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Clark: 'Boots on the ground' win battles

Retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark
Retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark

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(CNN) As the Army's 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry, maneuvered outside Baghdad, its soldiers encountered sporadic but fierce pockets of resistance.

Retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, now a CNN military analyst, broke down what happened when U.S. forces met up with some unexpected resistance and engaged in a tank skirmish.

CLARK: The Army Alpha troop was set up in a blocking position -- a defensive position -- to protect the advance of the cavalry squadron. Then they received word there was an enemy battalion three or four kilometers away from them.

They went into an advance mode down a six-lane highway. They saw the Air Force taking on the enemy battalion that was on one side of the road. But as they got down there, they found another battalion the Air Force apparently hadn't seen on the other side of the road, which they took on.

This battalion was in a prepared defensive position. It had wire out in front of it. It had berms, little earthen embankments, around the tanks. The tanks were only visible from the turrets up. It sounds like the Iraqis had done a pretty good job in laying out the defense. They had sighted in some indirect fire to cover the approach to the position. And the gunners were within range of their weapons systems on the road.

But one of the things they have always said in the U.S. Army is that our battles are really won at the soldier level, at the crew level -- platoon, company. Above that level, the leader sets the conditions for victory. He can sure lose the battle, but he can't win it. It's won at the bottom. It was won when those tank commanders, Bradley commanders and gunners put steel on target.

It was lost for the Iraqis when they couldn't engage. There were a lot of other reasons why they lost it. But U.S. troops met them face-to-face and slugged it out. The U.S. troops were within range of their weapons, and the Americans were just better.

'They're finding the enemy'

Was it logical, what the Iraqis did? I think logic is in the eye of the beholder, to some extent. One could construct reasons why the battle unfolded as it did, but they wouldn't be reasons that U.S. forces would have adopted.

Yesterday, the 7th Cavalry hit two tank battalions and was probed by these armored vehicles. This day was the day after, supposedly, the coalition smashed through the Medina Division and destroyed it. The real question is: What did the coalition bomb, how much of that division did it destroy and how much of it is still left out there?

What I'm hearing from the Pentagon and from other people is that one of the reasons the coalition forces are probing and still working our way around Baghdad International Airport [called Saddam International Airport by Iraqis] and elsewhere is because they are doing the kind of reconnaissance that can only be done by soldiers on the ground. They are actually moving forward. They're finding the enemy. They're bringing fire against them.

There is a limit still to what can be done from the air alone. You've got to have those boots on the ground, or in this case, tank and Bradley tracks.

Gen. Wesley Clark was NATO supreme allied commander from 1997 to May 2000. He was also the commander in chief of the U.S. European Command. In 1999, he commanded Operation Allied Force, NATO's military action in the Kosovo crisis. Clark later wrote about his experiences in "Waging Modern War." He is one of CNN's military analysts, along with retired Brig. Gen. David Grange and retired Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd. 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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