Rumsfeld Thanks CENTCOM Forward for Its Service
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
DOHA, Qatar, April 28, 2003 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld thanked the service members and civilians of U.S. Central Command here for the jobs they did as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"You helped rescue a nation and liberate a people," he said. "You have driven a repressive regime from power, ended the threat to free people everywhere. You've protected our country from a gathering danger and given the Iraqi people a chance to build a free nation and to live normal lives."
Rumsfeld visited the troops during his trip through the Gulf region. He praised the plan devised by Central Command operators as flexible, using the example of reaction to Turkey's refusal to allow coalition troops across its borders to open a northern front against Saddam Hussein's regime.
He said Turkey's decision was disappointing, but "that disappointment was turned to our advantage." CENTCOM commander Army Gen. Tommy Franks decided not to reroute the ships carrying the U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division's equipment out of the Mediterranean area.
"They were kept there creating the impression in Baghdad that the attack would not start until the coalition could open a northern front," Rumsfeld said. "This contributed to the surprise of the Iraqi regime when the war began without those forces."
These types of decisions characterized Operation Iraqi Freedom, the secretary pointed out. "While the Iraqi regime was waiting for Gen. Franks to launch the air war, hundreds of special operations forces poured into all regions of country, securing airfields, attacking terrorist facilities and regime targets, taking out the regime's capability to launch missiles and attack neighboring countries."
A large force rolling across the Kuwait border followed the special operators. "Instead of working their way north to Baghdad with long pauses and pitched battles for each city along the way," Rumsfeld said, "they pressed through southern Iraq in less than a week, leaving follow-on forces to secure the cities they passed as they raced to the capital and supported by outstanding air/ground coordination."
Even with obstacles of weather and death squads, the land forces reached the gates of Baghdad in less than two weeks. "By the time they were ready to take the city, they had decimated Iraq's command and control and the Republican Guard divisions," he said, "ringing Baghdad with unquestionably the most precise and deadly air campaign in the history of warfare." The coalition air forces used such great care in targeting that they were able to "take out a tank hiding under a bridge without damaging the bridge."
He said the war was remarkable not only for speed and skill, but also for what did not happen because of the design and execution of the plan. "You prevented the Iraqi regime from attacking its neighbors with missiles, you secured the oil fields and other key infrastructure before they could be destroyed by the regime," Rumsfeld noted.
The swiftness of the plan allowed coalition forces to take the infrastructure intact, averting an environmental catastrophe. There also has not been large numbers of civilian casualties because the coalition took such great care to protect innocent civilians and holy sites, the secretary emphasized.
Lessons learned from the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq will provide the blueprint for American forces in the future, Rumsfeld said. "We're perfectly capable of living in this world; we need not be afraid; we can do it. It may be a dangerous and untidy world, but our country and our friends and allies are going to be able to preserve our way of life and still continue as free people. We'll do that because we have the ability and kinds of capabilities to do that."
Franks also spoke to the troops. "Thanks to the coalition, the people of Iraq have begun a transition to independence," he said. "On this very day, a large and diverse group of Iraqis are having a meeting. We call it the "big tent" meeting in Baghdad to discuss their future government. To be sure, the Iraqis will have a new government. It'll be a government of their choosing because of all of you and, because of every member of this coalition, Iraqis are allowed to raise their voice in debate without fear of torture or death.
Franks made sure service members realize this was not a victory speech. "To be sure, there is a great deal of work left to be done," he said. "But also to be sure, the Iraqi regime is no longer in power."
The biggest cheer of the day came when Rumsfeld spoke of the families. "We are grateful to your families," he said. "They worry about you, I know. They endure long separations, they also serve our country in that way, and they serve the cause of freedom."
On a lighter note, one service member wanted to know if Rumsfeld had "been bombarded by apologetic phone calls from your critics who had doom and gloom there."
"There were a lot of handwringers around, weren't there?" the secretary asked the crowd. "During World War II Winston Churchill was talking about the Battle of Britain when he said, 'Never have so many, owed so much, to so few.'
"A humorist in Washington the other day, sent me a note paraphrasing that saying: 'Never have so many, been so wrong, about so much.'"