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Defense Department Briefing Transcript, April 8

(Coalition ground operations, Iraqi military/command and control,
casualties, targeting/careful process, journalists killed, coalition
air operations, chemical weapons, Private Jessica Lynch, coalition
POWs, Chemical Ali, expatriate Iraqi forces) (4540)

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke and
Major General Stanley McChrystal, vice director for Operations, J-3,
Joint Staff, briefed the media April 8 at the Pentagon.

Following is a transcript of the briefing:

(begin transcript)

United States Department of Defense
DoD News Briefing -- ASD PA Clarke and Maj. Gen. McChrystal
Presenter: Victoria Clarke, ASD PA
Tuesday, April 8, 2003 - 1:30 p.m. EDT
(Also participating was Maj. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, vice director
for Operations, J-3, Joint Staff.)

CLARKE: Good afternoon, everyone. We continue to make progress in the
war with the Iraqi regime, which has less control of the country every
day. Our troops are moving at will in Baghdad, including the
presidential palaces. In southern Iraq, British forces are ridding
Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, of regime influence. The military
has lost much of its command and control capability. Most of the
opposition is now sporadic attacks from small units.

We continue to believe that some tough fighting may well still lie
ahead, but the forces will not stop until Saddam Hussein and his
regime are gone.

We offer our condolences to the families and friends of those who have
died in the war. Secretary Rumsfeld, yesterday, showed a list of their
names at the briefing. To that sad list, we add the names of several
Marines who died during a firefight in central Iraq on April 4th:
Corporal Bernard Gooden, age 22, of Mt. Vernon, New York; Lieutenant
Brian McPhillips, 25, of Pembroke, Massachusetts; and Sergeant Duane
Rios, 25, of Hammond, Indiana. We also add the name of Army Specialist
Larry Brown, age 22, Jackson, Mississippi, killed in action in Iraq on
April 5th.

In addition, three Army soldiers were killed south of Baghdad
yesterday, and their names have not yet been released. They are all

In this war, we go to great lengths to avoid unnecessary loss of life.
Most of our bombs are precision-guided. We choose targets carefully to
avoid civilians. Our ground and air forces take similar care to avoid
damaging neighborhoods, hospitals and religious sites.

We also go to extraordinary lengths to help not just coalition troops,
but also Iraqis, soldiers and civilian, who are hurt. There are nearly
300 wounded Iraqi soldiers and civilians being treated in coalition
hospitals, and many more are treated by our medics on the battlefield.
On the Hospital Ship Comfort in the Northern Arabian Gulf, we are
treating 75 Iraqi prisoners of war for broken bones, gunshot and
shrapnel wounds. The ship has 62 doctors, 100 nurses, translators,
plus Navy corpsmen, a thousand beds, emergency and operating rooms.
The professionalism of these people is truly extraordinary. One of the
medical teams said, quote, "As doctors, we do not differentiate
between patients, whether they are friends or foes." End quote. The
Iraqi prisoners of war are treated with the same expert care as the
wounded coalition forces and Iraqi civilians.

The children are often the ones who can touch your hearts the most. An
Iraqi baby was badly burned in a domestic house fire unrelated to any
fighting. Our coalition partner, Great Britain, flew the six-month-old
girl from Iraq to a hospital in Liverpool, England.

Terry's (sp) got short video we'd like to show.

(Video shown.)

Thanks, Terry (sp).

As we care for the Iraqi people, we're learning more about their
lives. One 9-year-old boy from Nasiriyah told our medical personnel
that he was petrified of Saddam Hussein. The boy's uncle explained
that if a child said anything bad about Saddam Hussein, his police
would kill the whole family. The police would simply assume that the
family had told the child bad things about him.

An Iraqi prisoner of war is receiving treatment at the 3rd Fleet
hospital. He told our medical personnel that in all of his 27 years,
he had never been treated with such care and respect. He was very
appreciative of the coalition efforts to care for the Iraqi population
and said he was amazed that prisoners of war and civilians were
treated with equal care. The treatment changed his view, evidently,
about, the situation in Iraq. He began to help the coalition forces by
giving information about enemy hideouts in Umm Qasr.

Finally, I'd like to express again the department's condolences to the
families and friends of the journalists who have been killed in this
war. They have been doing very, very important work, and we're
saddened by their deaths. War, as you all know, by its very nature, is
tragic and sad. And a compassionate country has an obligation to wage
it as humanely as possible, and that is exactly what we are doing.


