03/24 - U.S. commander cites progress in Iraq - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

03/24 - U.S. commander cites progress in Iraq

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Posted: Monday, March 24, 2003 9:24 am | Updated: 1:50 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar - Despite days of bombardment, Saddam Hussein's regime is able to issue orders to its military units, although the command network is "less robust," Gen. Tommy Franks said Monday.

"They still do have a means, a somewhat limited means, of communications," Franks said.

Even though Saddam's government was able to issue instructions, "many orders which have been given by this regime have not been obeyed by a great number of his subordinates," he said.

The U.S.-led coalition forces began attacking what President Bush called "targets of military opportunity" in Baghdad on Thursday, and bombs and missiles have hit the capital daily since then.

"I will say that command and control within the country is much less robust than it was five days ago," Franks said.

Franks said troops are making "rapid and in some cases dramatic" progress, but they also have met sporadic Iraqi resistance.

U.S. forces had "intentionally bypassed enemy formations," and Iraq's "Fedayeen" militia had been harassing the U.S. rear in southern Iraq, he said.

Franks said troops were collecting information about possible chemical and biological weapons as they sweep northward.

"I think that we probably have received several ... bits of information over the last three or four days about potential WMD (weapons of mass destruction) locations," he said. "Some of those locations are in areas where we have control, some we have not yet gone into yet."

Franks said he did not know if Saddam's government would use any such weapons but added that some believe the pressure to do so would be "greater and greater" as coalition forces close in.

Franks, reacting to battles Sunday in which about 20 U.S. forces were killed or missing as a result of ambushes and a fake surrender, said: "We know that the Fedayeen has in fact put itself in a position to mill about, to create difficulties in rear areas, and I can assure you that contact with those forces is not unexpected."

Franks said cleaning up the bypassed forces would take some time "across the days."

In the campaign against Saddam's regime, Franks said his forces captured 3,000 prisoners.

Franks accused the Iraqis of "criminal" behavior in using civilians as human shields, intentionally placing them next to military equipment and formations as a deterrent to U.S. attacks.

Franks acknowledged an attack helicopter operating south of Baghdad was missing with its two-man crew. Iraqi television Monday afternoon showed pictures of the craft sitting in a farm field and said it was 50 miles south of the capital. The television said the heavily armed craft was shot out of the air by Kalashnikov-toting peasants.

"I know with some precision how many helicopters were shot down and ... those events did not occur as a result of farmers," Franks said.

There was no sign of any damage to the helicopter, which appeared to have made a hard landing because of mechanical difficulties. Iraqi television said two helicopters were brought down.

Franks said he could not provide an update on the condition of U.S. prisoners of war. About 12 U.S. soldiers were missing after an Army supply convoy was ambushed on Sunday when it made a wrong turn near the town of An Nasiriyah.

Franks confirmed that coalition forces, including Australians and British troops, were operating in the north and west of Iraq. Some were special forces traveling in small teams.

"They have accomplished some wonderful things out there," he said, but gave no details.

Franks was joined by at the briefing by Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, who showed gunsight video taken by attacking warplanes of damage to an Iraqi intelligence service complex, a MiG fighter and a tank.

He said ground forces were expanding their control in Iraq.

"That included a continued advance beyond An Nasiriyah and also an aviation attack on Republican Guards near Baghdad," Brooks said.

The missing helicopter was lost in that attack, but all others returned safely, he said.

Brooks said U.S. forces have dropped more than 28 million leaflets - 5 million more than were dropped during all of Desert Storm in 1991 - warning Iraqi troops to abandon their equipment and refrain from destroying oil fields.

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