CENTCOM Briefing


Sunday  March 30, 2003 04110PST

GEN. FRANKS: Good afternoon. We're in the 11th day of combat in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and a growing coalition of nearly 50 nations stands one day closer to liberating Iraq and removing the threat of the regime's weapons of mass destruction. Every day we diminish the regime's ability to command and control its forces. You've all seen that. And every day we erode the regime's grip over the Iraqi people. We're in fact on plan. And where we stand today is not only acceptable in my view, it is truly remarkable.

Let me take a minute and review with you where we stand in terms of operational objectives.

First, the coalition has secured the oil fields in the south from regime destruction, which they attempted, and this vital resource has been preserved for Iraq's future.

Second, we have air and ground freedom of action in western Iraq, working to protect Iraq's neighbors from potential regime use of weapons of mass destruction.

Third, our air forces work 24 hours a day across every square foot of Iraq. And every day the regime loses more of its military capability.

Fourth, we're now staging and conducting air operations from a number of Iraqi airfields which are now under coalition control.

Fifth, coalition forces have attacked and destroyed a massive terrorist facility in the last 48 hours in northern Iraq, and ground forces, as we speak, are exploiting the results of that strike.

Sixth, the entire coastline of Iraq has been secured and her ports stand today as a gateway for humanitarian assistance for the Iraqi people. As you know, the first humanitarian shipments have arrived in convoys, and additional shipments are on the way.

This morning, I received a report that a member of free Iraqi forces in fact yesterday met his mother for the first time in 12 years in the town of Umm Qasr. Somewhat later yesterday, two men stepped forward to surrender to coalition forces. These two men who surrendered are in fact brothers who were trained in Baghdad to be suicide bombers and were sent to Umm Qasr by the regime to kill American and UK forces. Amazingly, when they heard free Iraqi forces speaking in Arabic in the south, they chose to fight for the future of Iraq rather than fighting for this dying regime.

Seventh, the coalition has in fact introduced a very capable ground force into northern Iraq. These forces, along with large numbers of special operations troops, have preventing the rekindling of historic feuding which we've seen in years past between the Turks and the Kurds, and these forces do in fact represent a serious northern threat to regime forces.

Eighth, a large and capable ground force has attacked to within 60 miles of Baghdad on multiple fronts, and they currently maintain readiness levels of their combat systems above 90 percent mission capable. As we speak, elements of that ground force are continuing the attack. The regime is in trouble, and they know it.

Ninth, in the past 24 hours, I have received report that coalition forces are working with local Iraqis in the city of An Nasiriyah, and the death squads that operate -- the squads of gangs, regime gangs that operate in that city, have come under fire. The Iraqis in and around An Nasiriyah are helping us once again as we speak by providing records on Ba'ath Party officials and members of the regime attempting to operate in and around An Nasiriyah. Similarly, we see from day to day Iraqis coming to our forces, linking up with free Iraqi forces, discussing the past, and wanting to discuss their future.

Gains, considerable to be sure, not without cost. Gains in war never come without cost. We honor those that have fallen. We mourn their loss with their families.

As I've said before, this military campaign will be like no other before. We will attack the enemy, have and will continue to attack the enemy, at times and at places of coalition choosing. Sometimes simultaneously, sometimes sequentially.

Let me talk for just a minute about the road ahead. We'll continue to surprise the enemy by attacking at all times of day and night all over the battlefield. Coalition forces will continue to advance on Baghdad while the Iraqi retime will continue to lose control of the country. The regime will continue in the days ahead to locate military assets near civilians, near cultural sites, near hospitals, near schools. And the regime may well attempt to destroy the Iraqi infrastructure. We'll do our best to protect the citizens of Iraq, while the regime does its best to use them as human shields. Our targets will remain the Iraqi regime, not the Iraqi people, and we will continue to provide humanitarian assistance, and we will continue to open the gateways in the south, and in the west, and in the north.

As many of you know, we have in fact placed water and millions of meals and medicines in stock to go to the Iraqi people, and delivery has already begun. This campaign, as I started my remarks, has made remarkable progress. Lots remains to be done. The days ahead will see ups and downs -- the ups and downs of war. We don't need to remind ourselves that the outcome has not been, is not, and will not be in question.

