of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon - Lobby briefing at
the Foreign Press Association, London 24 March 2003
Secretary Geoff Hoon has said the military campaign in Iraq
is proceeding 'according to our strategic planning'. Mr Hoon
made the comments in his opening statement at a Government
press briefing on operations in the Gulf.
of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon:
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen. I would like to give you
a brief update on the military campaign. Could I begin by
paying tribute to the British and American Servicemen who
have lost their lives over the past few days, whether through
tragic accidents or as a result of enemy action. I offer our
deepest sympathy to their families at this very difficult
have seen the reports this morning that two British soldiers
are missing. Every effort is being made to find them. I also
want to pay tribute to the ITN journalist, Terry Lloyd, who
lost his life while doing his job in a very dangerous region
to the military action, it is worth noting that before the
campaign actually began, most people were predicting an initial
phase of air strikes lasting for days, if not weeks, before
any ground operations. In fact the start of the land operations,
including 3 Commando Brigades assault on the Al Faw
Peninsula, was just as significant to the early part of the
campaign as the use of air power.
put the progress of the campaign into context. Over the weekend
we have seen a consolidation of early gains on the ground
and a significant push northwards, complemented by a continuation
of precisely targeted air and cruise missile strikes. Southern
Iraq is broadly under the control of coalition forces and
the US Armys V Corps and the First Marine Expeditionary
Force have continued north at a steady rate of progress. We
should not under-estimate the huge logistical effort required
to support this. The speed of the advance will have to take
into account the demands of resupply and sustainment.
are, as expected, continuing pockets of resistance. Although
there have been a significant number of surrenders, some regular
troops remain loyal to their commanders, if not to their government.
But on the whole what we are seeing is the activity of relatively
small numbers of desperate men, members of the security organisations
or militias most closely associated with the regime, such
as the Fedayeen Saddam, who believe that they have nothing
to lose. The difficulty of dealing with such resistance should
not be under-estimated, but it does not alter the fact that
Saddam Husseins writ no longer runs in large parts of
of southern Iraq is of considerable strategic importance as
it accounts for a significant proportion of Iraqs demographic
and economic resources. Umm Qasr is a city similar to Southampton
and the countrys major port. The southern oilfields
and their infrastructure are crucial to the economic future
of Iraq and to the welfare of its people. One of the coalitions
major concerns prior to the campaign was the risk that Saddam
Hussein might choose to destroy those fields by rigging the
oilfields for demolition. Such sabotage would not have stopped
coalition forces, but it would have threatened an environmental
and humanitarian catastrophe, crippling Iraqs economy
for years to come. Achieving our objective of securing the
oilfields and infrastructure virtually intact is a significant
committed to the future of Iraq and to returning its governance
and resources to the Iraqi people. That is why we want to
avoid any unnecessary loss of life or destruction of infrastructure.
That is why we apply so much care to the targeting process.
I can personally vouch for the amount of time and effort that
is devoted to this.
use of the Royal Air Forces newest weapon Storm
Shadow makes a significant difference to our options.
Storm Shadow is a deep penetrating precision guided weapon,
it enables us to attack well protected high value targets
which could previously only be destroyed by using massive
force, carrying the risk, as it would have been, of high numbers
of civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure.
Storm Shadows precision greatly reduces this risk. Early
indications are that storm shadows use has been highly
successful. We hope to provide a more detailed briefing on
storm shadow in the near future.
meantime we are seeking to follow up the coalitions
early successes, although our immediate priority must be the
prosecution of the military campaign until the regime has
been defeated and removed. We are also making plans to meet
any urgent humanitarian needs in those areas under coalition
control. One key element to this is the opening of the port
of Umm Qasr to shipping. This in turn means that we need to
sweep the Khawr waterway for mines. The Royal Navys
Mine Countermeasures Task Group, which includes mine clearance
divers, has begun this difficult task. Owing to the extent
of Iraqi mine laying, this may take a number of days.
meantime the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Sir Galahad
is being loaded with humanitarian supplies. We are also looking
possibility of delivering any urgent assistance by land or
air. In the slightly longer term the creation of a secure
environment should make it possible for international and
non-governmental organisations to deliver assistance.
is proceeding according to our strategic planning. As I said
to the House of Commons last Thursday, I have never been one
of those who predicted a quick and easy victory, and I am
not intending to join that group now. But the surge of Iraqi
propaganda in the last day or two, and what appears to be
the disgusting treatment and exploitation of American prisoners
of war, are the actions of a desperate regime that knows its
time is coming to an end.