MCCHRYSTAL: Thank you, Ms. Clarke. I'd like to add my condolences as
well to the families of those brave men and women who died on the
battlefield. We shall not forget them.

Operation Iraqi Freedom continues. Coalition forces now have a
substantial presence in and around Baghdad, and continue to work to
isolate the city. We're conducting raids from a couple of directions
into Baghdad proper and rooting out resistance wherever we find it.

Coalition aircraft continue to dominate the airspace over Iraq,
focusing on supporting coalition ground forces in and around Baghdad,
remaining Republican Guard forces, and time-sensitive targets of
opportunity. In addition, we're continuing to conduct airstrikes on
Iraqi military forces along the green line in the North.

Coalition air forces have established air supremacy over the entire
country, which means the enemy's incapable of effective interference
with coalition air operations. A few numbers that might put that in
proper perspective:

Since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, we've flown more than
30,000 sorties. Those are fixed-wing sorties and do not include
helicopter sorties.

We've moved more than 40,000 tons of cargo by air.

We've dropped over 20,000 total munitions. That's both
precision-guided and unguided munitions. About 70 to 80 percent of
those are precision-guided munitions.

Our aerial refueling tankers have provided over 37 million gallons of
fuel to coalition aircraft.

And with that, we'll be happy to take your questions.

CLARKE: Charlie?

Q: Torie, I feel compelled to ask -- the general referred to the brave
men and women who have died on the battlefield, and you've referred to
the military people who have been killed as "heroes." And you did
express regrets for journalists being killed. Overnight a Reuters
journalist and a Spanish journalist were killed in the Palestine
Hotel, I believe by a tank round, and I believe an Al-Jazeera
journalist -- there are reports that an Al-Jazeera journalist was
killed elsewhere.

There are reports that a tank took small arms and perhaps RPG fire
from the direction of the hotel, although journalists say that they
saw no sign of it. Do you think that's reason enough for a tank to
fire a round at the hotel, where you know there are unarmed

MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, I think I'd start by expressing specific condolences
at the loss of every one -- and that's what we meant to do -- but
journalists in particular, because particularly with this war,
journalists have been closer to coalition soldiers than probably ever
before, with the embedded program, and those who are not.

But then I'd go on and put ground combat into perspective for
everyone. The forces that were moving up and into Baghdad didn't just
end up in Baghdad, they fought their way there. They fought their way
across Iraq through a number of Republican Guard divisions, and they
did it with extraordinary skill, but they also did it with
extraordinary restraint, and the embedded journalists with us have
seen that the entire way.

When they get into combat in the cities, which from the beginning we
have specifically said would be dangerous and difficult, you put
yourself in their position, they have the inherent right of self-
defense. When they are fired at, they have not only the right to
respond, they have the obligation to respond to protect the soldiers
with them and to accomplish the mission at large. So when they receive
fire, and regardless of how specific they can be of where it came from
-- and normally they're pretty good at it -- they have that right and
they have that responsibility.

Q: Torie --

CLARKE: I -- I would just add -- and as the general said, we've had
example after example after example reported by the media of the
coalition forces going to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian
casualties. That is the practice. That is the policy.

I'd also say, as we have said for a long time, even before we knew
whether or not there would be military action in Iraq, a war zone is a
dangerous place. Baghdad in particular, we believe, would be a
dangerous place. We continue to warn people -- we continue to warn
news organizations about the dangers. There are -- we've had
conversations over the last couple of days -- news organizations eager
to get their people unilaterally into Baghdad. And we were saying it
is not a safe place, you should not be there.

Q: Do you know if military in the area of the hotel were told that it
was a hotel where journalists were staying?

CLARKE: Which military?

Q: Whoever fired the tank round, for example.

CLARKE: Well, I'd just say you go over the last several days, as we've
been working our way into Baghdad, we have gone to extraordinary
lengths to avoid civilian casualties.


Q: Yeah. On the issue about chemical weapons, we had some reports
yesterday that they had found drums of chemical weapons, and no one
was asked at the podium about the finding of some artillery rockets
that may have had chemical weapons. What are -- do you have any update
on those possible chemical weapons?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, I have seen an article, a news article about the --
they were rocket rounds is what I saw, 120 millimeter. But I have seen
nothing in official reports that would corroborate that.

