bylines By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service /bylines
news-article WASHINGTON, March 20, 2003 -- U.S. Central Command exercised "flexibility" in attacking a senior Iraqi leadership compound last night, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said today.
Rumsfeld spoke to a packed house at the Pentagon and answered questions about Operation Iraqi Freedom. He also spoke directly to Iraqi soldiers and civilians. His press conferences are transmitted into Iraq via Commando Solo broadcasts.
Rumsfeld said the Navy and Air Force hit the compound as a result of fast-moving and perishable intelligence information. Bomb damage assessment is under way. "Any war plan has flexibility built into it," he said. "The minute things start, one has to take account of the realities that you find in the world. To not do that would be a terrible mistake."
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Richard Myers said that flexible intelligence agencies and military are "the key to victory, and that's what you saw."
Rumsfeld said that was the first strike of the war to liberate Iraq. "The days of the Saddam Hussein regime are numbered," he said. "We continue to feel there is no need for a broader conflict if the Iraqi leaders act to save themselves and act to prevent such a conflict."
The secretary said he has reason to believe that members of the Iraqi military and even those close to Hussein are having second thoughts about supporting the dictator. "What will follow will not be a repeat of any other conflict," he said. "It will be of a force and scope and scale that is beyond what has been seen before."
Iraqis must realize that Hussein's days are numbered. He said Iraqi soldiers must make a choice between "dying for a doomed regime" and aiding in the liberation of their people.
He was very detailed in warning Iraqi soldiers not to use chemical or biological weapons. He warned them not to follow orders to use weapons of mass destruction "on coalition forces, Free Iraqi Forces, neighboring countries or innocent Iraqi civilians."
He said Iraqi soldiers should not blow up dams to flood villages. He said they should not set fire to Iraq's oil fields. This last sabotage may already have started. Rumsfeld said three or four oil wells in Southern Iraq are reportedly on fire.
He bluntly said that soldiers who follow these orders are war criminals and will be prosecuted as such.
"You should see those orders for what they are: the last desperate gasp of a dying regime," he said. "If you follow Saddam Hussein's orders, you will share his fate. The choice is yours."
Rumsfeld urged Iraqi soldiers to listen to coalition radio stations to receive instructions on how they can demonstrate that they do not intend to fight.
He and Myers both said coalition forces will take every precaution to protect civilians. He said plans have been made to house any refugees inside Iraq. He urged Iraqi civilians to stay in their homes and not go to work. They should listen to Commando Solo broadcasts to find out about provisions the coalition has made for food, water, medicine and shelter.
"Once Saddam Hussein's regime is removed, we intend to see that functional and political authority is placed in the hands of Iraqis as quickly as possible," Rumsfeld said. "Coalition forces will stay only as long as necessary to finish the job and not a day longer."
He addressed the coalition makeup. He said 35 countries have publicly associated themselves with the effort to disarm Iraq, others are privately supporting it and, as Operation Iraqi Freedom continues, more countries will join. A prime example is Turkey, which voted to allow U.S. overflight rights today.
Support for the coalition comes from all around the world and includes many majority Muslim countries. "This is not a war against a people. This is not a war against a country. It is most certainly not a war against a religion," Rumsfeld said. "It is a war against a regime."
The secretary said war is the last choice. "America has done everything humanly possible to avoid war and secure Iraq's peaceful disarmament," he said.
Myers took exception to pundits who say the war against Iraq will be easy. "Let me assure you that we do not regard combat as an easy task," he said. "Warfare is dangerous. We will have casualties. But our troops are the best trained and the best led in the world. They understand their mission to defend America, and they will carry out their mission successfully."
Rumsfeld also praised the more than 250,000 U.S. service members in the Persian Gulf region. "We have the greatest fighting force on the face of the Earth," he said. "Our nation is blessed to have so many brave men and women who voluntarily risk the lives to protect our country.
"As they prepare for battle, the prayers of all Americans are with them and with their families."