I'd be pleased to take your questions. Sir.

Q General, Jim Wolf (ph), Reuters. Did your original plan call for more troops on the ground before launching the invasion? And do you now expect that the length of the war could stretch well into the summer?

GEN. FRANKS: In response to your first question, no, I did not request additional troops before the beginning of what you refer to as the -- as the ground war.

In response to your second question, one never knows how long a war will take. We don't know. But what we do know is that this coalition sees this regime gone at the end of that war -- also sees the Iraqi people having a chance at freedom, which they don't have right now.


Q Yes, General Franks, Tom Mintier for CNN.

GEN. FRANKS: Sure, Tom.

Q Yesterday in the 3rd Infantry Division, there was apparently a suicide bomber that killed four soldiers there.


Q Currently, there is an investigation going on in Kuwait where apparently a pick-up truck with a civilian crashed into some soldiers right outside the PX.


Q What can you tell us about this latest incident, and how concerned are you about these types of activities?

GEN. FRANKS: I can't tell you anything at all, Tom, about any linkage between -- between the two. The second event, the one up in Kuwait, I found out about only a short time ago, and so I'm not sure. It's obvious that the modus of the second attack is not at all like the modus of the first, and so one wouldn't want to speculate about any sort of connection.

I'll talk for just a second about the first one. It's not at all remarkable, I think, that a dying regime would undertake such tactics as suicide bombers. Remarkable, though, is the connection all the way to the top of the Iraqi regime where, if my Arabic serves me well, that attack was just endorsed by those in power in Baghdad. It's remarkable.

I'm reminded of times past, and the presentations before the United Nations and the Security Council about the connections between terrorism and this regime. And we see a suicide bomber attack yesterday, a pure means of terrorism, and then we see the regime claiming credit for that. Remarkable. So, in the days ahead, before -- before one may be inclined to ask the question, what does that mean? Well, what it means is that all of our troops will exercise caution, will increase the standoff to civilian vehicles and the things that I think would be common sense to anyone in order to better protect against this particular kind of threat.

Please, sir.

Q Thank you, sir. (Inaudible) -- with ABC News. The Ansar al-Islam camp in northeast Iraq was identified by Secretary of State Colin Powell before the United Nations as a camp with possible terrorist connections, possible links to al Qaeda, and it was used as part of the administration's justification for war. Yet a special operations team's raid on the camp turned up, according to people who were there on the ground, none of the suspected ricin or any other weapons of mass destruction. Why is that? Was there bad satellite intelligence? And sir, if you continue to come up empty-handed in search of weapons of mass destruction, doesn't that present a big problem?

GEN. FRANKS: "Present a big problem," I wouldn't want to comment on because -- because it hasn't happened yet. I made reference a minute ago to the fact that coalition forces had attacked a very large terrorist camp -- in fact, massive would be a better way to describe it -- and had -- and had done that only recently. In fact, that -- the exploitation of that is in its very -- in it's very early stages. And there will be a lot of speculation and a lot of discussion, and so we'll see -- we'll see how it goes over the days ahead as that camp is exploited. It is -- it is literally huge. And so we have -- we have forces there now. They're doing their business, and we won't speculate on what will be the result of that.

Let me come back to you in a minute, please. Sir.

Q (Inaudible.) Abdullah Saffi (ph), Abu Dhabi TV. Sir, could you first -- I have two questions -- first can I just follow off of the question of my colleague on the -- yesterday's suicide attack in which at least four American soldiers killed. Can you just give us some -- some examples as how your tactics on the ground will change, and how these -- this change will affect your relationship with non-combatant Iraqis?


Q And my second question is, could you just tell us what's the situation right now in the Al Faw peninsula?

GEN. FRANKS: I'm sorry -- the second question again.

Q What's the situation in Al Faw peninsula?

GEN. FRANKS: Oh, yes.

Q Thank you.

GEN. FRANKS: Let me take the second question first, the -- what's going on on the Al Faw. Coalition forces in fact have been up and down the Al Faw. That the peninsula is under coalition control, and our patrolling activities will continue on the Al Faw.

