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CENTCOM charts Operation Iraqi Freedom progress

WASHINGTON -- All of Iraq is a battlefield and coalition forces are challenging the heart of Iraqi resistance around Baghdad, Air Force Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart said today in Qatar.

Renuart, U.S. Central Command operations chief, said despite bad weather, coalition forces are making adjustments and progressing in all areas.

Brig. Gen. Vince Brooks, U.S. Central Command's vice operations chief, showed a videotape of special operations forces parachuting to take a desert landing strip. He said coalition land forces continue advancing north of Nasiriyah and defeated an enemy attack north of Basra.

Renuart said coalition forces had suffered casualties in those actions, but would not go into detail until next-of-kin notification is complete.

"We inflicted more (damage) on the enemy and destroyed a number of their tanks, artillery pieces and troop formations," he said. "We are on track and we'll deal with these regular and irregular forces wherever we find them."

Winds clocked close to 100 miles per hour, and rain has complicated the situation for coalition forces. "However, that hasn't stopped us," Renuart said. "Our precision all- weather weapon systems and an aggressive integrated operations plan by our air and land components have allowed coalition forces to maintain and increase pressure on the regime on all fronts."

So, for example, if Apache helicopters cannot fly, then the mission can go to other aviation assets, he said.

The fighting around Basra highlights irregular Iraqi efforts mixing with regular forces, Brooks said. "The attack began with the arrival of several (Iraqi) tanks, which were repelled," he said. "Shortly after the battle was joined, a bus -- a civilian bus, with people in civilian clothes -- and several civilian vehicles joined the battle. Out of those vehicles came Fedayeen Saddam in civilian clothes, with weapons. The attack was repelled."

Renuart said these pockets of "almost terrorist-type forces" are challenging British and American service members in and around Basra and further south. He defended coalition intelligence estimates.

"We expected the Iraqi regime to fight," he said. "We didn't expect that it would be any kind of an easy operation."

Renuart said the air component would fly more than 1,400 sorties over Iraq today, paying particular attention to the Iraqi Republican Guards and surface-to-surface missile sites. They will also target key command and control positions.

Over the weekend, news reports claimed Russian companies had supplied Iraq with prohibited high-tech equipment such as night-vision goggles and Global Positioning System satellite jammers. Secretary of State Colin Powell told Fox News March 24 he had contacted the Russians about the equipment and they are looking in to it.

"It's the kind of equipment that will put our young men and women in harm's way," Powell said. "It gives an advantage to the enemy, an advantage we don't want them to have, and that's our concern."

During the briefing, Renuart was asked about the Russian- supplied GPS jammers.

"We have noticed some attempts by the Iraqis to use a GPS- jamming system that they have procured from another nation," Renuart said. "Actually, we've been able to identify the location of each of those jammers, and I'm happy to report that we have destroyed all six of those jammers in the last two nights' airstrikes." The jammers, he said, had no effect.

"In fact," he continued, "we destroyed one of the GPS jammers with a GPS(-guided) weapon."

Renuart said the coalition is building prisoner of war camps inside Iraq. Coalition officials said there are about 3,000 Iraqi POWs. "(We've) been in discussions with the International Committee of the Red Cross to ensure that they will have full access to those facilities," he said.

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