US denies delaying push to Baghdad

IRAQ WAR
ON THE GROUND

But analysts say logistics problems will force troops to pause while supplies of food, fuel and ammunition are topped up

THE American military command here has denied reports that its forces would be taking a break from their northward push towards Baghdad because of supply shortages and Iraqi resistance.

But given reports of bleak assessments from the ground, analysts are not satisfied with the denial and are still asking: Will American troops delay their march into Baghdad?

Reuters, quoting US military officers, reported that there would be an ‘operational pause’ of four to six days while the troops sort out logistics problems caused by over-stretched supply lines.

A senior military officer at the northernmost stretch of the advance in central Iraq was reported to have said yesterday: ‘We have almost out-run our logistics lines.’

Some military units have advanced to within 80 km of Baghdad but the supply convoy, which stretches 600 km all the way to Kuwait, has not caught up.

During the past few days, the media has been reporting field commanders’ complaints of dire shortages of food, fuel and ammunition, not to mention the unexpected resistance from Iraqi troops and paramilitary outfits.

The people out in the field also believe that it will take longer to remove President Saddam Hussein than initially planned.

‘There is an organised pattern of resistance,’ Brigadier-General John F. Kelly, assistant commander of the First Marine Division, told the New York Times yesterday. ‘Their determination is somewhat of a surprise to us all. What we were really hoping was to just go through and everyone would wave flags and stuff.’

But during the daily press briefing at the US Central Command (Cencom) war headquarters yesterday, the generals were painting a different picture.

Cencom’s director of operations, Major-General Victor Renuart, denied that there would be a pause on the battlefield, saying that ‘the fact that you don’t see tanks rolling on every single day’ does not mean that there is a suspension of military activity.

He also brushed aside suggestions that attacks on the US supply lines have slowed down the convoy.

But he did confirm a different pause. He said the US has suspended Tomahawk missile launches over Saudi Arabia because of Saudi concern about misfires.

The US was trying to fix the problem and would resume the launches ‘when it’s appropriate’, he said.

Analysts believe the supply line problem to be much more serious than the top brass would admit, given persistent reports of fuel and food rations being cut for at least one front-line US unit.

Stiffer-than-expected resistance from Saddam Fedayeen militias in towns along the advance lines has made running supply convoys a real problem, particularly from the southern city of Nassiriya northwards. Convoys this week through Nassiriya have been ambushed.

If there is an ‘operational pause’, some people would say it is a second major change in battle plans. On Friday, Washington announced that it was deploying an additional 100,000 ground troops in Iraq.

Observers believe that Washington has reached a critical phase of the battle: It has to decide whether to thrust forward to mount a siege on Baghdad or to consolidate its gains and wait for troop and supply reinforcements.

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