Abizaid: U.S. Displaying 'Offensive Spirit' in Iraq
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 25, 2003 "The best protection that we can give our soldiers is an offensive spirit in a tough place," said Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid today during his Senate confirmation hearing to be the next commander of U.S. Central Command.
Abizaid, who is currently CENTCOM's deputy commander, said that coalition forces need to seek out the enemy and bring the fight to them.
"They will be able to do that as long as we don't hunker down in base camps and try to avoid contact," he said before the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We need to seek out contact. We need to be aggressive, and that's what we're doing in Iraq." He said that, contrary to press reports, American soldiers and Marines are being aggressive. He said in more than half the instances, the U.S. forces are the ones who initiate the actions.
President Bush nominated Abizaid for the post June 18. If confirmed by the Senate, he will replace Army Gen. Tommy Franks who will retire Aug. 1. Abizaid is of Lebanese extraction and speaks fluent Arabic. Michigan Sen. Carl Levin said if confirmed, the general would be heading to the most difficult command in the U.S. military. Levin observed that the job entails skills "as a warfighter, strategist and diplomat."
The senators asked Abizaid if the American military is prepared for the challenges of post-war Iraq. "The answer is 'yes,'" Abizaid said. "We've been serving in places like Kosovo and Bosnia for a long time." He was referring to soldiers, in particular, who have much experience in those areas' peacekeeping operations.
When asked about combat vs. peacekeeping operations, the general noted that troops would prefer to be involved in the more clearly defined area of direct combat stability operations contain more variables.
He told the senators that for the "foreseeable" future, the number of American troops in Iraq will stay at about 145,000. This will change as circumstances change, he said. The number will go up if operational considerations mandate it, it will go down as the coalition makes progress in rebuilding the Iraqi police and the Iraqi army.
Abizaid stressed that opposition to the coalition comes from three areas. The first is directly from the leftovers of Saddam Hussein. He said there is residual Baathist activity in the stronghold made up of the triangle of Ar Ramadi, Baghdad and Tikrit.
"That's a very tough area. We believe that there are a number of Baathist cells that continue to operate there," he said. "The level of organization doesn't seem high to me."
He said nothing the leftover Baathists could do would threaten to defeat the coalition militarily. "The best way to deal with the Baathist resurgence and activity there is to take the battle to them, be offensive, dismantle the cells, kill those who would try to kill us and be very aggressive," he said.
The second level of activity comes from outsiders to Iraq. He said there are radical anti-American Islamists who are taking advantage of the power vacuum in certain parts of the country to strike at Americans. These groups are not allied with the Baath Party.
Again, Abizaid noted, the coalition must deal with these groups aggressively. He said coalition forces struck a camp last week with excellent results. The enemy fighters they engaged had come from all over the Middle East, he said. To end the threat, the coalition also must pay attention to Iraq's border with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The third level of unrest comes from a criminal element. "There's no doubt there's an increase in criminal activity, and many are well-armed," he said. "Dealing with the criminal element becomes a tougher one for us. That's one that won't be solved by all the soldiers in the United States Army. That'll be solved by building police capacity within Iraq and time and training and effort to reform Iraqi police institutions."
The senators grilled Abizaid on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. He told them that he has had no reason to change his belief that coalition forces will find Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
"I believe that as we get on with the mission to look for weapons of mass destruction and piece together the evidence that is available within the country not only by looking at documents, but by talking to various people who have come forward that we will piece together the story of what happened to the weapons of mass destruction somewhere between 1998 and 2003," he said.
He said he is sure the evidence will show Iraqi deceptions and he is "confident that it will lead us to actual weapons of mass destruction."
Abizaid said the intelligence effort in Iraq was mixed. "My overall assessment of how intelligence served us throughout the campaign was that it was the most accurate I've ever seen on the tactical level, probably the best I've ever seen on the operational level and perplexingly incomplete on the strategic level in regards to weapons of mass destruction," he said.
The general said U.S. forces have never had such a complete picture of enemy tactical dispositions and intentions. He said the speed of the coalition campaign was due largely to that intelligence picture.
"Operationally we came up with a remarkable clear picture. We expected to fight the main battle between the line of Karbala, Kut and Baghdad, we expected it to be fought against the four Iraqi Republican Guard divisions and we expected their exact positions on the battlefield," he said.
On the strategic side there were some successes. He pointed to the coalition capture of 32 of the top 55 most-wanted as one example. But, he said, he is perplexed that the coalition hasn't found weapons of mass destruction. "As we overran positions early in the campaign, we found an incredible amount of defensively oriented chemical equipment," he said. "I surmised from that that they were going to use chemical weapons."
He said there was a lot of intelligence saying that there was a "red line" in Iraq, beyond which Iraqi forces would use chemical weapons.
"In 1991, I served in northern Iraq," he said. "I had seen up in the Kurdish areas the fact the Iraqis had used chemical weapons against their own people. I certainly knew from studying the campaigns during the eight-year war with the Iranians that (the Iraqis) had used chemical weapons and a lot of the intelligence traffic indicated on a tactical level, as well as a strategic level, that they would use it against us."
Still, as coalition units continue their investigations, he believes that the Iraqi WMD programs will come to light.
The committee will vote on Abizaid's confirmation today, with the full Senate likely to vote on his confirmation, shortly, said Senate staffers.