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Iraqi Freedom Largest Special Ops Effort Since Vietnam

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 4, 2003 – Operation Iraqi Freedom is supported by the largest special operations force since the Vietnam War, Defense Department officials said during a press briefing today.

While the vast majority of special operations forces are American, the United Kingdom and the Australian militaries are also providing "very capable" forces, officials said.

Army Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, vice chief of operations on the Joint Staff, said coalition land forces are consolidating their hold on what is now called Baghdad International Airport.

"Currently, the coalition has a substantial number of forces on the ground at Baghdad International Airport and will begin to increase our scope of control over additional areas nearby," McChrystal said. "We're still sporadically engaging forces on the ground and clearing buildings there."

Further east, U.S. Marines are pushing toward Baghdad from Al Kut and are engaging any remaining elements of Republican Guard divisions defending the outskirts of Baghdad.

Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke commented on the video broadcast today showing Saddam Hussein walking around Baghdad.

"It doesn't matter whether he's dead or alive," she said. What is significant is that "whoever is left of the regime leadership got up today and realized they have less and less control of their country."

McChrystal, who wears a U.S. Special Operations Command combat patch, spoke about the special operations actions of the war in Iraq.

"They are more extensive in this campaign than any I have seen," he said. "Probably as a percentage of effort, they are unprecedented for a war that also has a conventional part to it."

In northern Iraq there is a significant special operations presence, he said. Coalition personnel are working with Kurdish fighters against the regime. Special operations personnel are helping achieve stability in the area. They helped bring in the 173rd Airborne Brigade last week, and they are marking and calling in coalition air power on regime targets.

"In the west, there is a large area denial mission -- very, very effective at this point," McChrystal said. Special operations forces were also responsible for attacking a number of specific targets such as airfields, weapons of mass destruction sites, and command and control headquarters.

In the south, special operations personnel gave aid to conventional forces and did some of the work in the cities to help the Shi'ia elements.

When Operation Iraqi Freedom started, defense officials said "hundreds" of special operations forces were in country. Two weeks into the operation the number has risen. Clarke did not give a ballpark figure for the manpower committed to operations, except to say "enough."

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