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Defense Department Briefing Transcript April 10

(Operation Iraqi Freedom update) (4920)

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke and
Major General Stanley A. McChrystal, vice director for Operations,
J-3, Joint Staff, briefed the media April 10 at the Pentagon.

Following is a transcript of the briefing:

(begin transcript)

United States Department of Defense
News Transcript
DoD News Briefing
Presenter: Victoria Clarke, ASD PA
Thursday, April 10, 2003 - 1:45 p.m. EDT

(Also participating was Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, vice director
for operations, J-3, Joint Staff.


Clarke: Good afternoon, everybody. As the statues of Saddam Hussein
fall in Baghdad, hopes continue to rise for the people of Iraq. The
enemy is surrendering and scattering, but not everyone, and not yet.
The fate of Saddam Hussein himself is not clear, and some of his
supporters may be willing to go down with him. We continue to search
for the remaining enemy in Baghdad and elsewhere. Troops had a fierce
fight in north-central Baghdad within the past 24 hours, leaving at
least one Marine dead, and we may well face more tough fighting ahead.

The firefight reminds us that in any war, victorious or otherwise,
there is a price to be paid. And in the last few days, seven Army
soldiers, seven Marines, and one airman have lost their lives. We
respect and honor those brave Americans who have paid the price on the
battlefield so their fellow citizens can live in peace and freedom.

There have been some concerns continued to be expressed about a
possible humanitarian crisis in parts of Iraq. As Secretary Rumsfeld
said yesterday, the Iraqi people were already suffering before this
war started. Saddam Hussein had oppressed and abused his people for
many years. The war didn't launch a humanitarian crisis, it is ending
one, however. Free of the Iraqi regime, the people and the economy
will have a chance to recover and grow.

The coalition is giving the Iraqi people substantial amounts of food
and medical aid. The British ship Sir Galahad unloaded 200,000- plus
tons of food, water and medicine at the port of Umm Qasr. The United
States sent off two ships from Galveston, with a total of more than
50,000 tons of wheat for Iraq. Australia is shipping 100,000 tons of
wheat, and President Bush and Prime Minister Blair have called for the
United Nations to restart the oil-for-food program for Iraq to get
more aid to the people immediately.

Let me just walk through a few of the key areas of Iraq and give you a
sense of what is going on.

In Umm Qasr, the water supply is above prewar levels, as the secretary
said; electricity is restored; sufficient food is readily available.
The medical facilities are sufficient and operating. The United
Nations Children's Fund is providing medical supplies to Umm Qasr. The
Czech Republic, a coalition partner, is setting up a hospital for
enemy prisoners of war in Umm Qasr. A hospital ship from Spain,
another coalition partner, has arrived there, carrying food and
medical supplies.

In Basra, food supplies are sufficient; electricity has been restored;
piped water is available to 60 to 80 percent of the city, water is
being trucked to the suburbs, and supplies are adequate; the medical
facilities are functioning at prewar levels.

In Nasiriyah, also, the food supply is sufficient. However, water is
in limited supply, the electricity is not operating well, and health
care is rudimentary. The first Marine expeditionary force is providing
medical support to the population of Nasiriyah, and the United States
Agency for International Development is also providing health kits,
enough basic health supplies for 5,000 people for three months.

In As Samawa, citizens tell us they have stockpiled two to three
months of food. We're delivering water supplies and are working to get
their water and electricity service back to normal. The medical
situation there is still being assessed.

In An Najaf, there are no reported shortages of food, and we're
working to restore the water and the electricity. The main hospital
there is fully operational. On April 7th, an 18-truck relief convoy
arrived in An Najaf, coming from Kuwait. The cargo included water,
food, and medical supplies provided by the Kuwaiti Joint Red Crescent
Society. Kuwait is providing humanitarian aid literally every day to
the people of Iraq.

In Baghdad, the food is adequate. Hospitals are operating at reduced
rates, with a large patient load at some hospitals and not at others.
Power is down in some parts of the city, but emergency power is going
to critical facilities. Their water supply is in no immediate crisis
in Baghdad.

