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Defense Secretary Rumsfeld: Saddam Losing Control

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld: Saddam Losing Control

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States launched a long-awaited massive campaign against Iraq from the air on Friday and pushed 100 miles into the country on the ground, a third of the way to Baghdad.

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his lieutenants are "starting to lose control of their country," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, speaking at the Pentagon shortly after the air bombardment began.

Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said "several hundred military targets will be hit over the coming hours."

Enormous explosions were visible around Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, even as American officials continued surrender talks with senior Iraqi officials. The air campaign, which until Friday had been limited to selective strikes, escalated dramatically as U.S. ground forces rolled toward Baghdad.

Pentagon officials have dubbed the aerial strategy "shock and awe" to reflect the goal of paralyzing the Iraqi military and compelling Saddam's regime to capitulate before U.S. and allied forces reached the gates of Baghdad.

Rumsfeld was asked if the bombing indicated no agreement had been reached with the Iraqi military on surrendering. "That's for sure," he said.

"The regime is starting to lose control of their country," Rumsfeld said. "The confusion of Iraqi officials is growing. They're ability to see what is happening on the battlefield ... and the control of their country is slipping away."

The United States has an enormous fleet of Navy and Air Force warplanes that had been primed for the aerial bombardment, including B-52, B-1 and B-2 stealth bombers and a full array of fighter-bombers

There are roughly 250 strike aircraft on five Navy aircraft carriers -- three in the Gulf and two in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. These include F/A-18 Hornets and F-14 Tomcats. The Air Force's fighters are based mainly in Kuwait and Qatar, but there are many others in the region.

All of these aircraft are capable of launching precision-guided bombs and missiles.

Another U.S. military official said the attack also included large numbers of Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from American ships and submarines in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea.

American and British troops encountered both hostile fire and white flags in their sprint across the desert Friday. Iraqi defenders offered stiff resistance in some pockets, firing intense artillery barrages that were answered in kind.

The war's first casualties were reported.

Two U.S. marines with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force were killed -- one in a gunfight as his unit advanced on an oil field, the other while fighting enemy Iraqi forces near the port of Umm Qasr.

Hours earlier, eight British and four American soldiers died in a U.S. Marine helicopter crash that a British military spokesman said was an accident.

Troops seized two airfield complexes in far western Iraq, known as H-2 and H-3, without much resistance from Iraqi troops, defense officials said. But they called control of the installations "tentative."

They are important partly because Saddam Hussein is believed to have Scud missiles there. The H-3 airfield has been one of Iraq's primary air-defense installations.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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