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U.S.Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks' Visits Baghdad (1)

April 16, 2003
Release Number: 03-04-142


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


POOL REPORT OF GEN FRANKS' TRIP TO BAGHDAD (PART 1 OF 2)

Pool report for U.S.Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks' trip to Baghdad.

Note: (All times are Qatar time.

Baghdad time is one hour later.) Gen. Franks departed Camp Sayliyah at 7:10 am in a Black Hawk helicopter, arriving 7:25 am at Al-Udeid Air Base.

He was dressed in desert camouflage uniform with the sleeves rolled up above the elbows and a black beret in his right hip pocket.

Two minutes later he boarded a waiting blue-and-white C-40, a converted 737, greeting every one on board as he walked down the aisle to the rear of the airplane.

He was accompanied by the traveling party, including Maj. Gen. Victor E. Renuart, Jr, Centcom director of operations; Maj. Gen. Steve Whitcomb, his chief of staff; Jim Wilkinson, director of strategic communications; Amb. David Litt, his political advisor; Brig. Gen. Jim Schwitters, his head of security; Lt. Col. Chris Goedeke, his aide to camp; Capt. Van Mauney, his executive officer; Col. Sid Oaksmith, director of the commander's action group; and Col. Ron Maul, his physician.

During the flight, Franks received his daily morning briefing from Renuart in the rear of the plane.

The front of the plane contained a Combined Operating Picture, which showed the location of all planes, ships and units in the theater, according to Wilkinson.

Asked whether he had ever visited Baghdad before, Franks said, "No but I'm a lifelong learner."

He walked through the plane, greeting the crew again. In some cases he slapped their arms. In other cases, he rubbed their heads as in horseplay.

As the plane approached Ali Al Salem air base in Kuwait and prepared to land at about 8:48, the plane suddenly aborted the landing and quickly ascended to 3,000 feet.

Military officials said the pilot had not been able to locate the runway because of a bad sandstorm. The plane circled around and landed successfully at 9 am as officers in the rear of the plane cheered the pilot on.

The conditions at Ali Al Salem air base were gray and very windy. Franks walked briskly from the 737 across sand and low brush to a waiting Air Force C-130.

Aboard the transport plane, Franks took a seat along the side and relaxed. He crossed his arms in front of him and stretched one boot across to another canvas bench. Other members of the traveling party took other seats in the plane.

The plane departed at 9:25 am. The crew of the C-130 is based in Dukefield, Fla. at Eglin Air Force Base. It is one of the most sophisticated transport planes flown by the US military, according to officers.

This was a rare daytime flight for the plane, which usually flies by night for security reasons. Security measures for the airplane included electronic warfare counter-measures and an F-15 escort above.

Two crew members sat near small windows at the rear of the plan looking for enemy fire. At 9:50 am, Franks got up from his seat and walked around, talking to the crew of the plane.

At one point, he stood on the canvas bench and talked to an officer on the other side.

A little later, he sat in the rear of the plane, near the ramp, and drank black coffee.

After that, he climbed up to the cockpit of the craft to visit with the pilot and other crew members.

Upon descending, he returned to his seat and produced his 9-mm Beretta service weapon, which he keeps tucked into the waist of his pants at the small of his back, and checked the magazine and the laser sight.

The final 15 minutes of the flight into Baghdad's airport were rocky. The plane landed at 10:55 am.

It landed on a taxiway instead of the runway, which is still unusable because of US bombing. The largest crater in the runway measures 60 feet across and 15 feet deep.

Franks exited the plane down the cargo ramp. He showed little emotion as he stepped onto Baghdad's soil for the first time in his life.

Franks was met by Lt. Gen. John McKiernan, commander of the U.S.-led ground forces.

They saluted and then hugged each other. Then Franks raised his clenched fist in a greeting to U.S. troops waiting at the airport.

"This gives me a chance to meet these people who've been doing such a great job down here," Franks said.

Franks got into a Humvee at 11:05 am for a ten-minute drive to the Abu Ghurayb North Palace, one of Pres.Saddam Hussein's many abodes.

There were more than a dozen vehicles in his motorcade, including Humvees and Bradley fighting vehicles. He rode in McKiernan's Humvee.

The other Humvees were equipped with machine guns and grenade launchers. Your pool was transported by an Iraqi Airways airport shuttle bus with the glass door blown out.

At least two Apache helicopters flew closely overhead. The motorcade passed several destroyed bunkers and radar facilities on the airport grounds.

It also passed seven green and white Iraqi Airways passenger jets. The motorcade followed a two-lane road through swamps and fields.

Entering the palace complex, the motorcade passed a pair of Bradley fighting vehicles and a small vineyard. The motorcade proceeded up the main avenue lined with palm trees.

Several Abrams tanks were parked in the palms. The palace is a mammoth, ostentatious brown stone complex in the middle of a large, man-made lake. The façade include large Arab arches. The black-and-gold metalwork in front of every window was sculpted to include Pres. Saddam Hussein's stylized Arabic initials.

His Arabic initials were also engraved into the capitals of the columns around the façade.

The palace now serves as the command center for the U.S.ground forces in Baghdad.