Can I ask about the next phase of the war. British and American
forces havent entered Basrah, and of course are still
some way from Baghdad. What happens when we get to Baghdad?
I dont want to anticipate that. I am not suggesting
that there is a strict timetable. I have indicated that there
may well be resistance,
even from some of the regular forces under Iraqi control.
But certainly the progress has been good, it is consistent
with our plan, and as we approach Baghdad clearly the options
available will be looked at carefully.
If I could just pursue that point. Many watching the progress
of this war fear that things are about to get much, much worse,
that Saddam is preparing for a last stand outside Baghdad.
Are you preparing the forces and the country for that eventuality?
And if I could just pursue your thoughts on prisoners of war
as well. Disgusting though some people may find those pictures,
they may also see pictures of surrendering Iraqi prisoners
of war and want to know what the distinction is.
As far as a last stand is concerned, I think my concern, as
I have indicated in relation to Basrah for example, is the
use of regular
forces, militias, basically some of Saddam Husseins
thugs who in previous years have been responsible for terrorising
and intimidating the Iraqi people. It is those kinds of people
that are resisting. By and large the regular forces around
Basrah for example withdrew, and our concern obviously is
not to expose our regular forces to the kinds of terrorist
activities that some of those groups could carry out. But
that will be a judgment made by the military leadership on
the ground and advising us as to the best way forward. As
far as prisoners of wars are concerned, it seems to me that
there is an enormous difference, and I think one recognised
in the Geneva Convention, between factual photographs very
often of the backs of prisoners surrendering, as against the
appalling barbaric behaviour of Iraqi forces dealing with
those American prisoners, and legally it seems to me, as well
as morally, quite different to report factually that there
are prisoners being surrendered, as against the kind of treatment
that we saw of those young men and women at the hands of the
Two quick questions. One is can you give us a figure on the
number of prisoners that you think have been taken on either
side? And secondly, following this mornings broadcast,
do you now accept that Saddam Hussein is at the very least
alive and operating in Iraq?
I dont think actually it is sensible at this stage to
talk about numbers of prisoners. We are certainly aware of
the numbers of
coalition forces missing. Obviously in one sense we hope that
they are prisoners rather than they are fatalities, but it
is a concern that we continue to investigate. As far as Iraqi
prisoners of war is concerned, there is a very different picture,
because many of those forces who surrendered around Basrah
actually surrendered following large numbers of those regular
army members simply leaving the battlefield and going home,
so actually those that were taken prisoner may well be a small
number of the total simply because the Iraqi commanding officer
found himself in a position of not being able to command his
own forces since they had abandoned the fight, and that is
a picture I think which has been seen consistently in many
part of the regular Armed Forces. But I am not under-estimating
the level of resistance that might be put up by Republican
Guard troops for example. As far as the pictures this morning
are concerned, obviously analysis continues. What I can say
straight away is that those pictures were not live and therefore
there is still the possibility of Saddam Husseins people
issuing tape recording. We are well aware that he spent many
hours recently tape recording various messages, so I think
we have to do a little more analysis of what was actually
said to see whether or not that was in fact Saddam Hussein.
What do you say to the claim from Iraq over the weekend that
they would let the coalition forces take a walk in the desert,
but when it came to the cities that would be a different matter?
We have anticipated for some time the idea that there might
be a defence with the regular forces of the towns and cities
and we have no intention of falling into that particular trap.
Equally I recognise at some stage Baghdad will have to be
taken, and that is the kind of military judgment that we will
make when the time is right, and we are not yet there.
To what extent does the seizure of the Euphrates bridges in
the south compensate for the military disadvantage of not
being able to open a second front with whatever it was, the
104th Mechanised Infantry in the north? And secondly, how
do we explain away the failure of the friendly fire protection
of the Tornado which came down? Can that be rectified or was
it just bad luck?
Well as far as the bridges are concerned, they are a key element
in the ability of forces to advance north, those bridges have
been secured, and that advance continues. As far as the technical
failure is concerned, I have been at pains on many occasions
in recent months to emphasise to Members of the House of Commons
that there is no single technological solution to the problem
of friendly fire, I wish there were. We did all that we could
to equip those Tornado aircraft with the very latest equipment,
equipment that is actually available to American aircraft
as well, but still we need to look again at the procedures,
both our procedures and obviously the procedures available
to those operating the missile batteries to make sure that
those two systems operate effectively together, and that work
is under way as a matter of some urgency.
You seemed to imply at one point there that the failure was
in the aircraft, not in the patriot missile?
