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Clark: Ground commanders 'juggling priorities'

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

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(CNN) -- U.S. ground commanders are "juggling priorities" and encountering pockets of resistance that could extend the battle for Baghdad for "another few days," retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark said Tuesday.

Pentagon officials said Tuesday coalition forces controlled the skies over Iraq and continued to degrade Iraqi ground forces.

Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal said clashes with elements of the Special Republican Guard have resulted in "fierce fights" and "significant engagements" from which U.S. forces have emerged "very successful."

Clark, a CNN military analyst, said Iraqi forces were still "full of fight" in the battle for Baghdad.

"It may take another few days because you have ... small pockets of resistance from place to place," Clark said. "There is some command and control over those groups.

"How centrally directed it is is impossible to say right now, but they are well armed," Clark said. "It's a matter of the U.S. forces maneuvering through the streets of Baghdad, locating them and bringing firepower to bear against them."

U.S. ground forces moving their way into the capital are trying to avoid three things, said Clark, a former NATO supreme allied commander.

"We're trying to avoid receiving casualties ourselves, because that's part of Saddam's strategy -- to hurt us badly," the retired general said. "He hasn't done that yet.

"We're trying to avoid needlessly tearing up the city, its infrastructure or hurting civilians. Some of that is going on, but as little as we can do.

"And, three, we're trying to do this as expeditiously as possible. So, for the commanders on the ground it's a matter of juggling priorities."

Clark said U.S. forces have "two huge advantages over the Iraqis."

"One, in terms of maneuverability. We can maneuver U.S. forces through that city and we are mobile. We can go by air. We can go on the ground," he said.

"And two, we have the combination of reconnaissance and firepower to be able to strike and destroy that which we can see -- and we can see a lot."

"What we don't have is a lot of infantry strength, and we don't want to take a lot of casualties or take a lot of time in doing this," Clark said. "So out of that mixing pot, the commanders have to pick the right tactical approaches."

Clark said Iraqi resistance has yet to suffer as a result of uncertainty over whether Saddam Hussein and his sons were killed in Monday's B-1 bomber strike that obliterated a building where U.S. officials suspected Saddam of huddling with several senior aides.

If they were killed, he said, "one would hope that it would reduce the willingness of the Iraqi regime, whatever is left of it, to continuing to fight. There's no indication that that has happened thus far."

Pictures showing U.S. troops around Baghdad not equipped with their full gear to protect against chemical and biological weapons likely indicated a decreased threat, he said.

"Just looking at the environment, the breakdown in Iraqi defense system, and the fact that we're in there in that urban area, we're not a good target for the use of chemical weapons even if Saddam could throw them at us, and I think the guess would be he can't at this point," Clark said.

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.


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