- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 29, 2003

WASHINGTON, D.C., Albania, March 29 (UPI) — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned both Syria and Iran not to interfere with the ongoing war Friday, saying Syria would be held "accountable" for night-vision goggles and other military equipment sent to Iraqi forces, and Iranian-funded troops inside Iraq would be dealt with as enemy combatants.

Rumsfeld also denied numerous press accounts of unanticipated tactical troubles in the war with Iraq, saying the war is going according to plan. It is media "mood swings" that appear to change the picture, he said.

"We have seen mood swings in the media from highs to lows to highs and back again, sometimes in a single 24-hour period," he said Friday at a Pentagon press conference.

The Syrian government denied it was allowing military equipment to cross its borders, calling Rumsfeld's charges "absolutely unfounded."

Rumsfeld delivered his warning at the very beginning of a Pentagon press conference Friday.

"These deliveries pose a direct threat to the lives of coalition forces. We consider such trafficking as hostile acts and will hold the Syrian government accountable for such shipments," he said. "To the extent it keeps on, we have to consider it a hostile act."

He stopped short of threatening military action against Syria.

"They control their border, and we're hopeful that that type of thing doesn't happen," he said.

The United States bombed a bridge about 100 miles from Syria, accidentally hitting a bus carrying Syrian civilians when it did. Pentagon officials said there was no connection between the night-vision goggles intelligence and the bridge attack.

And in the war of words and perceptions being waged alongside the bullets and battles, the Pentagon and White House seem to have settled on a term for the irregular forces that continue to trouble American soldiers and Marines in Iraq: "death squads."

Ten days into the war and a week after ground forces made their first push into Iraq, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers said the United States controls roughly a third of Iraq and has air dominance over all but the skies over Baghdad and Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown.

Rumsfeld said "hundreds" of armed Badr Corps fighters have entered Iraq from Iran. They are Iraqi nationals funded and trained and equipped by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, according to Rumsfeld.

"The entrance into Iraq by military forces, intelligence personnel, or proxies not under the direct operational control of General Franks will be taken as a potential threat to coalition forces," Rumsfeld said. "Armed Badr corps members found in Iraq will have to be treated as combatants."

Rumsfeld said he had not read a Washington Post article published Friday quoting the three-star general in charge of Army ground operations.

"I suppose everyone can have their own view," he said.

Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, told the newspaper in an interview that overextended supply lines connecting forward deployed troops back to Kuwait and surprisingly brutal and unconventional Iraqi forces have stalled the U.S. drive toward Baghdad and increased the likelihood of a longer war than many had anticipated.

The Army's 3rd Infantry and 101st Airborne have paused to allow to amass a 10-day stockpile of water, ammunition, food, fuel and other supplies which have been depleted by sustained combat over the past week. The supplies must come in large part overland on 250 miles of lightly defended terrain.

The supply line is protected for the most part by Marine units who continue to be attacked by irregular forces of varying degrees of proficiency but apparently limitless recklessness and brutality, according to press reports from the field.

"The attacks we're seeing are bizarre — technical vehicles (pickups) with .50 calibers and every kind of weapon charging tanks and Bradley (Armored Fighting Vehicles)," Wallace told The Washington Post.

The ferocious militia together with the unconventional forward charge of the U.S. Army to quickly close on Baghdad, the stretched supply lines, and the beleaguered Marines, critics say the Pentagon underestimated the effort that would be needed to oust Saddam Hussein.

U.S. Central Command spokesman Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks disputed the notion that Central Command underestimated the enemy.

"I don't think that we have necessarily underestimated, and I am certain that we accounted for enemy action. The specifics of the action, no one can ever predict exactly how a battle will unfold. We can't even completely predict how our own actions will unfold, but I think we remain confident that we have a good grip on what's going on here, and we're proceeding," he said.

Rumsfeld and Myers also fought the assessment.

"Well, we're one week into this, and it seems to me it's a bit early for history to be written, one would think," Rumsfeld said.

Myers reiterated the opinion he expressed earlier in the week.

"I'll give you a definitive statement: I think it's a brilliant plan," Myers said.

He added that adjustments made as the war has been waged are to be expected and are not an indication that the original plan is flawed.

"There's that old adage that you probably know as well, that no plan, no matter how perfect, survives first contact with the enemy," Myers said.

Myers said the Pentagon was aware going in what the long supply line would mean tactically.

"Obviously, we can measure the miles between the Kuwaiti border and where the Medina division is right now and where the 1st Marine Division is. We know that's a long way. We know those lines of communication are important to our well-being and that they have to be protected. There has not been a militarily significant assault on those lines of communication since we began," he said. "There have been some battles that have been bravely fought by our folks, and they have dispatched the enemy, in many cases quite quickly."

Myers and Rumsfeld's view differs sharply from commanders, soldiers and reporters in the field, according to press reports.

A senior U.S. official told United Press International the difference is a function of their respective views of the battlefield.

To soldiers facing enemy fire, the opposition is intense. To commanders who must figure out how to get needed supplies a long way through a sandstorm against an enemy that employs unusual tactics, the challenge is all consuming.

But to Rumsfeld and Myers, as long as the supplies keep coming, and as long as the enemy casualty count outpaces the American one, the strategic plan is succeeding as planned.

