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Dangerous road to Baghdad, generals warn

Shepperd and Grange
CNN military analysts retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd, left, and retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. David Grange

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(CNN) As coalition forces increase pressure on Baghdad, ground troops will have an increasingly difficult and dangerous drive toward Iraq's capital city.

Two CNN military analysts weighed in Saturday on the future of the ground war. Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. David Grange and retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd discussed the complications of taking prisoners, varied geography and the potentially threatening Iraqi Republican Guard.

Taking prisoners

GRANGE: Coalition forces want to take the smallest number of prisoners as possible because of the many resources needed to take care of them. Once you seize prisoners and take their surrenders, then you have to take their weapons, segregate them, silence them, move them, protect them, shelter them, and feed them.

So what coalition forces are trying to do is to get as many Iraqis as they can to go back to their homes. Maybe they simply pile up all the weapons, run over the weapons with a tank and keep moving toward Baghdad.

What the soldiers have to do on the ground is determine which prisoners or quitters pose a threat. You have to segregate them and make on-the-spot decisions, because you don't want people to pick up a weapon later and snipe at your resupply column.

At the same time, if you have captured a person who has rank, like the 51st Division commander, then you want to immediately get that person to the rear for a debriefing to get critical battlefield information

SHEPPERD: Taking care of the prisoners could bog the campaign down, but I think General Tommy Franks has war-gamed this situation. He's prepared to do both the small surrenders with the quick releases and the internment of those whom may have information about either weapons of mass destruction, oil field destruction or al Qaeda.

Geographic strategy

GRANGE: There's a lot of irrigation around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers -- many canals -- that will be obstacles. The threat is not the rivers themselves but the canals, some of which have substantial banks. Some areas in here are also very wet and marsh-like, which makes it difficult for heavy vehicles, like an Abrams tank, to pass through. Locations with bridges could pose dangers as well.

In the areas that have been drained, the ground is firmer, so you have the opportunity to move off-road. There is a series of roads running north-south that would aid forces as well.

But in each major irrigation area, where crops are growing, there's a village that coalition forces have to get through. The built-up areas, the number of villages, begin to increase as you are going north. There are a lot of chokepoints, a lot of obstacles, awaiting the forces on the move toward Baghdad.

As you work north, you'll be getting to several significant lakes west of Baghdad. These lakes are significant obstacles that would keep enemy and friendly forces from moving either west or east, toward or out of Baghdad. The lakes' positioning limits approaches.

Iraq may look like a vast desert at times, but the land gets much different as you get closer and closer to Baghdad.

Republican Guard threat

GRANGE: Located nearer to the capital city, the Iraqi Republican Guard forces are more motivated because they get benefits. They get paid regularly. The other troops don't get paid most of the time.

The Republican Guard forces also have the most modern equipment; they will have the T-72 tank instead of the older T-55s. They get more information and passes to go home and see their families. So, they're more motivated to support Saddam.

SHEPPERD: The outlying units of the Iraqi army are not the good forces. We often think of the Iraqi army as a ragtag army. Not so.

They have some good divisions in the Republican Guard, some very experienced commanders and even some good generals that have survived all of the coups in the country. The problem is that they are basically in a siege mentality from the Iran-Iraq war, and I think they won't understand what is going to come at them. I don't think anything they can do will change the final outcome.

But we can't really predict what the fighting reaction of all these forces will be. As we've already seen, some Iraqi forces will surrender without fighting, some will fight a little bit and then surrender, and others may fight to the death.

Probably the closer you get to Baghdad and the closer you get to the Special Republican Guard, which is the inner circle, you're going to have tougher and tougher slogging. Coalition forces have potentially ugly things coming and tough fighting to do.

Retired Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd served 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 now runs his own defense consulting firm called The Shepperd Group. He is one of CNN's military analysts.

Retired Brig. Gen. David Grange served in the U.S. Army for 30 years. He last served as commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division, the "Big Red One." In that position, he served in Germany, Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia. During his military career, Grange served as a Ranger and Green Beret. Grange is currently an executive vice president and chief operating officer at the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation in Chicago. He is one of CNN's military analysts, along with retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark 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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