For the other potential chemical and biological find, we know that, in
fact, there were some positive tests -- field tests -- but they were
mixed. There were some positive and negative, is my understanding.
And, in fact, we have taken samples out to get definitive testing. And
so at this point, it is something we're looking at closely, but no
hard finding.


Q: Torie, it would seem as though America has a new heroine, and yet
it's a little cloudy. The Washington Post, after PFC [Private First
Class] Jessica Lynch was captured, did a story, as you know, saying
that she killed a couple of her would-be captors in a firefight, she
was wounded, she exhausted her ammunition before being taken.

But we've heard nothing definitive either from the military or from
her, even though she's recuperating. And there are lots of questions,
such as, how did she get all these broken bones? Was she in fact shot?
You know, what are the details of her capture? Why did her dogtag wind
up in a political member of -- political party Ba'ath headquarters?
All these unanswered. When will we be able to hear her story? When
will she meet with us?

CLARKE: Well, it's really up to the doctors and the people who are
giving her the appropriate care and treatment. That's the number-one
priority right now, is making sure she has the appropriate care and
the appropriate time to recuperate. I'm sure, at the appropriate time,
we'll hear more about that story.

Q: Can you corroborate the Post story pretty much as they described

CLARKE: No, I can't.

Q: Torie.

CLARKE: Let's do Brett.

Q: General, can you give us some battle damage assessment, if you have
it, of that leadership target that was taken out in the Mansour
neighborhood? Who was believed to be inside? How you characterize that
strike right now?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, we characterize that strike as being very, very
effective. As you know, our time-sensitive targeting process is built
on obtaining intelligence from a number of different sources and then
being able to link that to the capability to target that very quickly.
In this case, the 45-minute time between when we received potential
intelligence and actually putting ordnance on the target is
extraordinary, and putting that level of accuracy on the target.

What we have for battle damage assessment right now is essentially a
hole in the ground, a site of destruction where we wanted it to be,
where we believed high-value targets were, where intelligence led us
to believe that. We do not have hard battle damage assessment on
exactly what individual or individuals were on- site.

Q: If I could follow up, Torie, and maybe you can add to this. The
number-one objective here is to take out Saddam Hussein's regime, his
leadership on the list of objectives for the operation. When do you
know that you're there? You mentioned that command and control is
almost nonexistent now, but how do you -- when do you make that
decision that his top leadership is essentially done?

CLARKE: The general can probably answer it more specifically than I
can, but I'd refer you back to some things the secretary talked about
the other day. It is ending the regime and its control over the
country. We've made considerable progress. There are still some orders
being given by somebody. They don't seem to be the best of orders.
They don't seem to be very well coordinated. But when we see the
command and control element gone, when we have the ability to move
throughout the country completely freely, when the Iraqi people are no
longer as fearful as some of them still are.

Q: Are you close to that now?

CLARKE: I wouldn't put a time frame on it. We've made a lot of
progress but, again, emotions have a way of swinging. And as much
progress as we've made, which is very, very good, there could still be
some tough times ahead.

Q: If Saddam Hussein was in that building, General, militarily would
you expect his remaining forces to collapse once the word gets out
that he in fact is gone? I mean, will it matter militarily?

And Torie, maybe you can answer the same question politically. What
does it matter if he's there or not?

CLARKE: I, for one, don't think it matters that much. I'm not losing
sleep trying to figure out whether or not he was in there and what
happened. What matters is that the regime, whatever elements of it
remain, is losing more and more control over the country. So I think
that's what's important.

Q: But the regime is a dictatorship and he's the dictator. If the
dictator is gone, won't that have an effect?

MCCHRYSTAL: From a military standpoint, I think we've said that the
Republican Guard are receiving instructions but in many cases not
following them and not capable anymore, so they're not an effective
fighting force. But he still controls elements of the Special
Republican Guard and death squads. And his role as military commander
and dictator -- moral leader -- of that regime, he and a group of
others probably militarily are key at that point, as much as they can
exert any kind of influence, even if it's limited in Baghdad. We'd
like to reduce that.

Q: General, can you --


Q: I wonder if you could step back a second and explain to us the
strategic overview of these opportunistic operational maneuvers we've
been seeing in Baghdad in the last couple days. Those are the words of
General Brooks, "opportunistic operational maneuvers." What is the
overall strategy here to the various forays? Is part of it to divide
Baghdad eventually into safe areas of U.S. control and isolating the
regime? Or just can you paint an operational context here?