That American tactics and plans are being adapted on the battlefield is a sign of the strategy's strength — it is flexible and anticipated many possibilities, including the "unknowables" thrown at them by the enemy — rather than its weakness.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Friday the military plan is on track, even if the schedule has been delayed by supply problems, a massive sandstorm, or fierce opposition.

"A military plan is not a timetable. It is a plan for achieving an objective," Wolfowitz said to the Foreign Press Club. "I don't think you can say they underestimated the resistance or that the resistance is so stunning when they're so far into Iraq with basically a week into this war."

Wolfowitz said if the Pentagon underestimated anything it was the will of the enemy to violate the norms of war.

"I think we probably did underestimate the willingness of this regime to commit war crimes," he said.

U.S. Central Command officials and Pentagon officials have gone to lengths to list their alleged violations: using a hospital as a military command center, pretending to surrender and then ambushing troops, pretending to be U.S. soldiers and shooting Iraqis who surrender to them, forcing unwilling soldiers to fight at gunpoint, and executing civilians.

"I don't think we anticipated so many people who would pretend to surrender and then shoot. I don't think we anticipated such a level of execution squads inside Basra. But I would not exaggerate the degree of difficulty that this presents," Wolfowitz said.

In Qatar, military officials acknowledged the weather has slowed down the resupply operation.

"We were indeed hindered to a period of time by weather, our ability to fly in supplies, for example, was reduced. And so the flow of supplies did change for a period of time. But we're still able to conduct the operations as we see them, and we're still on our plan," said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, a Central Command spokesman.

Myers said the fast push up to Baghdad was intentional and that the long supply lines were accounted for in the plan. He said the air campaign has gone as planned. He would not describe why Franks opted for this unconventional path and why the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved it.

"I think some of that would give away the whole plan, and it just gets into the operational detail, I'd like to avoid that," he said.

Rumsfeld dodged a question whether Gen. Wallace had been reprimanded for speaking so openly about the problems he has faced.

"My personal view is that their tasks are to do what they've been asked by General Franks to do. And it's to fight a land war in Iraq. And to the extent that included meeting with the media and saying things, then that's General Franks' and General Wallace's concern," Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld denied that the Pentagon or White House is trying to shape the public perception of the war's progress.

"There's not some coordinated perception that's being peddled. This is a — people see what they see and say what they say," he said.

That claim was mildly undermined by the introduction of a new term for the irregular forces that have so dogged the U.S. military.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer introduced the term "death squads" for the forces, which previously have been referred to in briefing as "thugs" "militia" and "paramilitary forces." Fleischer used the term twice at the White House briefing.

"I think it's important to recognize what you have here really are the equivalent of death squads for the state of Iraq that are taking action against the people of Iraq because they fear a free and liberated people of Iraq," Fleischer said.

Rumsfeld and Myers used the term six times Friday in referring to the fighter, often clothed in civilian garb, who drive civilian vehicles and fight both U.S. military forces and threaten and kill Iraqi civilians. Many are part of the Fedayeen Saddam - Saddam's martyrs — a force of anywhere from 5,000 to 25,000 irregular fighters. Others a part of the Ba'ath party.

No matter what name they are functioning under, Rumsfeld had tough words for them Friday.

"Their purpose is certainly not to make martyrs of themselves, but to make martyrs of innocent Iraqis opposed to Saddam's rule. But we will take them at their word, and if there wish is to die for Saddam Hussein, they will be accommodated," he said.

Myers said the United States Air Force has "air supremacy" over almost all of Iraq except Baghdad and Tikrit.

"While we've been flying freely over Baghdad, we have some surface-to-air missiles systems… systems currently unlocated in that area," Myers said.

Myers said the Republican Guard has not yet gone on the offense but is instead disbursing and digging into defensive positions. Myers said U.S. forces control between 35 percent and 40 percent of Iraqi territory.

"We are degrading Iraqi forces, particularly the Republican Guard, by air, and that's fixed wing and rotary wing. And we will engage them with the full weight of our combat power at a time and place of our choosing," Myers said.

CNN reported Friday that Republican Guard forces were shifting around Baghdad to reinforce the Medina division, which has been degrade to about 65 percent of firing capacity by air attacks.

U.S. forces have fired more than 650 Tomahawk missiles and dropped more than 5,000 precision-guided munitions since March 20.

Special forces destroyed two paramilitary headquarters in An-Nasiriyah Thursday, according to U.S. Central Command.

A Predator unmanned aerial vehicle fired a Hellfire missile at a communication dish outside the Iraqi Ministry of Information Thursday in Baghdad, Myers said. CNN reported the building was targeted in a massive blast Friday night.

Two U.S. Navy F/A-18C attack aircraft targeted and struck three Al Samoud missile launchers at approximately 8:00 a.m. EST. The missile launchers were approximately 25 miles northwest of the Iraqi city of Basra, 240 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Iraq has launched at least 13 surface-to-surface missiles at Kuwait. All that threatened population centers have been intercepted by patriot PAC-3 systems. Three fell harmlessly in the desert or in the water.

A missile that hit Kuwait near a shopping mall, causing damage but no serious injuries, appeared to have English language writing on some of the fragments.

That suggested to some Kuwaiti officials that it was a U.S. launched missile that went astray, rather than the first successful Iraqi hit inside Kuwait, The New York Times reported Saturday.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide