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Guerrilla tactics vs. US war plan

Casualties mount for US as fedayeen fighters mix among civilians and gird for urban warfare.

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From the beginning, US war commanders have said the fight for regime change in Iraq was going to be tough, risky, and potentially costly. "Ground truth," as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld likes to put it, is proving them right in the form of coalition casualties and captured soldiers.

Some of the toughest Iraqi forces - Republican Guard units and the paramilitary "Fedayeen Saddam" - have come out to meet US and British forces, mingling among civilians, attacking supply-and-maintenance units, and forcing the kind of close-in urban fight the US and its allies had hoped to avoid.

"We are moving from shock and awe to attrition warfare," says Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner (ret.), referring to the kind of hard-slogging combat that tries to wear down an opponent. "If the pattern continues, this could be a tough fight."

Coalition commander Gen. Tommy Franks acknowledges "sporadic resistance in a number of places [from] isolated units and enclaves." But he insisted in a briefing at command headquarters in Qatar Monday that "our forces are moving in ways and places that we believe are just exactly right in accordance with a plan that is designed to be flexible."

And some analysts see the potential for longer-term gain in the fact that Saddam Hussein's more well-equipped, well-trained, and motivated units have challenged the US-led coalition far from Baghdad.

"If the Republican Guard is south of Baghdad and stays there, that's good news; we can fight them there with less risk to civilians," says defense analyst Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution. "It's more important than the bad news of a bit more southern resistance than we might have hoped for."

Other observers are more circumspect, some calling into question the basic US tactic of dashing 300 miles toward Baghdad with limited numbers of ground troops, trying to bypass cities along the way, and leaving noncombat support and supply units to follow along.


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