No I wasnt implying that at all, but clearly there are
separate procedures that govern the operation both of the
missile battery and of the aircraft. What we need to ensure
is that those two procedures work effectively together in
a way that they clearly did not the other day.
Can you tell me why we havent seen pictures of the cheering
happy civilians that the Prime Minister led us to believe
we were going to see as soon as our liberating forces went
into their towns and villages?
Well there have been some such pictures and there are pictures
in Umm Qasr which I have certainly seen on the television,
and one of the issues related to Basrah for example, we know
full well that the militia are holed up in Basrah, they have
machine gun positions, they are moving some of the local population
out of their homes and they are preparing to intimidate in
the way that they have done in the past local people. These
people, you have got to remember, have had years of intimidation
and terror from these same organisations and they are not
likely going to risk taking heavily armed people on when actually
they are ordinary civilians.
fall into the trap of getting into street fighting
in Baghdad, but are you going to have to rethink your strategy
towards the towns in the south, you have been by and large
by-passing them rather than capturing them. Is it now time
for you to take more full control of them in order to eliminate
the pockets of resistance you have been talking about?
What I said about the south was that those towns and cities
have no military strategic significance, and clearly ultimately
they will have to be liberated, but I think it is best to
be patient about the way in which we deal with that, rather
than risking regular forces to in effect clean up those pockets
of resistance when it is not militarily necessary to do so
in the short term.
There are reports that the British commandos fighting around
have come under fire from Iranian military and that
the Iranian Interior Minister has said that if there are any
more violations of Iranian air space, Iran will react. Do
you have any comments?
The reports certainly of missiles going into Iranian air space
I am fairly confident now were Iraqi missiles and not coalition
There is no reason to suspect that any of our missiles have
strayed into Iranian air space. I am not aware of any more
recent reports of firing.
Again I am not aware of those.
Are you worried
enthusiastic for this war. Given that
we are now seeing prisoners of war, casualties, friendly fire,
that peoples appetite for it will diminish?
Can I put it this way, I dont believe that people have
an appetite for war. People recognise that we had to take
very difficult decisions to deal with a threatening situation,
and clearly most British people, and certainly most people
in the Ministry of Defence, want this over as quickly as possible,
but at the same time recognising that there is a job to be
done and that that job may take time, consistent with our
military planning. I actually believe that the population
when they see, as they are doing hour by hour, would see just
how difficult that task can be, that this is real military
action, this is not some game, some computer game, that is
being played out before their eyes, there are real risks affecting
individual men and women who courageously are fighting for
this countrys best interests.
You paid tribute to Terry Lloyd, can you confirm that he was
killed by British forces or by American forces, and if so
would you express regret or even apologise for his death?
I cant confirm that. He was clearly operating in a very
dangerous part of Iraq, operating beyond the frontline of
British forces. He was out to get his story, as he has done
on many previous occasions, and one point that I did make
yesterday in an interview with ITN was the fact that he, above
all else, was responsible for exposing the appalling treatment
of people at al-Habjah and courageously did it in that way
at that time. So I have great respect for the work that he
has done in the past and paid proper tribute to that.
You think that the broadcast of Saddam was not live, but he
did, as I understand it, refer to contemporary events. So
are you still saying there is a possibility that he may in
fact be dead? And there are reports that some chemical weapons
factory has been discovered, do you attach any credibility
The contemporary events referred to were not, and I am only
in the same position that you are, watching the broadcast
and listening to the simultaneous interpretation, the contemporary
events did not appear to me to be unambiguously contemporary,
if I can put it that way, and had he have wanted to indicate
that this was live, or was recent, there were many events
that he could have referred to which he clearly did not, so
that is why we are continuing to analyse the situation.
So you think he may be dead?
I do not think it makes a great difference to our military
campaign whether he is alive or dead, that campaign will continue
along the lines that we had previously planned As far as the
suggestions that a chemical factory has been discovered, that
is certainly being currently investigated and I will hope
to have some answers to that in due course.
What are the political risks to you, the Prime Minister and
the government if there is even the perception amongst the
public that this
war is not going well?
The war is going well, I have indicated it is going according
to the plan, and indeed I think that within what, 3 days of
operations beginning, the idea that somehow people are losing
confidence or heart is nonsense. You cannot expect after a
short period of military conflict to have all of the results
which you are by implication suggesting are necessary. This
is a difficult demanding complex sophisticated military operation;
it is not, I warned the other day, not going to be over in
a matter of days.
You say you are looking again at the procedures designed to
stop any repeat of the Tornado being shot down by the patriot
missile. Are the Tornado missions being restricted while you
look at those procedures, or are they flying under greater
risk? And how confident are you that we will not see any repeat
of such an incident?