Now, let me go to your first question. I mentioned a minute ago that one would expect a review of tactics, techniques, procedures, and so forth, associated with this business of potential suicide bombers. The question, well, what effect will this have on non-combatants? It doesn't change the rules that we use at all. You remember we've talked on a number of occasions about doing our very best to protect the non-combatants, to protect the Iraqis. This won't change that.

And I wouldn't speculate -- or I wouldn't I guess comment on the specifics that may be undertaken, but I think it's common sense to say that probably greater attention will be paid to the standoff of civilian vehicles, if that makes -- if that makes sense to you. For example, it's possible to either walk up to a vehicle in order to inspect the contents, or it's possible to cause the people in the vehicle to dismount the vehicle at a greater distance and approach for discussion. And so I'm not sure what the combination of all of this will be, but I don't anticipate an effect on the non-combatants here.


Q Nicole Enfield (ph) from Associate Press. In referring to the suicide bombing yesterday, you referred to it as terrorism. I'd just like a definition, because usually when you think of terrorism you think of attacks against civilians. The intended target was clearly military. You are in Iraq, they are resisting.

GEN. FRANKS: Sure, sure.

Q Are these kind of attacks not legitimate resistance?

GEN. FRANKS: Oh, I didn't comment at all about whether it's legitimate or not. I suppose that's eye of the beholder. What I said was that there is an incredible similarity between this type of suicide bombing and what we see generally characterized as being terrorist in terms of tactic, technique and procedure. So that's what I meant.


Q (Off mike.) General Franks. Seymour Hersh is apparently saying in an upcoming issue of the New Yorker magazine that Donald Rumsfeld specifically overruled you because you were seeking a delay when it wasn't possible to use the bases in Turkey. Can you comment on that? And can you also characterize how difficult life has been made for you by that Turkish decision?

GEN. FRANKS: I'm sorry, the latter part again?

Q Just how difficult the decision by the Turkish parliament not to use bases has been for you.

GEN. FRANKS: About the only comment I can make on the first part is that since I don't agree with the assertion, it's difficult for me to address it. In fact, we have talked, I think many of us over the course of time, about the way this plan was put together. And in fact there are very few people who know the truth of how this plan was put together. And as I mentioned to your colleague a little bit earlier, in fact no one has driven the timing of this operation except the operational commander. I think that's the way we'd have it. That's certainly the way that I would have it.

What -- but let me give one example of what I'm talking about. If militarily conditions are set, forces are put in place to conduct a military operation, and then the military commander looks at the enemy situation and determines there is an opportunity, I think here's an expectation that the military commander will seize that opportunity. And, in fact -- maybe I didn't go through it in any detail last time I talked to this group of journalists -- but that's exactly what we saw in southern Iraq. We saw an opportunity to achieve one of our operational objectives, which was to prevent the destruction of a big chunk of the Iraqi people's future wealth. So that decision was made by me, not influenced by anyone else.

I think there's another very instructive thing, and that instruction point would be to look to see how many -- we call them deployment orders -- how many deployment orders -- that is, the instruction from Washington to move additional people someplace. It would be instructive to see how many of those have been issued with respect to this theater over the past 11 days. I don't know of any.

Now, what that may imply is that the plan you see is in fact the plan we have been on. I can simply assure you that that is the truth.

Let me comment a bit more on the same subject, because I think it's much discussed. A lot of people over time take a look at any particular military operation and will judge that, or will comment that there is not enough special operations force capability involved in this plan, or perhaps will comment on any plan that there is excessive ground force committed to a plan, or perhaps that there is insufficient air power committed to the plan.