In northern Iraq, water, electrical, food, and medical service all
remain at prewar conditions. Five UNICEF trucks carrying 31 tons of
hospital equipment and supplies are headed toward northern Iraq, and
another 11 UNICEF trucks are destined for southern Iraq.

The food supplies are expected to last for some time but, obviously,
we remain concerned, and that's why we are working so hard with our
coalition partners to make sure the Iraqi people get what they need.

General McChrystal?

McChrystal:  Thank you, Ms. Clarke.

Operation Iraqi Freedom continues. As Ms. Clarke mentioned, and as the
secretary and the chairman clearly stated yesterday, the conflict is
not over. Since the Saddam statue was toppled yesterday, two U.S.
servicemen were killed and several dozen injured in firefights
throughout Baghdad and around the country. We continue to discover
weapons caches and military equipment hidden and abandoned. Death
squads still pose a threat. And there's still coalition forces
fighting organized resistance in the north near Tikrit and Mosul.
We've already begun removing remaining pockets of resistance in the
north. Specifically, earlier today elements of the 173rd Airborne
Brigade entered the town of Kirkuk, meeting minimal resistance.

I have three pre- and post-strike images for you today that indicate
the kinds of targets we've been focusing on lately. All three are from
the Tikrit area.

The first one is of a Special Republican Guard military barracks. It
also housed an obstacle course, a small-arms firing range, and a
parade field. The second one is of a VIP retreat house. The residence
was used by a small network of VIPs when they needed to move from
place to place around the country, while maintaining command and
control for Saddam's regime. And the last image is of a facility that
was used to jam radio broadcasts of foreign news services and internal
groups that tried to disseminate news and ideas contrary to the
regime's viewpoint.

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

Clarke:  Charlie?

Q: Torie, regarding Kirkuk, you've said repeatedly from this podium
that Kirkuk and the northern Iraqi oil fields are extremely important.
You said that, I believe, units from the 174th [sic] Airborne entered
Kirkuk today, meeting minor resistance. Our story out of Kirkuk says,
in fact, that Kurdish forces have taken control of Kirkuk, under the
auspices -- (inaudible) -- U.S. forces. When will U.S. forces take
control of Kirkuk? The Turks are quite worried about this, and they
seem to feel that U.S. forces are going to throw the Kurds out of
Kirkuk. What's the situation there? When will U.S. forces take control
of Kirkuk?

McChrystal: Sir, the situation is fluid and has been all day. In fact,
Kurdish forces, a combination of KDP and PUK forces, entered Kirkuk
earlier today with United States Special Forces with them. Elements of
the 173rd Airborne Brigade, in fact, followed them later in the
morning and are now in the city as well. We view it as an important
opportunity that was given when regular army forces in the north,
Iraqi regular army forces in the north, pulled back.

Q: Do U.S. forces now control Kirkuk or do the Kurds? And the Turks
seem to feel that they've been assured by Secretary Powell that
Kurdish forces will be removed from Kirkuk, and yet the White House
says that U.S. forces were sent to be -- who controls Kirkuk?

McChrystal: I think the situation is fluid. We have United States
forces in Kirkuk. We are talking very closely with the Turkish forces
as well, as we have been throughout this, as they are a coalition
partner.

Q:  Is that a battalion-size force, the 173rd, or larger?

McChrystal: Sir, the first element that went in was about a
battalion-size force, and then they retain the capability to reinforce
as required.

Clarke: And I would just add on, we tend to stay away from words like
"control," for the obvious reasons and because these situations do
remain fluid, often, for quite some time. But looking at it from the
other perspective, the Iraqi regime no longer controls that town.

Carl?

Q: Torie, there was another suicide bombing in Baghdad today. I
wondered, A, if you could give us any detail of that, and B, if you
could address the issue of how concerned you are as the organized
fighting goes down and the Fedayeen Saddam or whomever does more and
more of these suicide bombings in various parts of the country.

