U.S. led forces closing in on the Iraqi capital Baghdad are now striking at one of Saddam Hussein's toughest lines of defense his highly trained Republican Guard units which ring the city, and coalition commanders are warning some of the hardest fighting of the war may lie ahead.
The vanguard of coalition ground troops, the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry division, is now reported to be within 80 kilometers of the Iraqi capital. "We are now more than 200 miles [320 kilometers] into Iraqi territory," said General Stanley McChrystal. "Forces are meeting sporadic resistance."
General McChrystal of the Pentagon's Joint Staff says allied forces are already carrying out strikes on Republican Guard units south of the Iraqi capital. "Air strikes continue to focus on key regime leadership targets, to suppress ballistic missile threats, to degrade Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard units."
As Baghdad comes under more heavy bombing, advancing coalition troops approaching from the south were stalled Monday by a forecast of more sandstorms in the Iraqi desert. VOA's Alisha Ryu is with the advancing U.S. Army's 5th Corps in central Iraq. "Visibility is down to several hundred meters again. There is a huge sandstorm coming in. We're told by Tuesday or Wednesday, that's the forecast. And if that front does come through, that means all the helicopters will be grounded," said Ms. Ryu. "It's very, very difficult for the helicopters to fly in this kind of weather."
Indeed, there have been more setbacks in the war. What appeared to be two captured American pilots were shown on Iraqi television Monday night after Baghdad claimed two U.S. Apache helicopters were brought down after an attack on Republican Guard units. Five other Americans are also being held prisoner of war after being captured in fighting Sunday.
Also on Iraqi television Monday was President Saddam Hussein, telling the nation it will soon be victorious. But U.S. officials are questioning whether the appearance was actually old pieces of videotape shot before one of Saddam's residential compounds was hit with missiles and bunker-busting bombs at the start of the war last week.
But Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz assured reporters the Iraqi leader is in good shape and in full control of the military. At the Pentagon however, General Stanley McChrystal sees indications of a breakdown in the Iraqi chain of command. "We are seeing evidence that orders that are being issued are not being executed."
With the war now heading into its sixth day, President Bush is expected to meet in Washington later this week with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to plot strategy.