CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar – The commander of the U.S. war in Iraq denied Sunday that he had asked the Pentagon for more troops before launching the invasion but sidestepped a question about whether the war might last into the summer.
Gen. Tommy Franks, speaking at a daily briefing of the U.S. Central Command in Qatar, was responding to published reports that the requests of U.S. generals for more ground troops were repeatedly denied by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Reports also quoted U.S. military officials as saying the lack of troops and weapons meant the war might last into the summer.
"One never knows how long a war will take," Franks said.
He stressed that there had been no new deployment orders since the start of the war -- an indication, he said, that he had sufficient troops.
Speaking with marked emphasis, Franks ticked off nine successes of coalition forces since the beginning of the war, starting with securing southern oil fields.
"The Air Force has worked 24 hours a day across every square foot of Iraq, and every day the regime loses more of its military capability," Franks said.
He said ground troops had attacked to within 60 miles of Baghdad "on multiple fronts" and that air operations were using "a number" of seized Iraqi airfields.
Franks appeared angry at the start of the briefing, obviously responding to growing public questions about the U.S. preparation for the war in light of strong resistance met by troops in south and central Iraq. "We're in fact on plan," he said. "And where we stand today is not, in my view, only acceptable, but truly remarkable."
Franks also rejected reports that his forces had engaged in an "operational pause" near the gates of Baghdad, stalled by supply problems and unable to press forward because of stiffer-than-expected Iraqi resistance.
"There have been some pundits who have indicated we may be in an operational pause," Franks said. "This simply is not the case."
He stressed that the timeline of his war plan was his own, and explained that he started the war when he did because he saw evidence that the Baghdad leadership intended to destroy its southern oil fields.
"And since we had a plan that enabled us to either do air operations first or ground operations first or perhaps special operations first, we simply put the mosaic together in a way which you have seen unfold," he said.
He said his plan's chief characteristic was flexibility and adaptability. "It gives us the way and the force to respond to opportunities we see," he said.
He called Saturday's homicide attack on an Army outpost in central Iraq "a pure means of terrorism," more so because the Iraqi leadership endorsed the attack, honored the bomber and called homicide bombings "routine military policy."
Jim Wilkinson, the spokesman at U.S. Central Command, said the regime's endorsement of the tactics "amounts to nothing less than state-sponsored terrorism."
Franks said the Iraqi people understood the care coalition forces were taking to avoid harming civilians and said, "the people of Iraq will welcome their liberation, to be sure."
When asked whether the Iraqi leader had survived the attacks, Franks said he did not know but added that he hadn't seen "credible evidence" over recent days that the regime was being controlled from the top.
Wilkinson added that as a result of confusion about who is in charge, morale among Iraq's senior leadership was low. He didn't elaborate.
Franks said the coalition had achieved air and ground freedom of action in western Iraq and had secured the coastline, clearing the way for humanitarian aid shipments.
He said coalition forces had also destroyed a massive terrorist facility in northern Iraq. At least 120 militants were killed in the attack on Ansar al-Islam, an extremist group suspected of being linked to the Al Qaeda network.
He also said Iraqis opposed to Saddam were working with coalition forces, notably in Nasiriyah, where they provided records on ruling Baath party officials. He did not elaborate.
Franks was asked again about civilian casualties in Baghdad as a result of coalition bomb and missile attacks. He did not directly address the question, saying instead, "This is an incredible, precise operation."