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Coalition Forces Move to Within 50 Miles of Baghdad

Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, vice director for operations for the U.S. military’s Joint Staff, told a Pentagon briefing, ”Coalition forces are closing in on Baghdad.”

Pentagon officials added that as the American and British forces closed in on the capital, resistance was expected to stiffen.

Despite those concerns, Gen. Tommy Franks, who is overseeing the military operation, said he was pleased by the advances.

“Progress toward our objectives has been rapid and in same cases dramatic,” he told reporters in a briefing at his command headquarters in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar.

In Washington, McChrystal said that air assaults on the elite Republican Guard had already begun.

“Coalition forces have engaged Republican Guard Medina division troops with attack helicopters,” he said. “It is one of the best of the Republican Guard divisions, one of the most powerful of the Republican Guard divisions. I am sure that it has been degraded significantly in the last 48 hours or so. But it is a linchpin to the consistency of the Republican Guard defense.”

McChrystal added that U.S. ground troops had not yet engaged Republican Guard units in direct combat. He said the air strikes and helicopter attacks were designed to weaken the division ahead of any assault by the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division.

On the NewsHour Monday, former Defense Intelligence Agency and Special Forces member Col. Patrick Lang, said U.S.-led forces would have to take on the veteran Republican Guard divisions if the war is to succeed.

“When it comes down to it and you’ve got the 1st Hammurabi division, al Nida Armored division and the 2nd Al Medina division facing you, and behind them is Saddam’s government, in the end it’s going to come down to infantrymen and tanks,” he said.

Other analysts offered a more difficult assessment of the road ahead.

Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who commanded one of the divisions during the Persian Gulf War, warned the coalition could lose thousands of troops in an assault on Baghdad.

“We ought to be able to do it [take Baghdad],” he told BBC Television late Monday. “In the process if [the Iraqis] actually fight, and that’s one of the assumptions, clearly it’s going to be brutal, dangerous work and we could take, bluntly, a couple to 3,000 casualties.”

In Baghdad, defensive positions continued to be built throughout the city as the coalition continued to pound military sites from the air.

President Saddam Hussein appeared on Iraqi television to call on his supporters to be ready.

“Be patient, brothers, because God’s victory will be ours soon,” he said.

American officials said they could not determine if Saddam’s appearance was live or had been taped before the war began last week.