McChrystal: Sir, I think we're very concerned about it, because force
protection is a complex task, because as you try to allow life to get
back to normal, maintaining protection of your forces is increasingly
difficult, as we transition from high-intensity combat. This certainly
reinforces the danger that will remain.

So we'll have to take all the steps that we do in any other
high-threat environment to both protect the population and allow them
to try to get some semblance of normalcy, but still protect ourselves.

Q:  Any details on the bombing that took place today?

McChrystal:  Sir, all I've seen is the initial articles.

Clarke:  Bill?

Q: It's been several days since there have been reports of chemical
weapons. Do you have any update on whether the tests on those weapons
prove that there are chemical weapons?

Clarke:  No update.

McChrystal:  None, sir.

Q: There's a report with the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, embedded with
a Marines unit at the Al-Tuwaitha facility, and he reports that a
large underground facility has been found there and that he has been
told by the Marines of the possible presence of weapons-grade
plutonium.

Now, understanding that initial reports are sometimes wrong and you
want to give tests, can you tell us anything about this -- what you
know about it -- anything that's developing?

Clarke: I really can't. I'm only aware of the report from the embedded
reporter.

McChrystal:  I'm in the same situation.

Q: Okay. What about the process? When these reports come in, does the
exploitation task force then go in right away? How does that work?

Clarke: I think every situation is different. The one common factor
is, it takes time. It's hard work. It is a long process. You often
have -- in different circumstances, sometimes things test positive,
and then it turns out to be negative. We're taking our time and we
remain focused on the primary task of winning the war. Doesn't mean we
can't do other things at the same time. We do, but we will take our
time and do it properly.

Q: Can there be definitive tests on the ground, or do all of these
samples have to be sent back to the United States?

Clarke: I don't know. I think different circumstances will be
different.

Q: Torie, a question for General McChrystal. General, yesterday
General Myers said that there are approximately 10 divisions of the
regular Iraqi Army in northern Iraq. Can you tell us, without
violating OPSEC [operational security], roughly where they are? Are
they around Tikrit or elsewhere?

And perhaps more important, what is the fighting capability of those
forces as intelligence analyzers? Are they well trained, poorly
trained, well equipped, poorly equipped? What can you tell us about
them?

McChrystal: Yes, sir. If you remember, some weeks ago there were also
two Republican Guard divisions up north as well, which were
essentially backstopping the regular army divisions, which at that
time were 11, I believe, in the north, and they pulled one south. They
have been viewed on the low end of the spectrum of the Iraqi army, on
the low end of readiness of the regular army. And so they have not
been viewed as combat-ready as some of their other forces, and
certainly less than the Republican Guard.

We have been targeting them aggressively, both from the air and then
with the Special Operations Forces, for the last days. And we judge
their capability to have dropped significantly, both from casualties
and also from people just simply leaving the battlefield.

Q:  Are they the last main force, so to speak, of Iraqi troops?

McChrystal: Sir, they are the last significant formations on the
battlefield that we're aware of.

Q: I want to go back to the 173rd - (word inaudible). Can you give a
sense of when elements of the 173rd will actually seize the oil fields
up there? A lot of the world wants to know that. And what steps are
being taken to reinforce what's essentially a 2,000-person light
brigade? Are there steps -- is the 4th going to go up there at some
point?

McChrystal: Well, that'd be a decision for General Franks. I think
it's clearly just an option at this point. We have -- and you may have
seen -- begun to reinforce the 173rd from outside by air with some
heavy forces, and that will continue to the extent that General Franks
sees the need to do that.

And, then, as for their move into the oil fields, that's clearly a
future operation. They respond to opportunities and to the enemy
situation on the ground.

Q: Well, it's an obvious one, though. I mean, in the next day or two,
is it likely they'll go in?

McChrystal:  I just wouldn't speculate on a future op like that.

Q: Can I just sort of follow on that? The oil fields themselves, sir,
have you seen any instance of sabotage in there by the Iraqi regime?

