US Department of Defense, WASHINGTON: Insurgents will have a tougher time targeting U.S. troops riding in Humvees and other vehicles in Iraq come Feb. 15.
That's when, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told CNN interviewer Larry King Feb. 3, “there will not be a vehicle moving around in Iraq anywhere outside of a protected compound that does not have the appropriate armor.”
Speaking to King from the Pentagon via a video hookup, Rumsfeld noted that specialists had been flown into Iraq in recent weeks to attach shipped-in supplemental armor to various U.S. military vehicles.
Rumsfeld praised U.S. military planners for adjusting to the insurgents' hit- and-run tactics, noting “there is no line of battle in an insurgency.”
The U.S. military in Iraq, the secretary pointed out, has “provided force protection in a country and in an insurgency where there is no forward edge of the battlefield.”
Rumsfeld also lauded the successful Iraqi elections held Jan. 30, noting Iraqi forces had provided security around 5,000 polling sites across the country.
Ongoing efforts to train and equip Iraqi army troops and police “are well along,” Rumsfeld reported. U.S. troops would stay in Iraq “as long as needed, and not one day longer,” he said.
Looking back, Rumsfeld praised the leadership of Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the now-retired former U.S. Central Command chief who quarterbacked the combat offensive that destroyed Saddam Hussein's military.
“The major combat operation (against Saddam) lasted a very short period of time,” Rumsfeld recalled. “General Franks did a superb job, and his commanders were highly successful.”
The secretary acknowledged that the absence of a northern front directed against Saddam's forces at the onset of hostilities in March 2003 probably contributed to the insurgency's staying power today. Turkish politicians had declined to allow U.S. troops to enter Iraq from Turkey, likely because polling had shown that the vast majority of Turks were against the idea.
“One of the things that didn't go right was we were not able to get the 4th Infantry Division in from the north through Turkey,” Rumsfeld recalled. As a result, he noted, the Sunni Arabs living north of Baghdad who were Saddam's strongest supporters “didn't really ever experience the full power of the United States military.”
Today, Sunnis angered at the passing of the deposed dictator's regime “are the ones that are fomenting this insurgency that exists in Iraq,” the secretary pointed out. “The fact that we couldn't get that division in from the north was unfortunate, in my view,” he said.
Baghdad capitulated on April 9, 2003, but today American, coalition and Iraqi forces continue to battle an insurgency made up of disgruntled Sunnis and anti- West Islamic radicals, including al Qaeda-affiliated mercenaries.
The insurgency has proven to be “more intense than had been anticipated,” Rumsfeld acknowledged, but he noted he was heartened by the fortitude shown by the millions of Iraqis who voted in a democratic election regardless of insurgents' threats.
After enduring decades of oppression under Saddam, the Iraqis “still had courage,” Rumsfeld observed, as well as “that natural human desire to be free.”
The secretary also revealed that he offered his resignation to President Bush twice over the Abu Ghraib prison abuse situation. “I felt that he ought to make the decision as to whether or not I stayed on,” Rumsfeld said. “And he made that decision and said he did want me to stay on.”