Col. Joseph Anderson, commander of the 101st Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade, has fought in four different Iraqi towns since his forces moved into Iraq, clearing out the Fedayeen paramilitaries from Kifl, Hillah, Najaf, and Karbala., Anderson sat down today with U.S. News Senior Editor Julian E. Barnes at his temporary command post north of Karbala.
Q: Was the Iraqi resistance in these cities what you expected?
A: It was what we expected... combination of militias/paramilitaries with a few Republican Guard. The only twist was in Karbala, with the Syrian [enemy prisoner of war] and reports of Palestinian, Yemeni, and other imported fighters. I am not sure I thought we would see those kinds of fighters so far south. But in the end, it is the same kind of fighters. Not necessarily well equipped, not overly skilled, but nonetheless capable enough of screwing up your operations.
Q: What happened to the Republican Guard? Even in Baghdad, military officials are wondering what happened to those forces.
A: I think you have a combination of two things. You have people who quit, went home, put their regular clothes on, and said, "That's it; I am done." Then you have the ones that collapsed further north... In the end, my guess is a lot of guys have said, "The fight is over."
Q: Will the paramilitaries re-emerge after the 101st has moved on to the next objective?
A: You are right, a lot of them are still there. But their weapon systems have been destroyed or removed; their communications have been destroyed or removed; their barrackstheir headquartersmany have been destroyed. You have to wonder how credible a force there really can be now. The question is how much will [civilians] protect themselves... now that the fear is gone.
Q: Before the war, we were told Americans would fight at night, when night-vision equipment would give the Army a huge advantage over Iraqi forces. But all of your battles have been during daylight. Why?
A: We are talking about large urban areas. In the end, [fighting during the day] reduced collateral damage and reduced civilian casualties. You can much more easily discern civilians during the daytime. At night... when there is movement between buildings, doors opening and closing, it is more difficult to identify civilians.
Q: Are Fedayeen fighters escaping during the night after an attack?
A: What can they really do? They have been crippled. They have no home anymore. Their ability to come back here and take control is almost completely gone.
Q: Will we see a similar role for infantry in Baghdad as we have seen in Najaf and Karbala?
A: It will be up to the infantry to clear out the enemy. It will be up to infantry to find the enemy, to destroy the enemy, and secure the area. Mechanized forces provide a hell of a punch. They provide shock ability. Armor can go in there and knock a lot of stuff out. But as you have seen in four different towns, it takes the infantry to rout out bad guys. And that is what will happen in Baghdad and anywhere else we go.