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Iraq War News Roundup

March 30, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
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TOM BEARDEN: CENTCOM Commander Gen. Tommy Franks arrived at the Camp Asaliyah Press Center this afternoon to conduct his third briefing since the war began.

JIM WOLF, 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. TOMMY FRANKS: In response to your question, no, I did not request additional troops before the beginning of what you refer to 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…

TOM BEARDEN: Gen. Franks was asked about a newly published report that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had overruled franks when he allegedly sought to delay the offensive after Turkey refused to let the U.S. open a northern front.

GEN. TOMMY FRANKS: 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. 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 there’s an expectation that the military commander will seize that opportunity.

NEIL TWEEDIE, Daily Telegraph: Just from your comments on flexibility, would it be fair to imply therefore that what you hoped 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, and it doesn’t look as though it’s worked, and now you are waiting for more heavy stuff?

GEN. TOMMY FRANKS: Sir, it’s a great question. And actually, it’s almost right. But the implication is that one begins with a force and says, uh-oh, wait a minute, uh-oh, 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 then 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.

KELLY O’DONNELL, NBC News: 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. TOMMY FRANKS: 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 is operation that this regime is being controlled by the top, as we understand the top.

TOM BEARDEN: Tom Bearden, the 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, or as terroristic. What’s your assessment of it? And what level of threat does it pose to your soldiers?

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

TOM BEARDEN: Gen. Franks’ overall assessment of the campaign on day 11 is pretty much the same as it was on day three– that it’s on plan, continuing to degrade Iraqi military capabilities, and, in his words, “showing remarkable progress.”

JIM LEHRER: Terence Smith has more on the day’s military developments.

TERENCE SMITH: Fighting in Iraq continued on several fronts today. The air attack was concentrated on targets in Baghdad and northern Iraq, while the ground war intensified in the South and along the route to the capital. Thousands of marines pushed North on seek-and-destroy missions in the central Iraqi desert. Artillery units fired on Iraqi mortar positions to thwart ambushes on coalition forces heading to Baghdad.

SOLDIER: There are a lot of the paramilitary moving around, so of course there’s still plenty of targets around, so we’re taking care of them one by one. Soon it’ll be time for us to go up North and continue the fight.

TERENCE SMITH: In Najaf, the 101st Airborne also encountered fierce resistance from paramilitary fighters as it surrounded the revered Shiite city and secured an airfield. British forces continued to tighten their grip around the key southern city of Basra. Just before dawn, royal marines exchanged heavy fire with Iraqis who were reported to be Ba’ath Party militia fighters just outside the city. Royal marine commandos killed an Iraqi colonel and captured a general during the clashes.

Iraqi officials later denied a general had been taken. During the day, a British regiment, the Irish Guards, exchanged fire with Iraqi units. Smoke billowed over the embattled city as British soldiers searched citizens for weapons at a roadblock. Some were detained for further questioning. Today the British ministry of defense released footage of British troops and Iraqi civilians coming under fire Friday from Iraqi forces near a bridge on the southern side of Basra. U.S. Marines engaged in an intense firefight today in Nasiriyah, a town of about 300,000 people on the Euphrates River. We have a report from James Mates of Independent Television News.

JAMES MATES: It’s evening in Nasiriyah, and the relative calm of the day is about to end. A single 1,000-pound laser- guided bomb delivered from a jet high above signals the start of a sustained, ferocious attack — two U.S. Marine cobra helicopters circle the town, preparing to take on Iraqi positions on the far bank of the Euphrates River. Their weaponry: Hellfire missiles. The results on the ground were devastating. For a week now, elements of the Iraqi military and Saddam Fedayeen guerrillas have kept the Americans at bay from these positions.

The U.S. Military believes the civilian population has moved into the city, away from these riverside positions. It is certainly true that since the air attacks have been stepped up, resistance from Nasiriyah has lessened significantly. Less than a mile from this battle, on the American- controlled south bank of the Euphrates, the first efforts are being made to distribute humanitarian aid, this food from an Iraqi storeroom that will be given to villages nearby. Overseeing it, the marine general commanding this sector of the front — he told me that at some stage in this battle he had always known he’d be going to have a fight on his hands.

GEN. RICH NAPONSKI: I don’t think anyone came into here thinking it was going to be a cakewalk. We knew that there were cells like the Republican Guard. We just didn’t know when we’d run into them, and maybe in this case we ran into them sooner than later.

TERENCE SMITH: The general said his intent was never to go through Nasiriyah, but to secure the bridges and open a supply line North. In Northern Iraq, U.S.-baked Kurdish militiamen known as peshmirga advanced further towards Kirkuk, taking over more territory abandoned by Saddam Hussein’s retreating troops. Meanwhile, fighters identified as armed Syrian volunteers were seen arriving in Mosul by convoy. It was the first sighting of Arab volunteers that the Iraqi leadership has said would be coming to their aid.

Also, in northern Iraq, U.S. bombers stepped up air strikes on the Iraqi government-controlled areas. Two explosions could be seen near Mosul. In Baghdad, plumes of thick smoke rose after more coalition air strikes shook that city during the day. Iraqi officials took reporters to view the damage caused by bombing to the city’s main communications center and tonight, two fires were seen raging in the capital, although it wasn’t immediately clear what caused them. On CBS’s Face the Nation this morning, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers was asked about the move towards Baghdad.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: What we are in, is putting continuous pressure on the enemy assuming they’ll be more active at certain times than other units. We’ve continued over all the days that we’ve been engaged in Iraq on the air campaign, that’s been continuous. Ground forces have — they are fighting as well, and they’ll continue to fight. We’ll have to see when what people call the major push comes that will be up to the combatant commanders when they are ready. We’re going to be very patient throughout all this.

TERENCE SMITH: Meanwhile, relief workers have not been able to enter the southern city of Basra and its outskirts. Allied military officers have told the United Nations and private aid workers that the situation on the ground remains too dangerous for them to tackle water and medical shortages.

Three marines were killed when a Marine Huey helicopter crashed in southern Iraq. And 15 American soldiers were injured when a truck deliberately plowed into them at a U.S. base in northern Kuwait. According to the Pentagon, the American death toll in the war on Iraq now totals 38. As many as 16 U.S. troops are missing, and seven have been captured. Britain’s death toll in the war numbers 24. The Iraqis have not released figures on their military casualties, but they say more than 4,000 civilians have been killed or wounded.