Senior U.S. defense officials say the war in Iraq is going according to plan, but that coalition forces are bracing for trouble as they move ever closer to Baghdad.
Several American soldiers are missing in fighting in southern Iraq. But General Richard Myers, chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, is disputing Iraqi claims that an allied aircraft has been shot down over Baghdad and that its crew may have ejected into the Tigris River.
"As far as we know, all planes are reported to be safe, and so we do not think that is a good report at all. We do not think there are any pilots that have parachuted near the river or anywhere in Iraq," General Myers said.
Appearing in a televised interview on Fox News Sunday, General Myers said that despite the missing soldiers, so far the war appears to be going smoothly for coalition forces. They have advanced to within 160 kilometers of the capital with minimal losses.
But he indicated Iraqi resistance may soon make conditions much tougher. "It is no prediction of the future. This is going to get a lot harder. Anybody that thinks this is going to be quick and easy is wrong," he said.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, appearing on another television show, NBC's Meet the Press, said it is impossible to predict some aspects of the war. "How long is not knowable. How many casualties is not knowable and that is the only honest thing anyone can say," Mr. Rumsfeld explained.
General Myers said it is hard to say whether Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is still in firm control of his country's armed forces.
Mr. Rumsfeld said he hopes Saddam will still surrender before the fighting intensifies. But the defense secretary is not optimistic about the prospects for that. "I do not know. I hope he does. It will save lives. I think it is probably unlikely," he said.
Meanwhile, coalition aircraft have dropped more leaflets over Iraq with new instructions to Iraqi civilians about how to stay safe.
The leaflets encourage Iraqis to stay in their homes and away from buildings with military weapons nearby.