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US has no idea where Saddam is: Franks

US Army General Tommy Franks, said he was satisfied with the results of the campaign so far but acknowledged he did not know if Saddam Hussein was dead or alive.

world Updated: Mar 22, 2003 23:03 IST

The man directing the war on Iraq, US Army General Tommy Franks, said on Saturday he was satisfied with the results of the campaign so far but acknowledged he did not know if Saddam Hussein was dead or alive.

General Franks, making his first public appearance since hostilities began early on Thursday, also told a press conference that allied US and British forces were not planning to attack the strategic southeastern port of Basra.

"Our intent is not to move through and create a military confrontation in that city," he said, adding that his troops had spotted no major concentration of Iraqi firepower in the city and would prefer to work with civilians there "who are welcoming the forces as they come in."

A British military spokesman said earlier that allied forces were trying to work out the "peaceful surrender" of Iraqi troops defending Basra.

Speaking at Camp As-Saliyah, a computerized forward command facility, Franks pronounced himself pleased with the course of the war to date.

"We believe we are on our timeline and I'm satisfied with what I've seen... I feel very good about the work that's been done up to this point."

Appearing at the same press conference, US Army Brigadier General Vince Brooks said the troops were making good time through the desert.

"The attack continues as we speak and has already moved the distance of the longest manoeuvre of the 1991 Gulf war in a quarter of the time," he said.

Nonetheless, Franks admitted that the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein, whom President George W. Bush has vowed to drive from power, remained a mystery.

"I have no idea where he is right now," Franks said. "I imagine we'll know more in the days ahead."

The United States launched the war in the early hours of Thursday, Iraqi time, with a missile strike on what US officials described as "leadership targets" in and around Baghdad in a bid to "decapitate" the administration right from the start.

"I don't know if he's alive or not," Franks said but insisted that the overall goal of the campaign was to cripple Saddam Hussein's full network of power.

"It's not about that one individual. It's about this regime."

The 57-year-old general, who was wounded three times in Vietnam, also disclosed that US-led forces operating in Iraq had taken 1,000-2,000 Iraqi prisoners of war in the opening days of their drive north to Baghdad and Saddam Hussein.

But he added that many more had simply melted away and returned to their families.

"We have knowledge of thousands of others who have laid down their arms and gone home."

The figures provided by Franks contrasted with field reports that several thousand of Iraqis, including one entire division, had been taken prisoner.

Franks also pledged that invading allied forces would root out the weapons of mass destruction that he said were without a doubt to be found in Iraq.

"We receive information every day from a number of sources with regard to weapons of mass destruction," he said, although so far no such weapons had been uncovered.

"It's work that lies in front of us rather than what we've already accomplished."

Franks said he had delayed meeting the press until the war was well underway for security reasons.

"We're sensitive about leaking information that risks the lives of our people," he explained, adding that security concerns were essential in the early stages of a mission.

First Published: Mar 22, 2003 23:03 IST