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Pentagon: Troop Progress 'Astonishingly Good'

Much of the skepticism about the war in Iraq is reflected in reporting that suggests after six days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, U.S. led coalition forces should somehow have achieved greater success. Trying to dampen those kinds of expectations has become a full-time job for top defense officials.

Coalition forces may be engaged with Iraqi forces fairly close to Baghdad and mopping up pockets of resistance elsewhere, but some observers are already suggesting the offensive, if not bogged down, is somehow disappointingly slow.

Pentagon officials routinely reject that notion, calling the progress of allied troops astonishingly good and on, if not slightly ahead of, schedule. They also note carefully that no senior official ever predicted the battle to unseat Saddam Hussein would be over in just a matter of days.

General Richard Myers, Chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Staff, believes part of the problem is round-the-clock news coverage, much of it broadcast live from the battlefield. "We're watching this thing, what happens, pretty much 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And I think that lends this perception that it's been going on a long time and a lot is happening," he says. "If you look at the -- a lot is happening, obviously -- but the big scope of things, we're on track, we're on plan, we think we have just the right forces for what we need to do now."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld concurs in this assessment of non-stop coverage -- and in doing so at a Pentagon briefing, he stumbled over the actual day the air war began, humorously underscoring his point. "It does, as the General said, leave people with the impression that it's been going on for days and weeks and months," he said. "And it is -- it was one o'clock Friday that the air war began. It even seems like weeks to me."

But there is a problem.

Pentagon officials, while steadfastly reluctant to predict the length of the war, are the ones who in the weeks before it spoke of the notion of "shock and awe" -- a swift and powerful campaign against Iraq featuring airstrikes and a ground assault unprecedented in military history. The implication, unrealistic as it may have been, was that this would be a quick war.

So it was only to be expected that reporters would want to know if the Pentagon leadership believes Saddam Hussein's regime has to date been shocked or awed.

General Myers still thinks the answer is 'yes.' "If I were in Baghdad and I was looking south and I saw a U.S. Army division that is on the outskirts of Baghdad, I think -- you know, I don't know that that would be shock, but I'd certainly be a little concerned," he said. "And they'll have a lot more to be concerned about shortly."

The Pentagon now feels Iraqi authorities know their days are numbered.

But they are warning that a regime on its way out can still be brutal, resorting to acts of desperation, perhaps including the use of chemical weapons. As Mr. Rumsfeld says, the campaign could well grow more dangerous in the coming days and weeks.