ARLINGTON, Va. — Less than 72 hours into the war, U.S. troops have penetrated into Iraq four times faster and four times farther than the speediest progress made by any American forces during Desert Storm, U.S. war commander Gen. Tommy Franks said Saturday.

Speaking via live video from U.S. Central Command’s forward headquarters at Camp Doha, Qatar, Franks described the campaign as “a mosaic” of air, sea, and ground forces, all of whom are proceeding virtually unchallenged towards their ultimate goal: the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Franks, who was making his first appearance before the press since the war began, said that there have been “no surprises” in the war up to this point.

“We are on our timeline, and I am satisfied with what I have seen so far,” the Army four-star, who is famous for his low-key, unflamboyant approach, told a huge audience of journalists.

“Any time forces are joined in a war, it’s a blessing when very few people lose their lives,” he said.

But Franks cautioned that it is still too early to assume that the war will wrap up as neatly as the world has so far observed.

“There will be surprises,” he said. “The time to celebrate will be when the mission is accomplished.”

Franks said that “A-Day” — Friday’s opening of what he called the “shock” air campaign in Baghdad — was “exceptionally well done.”

The Iraq campaign will continue to be characterized “by shock, by surprise, by flexibility, by the employment of precision munitions on a scale never seen, and by the application of overwhelming force,” Franks said.

Franks confirmed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Friday assessment that the pummeling of Baghdad by Air Force and Navy aircraft is beginning to break the back of the Iraqi leadership.

“There is a certain confusion going on within the regime,” Franks said. “I believe their command and control [capabilities] are not exactly as advertised on Baghdad television.”

Between 1,000 and 2,000 Iraqi soldiers have formally surrendered to U.S. troops, he said, and “we have certain knowledge of thousands [of soldiers] who have laid down their arms and gone home.”

He also showed reporters a blurry black-and-white satellite photograph that he said depicted 700 Iraqi troops that had abandoned their equipment and lined up, preparing to surrender to U.S. troops. The Iraqis were following directions provided in a leaflet airdropped by U.S. psychological operations forces, he said.

U.S. military commanders also “have an ongoing dialogue with senior Iraqi officials” concerning future surrenders, Franks said.

But Franks said he “has no idea” where Saddam is right now, or whether he was injured in Wednesday’s airstrikes against one of his Baghdad bunkers.

“I guess we’ll know more in the days ahead,” Franks said.

Franks said that U.S. units have not found any evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction so far, nor is there any indication that Iraqi military has tried to use chemical or biological weapons against U.S. forces.

With the Bush administration’s justification for the Iraq war largely based on Saddam’s alleged efforts to develop and hide chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, U.S. troops are likely to be under increasing pressure to find WMD.

And so Franks bristled when a reporter asked if the fact that no WMD has surfaced in Iraq indicates that the Bush administration’s claims were “a big lie.”

“There is no doubt the regime of Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction,” Franks said.

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