McChrystal: I wouldn't go into detail. We're certainly concerned about
that and certainly looking for that.

Clarke:  Barbara?

Q: General McChrystal, understanding that Baghdad is still a combat
zone or combat operations are certainly going on there, nonetheless,
can you -- two questions. Can you tell us now what the U.S. military
task is in Baghdad, in terms of providing security for the people of
Baghdad? What will U.S. troops do specifically to help provide
security for the people?

And the other question is, once again, as another day goes by, any
update on your concerns about the fate of the POWs, since they have
not yet emerged?

Clarke:  Two very different questions.

McChrystal: Yes, ma'am. We are very concerned about the prisoners of
war. We do not have intelligence that I could share with you now. We
are working very hard to get that. We believe that now that we are in
the city and among the population and, essentially, regime control has
gone, that the opportunity to get information about our prisoners goes
way up, because as the regime can no longer threaten, we believe more
people are available for us to talk to, more people may feel free to
give us information, so we're very hopeful about that. But I couldn't
share any specifics.

Our task in the city right now is still very two-fold. On the one, we
have to defeat those remaining elements of the regime -- some Special
Republican Guard elements, potentially some Saddam regime elements --
that are in pockets throughout the city and still fighting fiercely,
as we saw from the firefight with the Marines. So that is a direct war
fighting task. And then the end result of that has to be a safe and
secure environment so that life can get on for the Iraqi people. We
have got to be able to secure certain things so that they can get
around and do what it is people have to do in a city just to live a
life. And that will take some time.

Q: What would you be doing, though? What would -- any specifics about
what troops will be doing to provide security for the people of
Baghdad?

McChrystal: Well, the first is to get rid of the death squads and get
rid of those elements that are threatening, and then to secure key
facilities, routes, transportation, and then facilitate -- not
necessarily execute themselves -- bringing key supporting assets on
line, like electricity and water and things like that.

Q: Thank you. This is a question for Egyptian television. My question
is about the power vacuum now in -- there seems to be in Iraq. It is
chaotic in Basra, the suicide bombing in Baghdad. Are you concerned
about that, the occurrence of such suicide bombings again in Baghdad?

Clarke: We're always concerned about things like that, and -- force
protection is so important to us -- but I'd say the situation is
erratic throughout the country. In some places, obviously, when you
have a power vacuum, some bad things happen, but it happens
differently in different places. There are towns in the south, for
instance, in which now that the influence of the regime is gone, some
of the locals have come forward themselves and started to take control
of some of those issues: working with the coalition forces to get the
power and the water back on, encouraging the people there, "don't
loot." Some of the clerics have been going out and saying the right
things to try to maintain calm. So it's different in different places
throughout the country. And we take different steps, depending on the
circumstances.

Q: Do you have any clue or any information as to where the top Iraqi
officials have gone, the people that we used to see on television
screens every day?

Clarke:  We don't.

Pam.

Q: Could you clarify one thing for me, General McChrystal? When you
said Kirkuk is a fluid situation, do you mean it's fluid between do
the coalition forces have control or the Iraqis, or fluid within the
coalition as to who's in control?

And could you explain to us the reason why Military Police -- or why
the troops themselves aren't going in and actively stopping looting?
The Pentagon or the military's coming under a lot of criticism on that
from the humanitarian community, which says it makes it hard for them
to do their work and it makes Iraqis feel unsafe.

Clarke: Let me push back on part of this. They have not come under a
lot of criticism from the humanitarian community. I think I saw one
person that might have been from the ICRC who said they had concerns
about their people being in certain neighborhoods because of problems
like looting, which I'll let the general address. But throughout the
country, as I was just saying, we're working with humanitarian
organizations, we're working with the ICRC, we're working with
coalition partners to bring in humanitarian assistance. So --

Q: Right, I'm not trying to criticize what you're doing, I'm trying to
understand -- can you explain from a military standpoint why you
wouldn't want to go in and get involved in that at this point?

