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24 March 2003

Franks Says Coalition Forces Moving Rapidly Toward Iraqi Capital

(Central Command Report, March 24: Iraq Operational Update) (470)

Coalition forces now engaged in intense combat with Iraqi conventional
and irregular forces are moving rapidly toward the Iraqi capital, and
in some cases the advances have been dramatic, the commander of the
U.S.-led coalition says.

"Our forces are operating throughout Iraq, on the ground and in the
air," said Army General Tommy Franks, who commands the U.S. Central
Command (CENTCOM) and the allied forces engaged in Operation Iraqi
Freedom. "United Kingdom and American marine forces are in the
southern oil fields as we speak protecting (the) Iraqis' future," he

At a 5 p.m. (1400 GMT, 9 a.m. EDT) briefing March 24, Franks said
resistance by Iraqi forces has been sporadic in a number of areas in
Iraq. And he said coalition forces have taken 3,000 Iraqi soldiers
prisoner since the operation began last week.

"Progress toward our objectives has been rapid and in some cases
dramatic," he said. "We've intentionally bypassed enemy formations, to
include paramilitary and the [Saddam] Fedayeen [militia], and so you
can expect that our cleanup operations are going to be ongoing across
the days in the future."

Franks, briefing from CENTCOM's forward headquarters at Camp As
Sayliyah outside Doha, Qatar, said coalition forces are doing their
best to protect civilians as the combat operations move ever closer to
the Baghdad. Evaluating the military campaign so far, he said he has
not seen any surprises not accounted for already as part of
operational planning.

Franks confirmed that coalition special operations forces -- including
British, Australian and U.S. personnel -- are operating in the north
and west of Iraq.

"Our special operations forces ... are conducting direct action and
strategic reconnaissance operations across the country," he said.

He noted that many orders emanating from the Iraqi capital to its
forces elsewhere have not been obeyed by a great number of Saddam
Hussein's subordinates.

"The command and control network is much less robust than it was five
days ago," he said. "They still do have a means of communication,"
however, Franks added.

Coalition demining operations have cleared about half of the channel
up to the port city of Umm Qasr, Franks said.

"A number of humanitarian assistance ships are loaded, and we'll begin
to deliver needed humanitarian assistance -- food, water, medicine --
to Iraqis within the next few days," he said.

Franks was not able to provide any new information on the fate of U.S.
soldiers taken prisoner March 23 when a small Army supply convoy was
ambushed during the night near the town of An Nasiriyah, where U.S.
Marines have been engaged in some of the war's most intense fighting
to date.

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)