Ms. Clarke said. "We've not seen his sons. We've seen evidence that family members are fleeing the country or trying to flee the country."

Late Sunday evening, U.S. military units reached the outskirts of Baghdad.

Officials said U.S. Army and Marine Corps units reached the southern edge of the Iraqi capital. They said the units were conducting what they termed probing missions to determine the extent of Iraqi defenses around the city.

The U.S. forces are also meant to ambush Republican Guard divisions that are withdrawing from their current positions toward Baghdad, officials said.

Five Republican Guard divisions are in or around Baghdad and at least one brigade of an unspecified division was said to have been destroyed in fighting overnight Tuesday.

"There are maneuvers going to try to destroy those divisions that stand in our way," Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, director for operations at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said.

The U.S. forces are expected to be reinforced over the next few days as the U.S. Air Force reduces the strength of the Iraqi Republican Guard.

Officials said the United States is deploying fresh troops in Iraq at a rate of 2,000 soldiers per day, with forces approaching Baghdad from the north, south and west. So far, the United States and its allies have deployed more than 300,000 soldiers in the Persian Gulf.

U.S. officials said coalition forces have also eroded Iraqi air defenses and communications systems around Baghdad. They said Iraq is still believed to have some anti-aircraft assets in Baghdad that have not been employed to avoid U.S. bombing.

"We fly effectively in Baghdad every day and night," McChrystal said.

"The reason we don't claim air supremacy there is because they haven't been using all their early warning and fire control radars. They've been keeping them off to avoid them getting destroyed."

McChrystal told a Defense Department briefing on Monday that the U.S. Air Force dropped 3,000 precision-guided bombs on Iraqi forces over the weekend. In all, more than 8,000 such weapons have been employed in attacks on regime targets.

"We are seeing some movement of Republican Guard formations as well," the general said. "What we think we're seeing them do is moving to reinforce other [units] that have [been] severely degraded."

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