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Shepperd: Iraqi resistance faltering

Retired Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd
Retired Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd

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(CNN) -- With coalition forces moving within sight of Baghdad on Thursday, the presence and existence of Iraq's major armed divisions were questionable.

At U.S. Central Command headquarters in Qatar, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks cited "increasing evidence the regime cannot control forces ... throughout most of the country" because of airstrikes against command and control facilities.

Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd, a CNN military analyst, evaluated the situation.

SHEPPERD: We are seeing a repeat of what we have seen the last several days -- as you move up these roads, people popping up from sniper holes, and as you pass intersections and vegetation, people popping up with small-arms fire. But we've seen no large vehicles such as enemy tanks.

When you come up on that situation, what you normally do is keep moving. You fire as you go in your armored personnel carrier, but you don't let it stop you. Then you go back and mop up afterward.

The coalition troops are in an area right now where, if the Iraqis want to fire chemical weapons, the Iraqi forces need to have a large area to fire the weapons from artillery or rockets. But it appears the movement of coalition forces is so rapid it may be able to bypass any areas where the Iraqis had planned to employ these weapons of mass destruction.

If so, that would be a very good thing.

We reportedly have the Medina and Baghdad divisions so damaged they are not effective. There are four other Republican Guard divisions: the Hammurabi, al Nida, Nebuchadnezzar and the Adnan. We don't know where they are, but there is no indication they have a good command and control.

These forces could simply melt away -- take off their uniforms and go back into the population -- and we wouldn't see the organized resistance we were told we'd have to worry about. The coming hours will be key in deciding what will happen, whether it be organized resistance or Iraqi forces melting away and collapsing.

Perhaps they have been called back into Baghdad to "set a trap," but if that is the case, the Iraqis have to be able to command and control -- and lead and direct -- the movement of the divisions. From a coalition standpoint, there is air power covering that area; so, every time they try to move, they're being hit by air, and of course their communications are being intercepted.

The coalition may be simply destroying the capability for the divisions to talk among themselves, and now there is no clear leadership telling them what to do. So they may be left to their own devices.

It appears to me that what is developing is a rapid collapse and implosion of the Iraqi forces. But it is still too early to say that for sure. There could be surprises and hard fighting in the vicinity of Baghdad.

Retired Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd was in the U.S. Air Force for almost 40 years and flew 247 fighter combat missions in Vietnam. He served at the Pentagon as the Air National Guard commander and was directly involved in planning the use of Air National Guard forces during the Persian Gulf War. Shepperd runs a defense consulting firm called The Shepperd Group. He is one of CNN's military analysts, along with retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark and retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. David Grange. Their briefings will appear daily on CNN.com.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.


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