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Did U.S. Underestimate Iraqi Fighters?

Did U.S. Underestimate Iraqi Fighters?

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CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar (AP) -- The U.S. Central Command said Friday that American military planners had not underestimated Iraqi troop strength and fighting ability in preparing the invasion of Iraq, challenging the assessment of a U.S. general in the field.

There has been strong resistance by Iraqi paramilitary forces as U.S. troops have moved north from Kuwait toward Baghdad. American forces sought at first to bypass towns in the south in the drive to reach the Iraqi capital quickly.

Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said Iraqi paramilitary fighters, known as Saddam's Fedayeen, have changed in and out of uniform, used civilians -- including children -- as human shields and were forcing Iraqi regular troops to fight on threats of death.

"Our enemy always has a vote in how the circumstances go. I don't think that we have necessarily underestimated (the enemy). No one can ever predict how battle will unfold," he said.

The Army's senior ground commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace of V Corps, told reporters of The New York Times and The Washington Post on Thursday that unexpected tactics by Iraqi fighters and stretched supply lines were slowing down the campaign.

"The enemy we're fighting is a bit different than the one we war-gamed against because of these paramilitary forces. We knew they were here, but we did not know how they would fight," Wallace said.

Brooks said 12 Ababil-100 missiles had been fired from Iraq to Kuwait since the war started and that all had been intercepted by U.S. Patriot missile batteries. He said coalition aircraft had destroyed a number of launchers and showed a video of one being hit near the central Iraqi town of Karbala.

The Ababil-100 missile is a truck-mounted multiple rocket launch system with a four-round capability. Each rocket fired by the Ababil reportedly carries a warhead capable of dispensing 300 anti-tank bomblets and 25 anti-tank minelets. It is designed to have a range of 81 miles to 87 miles, well below the limit set by the United Nations after the 1991 Gulf War.

Brooks said preliminary orders had been issued to Iraqi forces for the possible use of chemical weapons, but indicated the assessment was based on prewar intelligence and the recent finds of chemical suits, gas masks and other materials against chemical attack.

"We have seen indications through a variety of sources and reporting means that first orders have been given that a certain point chemical weapons may be used," Brooks said.

He said earlier reports suggested there might be "trigger lines" -- points near Baghdad, which if crossed by coalition troops, could prompt chemical attack.

Brooks said forces have discovered evidence suggesting Iraqi troops have moved chemical weapons south from Baghdad.

"I have not seen anything that says an order has been given to fire," Brooks said.

Central Command has previously reported that gas masks, chemical suits and nerve gas antidotes have been found in captured Iraqi position, including a hospital near An Nasiriyah.

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

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