CLARKE: I just want to give one piece of context and then let the
general finish it. To go back to something General Myers talked about,
I think on March 20th or March 21st. He says when you have good intel
and you couple that with a military that can -- and is flexible and
adaptable and fast, that is the key to success. I think yesterday is
another example of that. And that's how they've been operating across
the board for the last few weeks.

MCCHRYSTAL: I think that's absolutely right. Part of it is a
demonstration of capability, and part of it is exercising a
capability. Whenever we can operate through his capital, which is the
core of the regime, we subdivide his capability to operate. We
minimize or continue to degrade what command and control they have
and, as we convince the people that the regime is through, then we
think that it becomes that much easier.

Q: Isn't there an endgame here, though? Just this endless being
flexible and being opportunistic, though -- that implies it could go
on ad nauseam. When do some of the endgames start in Baghdad?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think it's a good question, but it's almost like the
pause question we had about a week ago. We've been at this three or
four nights, and people are starting to ask the end game. We are
sitting in the center of the city with almost an armor brigade right
now, which is extraordinary. So if you put it in that kind of context,
I think the end game is the end of the regime. And that's much closer
than people thought it was.

Q: General McChrystal, can you tell us anything about the finding of
bloodied military uniforms believed to have belonged to Americans in
the Al-Rashid prison when the Marines went through there?

MCCHRYSTAL: Ma'am, I won't discuss specifics. What I will say is we
demonstrated with Private Lynch and we'll continue to demonstrate just
how important any prisoners of war are to us, and our desire to rescue
them will not stop, and we are conducting intelligence gathering and
operations to support that. If we discussed any of the specifics, we
might endanger those operations. So I wouldn't -- I wouldn't want to
go into that.


Q: General, initially, you described the size of the U.S. presence in
the capital as substantial. And then you mentioned almost an armored
brigade size. Can you give us a numerical measure of how many American
troops are in the capital, both Marines and the Army?

MCCHRYSTAL: No, sir, I can't. Some are inside, some are around the
capital. We, in fact, essentially isolated the capital. We have moved
in and out of the capital on several occasions -- have a significant
element in there right now -- but I wouldn't put numbers on any part
of it.

Q: How about around the capital? Do you want to define it that way
rather than inside?

MCCHRYSTAL: I would rather not define it.

Q: General, can you tell us how can -- sort of as a follow-up to Bob's
question -- can you clarify for us at all how many different units or
how many U.S. troops have actually spent the night in the capital? We
understand that some of them did and have. And I wonder if you can
also confirm whether they have sent in resupply convoys for those
units? In other words, whether they're intending to stay where they

MCCHRYSTAL: That is entirely up to the ground commander. One of the
things we're finding right now is the ability to spend the night where
they want to. They have not been driven out of the capital on any
occasion. And in every occasion where they've gone in, they've come
out where they wanted to. We, in fact, control the airport and are
staying there. We are starting to bring in regular resupply and
activities. So what we're really demonstrating is an ability to do
whatever it is General Franks wants to do.

Q: I just wanted to follow up. They haven't stopped, then, spent the
night at other locations inside the city of Baghdad, aside from the
airport? Is that fair to say?

MCCHRYSTAL: They are spending the night wherever they want to. In
fact, the city -- the airport is inside the city.

Q: Can you give us an idea of some of the key locations that are now
essentially held by U.S. troops? We know there's a number of
presidential palaces. We've heard that the other airport was taken by
the Marines. Can you give us an idea of what key strategic objectives
you think are now under U.S. control in the city of Baghdad?

MCCHRYSTAL: I really can't. Those would be operational details. As I
did stress, the city is isolated, which is one of the most key points
-- the main routes in and out -- and then the airport already.

Q: Torie, just to follow up on the deaths of the journalists. You have
cited and you've also shown us a number of examples of admirable
restraint on the part of U.S. troops. In fact, just yesterday you
showed us a videotape of a Marine pilot steering his weapon away
because he didn't know who might be in a civilian vehicle.