I've said on a number of occasions -- I've used the code. I've said, This plan will be unlike any I believe anyone expects. Just a moment on that. The very best planning, I believe, military planning that can be done, is military planning that assures ultimate success, but permits the possibility of early success. When it comes to making a decision about where in the process of a force build any particular activity may take place, it's always best to remember that the military commander should look for enemy vulnerability, should take advantage of such situations when he finds them; but, at the end of the day, should ensure that forces moving en train provide the capability under any circumstance to gain the victory. That is precisely what this plan is all about -- has been, continues to be. We have said at places and times of our choosing. That has been the case, and it remains the case. And those who would seek to find a wedge between the various people among us, the various leaders who have been party to this, will likely not be able to do so, because this has been worked and studied and, as we say, iterated over a long period of time. Its chief characteristic is flexibility, adaptability. It gives us the way and the force to respond to opportunities we see.

Please, ma'am?

Q Thank you, General. Kelly O'Donnell from NBC. We've spoken very little in recent days about the status of Saddam Hussein. There are some sources that indicate that within Iraq, there is talk of a possible exile plan to Syria. Do you know if that is credible? Do you believe it to be true? And, if so, do you believe that Saddam Hussein is dead or alive?

GEN. FRANKS: Kelly, I don't know whether it's credible or not. I've seen -- I've seen the open reporting on that. Don't know whether it's true or not. I don't know whether the leader of this regime is dead or alive. I don't know. Perhaps someone knows, but I don't know.

I will say this: I have not seen credible evidence over the last period of days since we started this operation that this regime is being controlled by the top, as we understand the top.

Please, sir?

Q Tom Aline (ph) from TUA (ph) Radio, Australia. Can I ask you, firstly, as a military commander, secondly as someone that was born in Midland, Texas, what your reaction would be if the greatest force, military force in the world, started marching towards your hometown? Much has been made of the tactics of the Iraqis. What would your reaction be, firstly, as a military tactician; secondly, as someone whose home it was?

GEN. FRANKS: It's difficult for me to relate it. Actually I appreciate the question, but it's difficult for me actually to relate it to Midland, Texas, because out around my home in Midland, Texas, there is no regime that is quite as ruthless and committed to that ruthlessness as the regime we see in Baghdad.

That aside, I think that it is -- I think it's a characteristic of the human being that the more isolated one becomes the more concerned one becomes. I believe that the movements, which I perhaps ineloquently described towards our objectives over the past 10 or 11 days, have indicated the degree of pressure that I believe this regime is under. I believe we'll simply wait and see what the psychology of the regime turns out to be in the face of this pressure.

I believe that it should cause all of us to be very much aware, as we have said, that this regime holds weapons of mass destruction. And we have absolutely no assurance that this regime won't use those weapons of mass destruction. We have absolutely no assurance that this regime will not continue as best it can to brutalize its own people and to destroy its own infrastructure. We'll remain on the course in order to accomplish the objectives that my boss laid out very early in this, and we'll succeed.

Please, sir?

Q General Franks, Jeff Schaeffer (ph), Associated Press Television News. There are numerous reports from the front that the advance on Baghdad -- there's a pause or a stall in the advance on Baghdad, anywhere ranging from six days to several weeks. Can you address that, please?

GEN. FRANKS: Sure. I think that the embedded reporting that is coming from inside Iraq, perhaps while we are speaking, would reflect that combat operations are continuing. They are continuing in the north, they are continuing in the west, they are continuing in the south, and they are continuing right around Baghdad.

There are two ways to look at this. One way is to discuss something that we call an operational pause, which means that military formations move and then they intend to take a breath, to take a pause, before continuing operations. There have been some pundits who have indicated that perhaps we are in an operational pause -- I think, sir, this is what you made reference to. It's simply not the case. There is a continuity of operations in this plan. That continuity has been seen. It will be seen in the days ahead, and it will be manifested on the battlefield in Iraq at points and times of our choosing. What I mean by that is sometimes air, sometimes ground, sometimes special forces, sometimes combination of two of the above, sometimes all three. That's the way we are going to fight this.

Sir, please?

Q Neil Tweedie from the Daily Telegraph in London. Just from your comments on flexibility, would it be fair to imply therefore that what you hope to do was take Iraq with about five divisions, but you are prepared if necessary to pump more heavy armor in to secure your objective; you were essentially being opportunistic; it doesn't look as though it's worked, and now you are waiting for more heavy stuff?

