Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you so much for that wonderful, wonderful welcome.
General Franks, you and your outstanding team have done a truly superb job, for our troops, for our nation, for this region, and indeed, for the world. What this team, all of you, has accomplished will certainly go down in the history books. You and Mike DeLong, John Abizaid, General Moseley, General McKiernan, Admiral Keating, Del Dailey, Gary Harold (?), General Hailston have been privileged to lead what is without question the best trained, the best equipped, and the finest troops on the face of the earth.
It's a privilege for me to be able to be here and say thank you to that leadership team, but also to be able to say thank you to each of you personally for the extraordinary efforts that you've put in to this enormously important task over these past months. I know you've worked long hours, under considerable pressure, often in difficult circumstances, and I know it's not been easy, but think what's been accomplished. You have helped rescue a nation and liberate a people. You have driven a repressive regime from power, ended a threat to free people everywhere. You've protected a country, our country, from a gathering danger, and given the Iraqi people a chance to build a free nation and to live normal lives.
Think of the scenes we've all witnessed of free Iraqis pulling down statues of Saddam Hussein, embracing coalition forces, celebrating their new-found freedom. They will certainly take their place alongside the fall of the Berlin Wall, the liberation of Paris, and each of you helped make that happen. And you can be very proud of it.
While the Iraqi regime was waiting for General Franks to launch the air war, hundreds of Special Operations forces poured into all regions of the country, securing airfields, attacking terrorist facilities and regime targets, taking out the regime's capability to launch missiles and attacks against neighboring countries. They were followed by a large force rolling across the Kuwait border. Instead of working their way north to Baghdad, with long pauses and pitched battles for each city along the way, they pressed through southern Iraq in less than a week, leaving follow-on forces to secure the cities they passed as they raced for the capital, supported by outstanding air-ground coordination.
Notwithstanding death squads and dust storms, they reached the gates of Baghdad in less than two weeks. And by the time they were ready to take the city, they had decimated Iraq's command and control, and the Republican Guard divisions ringing Baghdad, with unquestionably the most powerful and precise air campaign in the history of warfare, using capabilities so discreet that coalition air crews could take out a tank hiding under a bridge without damaging the bridge.
Baghdad was liberated in less than a month, possibly the fastest march on a capital in modern military history. The war was remarkable not only for the speed and skill with which it happened, but also for what did not happen because of that speed and because of the design of the plan and the brilliant execution. You prevented the Iraqi regime from attacking its neighbors with missiles. You've secured the vast majority of Iraq's oil fields, and key bridges, roads and rail lines before they could be destroyed by the regime. Many had been wired for destruction but never detonated. Either the Iraqis responsible for pulling the trigger heard the message in the coalition leaflets and broadcasts and heeded the warnings, or else the coalition advance was so rapid and unexpected that they did not have time. We may never know the answer.
But we do know the result. The infrastructure of Iraq is largely intact, and an environmental disaster was averted. The dams were not broken. The villages were not flooded. There were no large masses of refugees fleeing across borders into neighboring countries as the result of a sustained air campaign that affected civilian lives. And there have not been large numbers of civilian casualties because the coalition took such great care to protect the lives of innocent civilians as well as holy sites. It's a remarkable achievement.
The plan was adaptable and flexible, and you folks were able to turn difficulties into opportunities. For example, Turkey's decision to not allow coalition forces to enter Iraq from the north was disappointing, to be sure, but that disappointment eventually was turned to our advantage. Instead of bringing the 4th Infantry Division ships out of the Mediterranean, even though we had given up hope of bringing them through Turkey, they were kept there by General Franks, creating the impression in Baghdad, we're sure, that the attack would not start until the coalition could open a northern front. This contributed to the surprise of the Iraqi regime when the war began without those forces.
When the dust is settled in Iraq, military historians will study this war. They'll examine the unprecedented combination of power, precision, speed, flexibility and, I would add also, compassion that was employed. This much is certain: From this experience, our experience in Afghanistan as well, we're learning lessons that will affect how the United States of America, how the Department of Defense and the services will organize, will train and will equip, lessons that will impact budgets and procedures, training and doctrine, and affect the future success of our country for many years to come.
So let there be no doubt. With the liberation of Iraq, you have transformed the country, but how you did it will help transform how we defend our country in the 21st century. Each of you played an important role -- Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines -- and the Coast Guard -- and, I would add, the civilian employees and the contractors, many of whom, I'm sure, are here. You can take great pride in that accomplishment, the skill with which you planned it, the tenacity with which you fought it and the humanity with which you prosecuted it. You've accomplished a great deal, but we still have a good deal to do, let there be no doubt.
We're grateful for your service, and we're also grateful to your families. They worry about you, I know, and they endure long separations. They also serve our country in that way, and they serve the cause of freedom. So we're grateful and proud of them. And the American people are proud of you and grateful to each of you as well.
So may God bless you all. And thank you very much.