The coalition’s progress in the ground war has been tempered by reports that some American soldiers are missing and may have been taken prisoner by Iraqi militia. Iraq’s vice president claimed Sunday that U.S. prisoners of war had been captured and would be shown on television.
“There are some American soldiers missing,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It’s illegal to do things to POWs that are humiliating to those prisoners.”
Rumsfeld also said some missing journalists, who came under fire while en route to Basra in southern Iraq, may have been captured by Iraqi troops.
Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said no more than 10 soldiers were unaccounted for in southern Iraq.
Despite the reports of soldiers missing in action, Rumsfeld characterized the overall progress of the war in Iraq as excellent.
“There are periodic instances when the resistance is quite stiff,” Rumsfeld said. “The fact that there is a firefight, someone ought not to be surprised.”
The Third Infantry Division’s Second Brigade covered roughly 230 miles in 40 hours to take positions about 100 miles from Baghdad, putting Iraq’s capital city within a day’s reach according to the Associated Press.
The coalition soldiers ran into a lengthy firefight during the surge, killing 100 Iraqi militiamen who confronted the U.S. soldiers with machine gun-mounted vehicles. No American injuries were immediately reported as a result of the battle.
Iraqi state television also reported fighting between Iraqi militias and coalition forces near the Shiite holy city of Najaf, some 95 miles south of Baghdad. It said a top official in Saddam Hussein’s ruling Baath party was killed in the skirmish.
Fighting continued in the southern town of Nasiriya, which the U.S. Central Command said Saturday had fallen to coalition forces during the initial ground advance.
U.S. Marines engaged in a brutal firefight for ongoing control of the city Sunday and suffered “significant” casualties, military officials told a Reuters reporter on the scene. Explosions and large plumes of smoke were reported near the city.
“It looks like artillery, or possibly air strikes,” Reuters correspondent Sean Maguire reported. “There’s lots of smoke rising.”
The BBC reports that U.S. aircraft bombed Iraqi positions to the north of Nasiriya where an estimated 500 Iraqis used tanks and mortar fire to stop U.S. Marines trying to secure a route through the town.
Nasiriya is an important capture for coalition forces as it contains a critical crossing across the Euphrates River on the way Baghdad.
Coalition forces also continue to face fighting from guerrilla soldiers in the southern port city of Umm Qasr, with some Iraqi militia changing into civilian clothes to blend in with the population according to the Associated Press. Securing the port city of Umm Qasr is a critical step in providing access for shipments of humanitarian aid to the country.
According to reports from the region, Iraqi soldiers continue to surrender to U.S. and British forces in periodic waves with some simply laying down their weapons and heading home while coalition forces are holding others.
General Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command, estimated the total number of Iraqi troops that have surrendered at 2,000 in a Saturday news conference.