British commander says coalition underestimated Iraqi resistance
The Jerusalem Post

29 March 2003

British forces are "nowhere near" capturing the key city of Basra in southern Iraq, a British commander said Friday, adding that coalition forces underestimated the level of resistance by forces loyal to President Saddam Hussein.

Basra was "clearly nowhere near yet in our hands," British military spokesman Col. Chris Vernon told Sky News television. "We have no way at the moment of getting humanitarian aid into Basra.

"But as we begin to pressurize Basra and begin to dominate it militarily, it is fixed in military terms," Vernon said from southern Iraq. "Nothing can move in or out militarily. We should move toward a day when we can get humanitarian aid into Basra."

British troops ringing Iraq's second city have come up against stiff resistance over the last week, particularly from militia linked to the ruling Baath party. Aid agencies say lack of drinking water and medical supplies mean Basra's 1.3 million people are facing a humanitarian crisis.

Vernon suggested that although British forces had little difficulty overcoming regular Iraqi troops, they were finding the paramilitary forces harder to beat than anticipated.

"Where we come across the Iraqi army, our assessment was they are defeated very, very easily conventionally," he said. "The irregular resistance, we thought there was going to be some. It's probably true to say, its level of resolve and numbers might have anticipated our initial assessments."

Gen. Michael Jackson, the British chief of general staff, rejected reports that coalition forces had become "bogged down" by weather and greater than expected resistance from Iraq.

"Armies cannot move forever without stopping from time to time, to regroup, to ensure that their supplies are up and even, believe it or not, soldiers need a bit of sleep from time to time," Jackson said at a briefing in London.

"So this `bogged down' is a tendentious phrase. It's a pause whilst people get themselves sorted out for what comes next."

Basra has so far been the main engagement for British forces in the US-led operation to dislodge Saddam and rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.

Twenty-two British troops have been killed so far, including two soldiers ambushed last Sunday and whose dead bodies were shown on television earlier this week.