We had done all that we thought necessary beforehand to both
equip our aircraft and ensure that the people involved follow
the necessary procedures to avoid precisely this kind of tragedy,
but certainly further efforts have been made to review and
to ensure that those complementary procedures operate effectively.
But as I indicated, no-one can give you that 100% guarantee
because it is not simply a question of technology, it is a
question of how individuals in very difficult situations react
to threatening events.
With regard to contacts with leading members of the Iraqi
leadership, the Republican Guard army, can you confirm whether
those contacts are continuing or they have slowed up in the
last 2 days?
There certainly were contacts before the surrenders around
Basrah and I think you can take it from me that similar sorts
of efforts are being made to avoid unnecessary bloodshed.
And part of our information campaign was designed to show
to ordinary Iraqi soldiers that they need have no fear of
surrender to coalition forces, but they perhaps had much greater
fear of Saddam Hussein and his regime. And it seems to me
particularly that ordinary Iraqi soldiers who themselves and
their families will have been threatened and intimidated by
elements of the regime, and that may continue even now, they
have nothing to lose by surrender and everything to gain for
the future of their country.
I would like to go back to this spectator chemical plant.
If this is proved, are you going to use for this task for
this investigation the
special chemical unit serving in Kuwait?
We certainly know that the expertise is there and available
and we are very grateful for that. I think at this stage we
should not get too far ahead of ourselves. I have seen the
suggestions, they are being properly investigated, we have
the equipment to check whether this is a chemical plant, but
I think for the moment it is better to remain cautious because
the case is not yet proved.
If you are now spread out over such a huge area, are you giving
any thought to possible reinforcements or replacements, particularly
in logistics and infantry?
There are other forces that in time will be available. That
is not an issue for today, we are only a few days into the
clearly we do have to think through the implications as far
as reinforcement, I mentioned resupply already, but that is
not a pressing
or immediate problem.
prisoners, your request for fair just treatment of
coalition prisoners of war. Has that been compromised do you
think by the treatment of prisoners, say, in Guantanamo Bay?
I dont believe that it is and we expect the military
forces in Iraq to observe precisely the terms of the Geneva
Convention with regard to military prisoners, and I have no
hesitation in condemning any behaviour that departs from those
It seems some of the American POWs may have been men and women
who were on the supply forces behind the advancing soldiers
and they were caught in an ambush from behind. Has this incident
caused the US and Britain to reconsider their overall ground
strategy in any way?
I think certainly we have got to recognise that it is not
simply the frontline that are vulnerable, which might have
been the traditional way of viewing risk in this kind of conflict,
where there is such a fast moving advance then as we have
seen, there are risks that those behind the frontline will
face, and certainly we need to adjust our force protection
to take account of those risks and to take account of the
way in which the enemy is operating.
We understand that the coalition are anxious to achieve their
military aims by inflicting minimum casualties where they
can. It is reported that allied troops have been ordered not
to open fire first unless fired upon. Are you confident that
the rules of engagement we have got are robust enough given
the resistance we are coming up against, or does that need
Can I say that your premise doesnt entirely accord with
the rules of engagement. People are entitled to take robust
action to defend
themselves, and since I personally approved those rules of
engagement, I assure you that our people are not put in any
risk by that and they are entitled to properly defend themselves
in the way that they have always done.
If it does take several days to clear the passage to take
in humanitarian aid, surely that is a set-back on original
plans to get aid
in, and how are you dealing with the imminent humanitarian
crisis in Basrah? And secondly, if Saddam Hussein is dead,
how many members of his regime would you want to kill to end
this war, when you define that you are victorious if he is
actually dead already?
Well as far as aid is concerned, there was no fixed timetable
for the delivery of aid. I am not going to allow ships into
a dangerous port area whilst there is still fighting going
on, nor are we going to take ships into a waterway that has
been heavily mined. Work therefore has to be done to ensure
the safety and security of those ships in order that they
can deliver humanitarian aid, and I dont think anyone
should be at all surprised about that. But certainly work
is under way loading Sir Galahad and making other stores
and supplies available whenever we judge it is safe for the
delivery of that food and other equipment. On your second
question, to be honest I dont think it is helpful to
speculate at this stage. We clearly have to deal with the
leadership, we have to see that leadership destroyed and that
is absolutely essential to our campaign.
What can you tell us about any Iraqi air activity? Has any
aircraft got up, have they challenged any of our aircraft,
have they fled, have they all been bombed, what is the situation?
We have not seen any Iraqi aircraft flying so far.
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