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American Units Meet Opposition, Still Ahead of Schedule

WASHINGTON -- Coalition forces are encountering greater Iraqi resistance as they move closer to Baghdad, U.S. Central Command officials said today.

News reports indicate that American units are engaging Iraqi battalions. Central Command officials said units with the 3rd Infantry Division have captured a bridge over the Euphrates River at Nasiriya.

Capturing the bridge solves a potentially tough problem for the Americans since the Euphrates River is just under a mile wide, officials said. While the Army has bridging units, taking the highway bridge substantially eases the problem. U.S. forces will not have to find a crossing place suitable for placing military bridging equipment.

News reports also said another 3rd Infantry Division unit is within 100 miles of the Iraqi capital. Other reports indicate that elite Iraqi forces are using human shields to protect themselves from the Americans.

U.S. Central Command officials announced that a 3rd Infantry soldier was killed and anther wounded March 23 in a vehicle accident inside Iraq. The soldiers' identities are being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

One 101st Airborne Division soldier died and 12 were wounded in an attack on a command tent at Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait, said DoD officials. Army criminal investigators are detaining an American soldier in the incident where a hand grenade reportedly was slipped into a headquarters tent, CENTCOM officials said.

Command officials also said a U.S. Patriot missile battery in Kuwait might have engaged a Royal Air Force aircraft returning from a mission over Iraq. The crew is missing. The incident is under investigation, said RAF Group Captain Jon Fynes during a briefing from Kuwait.

"I thought it was worth emphasizing that when something like this happens within a coalition, it doesn't do anything of harm to the coalition itself," Fynes said. "In many ways it brings us closer together. It's interesting that just before I came in, many of our coalition members asked me to express their sympathy to the families of the crew involved."

To date, eight Americans and 15 Britons have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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