WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Army commander in Iraq who caused a stir early in the war by saying Iraqi resistance was tougher than forecast offered new evidence Wednesday — and no apology for upsetting anyone.
Lt. Gen. William Scott Wallace, whose replacement as commander of the Army's 5th Corps was announced Tuesday by the Pentagon, said the Iraqis were able to repulse an Apache helicopter assault on a Republican Guard unit by using a cellular phone to get early warning to their troops.
The Iraqis also orchestrated a localized power outage to serve as a signal of the coming Apache attack, he said. Nearly all of the three dozen Apaches in the March 23 attack were hit with ground fire, one was forced down behind Iraqi lines and the mission was a failure, the three-star general said.
Wallace had upset some in the Pentagon when he said one week into the war that in some respects the Iraqi defense forces were responding differently than he had expected.
At the time, his remarks were construed by some as undercutting public assertions by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and others that the U.S.-led offensive was going according to plan.
"I make no apologies for those comments," Wallace said from Baghdad in a videocast news conference with reporters at the Pentagon.
"The enemy that we fought" in numerous cities in southern Iraq in the opening days of the ground offensive "was much more aggressive than what we expected him to be, at least what I expected him to be." He mentioned the cities of Najaf, Hillah, Samawah, Karbala and Nasiriyah.
The Iraqis were "willing to attack out of those towns toward our formations, when my expectation was that they would be defending those towns and not be as aggressive," he added. Wallace also said foreigners who fought alongside Iraqi paramilitaries were "fanatical if not suicidal."
"So all of those things led to that comment," he said. He credited his soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division and the 101st and 82nd airborne divisions with adapting to the unexpected.
"Sixteen days to Baghdad ain't a bad record," he said. The drive on the Iraqi capital by Army and Marine Corps forces began March 20. On April 5 elements of the 3rd Infantry made a decisive thrust into downtown Baghdad, essentially breaking the back of the Iraqi resistance.
In a prepared statement opening the news conference Wednesday, Wallace praised the choice of Maj. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez to succeed him as commander of the 5th Corps, which is based in Germany.
Asked about his future, Wallace said he did not know what his next assignment would be.
"I'm having a great time commanding the 5th Corps, and I think I've got the best job in the Army. And I don't think I've been treated poorly by anybody," he said. He has held that post since July 2001, and other Army officials said it normally rotates about every two years.
In recounting the failed Apache helicopter assault on elements of the Republican Guard on March 23, Wallace said the Iraqis showed more creativity and cunning than he had expected.
The Apaches "did not meet the objectives that I had set for that attack," he said.
Most of the helicopters sustained heavy damage, and the two pilots of the downed Apache — chief warrant officers David S. Williams and Ronald D. Young — were taken prisoner. They were rescued April 13.
Wallace said it was learned after the attack that the Apaches' supposedly secret departure from their pre-attack assembly area near the city of Najaf "was announced to the enemy's air defense personnel by an Iraqi observer" thought to be a major general somewhere in Najaf.
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