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Battle Intensifies Around Nasiriyah

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2003 – Today was a tough day for American forces in Iraq, but coalition forces still made good progress on the ground, air and sea, said Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, deputy commander of the Combined Forces Command.

Abizaid spoke during a press conference in Qatar today. He said fighting around Nasiriyah was particularly nasty.

"United States Marines defeated an enemy attack there while sustaining a number of killed and wounded in the sharpest engagement of the war so far," he said.

First reports indicate that the Marines destroyed eight tanks, some anti-aircraft batteries and some infantry, Abizaid said.

An Army supply unit took a wrong turn and ended up ambushed by irregular Iraqi forces. Twelve Americans are missing from the unit. Arab satellite television channel al Jazeera broadcast Iraqi television videotape of the captured Americans.

The general observed that the Iraqi resistance coalition forces encountered today are "probably the reactions of desperate people that are trying to save a doomed regime. We have not seen on the battlefield a single coherent military move. These moves are dangerous to the troops in the field, but they are not dangerous to the mission."

Army Brig Gen. Vince Brooks, deputy operations officer for U.S. Central Command, noted several incidents of Iraqi ruses during the day. In one incident, Iraqi soldiers displayed a white flag followed by artillery fire. In another, Iraqi soldiers dressed as civilians ambushed coalition forces. "None (of the ruses) pose a danger to the mission," Brooks said.

Abizaid pointed out coalition operations around Iraq continue to put pressure on Hussein's regime. Air strikes keep hammering Iraqi command and control nodes and communications facilities. In the north, coalition aircraft and special operations personnel are targeting the Republican Guard.

"In and around Baghdad, we continue our air and special operations activities with good success," he said.

In the south, aircraft are providing close-air support to coalition land forces.

Coalition forces have captured more than 2,000 Iraqi prisoners. Abizaid said the reason coalition units haven't seen mass numbers of surrenders as they did in 1991 is because Iraqi troops are not trapped as they were in Kuwait in 1991. Still, they are voting with their feet.

"Here in the areas where we've been encountering regular Iraqi forces, by far the majority of the units have just melted away," he said. "We find substantial amounts of abandoned equipment on the field and in the regular army there is clearly very, very little will to fight."

Abizaid noted that coalition forces are not overconfident. "We are confident about the ultimate outcome," he said. "We are soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in a combined and a joint team that is one of the most integrated and well- trained forces ever put together. There won't be anything that stops us on the battlefield."

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