- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

Stiffer-than-expected resistance by paramilitary fighters in southern Iraq has forced the United States to change its war plans by diverting additional air and land forces for what is now an anti-guerrilla mission.
There are also complaints coming from the field about tactics used in at least two early battles. One involved Monday's Apache helicopter attack that was repulsed by the Republican Guard's Medina Division south of Baghdad. The Iraqis shot down one Apache, nicked and punctured scores of others, and took two aviators as prisoners of war.
A U.S. official said Army commanders ordered the assault without air cover from Air Force or Navy strike aircraft, which could have helped subdue the ground fire against the 11th Helicopter Attack Regiment.
In conquering the port town of Umm Qasr, ground forces attacked several guerrilla strongholds without calling in air strikes that could have made storming the buildings unnecessary, this official said.
"The ground guys are not always calling in air strikes," said the U.S. official.
Overall, the allied war plan banked on the prospect of military walk-overs in southern Shi'ite strongholds of Umm Qasr, Basra and Nasiriyah. A quick liberation would allow the full fury of a British-American invasion force to march to Sunni-controlled Baghdad.
Instead, British troops and Marines are now in the second week of trying to subdue Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, and its fanatical infiltration of Fedayeen Saddam.
"It was planned to, in fact, to bypass Basra early on," Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said this week.
"Now we'll go to the next phase once we've got the environmental situation under control … Now we'll look at working those Fedayeen Saddam and Republican Guard that may have come down in civilian uniforms to keep a gun in the back of the other people. And we'll start working that. And that's what you're seeing right now."
The coalition is now fighting a two-front war, but not in the geographic locations it sought.
The plan had called for bypassing the southernmost towns and then creating a central front south of Baghdad. A northern front would be created by troops descending from Turkey. But the Turkish parliament voted against ground troops. The "Plan B" northern front promised by the Pentagon has not yet materialized.
Commanders also have been forced to redirect aircraft to strike targets in the south and to provide more security for a 200-plus-mile supply line stretching from Kuwait to Karbala. Reporters in the field say guerrillas have peppered the convoys with sniper fire.
"We are continuing to secure supply lines," said Army Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, vice director for operations for Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Still, Gen. McChrystal said yesterday the unconventional enemy is not diverting the coalition's focus from the main objective Baghdad.
"I can be unequivocal on that. It has not thrown the force off its plan," said the two-star general.
He said the fact that reporters in the field so quickly report such incidents "makes fairly limited engagements, fairly limited incidents take on … greater perceived value than they are."
Iraqi irregulars, led by the ruthless Fedayeen Saddam ("Saddam's men of sacrifice"), ambushed an Army supply unit on Sunday, taking at least five soldiers prisoner and shooting others execution style. The paramilitary fighters are not just attacking convoys and defending cities, they are harassing front-line troops, too. They may be the ones that staged Tuesday night's unsuccessful rush against the Army's 7th Cavalry unit near Najaf.
Pentagon officials said in interviews that U.S. intelligence agencies underestimated the number of security personnel and paramilitary fighters Saddam Hussein sent south before the war began March 19.
They said that since the Shi'ite uprising after the 1991 Gulf War, the dictator has added layers of new security and paramilitary forces that rule the population with an iron fist.
"We said many, many times there were a lot of unknowns," said Victoria Clarke, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. "One of the unknowns was what is the role they will play, how widespread would it be, those sorts of things. But we also knew we have the plan and we have the people who are prepared to deal with it."
The sources also said intelligence missed the degree to which Saddam and his militarist son, Qusai, mixed these forces within the regular military and the civilian populations, thus not allowing them to surrender or to stage effective uprisings.
The Fedayeen have kept allied armor forces at bay outside Basra. Britain's 7th Armored Brigade, the storied "Desert Rats," remain dug in at the city's doorstep instead of heading north to Baghdad.
Inside the city, Fedayeen dressed in black shirts and hoods have killed civilians at point-blank range, threatened Iraqi soldiers with death if they surrender and moved military equipment around mosques, hospitals and schools, according to reports from opposition Shi'ites.

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