Ground Commander Lauds Land Troops' Success in Iraq
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 23, 2003 Coalition forces are nearing the end of combat operations, but the campaign will continue, the chief of coalition land forces said during an interview from Baghdad.
In a videoconferenced briefing with Pentagon reporters, Army Lt. Gen. David McKiernan said the ground campaign against the regime of Saddam Hussein is making a "blurred transition" from combat operations to post-hostilities operations.
He listed the three types of resistance coalition forces still face: regime pockets , paramilitary formations including foreign fighters -- and terrorist attacks.
He said the whole coalition military plan was characterized by the speed of operations, its lethality and its flexibility and precision. He praised the contributions of the British and Australian forces and said there are now 11 coalition nations in Iraq.
He said the coalition did so well in the campaign to topple Saddam because the U.S. military is more a joint organization than it has been in the past. "The ability and the coordination between air, maritime, ground, special operating forces has been to a degree that I in over 30 years never witnessed before," he said. "It's never perfect; no military operation is perfect, but jointness has been huge in this campaign."
He said the U.S. emphasis on joint training and doctrine over the last decade "paid off in spades in this military operation."
McKiernan said the quality of the troops was the key to victory. "The battles that have been won by the ground component have been won by individual soldiers and Marines and small-unit tactical skill," he said. "It has been a tough fight. We have suffered more than 600 casualties, and we have not suffered the last casualty."
The general stated that the intent of the campaign was to place continuous pressure on the regime of Saddam Hussein. "My mission was to remove that regime from power," he said. His command has another mission: searching for and disarming the Hussein regime's weapons of mass destruction.
The ground campaign consisted of high-tempo continuous operations, McKiernan said. He said the battle plan had many options "but always remained focused on the enemy."
"We have applied on a continuous basis the power of the air component, the land component, the maritime component, our special operating forces and information operations," he said.
McKiernan said he was the commander who "accepted some risk" in the length of the supply line through southern Iraq. "Most of our combat vehicles have driven in excess of a thousand miles to date," he said. "They have not run out of fuel. Our maintenance status is in good shape. Our logistics has been sustained and will continue to be sustained."
The general also refuted armchair critics' complaints that there was an operational pause during the campaign. "There was never a day, there was never a moment where there was not continuous pressure put on the regime of Saddam by one of those components -- air, ground, maritime, Special Forces and so on," he said.
Coalition forces are still moving into Iraqi cities and villages to establish control. He said elements of the 101st Airborne Division are moving into Mosul. Other portions of the U.S. 5th Corps are heading toward the western part of Iraq. "We're continuing to secure Baghdad, Tikrit and other urban areas," he said.
But at the same time, coalition forces are transitioning to a focus on civil/military operations and an effort "to restore basic services to the Iraqi people at or better than their pre-war standards."
Land forces commanders have the authority to work with local Iraqis to get them back to work and back in control of their destiny, McKiernan noted. "I am teaming very hard with Jay Garner and the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance as together we try to bring civil administration back on line in Iraq," he said.
The general addressed criticism that his forces didn't do enough to protect Iraqi museums and offices when they first went into Baghdad. "We had to fight our way into Baghdad," he pointed out. He said he wanted coalition forces in the city before Saddam Hussein could regroup his forces and set up an urban defense of the city.
The speed of the campaign was key to preventing an urban combat quagmire. "I can tell you from being here that those lead formations, both Marine and Army, that maneuvered into Baghdad, first of all, were killing bad guys, and secondly, were protecting Iraqi people," he said.
"And so if some of the facilities became subject to looting over that period of time by Iraqis, I will tell you that our priority was to fight the enemy and to protect Iraqi people."
McKiernan said the coalition has been decisive in the campaign to date because of its military capability, training, leadership and equipment. He said those qualities may make people think it was an easy campaign.
"I get very upset when I hear anybody say that this was so easy," he said. "There are 600-plus Americans who are dead or wounded in the course of this conflict, and it wasn't easy for them.
"And anybody that was here and anybody that traveled with those formations, I don't think you'll find anybody that says it was an easy fight. So if I sound a little emotional, I apologize, but there is nothing in wartime that's easy for that formation or for that pilot or for that ship when they're in harm's way."