How does that square -- those examples of restraint square -- with
sending a tank round into a hotel where it's well known that
international journalists, including American journalists, are in the

CLARKE: Two things. I think most of the examples of the coalition
forces demonstrating restraint have been provided by the news media
who are out there, close to 700 of them --

Q: I'm not disputing --

CLARKE: -- reporting on this day in and day out. And it has been
example after example after example of exercising restraint to save

The incident you're talking about, I was not there on the ground. I
don't know if your characterization of how it happened is true. My
understanding is, again context, we are at war, there is fighting
going on in Baghdad. Our forces came under fire. They exercised their
inherent right to self-defense.

We go out of our way to avoid civilians. We go out of our way to help
and protect journalists. That's been repeated again and again and
again. But I personally have probably had 300 individual conversations
with news organizations and bureau chiefs and some individual
correspondents, and the essence of every one of those is war is a
dangerous, dangerous business, and you're not safe when you're in a
war zone.

Q: General, before the conflict began, we kept hearing about these
15,000 to 20,000 or so Special Republican Guards and security forces
inside Baghdad. Yet the battles we've seen in Baghdad don't seem to
reflect those numbers yet on the Iraqi side. Any idea where those
15,000 to 20,000 combatants went? Are they holed up somewhere? Have
they melted into the civilian population? Have you got a bead on where
they've gone?

And also, can you tell us anything about the reports that some of the
U.S. combatants inside Baghdad are discovering many foreign nationals
from other militaries -- the Syrians, the Lebanese, and the like?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, I'm not familiar with any foreign national fighters
in Baghdad. I saw one somewhere south.

But the Special Republican Guard we believe still exists, we believe
it is still operating inside Baghdad. We believe that it has great
potential for some sharp fights and some of the movements we've had
into and out of the city have been sharp fights, which the coalition
forces have been very successful in -- but have been significant
engagements. To the extent and what their strategy is, is unclear.

Q: But do you have a good idea where they are? Are you in fact -- are
the U.S. forces in fact squeezing them and isolating them into any
particular section of Baghdad, or are they simply melting away into
the fabric of the Baghdad society?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, it would be inappropriate for me to give that kind of

CLARKE: We'll take Pam and then Mr. McWethy.

Q: A couple of questions on these senior leadership targets. Can you
explain why you guys are -- it's kind of a loaded word but -- so coy
about identifying who you're going after? It sort of always comes out
in back channels that it's Saddam Hussein and his sons. Is there some
political downside or public relations downside or an intelligence
downside to not saying "Saddam Hussein and his sons"?

And could you tell us -- yesterday the secretary was fairly positive
about Chemical Ali being killed in the attack in Basra, but we're
maybe seeing some reports that maybe that's not the case. Could you
straighten those out for us?

CLARKE: On your first one, I'd give you two reasons. One's intel and
the other is operational security.

Q: (Off mike.)

CLARKE: We don't want to go into any detail about the intel that we
have, which is very often excellent intel, and we certainly wouldn't
want to talk about how we are doing something, because we might want
to do something similar going forward.

Q: I understand that, but if a bomb falls on a building, does it --
how -- can you explain how it might compromise your intelligence if
you say that you thought X, Y and Z was inside, instead of just
"senior leadership"? Or is it that you don't know; you saw guys with
stars on their shoulders walk in and --

CLARKE: I'd just leave it with what I said.

Q: Okay. What about Chemical --

CLARKE: And on Chemical Ali, he was optimistic, and we remain
optimistic that he is dead.

Q: Ahmad Chalabi and his fighters -- I'm still trying to understand
what they are doing. We had a reporter with them, and they were
virtually all armed. If you have a bunch of Iraqis in uniform, some
kind of uniform that's not American uniform, and they are armed,
wandering around inside Baghdad, you would think that they would be a
potential target for either British or American forces. What are you
doing with them? What are they doing? And how do you keep U.S. forces
from killing them?

MCCHRYSTAL: That's a good question. And what we are doing right now is
training them. We have brought them to a location. We are equipping
and training them, for exactly the reasons you discussed, so that as
they are employed in the liberation of their own country, they're done
(sic) in a way that is safe and effective within the coalition.

Q: So they're not out wandering about in Iraq at this point; you have
them in a contained area, and you are working with them, prior to
having them --

Q: And that contained area is in Iraq?

CLARKE: It's my understanding -- in southern Iraq. And we'll leave it
at that. Thank you.

Q: Excuse me. We're not through yet.

Q: Yeah. (Laughter.)

(end transcript)

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