INTERNATIONAL

Strategy on track, no supply shortage: Franks

Iraqis search for their belongings in a house hit by a coalition air strike in Baghdad's al-Azaamiyeh neighbourhood on Sunday. — AFP

Iraqis search for their belongings in a house hit by a coalition air strike in Baghdad's al-Azaamiyeh neighbourhood on Sunday. — AFP  

AS SAYLIYAH (Qatar) March 30. In a robust defence in the face of mounting criticism, the U.S. Central Command Chief, Tommy Franks, has said that the coalition war plan in Iraq was fully on track and his frontline troops were not short of supplies.

At a press briefing, Gen. Franks said that there was no change in the military plan.

The plan had the flexibility to fine-tune tactics, without losing focus on seeking the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and unseating the regime of the Iraqi Present, Saddam Hussein.

The progress of the war blueprint so far was not only `acceptable', but `remarkable', he said. But Gen. Franks was non-committal when asked whether the war could extend into the summer. "I simply do not know."

The General addressed the growing criticism in the U.S. media about the conduct of the campaign. Contrary to media reports, he said the military planners had not erred in judging the size of the force. He denied that there was a sudden surge in troop demand from his side in the light of the stiff skirmishes with the Iraqi forces recently. On the contrary, the induction of additional troops in the battle zone as was envisaged in the coming days was the result of the unfolding military plan.

This troop build-up would continue until the Central Command made a decision that no more troops were required, Gen. Franks said.

Asked to comment on a forthcoming article in the New Yorker which blames the U.S. Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, for imposing his judgment on the military command in the war-planning process, Gen. Franks said that the military plan that had been devised was the result of a collective effort and was unique. "Those who seek to drive a wedge among us may not be able to succeed." Visible indications that the Iraqis were beginning to torch the oil fields in Southern Iraq had triggered the coalition's decision to launch the military campaign immediately, he said.

The U.S. commander pointed out that in making that decision, he had been influenced by the difficulties that had been encountered in capping the oil fires lit by Mr. Hussein's forces in Kuwait during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991.

The unscathed capture of the Southern Iraqi oil fields, he stressed, has been one of the major achievements of the on-going war. A "very capable" force was also being deployed in northern Iraq, not far from the oil fields of Mosul and Kirkuk. Besides, a `massive' terrorist training camp had been busted in northern Iraq, he said.

The U.S. forces were addressing the threat posed by Iraqi irregular forces that had entrenched in the centre of key Iraqi cities such as Najaf and Nasiriyah, Gen. Franks said.

The Iraqi response to the U.S. military pressure had been increasingly acquiring `terroristic' overtones as witnessed in the suicide bomb attack in Najaf on Saturday.

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