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Rumsfeld: Coalition Takes Over 3,500 Iraqi Prisoners

Rumsfeld: Coalition Takes Over 3,500 Iraqi Prisoners

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. and allied forces have now taken in "excess of 3,500 Iraqi prisoners," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday.

At a Pentagon briefing, Rumsfeld said humanitarian assistance "food, water and medicine" is already being delivered. Still, after five days of ground combat, he sought to minimize expectations of a swift end to the war

"We're still, needless to say, much closer to the beginning than the end," Rumsfeld said.

In addition to the prisoners in custody, Rumsfeld said that thousands of other Iraqi fighters have abandoned their units. He said the United States was treating prisoners in accordance with the Geneva Convention and is giving the International Red Cross access to them. He urged the Iraqis to do the same with coalition prisoners.

Asked about reports of an uprising in Basra, Iraq's second largest city, Rumsfeld said that he was aware that Fedayeen guerrillas loyal to Saddam Hussein were infiltrating the city, and said they represented "a terrorist-type threat" against coalition forces.

Rumsfeld said he had not seen reports of an uprising against the Iraqi regime in Basra.

He said the confrontation between coalition forces and the Republican Guard divisions south of Baghdad are "where the difficult task begins." U.S. helicopters attacking the Medina division of the guard came under heavy fire Monday and eventually withdrew.

Rumsfeld rejected criticism that the invasion was launched without enough troops or armor. He said military leaders were "very comfortable" with the war plan and that forces were continuing to pour into Iraq "every minute of every hour of the day."

Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the invasion was on track. "It's a brilliant plan," Myers said, noting that allied forces were closing in on Baghdad.

Interviewed earlier Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America," Myers said, "We've never said it's going to be quick, we've never said it's going to be easy, you've never heard those words come out of officials here at the Pentagon. "War is tough and it's going to be a tough fight. But it's a worthy fight."

The Pentagon is preparing to add more troops to the fight. Advance elements of the Army's 4th Infantry Division are expected to head for Kuwait from the division's headquarters at Fort Hood, Texas, in the next two days, said Maj. Josslyn Aberle, a public affairs officer at Fort Hood.

She said the division, which originally was designated for deployment to Turkey to open a northern front against Iraq, would operate as a follow-on force to handle pockets of Iraqi resistance or any number of other tasks. Turkey rejected U.S. requests to deploy it there.

"We're prepared for everything from full-out combat to the opposite side of the spectrum -- peacekeeping," Aberle said. "When you move into stability operations or current operations that are ongoing, there's a number of different scenarios you can face: pockets of resistance, suicide bombers. You just don't know until you're over there."

The bulk of the 4th Infantry will begin moving out this weekend, she said.

Army Apache helicopters engaged in fierce clashes south of the capital city Monday with Iraqi forces believed to be part of the highly trained Republican Guard's Medina Division. The Apaches knocked out about 10 Iraqi tanks before withdrawing, military officials said.

Myers said military planners are working to minimize civilian casualties, even to the point of putting coalition forces at extra risk. He said the effort to balance risks to civilians and coalition forces is "a constant calculation."

One helicopter went down and its two crewmen were captured Monday, but officials said it was not known if the cause was hostile fire or unrelated mechanical failure.

The Pentagon listed as prisoners of war Chief Warrant Officer Ronald D. Young Jr., 26, of Lithia Springs, Ga., and Chief Warrant Officer David S. Williams, 30, of Orlando, Fla.

U.S. officials on Monday repeated warnings that they believed Iraq was more likely to use chemical or biological weapons against coalition troops the closer they get to Baghdad.

The Iraqi Republican Guard controls the bulk of Iraq's chemical weaponry, most of which can be fired from artillery or short-range rocket launchers, according to U.S. officials who discussed the intelligence information on the condition they not be identified. These weapons generally can hit targets from a few dozen miles or less.

Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the vice chief of operations on the Pentagon's Joint Staff, recounted the Apache attack during a briefing for reporters Monday but did not mention heavy resistance from the Iraqis.

With the Medina Division also coming under attack from Air Force and Navy planes, the conditions are being set to weaken that force and create an opening to attack it directly on the ground, McChrystal said. "All of the pieces are falling in place," he said.

McChrystal said U.S. ground troops had not yet engaged Republican Guard units in direct combat, other than the attacks by Apaches. He said the helicopter attacks followed military doctrine -- combining deep strikes with psychological operations and, soon, artillery fire -- to weaken the Medina division before the Army's 3rd Infantry Division hits it full force.

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

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