McChrystal: I can take that part on. You can't do everything at once,
although you try to do as many things simultaneously as you can do
safely. Clearly, the focus right now has got to be on getting the
death squads and the Special Republican Guard elements identified, and
defeated, and out of the city, because that is the major threat.
Looting is a problem, but it is not a major threat. People are not
being killed in looting. So that's something we have to do as we have
the time and capability to do it. Sure, we want the looting to stop,
but it's something that will be gotten to.

In terms of the situation in Kirkuk, what I mean by fluid is when I
came to work early this morning, it was one situation that has
continued to change throughout the day; it has not seesawed back and
forth. But the Iraqis owned it when we went to bed last night, they do
not own it anymore; the regime doesn't own it, the Iraqi people own it
now.

Q: So there's no question that it's not questions between U.S. forces
or Kurdish forces?

McChrystal:  No.

Q: General, I wanted to ask you about Tikrit. Torie described it as a
stronghold for Saddam. What remains there, air defense-wise, ground
defenses; what's happening on --

McChrystal: We are trying to figure that out right now. There were
some elements that we know that they had positioned routinely around
Tikrit, historically. They moved the Republican Guard elements down
around Baghdad, so there's not a Republican Guard element there. So we
are trying to see whether it's a combination of Special Republican
Guard elements, maybe some remnants of other forces, maybe some
Ba'athists, Saddam Fedayeen, trying to judge their strength, trying to
judge to what extent they have an integrated air defense, although we
think we've taken most of that down. I wouldn't -- if anyone starts
throwing around "Fortress Baghdad" or "Fortress Tikrit," I don't think
we're prepared to say that at this point. But I think we are prepared
to be very, very wary of what they may have and prepared for a big
fight.

Clarke:  Tom?

Q: Following that up, you said, I think, if I'm not mistaken, a little
earlier that bringing up armored units from the South to the North is
an option at this point, I guess, as opposed to a plan. Can you really
take on the situation around Tikrit just with those airborne troops
you have up there, or are you going to need more heavily armored force
in order to tackle what you might be facing there?

McChrystal: I leave it up to General Franks to make the decision, of
course. We have the forces that are postured already in Baghdad --
significant forces -- which is a hundred miles from Tikrit. So it's
actually pretty well postured. The 4th Infantry Division has largely
flowed into Kuwait now. On very short order, they'll be ready to start
flowing north. So it gives us even more options, either to use the
forces in the vicinity of Baghdad, to use forces from the North, or
some combination, which is, in the end, probably what will happen.

Clarke:  Yeah?

Q: Torie, can you say whether there are any plans to start
broadcasting from Iraqi TV, rather than Commando Solo?

Clarke: Well, we use every resource we can. I was trying to get more
details before this briefing, but we're broadcasting a lot now --
radio and television -- using Commando Solo and those sorts of
resources.

Then again, the primary focus right now is finishing the fighting,
assessing that sort of infrastructure and see what could be used going
forward. But again, it's also transitioning it to the Iraqi people as
soon as possible. There's a significant amount - hopefully, we'll have
more information for you tomorrow -- but a significant amount of what
I would call enhanced Commando Solo-like activity, and we hope to do
more going forward.

Q: Has the damage to the TV installations there been such that that's
something that would be difficult to do?

Clarke: I don't know that the assessments have been done yet, but it
is something we hope to do going forward. It was part of the -- a
major element in the strategy was to try to end the regime and do as
little damage as possible to the infrastructure, so the Iraqi people
can get it up and running again fairly quickly.

Dale?

Q: Can you tell us a little about the level of activity now in the air
and, in particular, some of us -- reporters embedded on aircraft
carriers -- are continuing to hear reports about a shortage of
tankers, that missions are long because they have to break away from
target zones early to get in line to get gas. Is that a continuing
problem and have extra tankers been dispatched to deal with it?