Soldiers have moved into the ornate rooms. Socks and other laundry hang out the windows. Franks entered the palace, striding through darkened halls across marble floors coated with dirt.

He marched under a mammoth crystal and gold chandelier. As he passed, he greeted troops, high-ranking officers and MPsalike: "Thank you.""Thank you for coming.""Hello brother.

How are you doing? You doing okay?" He hugged countless soldiers, frequently grabbing them by the back of the neck and pulling them close.

In a few cases, he kissed the cheeks of other officers. "I think it's absolutely terrific," he said, referring to his visit. "You know why I think it's absolutely terrific? Because I get to see the people right over there."

He motioned to some of his troops. Franks walked into the abandoned kitchen. His boots crunched on shards of glass and broken china.

He went to the window, shouting, "Hey! Hey!" He whistled loudly, adding "Come here."

A soldier came to the window and Franks reached through the bars and the concertina wire beyond to shake the man's hand. Franks then disappeared into a large hall, for a meeting with his component commanders.

This was a primary reason for making the trip. Sitting to Franks' left were McKiernan, Vice Admiral Timothy Keating, Brig. Gen. Gary Harrell, head of special operations for Centcom, Whitcomb, Schwitters and Wilkinson.

Sitting to Franks' right were Gen. Earl Hailston of Marine Centcom, Lt. Gen. Buzz Moseley, commander of U.S.air forces, Mauney and Renuart. There were also intelligence officers.

They gathered at one of end of the hall on love seats and couches with thick green cushions and wood trim painted gold. In front of them, on the white, gray and black marble floors, were three low coffee tables.

On the wall was a nine-foot-high map of Iraq under a fluorescent lamp, one of only several lights installed by the military in the otherwise darkened premises. The room itself had high, arabesque ceilings finished in pastel colors and a large gold and crystal chandelier.

Light green drapes had been pulled open in front of several high arched windows to let in the light.

The roar of Apache helicopters occasionally interrupted the conversation. Numerous undisclosed topics were discussed as the commanders took turns briefing Franks. McKiernan talked about the southern oil fields and the condition of seven POWs recovered in Samarra.

On a table by the windows were MREs. The commanders helped themselves. At 12: 40 pm, Franks led some of his officers on a tour of the palace.

They walked outside past a swimming pool. English writing on the diving board warned would-be divers to check the water level before doing so. There was no water in the pool.

They continued to a wing of the palace that had been struck by a Tomahawk cruise missile. Franks stood precariously on a pile of rubble at the edge of the building and surveyed the damaged.

Inside, twisted metal rods and wires hung down like so many vines over a crater and, beside, it a huge heap of stone and metal. The air still smelled from the fire.

Windows throughout the complex had been shattered by the blast. Besides the cruise missile attack on this wing, US bombing had also destroyed one of the causeways crossing the lake.

The palace was not the site of a significant battle. Franks continued his tour of the building. He entered several highly-ornate rooms with pastel arabesque ceilings.

He entered the bathroom, which contained gold sink fixtures, a cold soap dish, a gold toilet-paper dispenser and a toilet-bowl brush with a gold handle.

Several times Franks commented, "It's the oil-for-palace program." After returning to the meeting room, he reconvened with the commanders he calls his "band of brothers."

They passed out cigars supplied by McKiernan and lit up. Franks moved to the side of the room opposite where he had met with his commanders.

About 20 plush green chairs with gold wood trim were arranged in front of a screen that would later be used for a videoconference with President Bush.

But first, Franks sat down in the front, center chair and spoke on the telephone with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld while puffing on a cigar.

The contents of the discussion were not made public. Then, Franks and his commanders and staff gathered on the chairs for the videoconference. The contents of the discussion were not made public.

Afterwards, Franks gathered his senior commanders on the love seats and couches to take a few questions from the press. These questions and answers will be reported in a subsequent pool report.

Before leaving the site, Franks and his commanders posed for photographs in front of a garden at the palace's main entrance. Behind them was a massive archway framing a large, ornate green and gold door.

After the group photo, Franks bid his commanders an exuberant farewell, with heavy slaps to the back, tight hugs and long, clasping handshakes.

The commanders trade hugs and handshakes among themselves. Franks then went around the corner of the palace for a short conversation with intelligence officers. The contents of this discussion were not disclosed.

Franks got into a Humvee and the motorcade set out for the airport at 4:30 p.m. Franks arrived at the waiting C-130 at about 4:45pm. The airplane was wheels up at 5:02 pm. Franks was in good spirits during the return trip.

He splashed drinking water on several officers from a small bottle. Using an available seat belt, he reached to his left and pretended to tie up Schwitters' arm and then his leg. He tossed a cigar across the plane to a member of his security detail.

He reached to his right and took a silver-band watch off Goedeke's wrist and made to keep it. He then gave Goedeke his own watch and motioned that Goedeke should keep the watch as part of a swap. He took a can of Skoal chewing tobacco out of his right rear pocket and put a pinch into his mouth.

He drank another cup of black coffee.With the roar of the plane too loud for conversation, he repeatedly gave the thumbs-up sign to other passengers. He posed for pictures with members of the flight crew.


-30-

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