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War Strategy: Coalition planners 'learning as we go'

Retired Air Force Col. Mike Turner
Retired Air Force Col. Mike Turner: "There's no question that we have a very detailed, patient, deliberate plan to reduce Baghdad and overthrow the regime."

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•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
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(CNN) -- The experience of coalition troops in the cities of southern Iraq will help military planners as U.S.-led forces close in on Baghdad, retired Air Force Col. Mike Turner told CNN on Friday.

Coalition officials expect Iraqi leaders will try to draw U.S.-led troops into Baghdad, where urban warfare could leave many civilians dead. The Pentagon, though, said the United States might isolate Baghdad and render the Saddam Hussein regime "irrelevant" without large-scale urban warfare.

Early Saturday, huge explosions and multiple flashes were heard and seen over the largely blacked-out Iraqi capital, hours after hundreds of Iraqis fled as the U.S.-led coalition seized its airport.

"There's no question that we have a very detailed, patient, deliberate plan to reduce Baghdad and overthrow the regime," Turner said. "With the developments in the south, we're learning as we go to a certain extent."

Coalition progress in Nasiriya, Najaf and Basra could provide a template for taking control of Baghdad, Turner said.

"I have every expectation that we will follow the plan," he said. "We will all do it in a very deliberate way, too. And we will only move when [top U.S. commander] General [Tommy] Franks is ready for us to move."

The biggest concern, Turner said, will be civilian casualties.

"Everything in an urban-warfare environment is more dangerous and more complex," Turner said. "There are simply too many options for the enemy to pursue ... Friendly fire incidents can increase. Civilian deaths can increase."

The retired Air Force colonel said controlling Baghdad's airport was "crucial."

"It allows us to establish an air bridge and respond much more fluidly and flexibly with cargo aircraft to bring in heavy equipment, to bring in more troops, to bring in humanitarian supplies, food, fuel -- the whole gamut of what's necessary to feed a military operation."

With U.S. forces about 10 miles from the city center at what has been renamed Baghdad International Airport --from Saddam International Airport -- Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf warned that Iraqi forces would carry out an attack overnight that would be "not conventional."

"As the options of the remnants of the regime become fewer and fewer, their threshold to use unconventional means, up to and including weapons of mass destruction, becomes lower," Turner said. "Simply because they don't have the resources to be able to respond to the tightening noose around their necks and around Baghdad."

Meanwhile Friday, hundreds of regular Republican Guard troops surrendered to U.S. Marines between Kut and Baghdad, U.S. Central Command said. One spokesman put the figure at 2,500.

"When you have mass desertions of that magnitude by one of their elite units, that could be a definite signal that things are really starting to collapse inside the regime," Turner said.

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