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US Failed to Anticipate Stiff Resistance from Some Iraqi Forces, says Senior Australian Official - 2003-03-30

Australia's defense minister said the United States failed to anticipate the fierce resistance from some Iraqi forces. But Defense Minister Robert Hill insists, despite the guerilla tactics that coalition forces face, the offensive is going well.

There is concern in Australia that Iraq is increasingly fighting a dirty war. The defense minister, Robert Hill, said Iraq's unconventional tactics have taken coalition troops by surprise. Mr. Hill warned the allied approach to the conflict needs to change to counter the threat of suicide bombers and Iraqi soldiers disguised as civilians.

The Australian defense minister said troops need far more caution in dealing with enemy surrender, and with civilians. On Saturday, near the city of Najaf in southern Iraq, American officials say a car exploded at a checkpoint, killing the driver and four U.S. soldiers.

The Australians admit the role of Iraqi militias in smaller towns and cities has been underestimated.

Military analyst Adam Cobb told Australia's SBS Television that coalition forces must now reassess how they fight this war. "In the past, they have talked about their POW policy as just letting POWs drop their weapons and go home. That is going to become increasingly problematic, and will facilitate guerilla tactics against the allies. So, they have to revisit how they handle that," he said.

Australia has committed its largest combat force to the Gulf since the Vietnam War. It has deployed 2,000 troops, including SAS commandos, and fighter jets and warships. Reports Sunday say its special forces commandos are within an hour's drive of Baghdad. The SAS has been deep in hostile territory since the campaign began, carrying out long-range surveillance operations and monitoring Iraqi troop movements.