CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar – Gen. Tommy Franks, in his first briefing since the start of the U.S.-led war against Iraq, promised Saturday the campaign would be "unlike any other in history."
Franks spoke in Qatar, where he is running the war from a command post in the Persian Gulf nation. He said the assault on Iraq would be one of "shock, surprise, flexibility," using munitions on a "scale never before seen."
The campaign, the general said, was taking the fight "across the breadth and depth of Iraq" — aiming to secure bridges, airports and oil platforms. The allied war plan allows commanders to "attack the enemy on our terms," Franks said.
He said the U.S. military had opened a dialogue with a number of senior Iraqi military leaders both "in and out of uniform."
"We are on our timeline," he said. When asked to assess the progress of the war, however, Franks said: "The time for us to celebrate is when the mission is accomplished."
Franks said he "had no idea" where Saddam Hussein was or whether he was alive, responding to unconfirmed reports that the Iraqi leader was injured or killed on the opening night of the war.
"Actually, I don't know if he's alive or not," Franks said.
"But interestingly, the way we're undertaking this military operation" would not change regardless of what happens to Saddam.
The general confirmed U.S. missile attacks on a camp of the Al Qaeda-linked militant group Ansar al-Islam, in northern Iraq Friday night. Kurdish officials in the region said at least 100 people died in the bombardment.
Franks said thousands of Iraqi troops had laid down their weapons and gone home. He also said 700 Iraqis "lined up in the way they were instructed" in propaganda leaflets dropped by coalition aircraft.
Hundreds of international journalists attended the briefing, the first use of the U.S. military's high-tech $1.5 million briefing center.
Ranking officers from Britain, Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands stood behind Franks as he spoke, framed by a huge world map. The briefing also included grainy black-and-white videos of airstrikes on what were described as Iraqi positions, including a desert outpost on the border with Kuwait.
Asked about Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, which was under siege by U.S. and British forces Saturday, Franks said: "What we have seen is that the Iraqis are welcoming" allied forces as they move through the country. He said they expect the same reaction when Basra falls.
"This is about liberation not occupation," the U.S. general said.
Franks opened the briefing by expressing sympathy for the families of allied soldiers killed during the campaign. Asked later about casualties, he said: "These are wonderful young people ... my personal thoughts and prayers go out to their families."
Speaking of civilian casualties, Franks acknowledged noncombatants are injured and killed in any war and said the coalition was going "to extraordinary lengths to be precise about our targeting."
Asked his greatest surprise so far, Franks said it was personal: His wife sent him an e-mail greeting Saturday marking their wedding anniversary. The general admitted he had forgotten the special day.