[This story was updated on 04.02.03 at 9:29 p.m. ET.]
Bombing continued in Baghdad early Thursday local time, as U.S. ground forces pushed to within 15 miles of the Iraqi capital, where battles are expected to be particularly fierce.
About 40 satellite-guided bombs pounded heavily secured storage facilities in the area used by forces loyal to Saddam Hussein, U.S. Central Command said.
Earlier on Wednesday, day 15 of Operation Iraqi Freedom, coalition troops dismantled two divisions of Iraq's elite Republican Guard on their way to Baghdad, a city of 4.8 million people and the probable location of much of Hussein's administration as well as possibly the Iraqi president himself, according to CNN.
U.S. officials believe Hussein might use the chemical and biological weapons he's suspected of having now that U.S.-led forces are approaching the city. "There may be a trigger line where the regime deems [there is a] sufficient threat to use weapons of mass destruction," Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said in a press briefing. "It's a conceptual line across which there may be a decision made by regime leaders."
As for the ground battles, U.S. Marines destroyed the Baghdad Division of the Republican Guard that had been defending the city of Kut, and they captured a key bridge over the Tigris River, Brooks said. (Click for map of the battlefield.)
In Karbala, the Army's 3rd Infantry Division engaged the Medina Division of the Republican Guard and took control of a dam on the lake, which officials had feared the Iraqis might destroy in order to flood American troops. Karbala had been the last major urban center between the 3rd Infantry and Baghdad.
In the Pentagon's daily news briefing, Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal said both divisions of what had been among Iraq's strongest troops were no longer "credible forces" and posed considerably less of a threat.
For more than a week, U.S. forces have pounded Republican Guard positions from the air. U.S. planes have flown more than 18,000 sorties since the start of the war and dropped 3,000 precision-guided bombs over the weekend alone.
With the Republican Guard now weakened, the U.S. appears poised to launch a two-pronged ground attack from the south and southeast on Baghdad, although Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf on Wednesday denied that coalition forces were closely approaching the capital.
"They are lying every day, they are lying always, and mainly they are lying to their public opinion," Sahaf said, according to CNN. "What they say about a breakthrough is completely an illusion."
Early Wednesday in Nasiriya, Special Forces troops staged the successful rescue of an Army soldier who was taken prisoner of war by Iraqi paramilitary fighters. Pfc. Jessica Lynch, 19, of Palestine, West Virginia, was reportedly being held in a hospital that local paramilitary forces were using as a base. Lynch was flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where she is being treated for bullet wounds, broken legs and a broken arm, according to CNN. During the raid to rescue Lynch, U.S. troops recovered 11 bodies, possibly of American soldiers.
Lynch and six other members of the 507th Maintenance Company were taken prisoner on March 23. Iraqi television later showed a video of dead soldiers from the company, some of whom appeared to have been shot at close range. The Special Forces team, which consisted of Army Rangers, Navy Seals and Marines, reported suffering no casualties in the rescue.
Other recent key developments:
For the latest developments on the war in Iraq, check out CBSNews.com.
— Joe D'Angelo, Corey Moss and Ethan Zindler
For the very latest developments on the war in Iraq, check out CBSNews.com.