GEN. FRANKS: Sir, it's a great question. And actually it's almost right. But the implication is that one begins with a force and say, Oh-oh, wait a minute, wait a minute -- that isn't enough force, so perhaps we should bring some more force up to some level. Actually, that's why I said one should take a look to see how many forces have been requested since the initiation of this plan. You see, one says, Begin here and ask for more, if necessary. The other course says, Begin to flow this amount of force, and we'll stop it when it's no longer necessary. We're in the case of the latter rather than being in the case of the former.

Please, sir?

Q Paul Hunter from Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. We hear a lot of these briefings about some relatively specific number about leaflets being dropped and not so much about bombs. Can you tell us the total number of bombs in the 11 days, and then break it down? What is a reasonable number to say in terms of what -- which -- how many bombs have struck their targets versus as a percentage how many have missed?

GEN. FRANKS: Actually I either wouldn't or couldn't, and it may well be a combination of the both, because what I pay very close attention to is the amount of force in aggregate in any particular piece of geography inside Iraq. And the way I issue guidance by day is to reduce the amount of enemy capability in a given place over a period of time, and I measure results, some of which -- some of those results we call BDA, battle damage assessment. And I think you see some of that coming from here, and Washington and London and so forth.

There are a great many other factors associated with that, that have to do with the psychology on the face of battle. They have to do with isolation, which I mentioned earlier. They have to do with the destruction of command and control capability, our orders coming in to these enemy formations -- from where? What do those orders say? And so it is that sort of battle damage assessment that I pay attention to.

Just flip it and say it another way. What you described actually is what I refer to as input -- input, the number of hours that something happens, or the number of bombs dropped, or whatever. And I think most of us pay more attention to the output than we do to the input.

Please, sir?

Q (Off mike) -- from Taiwan. There's some reports from the front line, and I hope the general can clarify. Some say the soldiers cannot get enough food and (the like ?) of water is very limited (all it ?) can use. Was that true? And some criticize from the media say too ambitious in the very first beginning and might be too late now and too slow. And, well, lots of criticize from the United States, even here. So what's your reaction to this?


Q Thank you.

GEN. FRANKS: Well, I suppose that one of the blessings of all of you here is the free media, and the ability to form whatever view you choose. My belief is that it -- that the work over these past 10 or 11 days has been exactly as I described it, absolutely remarkable, both from the angle of the plan and the angle of the execution of the plan by people who are in positions -- let me respond to your first question -- where it is distinctly possible that Franks may be in the platoon or in the squad that's way out to the left or way out to the right, and in his perspective, in his view -- and I share it -- if he doesn't get his -- if he doesn't get his meal ready to eat today, or if he doesn't have three, or he doesn't have water, then you bet that's an impact on him, and I wouldn't expect it to be any other way.

And so in terms of the classes of supply that we look to, to be able to support an operation of this size, we have sufficient -- and have had sufficient stocks all across the battlefield of food, water, fuel, ammunition. But that doesn't necessarily mean that, you know, Sergeant Franks or Private Franks out there in that west-most squad, because he was involved in some serious combat, may not have gotten his fair share on a given day. And so from an operational perspective, no issues. The lines of communication are open, the stocks are in place, and the battlefield distribution out to every one of these tanks and every one of these troops doing his job on any given day either will or will not meet my expectation. And where we find that it doesn't meet our expectation, well, all the subordinate commanders go to work on it.

Let me go over here, please. Sir, please?

Q Gregory Castell (ph), BBC French Service. Sir, after weeks -- General, after weeks of airstrikes on Baghdad, how will you convince later the population, this huge population, that you came in as liberators? And that includes -- of course airstrikes includes civilian casualties.

GEN. FRANKS: Sure. I believe that there is an appreciation inside Baghdad and across the Iraqi population that is the same as the appreciation, sir, which you have. And you have it because you know that this is an incredible precise military operation. I think you have seen time and time and time again military targets fall while the civilian infrastructure remains in place. And it's the same with civilian lives. My experience is that the people of Iraq will welcome their liberation, to be sure.


Q Greg Gordon from Newsday. I'd like to take you back to something you said a second ago about the start of the timing of the ground campaign. Did I understand you to say that you made the decision to do that based on the fear that the oil wells would be torched? Is that sort of the primary motivation behind the timing? You also mentioned taking advantage of vulnerabilities. Can you shed some light?


