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Capture of Saddam Not Luck, but Skill, Abizaid Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

KIRKUK, Iraq, Dec. 17, 2003 – Coalition successes in Iraq including the capture of Saddam Hussein are not the result of lucky breaks, but the patient, exacting work of intelligence professionals and the soldiers who act on their information, U.S.Central Command chief Army Gen. John Abizaid said here today.

Abizaid met with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers during a stop in this northern Iraqi city. He spoke with the press traveling with Myers.

Abizaid said the key to fighting any insurgency is isolating the enemy. Coalition forces are isolating the enemy from money, arms and with the capture of Saddam -- from its leadership. "Most importantly, you have to isolate the enemy from ever gaining a source of support from the population at large, which I believe they don't have," he said.

Intelligence is helping the coalition better understand how the enemy moves money, people and orders, and that will allow the coalition to defeat them in detail, the general said. "Make no mistake: the loss of Saddam Hussein is a huge psychological blow and will pay dividends over time," he said. "We've got a lot of fighting ahead of us, but this is a big win for the young soldiers that made it happen, and for the young intelligence professionals that are smart enough to put the information together to lead us to the right place."

Abizaid said that much of this success is due to the intelligence system that commanders put in place. That process has grown and is maturing quickly, he said. "We continue to use information that we've gained from the intelligence system," he said, "some of which came from the capture of Saddam, to continue to take down those folks that are conducting attacks against the coalition," Abizaid said. "In the past 48 hours, we're had a very good haul."

Abizaid said coalition personnel captured several mid-level Baathist leaders of cells in areas where there was not a clear picture of the enemy. "From fighting this particular enemy, (we've learned that) knocking out the mid-level leadership is the key to success," he said. "If they were to take out our lieutenant colonels and colonels, we would have trouble, too. That's what we're doing to them."

The general said that day after day, coalition forces are developing a better view of the people who are standing the way of a new Iraq. "We have a full-court press on, understanding the environment better and connecting the various pieces of information we have from various sources," he said.

The setup has allowed coalition forces to understand how the former regime terrorist cells work, how they are built and where possible targets are.

He said the coalition is taking down the financiers of these cells, and this may be having an effect. "There have been a number of interesting attempts to rob banks," he said. "I don't want to jump to conclusions, but I believe that money is starting to dry up in the resistance, because we are starting to understand where money is starting to come from."

The general is realistic about the situation in Iraq. "There's still a lot of violence ahead in Iraq," he said. "There are people who don't want new government to come forward. There are people who will fight to the death to prevent that from happening. And it's our job that a new Iraq emerges that Iraqis can be proud of, and allows them to live in a relative degree of freedom they've never had before."

Iraq is not the only hotspot in Abizaid's area. He said he also is encouraged by the progress being made in Afghanistan. He said the Loya Jirga meetings, which began Dec. 13, are a step in the right direction politically in that country. Out of the Loya Jirga may come an Afghan constitution and the setup for a permanent government, he said.

There are just over 12,000 U.S. troops in the country, and the fact that the Loya Jirga is taking place at all "is a tribute to the work our people are doing there and to the young folks building the Afghan National Army and the security institutions there," he said.

Visible progress also is being made in rebuilding Afghanistan, the general said. President Hamid Kharzai recently opened the section of the "Ring Road" that links the capital of Kabul to Kandahar in the south. The journey, which could take up two or three days to accomplish, can now be made in eight hours, Central Command officials said.

In the meantime, military operations against al Qaeda terrorists and Taliban sympathizers continue. Operation Avalanche continues on the border with Pakistan. The general said, though, that coalition forces have not encountered large numbers of enemy troops since the summer.

Everything that has been accomplished in Iraq and Afghanistan goes back to the service members, he said. "The hard work around here is not being done is not by generals and colonels; it's really being done by sergeants, lieutenants and captains," he said. "These are the guys who understand their environment better and better every day."

The general wants the people of America to understand how great these young service members are. "To the folks back home, I want you to understand that the most important thing that's happening out here is the work our young men and women are doing," he said. "They are great patriots, they are courageous, committed, they are capable. They represent the greatest armed forces in the world.

"But what really makes us great are these young people out here," he continued. "At this holiday time, I'd ask you to keep them in your thoughts and prayers. They've already gone through Thanksgiving. They are about to go through Christmas and they make our country great."

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