US-led forces continued their advance to the power seat of Saddam Hussein’s government and are “closing in on Baghdad”, said US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on 3 April. He warned, however, that there “likely will be difficult days ahead” as the operation focuses on the Iraqi capital. Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Richard Myers added: “There is still much work to be done, and there is no doubt that some of it is going to be very, very difficult.”
The Iraqi regime has now lost control of about 45% of the country, Gen Myers said. Coalition forces also control 95% of the country’s airspace, he said.
Coalition forces have seized key bridges over the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, which “eases the approach to Baghdad”, Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld urged Iraqi soldiers to turn on Saddam Hussein, saying it is up to them to “save themselves, turn on that condemned dictator and help the forces of Iraq’s liberation.” He warned that “Iraq is running out of real soldiers. Soon all that will be left are war criminals.”
Air strikes targeted military barracks in the area of Saddam International Airport while US Army AH-64 Apache helicopters attacked Republican Guard armour and anti-aircraft missile launchers.
Coalition forces in northern Iraq include “a lot of” US special forces and units of the UK military at times, in addition to the 173rd Airborne Brigade, Rumsfeld confirmed. Coalition and Kurdish forces have “conducted combined operations” on some suspected chemical weapon facilities.
US Central Command is investigating two potential friendly-fire incidents. A US Army soldier was killed and several additional personnel were reported injured or missing due to an incident involving a US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle ground-attack aircraft. In a second incident, a Patriot missile may have been to blame for the downing of a US Navy F/A-18C Hornet while on a mission over central Iraq.
Èñòî÷íèê: Kim Burger/Jane’s Defense Weekly