Q Was there something you saw in southern Iraq beyond the oil fields? And just secondly, very quickly, some criticism also with all these troops in the pipeline --

GEN. FRANKS: A question quickly or my answer quickly? (Laughter.)

Q You can take as long as you want for the answer. With all these troops, all these deployment orders that have been signed, why aren't those Reserves closer to theater, versus Texas, Louisiana, various places like that?

GEN. FRANKS: Okay, I think that's a fair question. Let me take the last one first. As one takes a look at all the infrastructure around Iraq, and decides how best to put the mosaic -- I used that term once before, I'll stay with it -- together, then one takes a look at how much air power where and when, how much ground power where and when, special operations where and when. And so we are not interested in fits and starts. We are interested in a steady flow of force until I tell my boss you can stop it now." We simply haven't arrived -- we haven't arrived at that day.

There's been much discussion of the 4th Infantry Division, and some hand-wringing about, "Oh, well. Why was this force -- I mean, isn't it terrible that Turkey did not permit the ingress of this force? And so what has caused it to be out of position and why have you had to fight to get it --" I mean that's absolutely not true. The fact of the matter is that it was quite important, strategically and operationally, to have that very heavy force precisely where it was until the day it moved. And I wouldn't really speculate as to why. I'll leave it to each of you to determine why that was.

And now that force, to be sure, has been replaced in large measure by a very capable ground force with enormous leverage, with the ability to leverage enormous air power.

I'm sorry, I got so --

Q (Inaudible.)

GEN. FRANKS: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Q (Inaudible.)

GEN. FRANKS: The lessons of about 11 years ago with respect to the Kuwaiti oil fields are quite instructive. If one looks at the campaign the way it was conducted 11 years -- very successful campaign -- and one thinks about just how important these oils fields are to the future of Iraq, then one puts in balance what is the right timing in order to be able to secure this very important operational objective. Hypothetically, if the enemy presents no vulnerability in the southern oil fields, if the enemy presents an incredible threat to be able to destroy those oil fields, then an operational commander like me may take -- may choose to introduce force in a way that would be considerably different than the way you saw the force introduced.

Let me go directly to your question. We saw evidence that the regime was intending to destroy the southern oil fields, had not been able to fully set conditions to be able to do that, so we sensed that we had an opportunity to get these -- to get these oil fields. And since we had a plan that enabled us to either do air operations first or ground operations first of perhaps special operations first, we simply put the mosaic together in a way which you have seen unfold.

Last question, please. Sir, please.

Q Tom Bearden (ph), NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. We've heard the Iraqi resistance in your rear areas characterized in a lot of different ways -- as sporadic; as in pockets --


Q -- as terroristic. What's your assessment of it? And what level of threat does it pose to your soldiers?

GEN. FRANKS: Right. What level threat does it pose? Of course it poses a threat. Pull up the map, please, Vince.

From here to here, 250 miles or so, what one finds is that -- and I've heard them called various things -- death squads; bands of thugs; terrorists; paramilitary and so forth -- what they've done, and we see the result every day, is they have occupied the centers of cities like Basra, and Nasiriyah, Diwaniyah, Najaf, As Samawa in here. And so they have put themselves in a position to be able to terrorize the Iraqis in these villages and in these cities and to be able to move out along the lines of communication to attempt to interdict our supplies. They have not been able to do that. Our supplies have in fact run this 250-plus miles, and they continue to do that.

These bands of thugs that operate inside these population centers face more and more of our capability every day. Two parts to this. One is to provide lines of communications and security on those lines of communications for ourselves. The other is to reduce these pockets -- word you used -- inside these cities and towns -- the two are not necessarily connected -- once again, at times and places of our choosing -- in some cases simultaneously; in some cases, sequentially. And all of those operations are ongoing. The supplies are moving now, and every day, we see more and better connection between our forces and the local Iraqis in each one of these cities.

So that's probably about the best I can give you.

Thanks a lot. Look forward to seeing you next time.


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