Massive US reinforcements heading for siege of Baghdad

WAR IN IRAQ

THE United States is sending in more armour and massive ground troop reinforcements as it prepares to fight off Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s defiant military and lay siege to Baghdad.

As sporadic battles continued between American troops and Iraqi military and militias, US officials said battle plans now call for the deployment of 100,000 more soldiers in Iraq by the end of next month.

This would bring the total US-led force there to about 225,000.

In the interim, the war plan is simple: Bombs, bombs and more bombs to soften the ground and pave the way for troops to lay siege to Baghdad.

US and British aircraft are pounding some of the estimated 30,000 Republican Guards arrayed around the capital and striking inside the capital against the regime’s levers of power and communication.

In the first admission that Washington might have had to change its war strategy, the US army’s senior ground commander in Iraq, Lieutenant-General William Wallace, said the unexpected tactics of Iraqi fighters and stretched supply lines were slowing down the campaign.

‘The enemy we’re fighting is different from the one we’d war-gamed against,’ he told the Washington Post.

But US officials here stressed that the build-up was part of a long-developed war plan.

Brigadier-General Vincent Brooks of the US Central Command told reporters here yesterday that the battle strategy was on course and ‘adapting to the reality of circumstances’.

Asked whether the US had underestimated the resolve of the Iraqi military, he replied: ‘I don’t think we have underestimated the enemy. We have to be tactically patient.’

But in southern Iraq, for example, US forces have encountered much stiffer resistance than expected from lightly armed Iraqi irregulars mounting hit-and-run attacks on supply convoys and even armoured columns.

US Marines and Iraqi forces exchanged tank and artillery fire yesterday in the strategic southern city of Nassiriya.

Several buildings, including the power plant, were ablaze, and the US Defence Department is constantly worried that Iraqi troops will use biological and chemical weapons on coalition forces.

US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld said on Thursday that the Pentagon was not rushing in forces to make up for what critics have called a major shortage of foot soldiers and tanks.

‘It’s a good plan and it was designed in a way that forces would continue to flow over a sustained period,’ he said after a Senate hearing.

‘Every day the number of coalition forces in Iraq is increasing by one or two or three thousand people, and it is going to continue to do that – and we have plenty of forces en route,’ he added.

US officials told The Straits Times it would be a ‘phase by phase’ reinforcement, with soldiers deployed in the Gulf over a month. But they refused to put a number on the additional troops to be sent to the region.

The US 4th Infantry Division’s first units began leaving Texas on Thursday, to join its M-1A2 tanks and other equipment to Kuwait. That flow will include at least 30,000 troops.

The 1st Armoured Division of nearly 20,000 troops and tanks is also beginning to move to the region from Germany and the highly mobile 2nd and 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment will begin leaving this weekend from Colorado. More US Marines are also being deployed.

Refusing again to set a time line for the war, BG Brooks said yesterday that strikes against Iraq would continue until the regime had been rooted out.

‘This war is going to take as long as it takes.’

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