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Coalition's 3-prong attack drives into Iraq

Coalition's 3-prong attack drives into Iraq
by Gerry J. Gilmore

WASHINGTON (AFPS, March 22, 2003) - On the third day of "Operation Iraqi Freedom," U.S and coalition forces are conducting simultaneous military operations in the northern, southern and western portions of Iraq, as well as the air campaign at Baghdad, Army Gen. Tommy Franks told reporters at his headquarters in Qatar.

Today's briefing was DoD's first from the theater of operations during Iraqi Freedom.

"This will be a campaign unlike any other in history," said Franks, the CENTCOM commander. He said U.S. and coalition ground forces have deeply penetrated Iraq from the south, en route to Baghdad.

"The forces on the field will achieve the objectives that have been set out by the governments of this coalition," the general emphasized.

Citing the depth and flexibility of the "mosaic" war plan, Franks, chief of U.S. Central Command, said he was pleased with the progress made thus far, describing the troops' performance as magnificent.

In the past 24 hours U.S. and coalition forces have attacked Iraqi leadership positions, military forces and mobile communication posts, Franks said.

The attacks have been effective, he remarked, and now "there is a certain confusion" within the Iraqi military's command and control system.

"It remains to be seen" exactly when the campaign will conclude, Franks noted, predicting "tough days" lie ahead.

Yet, victory is certain, he emphasized. "The outcome is not in doubt."

The general pointed out that U.S. and coalition ground, air and naval forces have combined to conduct around-the-clock attacks of previously selected Iraqi targets, as well as emerging ones.

Franks said coalition forces have secured three key oil fields at Rumaylah in southern Iraq, where retreating Iraqis sabotaged just nine of the 500 oil wells there.

Between 1,200-2,000 Iraqi soldiers are now prisoners of war, he continued, and thousands of other Iraqi troops have laid down their arms and gone home.

Franks said more Iraqis are preparing to quit fighting, noting that U.S. officials have been in contact with some senior Iraqi officials in order to effect more surrenders.

Army Brig. Gen. Vince Brooks, a member of Frank's staff, showed and described to reporters the video action of U.S. and coalition air strikes on Iraqi positions and equipment.

The campaign features pinpoint bombing and missile strikes courtesy of laser- or global positioning system-guided munitions, Brooks explained, and "an unprecedented combined arms penetration deep into Iraq." He said ground-distance gains made thus far have been achieved in a quarter of the time it took to make similar gains during the 1991 Gulf War.

Unfortunately, there would be Iraqi civilian casualties, Franks pointed out, and that such sad circumstances are an inherent part of warfare.

Regarding the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein, "I don't know if he's alive or not," Franks stated.

However, he pointed out, the war isn't just about one person; it is about ending Hussein's regime and securing his weapons of mass destruction.

The four-star general said he gets information about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction every day, noting he has "no doubt" that the dictator's regime possesses them. Some of this information is good intelligence, he noted, other is speculation.

Franks said he knows that more than two dozen Iraqi SCUD missile launchers are unaccounted for since the end of the Gulf War. Collecting all of Saddam's WMDs is "work that lies in front of us," he acknowledged.

The general said his "heart goes out" to the loved ones "of those who have fallen." Seven American and 14 British troops have been killed in the campaign thus far.

The six dead U.S. Marines are: Maj. Jay Thomas Aubin, 36, of Waterville, Maine; Capt. Ryan Anthony Beaupre, 30, of Bloomington, Ill.; Cpl. Brian Matthew Kennedy, 25, of Houston; Staff Sgt. Kendall Damon Watersbey, 29, of Baltimore; 2nd Lt. Therrel S. Childers, 30, of Harrison, Miss.; and Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, 22, of Los Angeles.

The identity of a deceased Navy commander is being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

Regarding the possibility that chemical or biological weapons could be used on U.S. and coalition troops, Franks advised Saddam and others in his regime: "Don't do it."

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