The top U.S. commander in the Gulf says allied forces have made rapid progress in achieving their objectives in Iraq. General Tommy Franks says his forces have attacked elite Republican Guard contingents around Baghdad.
General Franks appeared at the daily briefing to counter the impression that the resistance coalition forces encountered a day earlier, when they came under heavy fire and suffered casualties, was unexpected.
General Franks said his troops are making rapid and, in some cases, dramatic progress, but he admitted that they are also facing what he called "sporadic resistance".
He cited what he called a successful attack carried out by Apache helicopters on Republican Guard positions near Baghdad. Thirty to forty allied aircraft took part in the attack, but one failed to return to base. That was apparently the Apache that was later shown on Iraqi television parked in a field near the town of Kerbala, south of Baghdad. There was no word of the fate of the crew. General Franks said the two men are listed as missing in action.
The allied commander says Iraq's command and control network has been weakened because some Iraqi units are ignoring orders from the leadership. But he said he expects mopping up operations in southern Iraq to continue for some time to come.
Although the coalition says it has control of vital facilities in and around the southern cities of Basra and Umm Qasr, its rear guard there is still being harassed by Fedayeen militia and Republican Guard units.
The general says the tenacious resistance coalition forces have encountered from some Iraqi elements should not be a surprise.
"There are people in the Iraqi army, whether Special Republican Guard or Fedayeen, who have a lot of allegiance to this regime…and we have had some terrific firefights with some of these," he said. "Not unexpected, and I think our people are prepared to fight this war."
With allied combat casualties now in double figures, General Franks said he expects tough days ahead on the battlefield.
"I think that anyone in my profession involved in a war fight will expect that we will see casualties in a war, and, so, yes, I expect that we will see casualties in the days ahead," he said. General Franks says allied forces have captured about 3,000 prisoners of war. He says most Iraqi soldiers in the path of the allied assault have simply abandoned their weapons and gone home.