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ARLINGTON, Va. — Republican Guard forces dug into towns outside of Baghdad are bringing in new armor to replace tanks destroyed by U.S. forces, a senior Pentagon official said Monday — and this time the Iraqis are positioning their equipment close to civilian structures.

Maj. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, vice director for Operations on the Joint Staff, told Pentagon reporters that in the past several days U.S. troops have “significantly degraded” Republic Guard capabilities.

“We have seen a very significant weakening” of the Republican Guard,” McChrystal said. U.S. attacks “will hit a tipping point in some of those formations.”

Relentless bombardments by U.S. air assets is making it very difficult for the Republican Guard to get equipment in place, McChrystal said, noting that U.S. air assets flew more than 1,000 sorties on Sunday, many of which were directed at Republic Guard targets, as well as command and control facilities and other government buildings in Baghdad.

As a result of the air pounding, the Republic Guard units are “resupplying themselves with great difficulty at this point,” McChrystal said.

Some Republican Guard units are successfully reinforcing, however, and their commanders are parking the armored vehicles in densely populated areas.

“We think they’re trying to strengthen where they were” when U.S. forces destroyed ground assets, he said, putting their equipment “next to houses” and other civilian structures.

Such equipment “is still targetable, but it’s more difficult” to hit, McChrystal said.

McChrystal’s statements dovetail with reports in The Washington Post on Monday, which said Iraqi troops from the Medina Division are “positioned among farming villages” in the vicinity of Karbala, a sacred Muslim city that is located 50 miles southwest of Baghdad.

The Iraqi military’s penchant for putting military units in proximity to civilian areas is not a new development. Well aware of U.S. official statements that avoiding civilian casualties is a major priority for the U.S. military, Iraqi military leaders know that placing their equipment next to schools, houses, and mosques takes the option of wholesale airstrikes by heavy bombers off the table.

A steady stream of gun-mounted video clips provided by U.S. Central Command has shown that precision-guided munitions are accurate enough to take out a target such as a tank while leaving buildings in close proximity unscathed.

Tedious as “tank plinking” may be for pilots, mechanized ground units have a built-in Achilles heel that is common to any group of combat vehicles whose success depends on working in tandem: Even relatively minor losses can degrade the ability of the armored units to fight efficiently, McChrystal said.

“Once you start to take down … a mechanized or armor force … the systems start breaking down,” McChrystal said. “You don’t necessarily have to take them down to zero” before such a unit is no longer effective in combat.


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