Franks: Military operation 'on plan'
DOHA, Qatar (CNN) -- The effort to oust Saddam Hussein is "on plan," the leader of the U.S.-led military coalition said Sunday, adding that the entire Iraqi coastline has been secured, paving the way for humanitarian aid shipments.
"Where we stand today is not only acceptable in my view, it is truly remarkable," said Gen. Tommy Franks, appearing before reporters at a U.S. Central Command briefing.
Franks also questioned Iraq's leadership capabilities. "I have not seen evidence" in past days "that this regime is being controlled from the top," Franks said. He said he does not know whether Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is "dead or alive."
The "growing coalition of nearly 50 nations" is one day closer to liberating Iraq and removing its terrorist regime, Franks said.
Franks said large ground forces are within 60 miles of Baghdad and they maintain a "readiness level of their combat levels above 90 percent mission capable."
A "massive terrorist facility" has been destroyed in northern Iraq, Franks said. The facility is "huge" and "exploitation" of the facility "is in its very early stages. ... We have forces there now," he said.
He gave no further details. But Washington has accused Ansar al-Islam, a militant Kurdish group in northern Iraq, of operating a camp in the region.
U.S. officials have said for months that this camp is the "nexus" between the Baghdad regime and known terror groups, including al Qaeda.
But other intelligence agencies say they don't see a link, and that the camp is located deep within territory not controlled by Saddam Hussein.
Other key issues raised:
• Franks rejected reports that there is a pause in the movement of troops toward Baghdad. "We are not interested in fits and starts," he said. "We are interested in a steady flow" of forces "until I tell my boss, 'That's enough.'"
• Iraqi irregulars are not blocking flows of supplies to coalition forces in Iraq, but they are attempting to do so even as they terrorize Iraqi civilians, Franks said. These "death squads, bands of thugs, terrorists, paramilitaries" have occupied centers of cities, villages and towns from Umm Qasr, in the south, to areas about 250 miles north of there, he said.
• Coalition forces secured the oil fields in the south from regime destruction, Franks said. "This vital resource has been preserved for Iraq's future," he said.
• Coalition forces have "air and ground freedom of action" in western Iraq to protect Iraq's neighbors from "potential regime use of weapons of mass destruction," Franks said.
• Coalition air forces work 24 hours a day across "every square foot of Iraq," Franks said. "Every day the regime loses more of its military capability." Air operations are now being staged from numerous Iraqi air fields, "which are now under coalition control," he said.
• Franks told reporters the coalition now had a "very capable ground force" in northern Iraq. The forces, along with special operations troops, have prevented feuding between the Turks and the Kurds. Franks said those coalition troops "represented a serious northern threat to regime forces."
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