k | 31.03.2003 23:40
US prepared to pay 'high price' in lives: official
April 1 2003, 7:32 AM
US President George W Bush said today that US-led forces are moving closer to Baghdad, and victory, "day by day". His comments came as a senior officer at Central Command warned that the US was prepared to pay a "very high price" in terms of casualties to capture Baghdad and oust Saddam Hussein.
"Many dangers lie ahead, but day by day we are moving closer to Baghdad. Day by day, we are moving closer to victory," he told a crowd of around 1,000 Coast Guard officers and enlisted personnel.
Frustrated by media reports that the military campaign has bogged down amid tougher-than-expected resistance and overstretched supply lines, Bush listed a litany of successes for the US-led forces pushing ever-deeper into Iraq.
"It has been 11 days since the major ground war began. In this short time, our troops have performed brilliantly, with skill and with bravery. They make us proud," said the US leader, who wore a blue US Coast Guard windbreaker.
Bush said US-led forces have taken control of most of western and southern Iraq; seized key bridges; asserted their domination over Iraqi skies; and have begun delivering tonnes of humanitarian aid to Iraq's beleaguered people.
Moreover, US military action has thwarted Saddam's plans to destroy Iraq's oil fields and taken over Iraqi missile launch areas, said the president, who also delivered a message to people struggling under Saddam's rule.
"We're coming with a mighty force to end the reign of your oppressors. We are coming to bring you food and medicine and a better life. And we are coming and we will not stop, we will not relent until your country is free," he said.
And Bush also had a message for doubters at home who worry that the military campaign against Iraq has blunted the edge of the war on terrorism he declared after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
"The dying regime in Iraq may try to bring terror to our shores. Other parts of the global terror network may view this as a moment to strike, thinking that we're distracted. They're wrong," he declared.
"We will end the Iraqi regime, an ally of terrorist groups and a producer of weapons of mass destruction," vowed Bush.
A senior official of the US Central Command said today that the United States was prepared to pay a "very high price" in terms of casualties to capture Baghdad and oust President Saddam Hussein.
"We're prepared to pay a very high price because we are not going to do anything other than ensure that this regime goes away," the official told reporters, adding that US casualties in the 12-day-old war had so far been "fairly" light.
"If that means there will be a lot of casualties, then there will be a lot of casualties," said the official, who spoke on condition that he not be named.
Referring to nights in World War II "when we'd lose 1000 people", he added: "There will come a time maybe when things are going to be much more shocking."
The official, addressing reporters at the Central Command's forward headquarters in Qatar, said the net result of reporting by correspondents with the invasion force was creating a false impression of "constant, ferocious battle".
Such reports, he said, created the impression of a much more difficult campaign than it was. "That's not what's going on out there," he added. "It's military action at places primarily of our time and choosing."
The official said there were "an awful lot of ominous signs" that Saddam had prepared his forces to use banned chemical weapons. He listed chemical detection equipment, protection suits, new masks and atropine injectors used to protect against nerve agents, all of it found on the battlefield.
"To me, as a soldier, it indicates that he was preparing his troops for the possibility of chemical operations," the official said. "Will people hesitate to act on those orders? I can only say, I hope so."
The official predicted Saddam would probably mount a "layered" defence of Baghdad, with his best-trained and best-equipped troops, the Republican Guard, arrayed on the outskirts of the city.
An inner cordon would most likely include officials of Saddam's ruling Baath party, militia and Republican Guard infantry, he added.
The official said the United States was paying a price for having failed to protect uprisings by Shi'te Muslims in Iraq's south and Kurds in the north after a US-led alliance drove Iraqi invaders from Kuwait in 1991.
"I think we bear a certain responsibility for what we didn't do in 1991 and it's playing itself out on the battlefield," he said. "I mean you let somebody down once, you don't want to let them down twice. I guess I'm being too candid."
The official said the United States had underestimated the fear instilled by Saddam loyalists and the difficulty Iraqis would have in revolting until Saddam was known to be out of the picture.
"We Americans aren't very good at judging what a totalitarian regime looks like, does, acts like," he said. "I just don't think we're very good at it."
But he said he sensed anti-Saddam popular uprisings were "near" in the southern city of Basra and in Nasiriyah, midway to Baghdad. "I think once the tipping point comes, it starts to spread," he said.
AFP and REUTERS