'Only a Matter of Time' Before Saddam's Regime Is Destroyed
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 22, 2003 DoD officials today offered no timeframe when U.S. and coalition military operations in Iraq would conclude, but they emphasized that time was running out for Saddam Hussein and his regime.
"There are a lot of unknowns" involved in trying to predict when Operation Iraqi Freedom would end, Pentagon spokesperson Victoria Clarke told reporters.
The only certain thing, Clarke pointed out, "is the end of Saddam's regime."
And it is "only a matter of time," she emphasized, before the dictator's regime is destroyed and its threat to the region and the world is ended.
American and coalition forces "are making considerable progress" in Iraq, Clarke said. The country's southern oil fields have been secured for the Iraqi people, she noted, and the key port of Umm Qasr has been captured.
And she noted that U.S. and coalition forces are making good progress in Basra.
"We are all very proud of these people, the U.S. and the coalition forces who are performing with incredible courage and skill and dedication," Clarke said. "They are doing an outstanding job and they are imposing some devastating impacts on the Iraqi regime."
Iraqi soldiers, including some senior leaders, "are surrendering and defecting in some numbers," Clarke said.
Today at an earlier press briefing held at his headquarters in Qatar, Army Gen. Tommy Franks told reporters between 1,000 and 2,000 Iraqi prisoners of war are now in custody. Franks noted thousands more Iraqi troops have laid down their arms and gone home.
Franks, who heads U.S. Central Command, also confirmed that the Iraqis had fired six missiles at Kuwait, four of which were destroyed by Patriot anti-missile batteries. DoD officials said the other two missiles fell harmlessly into the desert and the water.
After three days of action "we believe we're having effect" in demolishing Hussein's military and political power, declared Army Maj. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who briefed with Clarke.
U.S. and coalition pilots flew more than 1,000 sorties against several hundred targets across Iraq yesterday, noted McChrystal, vice director for Joint Staff operations. More than 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from U.S. Navy and British ships and submarines, he added.
Also about 100 air-launched cruise missiles were fired, McChrystal said, while coalition aircraft delivered hundreds of precision-guided munitions onto targets throughout Iraq.
The two-star general noted that American and coalition ground forces have penetrated 150 miles into Iraq since setting out from Kuwait. He pointed out the U.S. and allied troops have crossed the Euphrates River, advancing north past An Nasiriyah en route to Baghdad.
However, Operation Iraqi Freedom has a long way to go, McChrystal pointed out, especially with six Republic Guard divisions and Special Republican Guard divisions deployed around Baghdad "that may still fight."
The war, Clarke said, "is not against a people, a country or a religion, noting "the Iraqi people who are welcoming coalition forces are clear evidence they know this to be true." Military planners, she said, are taking great care to protect Iraqi civilians.
"Our targets are military, and we continue to urge civilians to stay home and away from military assets," Clarke said.
She also noted the United States "is prepared to provide as much humanitarian aid as required, when and where it is needed."
Clarke offered DoD's condolences to the families and friends of the six U.S. Marines, one U.S. Navy man and 14 British troops who were killed during the first 72 hours of operations.
She released the identity of the naval officer: Lt. Thomas Mullen Adams, 27, of La Mesa, Calif. DoD had provided the names of the Marines earlier.