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Karl Penhaul: Commanders optimistic

Karl Penhaul

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CENTRAL IRAQ (CNN) -- U.S. forces engaged members of Iraq's elite Republican Guard on Wednesday, part of a fresh coalition push toward Baghdad.

CNN's Karl Penhaul, who is embedded with the U.S. Army's V Corps, 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment, talked with anchor Daryn Kagan about the U.S.-led assault.

PENHAUL: Yes, the push toward Baghdad is most definitely on.

Overnight, the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division and, earlier this morning, elements of the 11th Aviation Regiment have been fighting up and around the city of Karbala. U.S. commanders here now tell me that the 3rd Infantry Division, parts of that, have pushed through Karbala and are now north of the city [which is 50 miles from Baghdad].

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As they move forward, U.S. forces are being supported in the air by Apache attack helicopters. It's not yet been confirmed whether the Iraqi forces are Republican Guard or regular army units.

But certainly the 3rd Infantry Division -- their tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles -- are now maneuvering beyond Karbala and toward the southern outskirts of Baghdad.

Commanders here say that the resistance in and around that city was somewhat lighter than initially suspected. That said, they have seen action against Iraq's more modern P-72 tanks. U.S. forces have also destroyed Iraqi artillery emplacements and they've destroyed armored personnel carriers.

North of Karbala and on the southern approaches toward Baghdad, Apache helicopters and Bradley fighting vehicles have engaged what [U.S. military sources call] Iraqi "technical vehicles."

These are civilian pickups mounted with machine guns. Those have been driving south on a highway to try to engage U.S. forces and have met with a sharp response from the U.S. forces.

U.S. commanders here on the ground are very optimistic of developments at this stage and are saying things are progressing a little quicker than they had initially expected.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting, in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details.

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