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Iraqi Forces Significantly Weakened by Coalition Air Strikes, says Pentagon - 2003-03-31


Pentagon officials say U.S. and British air strikes have significantly weakened Iraqi forces, as coalition ground troops prepare to push toward Baghdad.

Major General Stanley McChrystal said 3,000 precision-guided bombs have been dropped on Iraqi forces in recent days, and that is having a major impact, especially on Republican Guard divisions defending Baghdad.

"We are seeing significant degradation of those forces. I won't put an exact number on it, but I will say very significant weakening of the forces. We are seeing some movement in Republican Guard formations, as well," he said.

General McChrystal said there is evidence that Republican Guard forces are repositioning to reinforce those units partially destroyed by coalition air power.

The general said the Republican Guard continues to put tanks in civilian neighborhoods.

He said coalition forces can still target that Iraqi armor, but it is more difficult when Saddam Hussein's troops are trying to hide in residential areas.

General McChrystal said it is not necessary to destroy an entire Republican Guard division before it ceases to become effective on the battlefield. "Another thing about the attrition or degradation of a unit like that is, once you start to take a certain percentage of a force like that down, particularly a mechanized or armor force, the systems start to break down, the re-supply systems, the maintenance systems, all of the things, command and control go together. So, it doesn't always require you to go down to zero percentage to take a unit to the point where it is not very combat effective," he said.

In what could be a prelude to the battle for Baghdad, U.S. forces are involved in what one Pentagon official called "aggressive armed reconnaissance" in a number of areas rimming the southern approaches to the Iraqi capital.

Those probes will help determine the strength of the entrenched Republican Guard units, before coalition soldiers launch a major attack on Baghdad.