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Coalition Forces Close in on Baghdad

VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu is traveling with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division as it nears Baghdad. She spoke with London Bureau Chief Al Pessin.

PESSIN: Alisha, coalition forces are reported to have made more advances on Baghdad and to be on the outskirts of the city. What can you tell us from your perspective as to how the advance is going.

RYU: Well the advance is going remarkably well. U.S. military commanders are saying that they are very, very pleased with the progress that the 3rd Infantry Division is making. Basically what they have been doing since this morning is pushing in form the west. They have pushed into the outskirts of Baghdad, seizing a key intersection in the southern part of the city. It is called highway Number 1 and highway Number 9, it is a very important junction that leads straight into downtown Baghdad. U.S. forces are now in the north, east and south outskirts of Baghdad. They are trying to cordon that area off, but in the process of doing that they killed numerous Iraqi troops who were in defensive positions around there. They ran into tanks and artillery fire, but they managed to basically put down all of those tanks and kill the tanks and artillery. At least one American has been killed in the fighting. The fiercest resistance, I understand, came from the paramilitary or special Republican Guards of Saddam Hussein who attacked the tanks and Bradley armored vehicles in, as they have been doing, in civilian pickup trucks. They tried to launch an attack on the tanks at one point. One truck tried to ram a Bradley fighting vehicle. One American was slightly injured during the attack.

PESSIN: So on Wednesday we were hearing remarkably little resistance, even early Thursday we were hearing the same thing. It seems that finally have found some resistance.

RYU: They did find a little bit of resistance today. Nothing that the army spokesman here said they could not handle. But they were not surprised by the attacks because this is something that they expected all along. Not having the attacks in the last couple of days did surprise them. So the resistance did come, but not in the numbers that they had expected at some point and what has been surprising to them, especially as they have not come under the chemical attacks that they thought that they might come under crossing over this red line that every one had talked about. This was the line that people thought that Saddam Hussein might launch chemical attacks once U.S. forces and coalition forces had crossed over it. They were a bit worried about it, there was concern in the back of their minds - is Saddam Hussein keeping the chemical weapons sort of hidden for the troops inside Baghdad or does he really not intend to deploy them. They are convinced that he has them; they are just not sure why Saddam Hussein is not deploying them, or employing them.

PESSIN: Alisha, I know that this morning you went out with a search and rescue mission that was trying to find the pilot from an F/A-18 fighter jet that went down. Can you tell us what the results of that search were and how your particular unit faired today?

RYU: Yes, we walked and we circled around the area where we thought that the plane might have gone down. The unit went on full tank patrols and foot patrols and we could not find any signs of life. I am not sure exactly whether they are going to continue the search into the evening because it is already dark here. I think they have given up hope that the pilot is alive.

PESSIN: Alisha, I know the weather is getting hotter and hotter over there. Is that affecting operations at all?

RYU: It is not affecting operations. It is obviously very, very tiring on the soldiers. They are still wearing the chemical suits they have been issued and these suits are obviously very hot. The temperature today went well past 40 degrees Celsius, and the heat was wearing down a lot of the soldiers I saw, but, operationally, I do not think it is affecting them very much at all.

PESSIN: Well, thank you again, Alisha, for that information. That is VOA's Alisha Ryu with U.S. forces, now quite close to Baghdad.