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Pentagon Says Circle is Closing Around Baghdad

Pentagon Says Circle is Closing Around Baghdad

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Pentagon-AP) -- U-S military officials won't reveal when the assault on Baghdad will come.

But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says U-S and British forces are in position in the north, south and west of the Iraqi capital. And, as he put it, "The circle is closing."

The defense secretary also says the Iraqi Republican Guard units "have been taking a pounding" from air and ground for several days -- and may not last much longer.

Two Iraqi Republican Guard units are at less than half their original strength after days of air and ground attacks by coalition forces, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday.

"We continue to work on them," said Air Force Gen. Richard Myers. He said Iraqi commanders have moved some troops around as reinforcements for the divisions that are the main force defending Baghdad.

"But some of them have been degraded to pretty low percentages of combat capability -- below 50 percent in at least two cases," said Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Appearing with Myers at a Pentagon briefing, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld denied that the United States is negotiating an end to war with Iraq. "The only thing the coalition will discuss with this regime is their unconditional surrender," he said.

Myers said serious combat is already under way against Iraqi forces, and there will be "bigger pushes that will be under way as soon as we're ready." But he gave no indication of the timing of an assault on Baghdad.

Rumsfeld also said that Saddam Hussein's government had been planting rumors that U.S. officials were talking to Iraqi leaders, with the goal of convincing Iraqi citizens that "the coalition does not intend to finish the job."

Speaking directly to the Iraqi public, Rumsfeld denied such rumors and accused Saddam's government of lying.

"There are no negotiations taking place," Rumsfeld said. "There is no outcome to this war that will leave Saddam Hussein and his regime in power."

Myers launched a spirited defense of the U.S. military strategy being used in Iraq, which has been accused of underestimating the extent of Iraqi resistance and sending in too few ground troops. Myers said military critics of the plan are "not being responsible members of the team that put this all together. ... It is not helpful to have those comments."

"This subject is not useful," Myers continued. "It's not good for our troops, and it's not accurate."

He said that Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the forces in Iraq, has received everything he sought in terms of resources and manpower.

U.S. military officials have said that American forces have enough bombs and missiles for the Iraq war, despite an intensifying air campaign. U.S.-led forces launched missiles early Tuesday toward Baghdad and the holy Shiite Muslim city of Karbala to the southwest. Among the targets, U.S. officials said, was a complex that serves as the office of the Iraqi National Olympic Committee, where Iraqi dissidents say Saddam's son Odai runs a torture center.

U.S. warplanes used more than 3,000 precision-guided bombs on Iraqi targets over the weekend, compared to about 5,000 in the previous week, said Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said coalition forces had fired more than 700 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Air Force Secretary James Roche said Tuesday there was no reason for concern about running low on the precision-guided bomb he called the "weapon of choice" in this war, the satellite-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition launched by Air Force and Navy planes.

"We don't see a problem there," Roche said in an interview with a group of reporters.

The United States can switch to other munitions if it runs low on the $600,000 Tomahawks, said Marine Col. Tom Bright of U.S. Central Command.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, announced that the number of American troops killed in the war so far has risen to 46, up three from Monday. Of the total, 38 are categorized as hostile deaths and eight as non-hostile. The non-hostile category includes troops who died in accidents, for example. Sixteen service members are listed as "duty status whereabouts unknown" -- a status similar to missing in action -- and seven are prisoners of war.

The Republican Guard units defending Baghdad include the Medina, Hammurabi and Baghdad divisions south of the capital and units of the Nebuchadnezzar division, which is normally stationed far north of Baghdad, which have moved south as reinforcements.

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

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