‘Shock and Awe’
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JIM LEHRER: The U.S. House approved a statement of support for U.S. troops early today. The vote was 392-11, with 22 members voting present. Some Democrats withdrew their support, saying they felt pressured into backing the president’s decision to go to war. The Senate unanimously passed a similar resolution last night. Now, back to the war itself, on this day of major escalation by U.S.-led forces on the ground and in the air. First, extended excerpts on what Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Myers said at their afternoon pentagon briefing.
GEN. RICHARD MYERS: Operation Iraqi Freedom, our effort to disarm Iraq and dismantle the Iraqi regime, is fully underway. But before I go into that, I want to recap what has happened in the last 48 hours, and how we got to where we are now.
We took advantage of a leadership target of opportunity in Baghdad. Specifically, we struck at one of the residences in southeastern Baghdad, where we thought the leadership was congregated. We also took down… struck intelligence service headquarters in Baghdad and a Republican Guard facility. In the last 24 hours, Special Forces have seized an airfield in western Iraq, and have secured border positions in several key locations. Additionally, navy seals and coalition Special Forces have seized Iraq’s two major gas and oil terminals in the northern Persian Gulf. Last night, at approximately 10:00 P.M. Eastern Time, the rest of the ground campaign began in earnest when the third infantry division rolled into southern Iraq. At this hour, our ground forces have pushed close to 100 miles inside Iraq. So now, within the last hour, coalition forces have launched a massive air campaign throughout Iraq. Several hundred military targets will be hit over the coming hours.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Just before coming down, after the air campaign began in earnest about 1:00, I saw some of the images on television and I heard various commentators expansively comparing what’s taking place in Iraq today to some of the more famous bombing campaigns of World War II. There is no comparison. The weapons that are being used today have a degree of precision that no one ever dreamt of in a prior conflict: They didn’t exist. And it’s not a handful of weapons, it’s the overwhelming majority of the weapons that have that precision. The targeting capabilities and the care that goes into targeting to see that the precise targets are struck and that other targets are not struck, is as impressive as anything anyone could see. The care that goes into it, the humanity that goes into it, to see that military targets are destroyed, to be sure, but that it’s done in a way, and in a manner, and in a direction and with a weapon that is appropriate to that very particularized target.
REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, it’s obvious from the beginning of this major air campaign and from what you all have said, that there has been no general agreement by the Iraqi military leadership for a general surrender.
DONALD RUMSFELD: That’s for sure.
REPORTER: Could I ask, sir, are there talks, possibly direct talks going on between this building and the Iraqi senior military leadership toward that end?
DONALD RUMSFELD: In the way you’ve put it, the answer is no. If you’re thinking is there country-to-country dialogue taking place, then the answer is no. If you’re asking is there contact between coalition forces and Iraqi forces, the answer is most certainly. There has been over the past period of weeks, and those discussions have intensified. But they tend to be particularized to a specific unit in a specific location.
REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, do you believe Saddam Hussein is currently in control of Iraq?
DONALD RUMSFELD: I don’t know.
REPORTER: Do you have any indication that the leadership has changed hands?
DONALD RUMSFELD: I hear scraps of information, and if I… you can be certain if I had sufficient number of scraps that it began to make a persuasive case, that I would opine on it.
REPORTER: Can you characterize the command-and-control structure that you believe is in place currently inside Baghdad?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Until there’s good solid evidence that it doesn’t exist, we have to assume that it is in place and functioning in one way or another. Our hope, our expectation, is that they probably had multiple methods of communicating through their command-and-control system; they had redundant systems. And so to the extent we are successful in eliminating some, our expectation is that even if it’s simply couriers, they will have the ability to communicate. I think it’s a stretch to think it’s possible to eliminate their ability to communicate up and down through their command system. Our hope and our prayer is not that we’ll get 100 percent of their ability to communicate, but rather that we will be persuasive enough with the people who would have to implement the orders of the senior people in that regime, and persuade them that it is clearly not in their interest to obey those types of orders.
REPORTER: Can you help us to clarify here the type of people that you are in contact with represent what? Is it Republican Guard and regular army outside of Baghdad? Are you in touch with any of those inside, which is where his key levels of support are?
DONALD RUMSFELD: For the most part, it’s outside.
REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, if Saddam Hussein and his sons were listening to this briefing and they wanted to give up, what precisely should they do? And now that the air campaign over Baghdad has begun, is it in fact too late for them to choose to go into exile? Is their only choice to be captured, surrender to the United States or be killed? Is it too late for exile?
DONALD RUMSFELD: It is certainly too late for them to stay in power. What they do with themselves is up to them. And what the people around them do with them is up to the people around them. But, you know, it’s… I guess time will tell what kinds of judgments they’ll make. So far, they’ve made very poor judgments.
REPORTER: What precisely –
DONALD RUMSFELD: Oh, I don’t need to give advice to that. They know precisely what to do.
REPORTER: Gen. Myers, could you say whether there’s been any resistance, how much resistance there’s been — whether there have been any major engagements, and what the situation is around Basra?
GEN. RICHARD MYERS: I think if you’re in a firefight, it’s probably major to you. So we’ve had sporadic resistance. And, as you know, we had a marine killed. There may be others that I’m not aware of now as, you know, information lags our timeline. But it’s sporadic resistance. There have been tank battles. Generally limited, but there have been some fighting.
REPORTER: You used the term free Iraqi forces the other day. Aside from any communications that you have, are there indications that some Iraqi units have turned against the pro-Saddam forces, or are there other forces in the north that may be outside the coalition fighting against Saddam?
DONALD RUMSFELD: To my knowledge, you could not answer that question, the way you phrased it, yes. There are forces that have surrendered; there are forces that have had discussions about the possibility of helping. But to my knowledge, there are none that have turned in quite the way you’re describing it.
REPORTER: On the air campaign, that began after the ground campaign, which is a reversal of the first Gulf War.
GEN. RICHARD MYERS: That’s correct.
REPORTER: Can you talk a little about the conditions that enabled that to happen and what the advantages were of doing it that way? For instance, did the firing in the no-fly zone in the South clear out the opposition needed to pull in those ground forces?
GEN. RICHARD MYERS: That was a judgment that Gen. Franks made after consultations with the secretary. There were, of course, certain objectives in the South that were important — one of them we just talked about, the oil fields. If you remember, the fires in the oil fields started before the ground forces went. And so, Gen. Franks had to make a calculation on when he wanted to do what he wanted to do. And that’s just one of the reasons. There are a couple of other reasons, as well. There were some threats, as you know, being moved into southern Iraq– artillery, short-range surface-to-surface missiles, and felt this was the best way to do it.
DONALD RUMSFELD: It’s a decade-plus later. The circumstance of the Iraqi forces are quite different. The capability of the United States of America are quite different. I think that expecting that you’re going to find a cookie mold fit between two events that are so substantially different, and separated in time by such a long period of time, and so many advances in technologies and a notably different purpose.