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Abizaid: 'Despicable Thugs' Cannot Win in Iraq

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13, 2003 – The terrorists trying to undermine coalition efforts in Iraq are a "despicable bunch of thugs," but no military threat exists in Iraq that can drive the United States out, the commander of U.S. Central Command said today.

"The enemy will stop at nothing to create the impression that we can't win," Army Gen. John Abizaid said. "They put ammunition and explosives in ambulances. They store ammunition and explosives in schools and mosques. The same things that you saw from this enemy during the march to Baghdad, you see from this enemy now.

"They're a despicable bunch of thugs that will be defeated," he continued. "There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that with patience, perseverance and courage, we will see this thing through."

Abizaid dismissed the notion that the low-intensity guerrilla conflict in Iraq is the result of a strategy Saddam Hussein planned before major military operations began. "I think Saddam Hussein is one of the most incompetent military leaders in the history of the world," he said, "and to give him any credit, to think that somehow or other he planned this, is absolutely beyond my comprehension."

Speaking in Tampa, Fla., to reporters at the command's MacDill Air Force Base headquarters and to the Pentagon press corps here via video teleconference, Abizaid said he had just returned from a visit to Iraq. There he met with every division commander, almost all brigade commanders and many battalion commanders, as well as with many of the lieutenants and captains involved in the fighting.

"Every single one of them tells me they're winning," Abizaid said. "They are winning they're confident, they're capable, they know what they're doing. They are fighting a low-intensity conflict in some of the finest traditions of the armed forces of the United States."

The general said the effort is succeeding because the troops know how to take a balanced approach to their mission.

"They conduct very robust offensive operations when they need to. On the other hand, they know how to be compassionate with the people," Abizaid said. "They know the local situation in a way that I've never seen troops involved in an operation like this understand before."

Abizaid noted that most of the resistance the coalition is facing is confined to an isolated geographic area, primarily in Ar Ramadi, Baghdad and Tikrit. "And we have put a large number of U.S. forces in those areas to deal with the enemy," he said.

Though the United States and its coalition allies are doing their best to move quickly and decisively toward Iraqis being responsible for their country's security, Abizaid said, no timetable can be put on how long that will take. He said the turnover must take place "in a prudent manner, in a time schedule that won't be driven by political concerns, but (by) Iraqi capacity to handle the security situation."

Pointing out that Iraqi security and military forces now make up the second- largest part of the coalition, Abizaid emphasized that while the numbers continue to grow, it takes time to train people for the jobs. He added the coalition is "not having a problem" recruiting Iraqis for these positions.

Baathists and extremists in Iraq have been hiring criminals "to do their dirty work," Abizaid said. Most direct-fire engagements with coalition troops involve unemployed young men who are paid to attack coalition forces. "It is very important that as we progress militarily, we also progress politically and economically so as to get these angry young men off the streets."

Abizaid said the extremists, foreign fighters and Saddam Hussein regime remnants who are armed and operating against the coalition number only about 5,000. "People will say, 'Well, that's a pretty small number,'" Abizaid said. "But when you understand that they're organized in cellular structure, that they have a brutal and determined cadre, that they know how to operate covertly, that they have access to a lot of money and a lot of ammunition, you'll understand how dangerous they are."

The general reminded reporters that 11,000 coalition forces remain in Afghanistan, working in what he called "a very difficult operating environment, but one in which we have been militarily very successful." The goal there, as in Iraq, he said, is "to allow moderation to grow up in an area that is not necessarily noted for moderation." He said combat operations go on daily in Afghanistan that are "every bit as much and every bit as difficult as those that go on in Iraq."

Although U.S., Iraqi and coalition forces will continue to suffer casualties and the work ahead is difficult, Abizaid said, the result is not in doubt. He thanked military members and their families for their sacrifices, and expressed confidence in the outcome.

"They're fighting a good fight. They know what they're doing," he said. "They are confident. They are capable. They will persevere."

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