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More than 100,000 coalition troops in Iraq

WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- More than 300,000 coalition troops are deployed in support of combat operations, with more than a third of those inside Iraq, defense officials said March 31.

In addition, each day about 2,000 coalition servicemembers, "flow" into the theater each day, Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke said at a press conference.

Progress is also being made on the ground. "We've seized additional key bridges over the Euphrates River and conducted offensive operations to isolate As Samawa and An Nasiriyah in order to destroy irregular forces in those areas," said Army Maj. Gen. Stan McChrystal, a Joint Staff spokesman.

McChrystal said the air campaign is hammering the Medina, Hammurabi, Baghdad and Al Nida divisions of the Iraqi Republican Guard. Coalition air forces also hit command, control and communications targets and air defense sites in Baghdad and in northern Iraq.

Coalition forces have fired more than 700 Tomahawk land attack missiles and dropped more than 8,000 precision- guided munitions since Operation Iraqi Freedom began 12 days ago, McChrystal said.

These land and air strikes have degraded Republican Guard units significantly, he said. "I won't put an exact number on it, but I'll say very significant weakening of the forces," McChrystal said.

Republican Guard units are moving from north of Baghdad, the general said. "What we think we are seeing them do is move to reinforce other forces that have already been significantly degraded or 'attrited' at this point," he said. "So we think they're trying to strengthen where they were."

Republican Guard units are placing their armor and infantry vehicles in residential areas. "We continue to see them put (their armor) next to houses, all kinds of structures," he said. "It's still targetable, but it's more difficult (to hit)."

McChrystal said the coalition forces are positioning themselves "to try to destroy those divisions that stand in our way."

But the general pointed out that direct attack isn't the only way to degrade a unit.

"Once you start to take a certain percentage of a force like that down - particularly a mechanized or armor force - the systems start to break down," he said. The Republican Guard's supply system, maintenance system, command and control systems degrade and place other assets out or order.

U.S. officials still believe that the Iraqi regime has the capability and possibly the intent to use chemical or biological weapons on coalition forces. "We are targeting in a number of ways -- through information operations, through attacking launchers or capabilities, the different ways they could deliver those munitions -- to try, again, to prevent their use," McChrystal said.

Coalition forces are targeting suspected or potential storage sites very carefully so a bomb doesn't release a plume of chemical agents, he said.

Clarke said the war is going well and U.S. forces can be relieved about the things that haven't happened.

"Unlike the Gulf War, no Iraqi Scud missiles have been fired into Israel," she said. "Unlike the Gulf War, the oil fields have not been turned into a huge bonfire, wreaking enormous economic and environmental damage."

There has not been a humanitarian crisis or mass exodus of refugees. "There has, as yet, been no Iraqi use of weapons of mass destruction," she said.

"Of course, bad things may still occur," she continued. "Some of the toughest fighting, as we have indicated, may well lie ahead. But the fact that none of the predicted disasters has happened yet is good news in itself, and testimony to the progress we're making." (Courtesy American Forces Press Service)

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