McChrystal: I honestly don't know the answer on the tanker issue.
We've been flying more than a thousand sorties a day. We continue to
fly more than a thousand sorties a day, so there's been no shortage of
being able to generate sorties. We have been able to focus -- now that
there's less of the regime power available -- we've been able focus
more at certain areas, like the units around the Tikrit or the regular
army divisions in the north, which allows us to do more damage.

Q: Can you tell us, the photograph that you showed of the VIP retreat
near Tikrit, do you believe anyone was in that facility when it was
struck?

McChrystal:  I don't know.

Q: U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan earlier today said that he hoped
to get his weapons inspectors back into Iraq as soon as possible. And
he said that their mandate had not finished, had not been -- was still
valid. What role do you see for weapons inspectors -- for U.N. weapons
inspectors in Iraq, given the administration's previous -- given your
skepticism over their effectiveness in the past few years?

Clarke: It was less skepticism over the inspectors; it was more the
reality of the regime was not going to allow anybody in any numbers do
an effective job. So set that aside. What might happen with inspectors
going forward, I don't know. I think it's probably better addressed
over at the State Department.

Thelma?

Q: Following up on the forces in the north, who exactly made the
decision to go into Kirkuk? Was it the Kurdish fighters who saw this
opportunity and then the U.S. followed along, or who was actually
giving the orders to the Kurdish fighters?

McChrystal: Ma'am, I'd let CENTCOM provide the details on that. Our
Special Operations Forces have been with the Kurdish forces
throughout, and so they've been accompanying them for the last weeks,
in fact.

Q: Is there any doubt, though, that the Kurdish fighters would be
taking orders from the U.S.?

McChrystal: I don't think that they are taking orders from United
States Special Forces. I think they are working with them. I certainly
wouldn't want to give the impression that we are commanding and
controlling all of the forces in the north, the Kurdish forces.

Clarke: We'll make -- two in the back, right there, and then -- (off
mike).

Q: What access or investigation has there been so far regarding any of
the underground bunkers in terms of weapons of mass destruction and/or
any injured or dead members of the Iraqi regime?

Clarke: I think going into these structures, they're pretty -- what
we've seen thus far -- fairly extensive underground facilities, some
at great depth, some very, very complex. But my understanding is they
have just begun to start to work their way through some of those.

Tom?  Last question.

Q: (Off mike) -- about the significant erosion of the combat power of
the 10 divisions in the north. Do you have any numerical estimates on
how many have demobilized themselves and gone home, how many have
surrendered? In that kind of environment, where there isn't a
significant American presence, how do you surrender?

McChrystal: That's a good question. The first one is the issue of what
strength are they at. It's hard to tell. We continue to target them
with information operations, we continue to target them from the air,
and with limited elements from the ground. To get a very precise
number would be difficult. But they have been significantly degraded
or attrited as time passes.

They're -- how they surrender is --

Q: I mean, is it a white flag, like in the movies? Is there an 800
number? I mean --

McChrystal:  No.  (Laughter.)

Q: There's a big -- again, in Baghdad, there's significant American
presence; there isn't from the north. How -- how do they surrender?

McChrystal: We dropped a number of leaflets providing instructions for
how to indicate that you wanted out of the fight. And they included
some steps to park your equipment in such a way that from the air it
could be so identified, to move away from that, to do some other
things which signal their intention not to fight, and they just stop
being targeted.

Q: Has that happened? Do you see that in the north? Do you see
surrenders like that in the north?

McChrystal: We have not seen major surrenders like that in the north.

Clarke:  Thank you.

Q: Torie, could I just get -- just something on numbers straightened
up? General, you said that the 4th ID is largely -- has moved into
Iraq now and is ready to -- did you say Iraq, or did you say Kuwait?
I'm sorry.

Q:  Kuwait.  Kuwait.

Q: Could you tell us how many forces there are in Iraq now, how many
troops there are? You said approaching 125(,000) before. Is it closer
to 150(,000) now? Could you give us a number?

McChrystal: Sir, I don't know the exact number at this point. I'd hate
to speculate on it.

Q:  Could you take that and try to fill us in next time?

Clarke:  Thank you.

(end transcript)

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