News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Webster
News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Webster
(Note: General Webster appears via teleconference from Iraq.)
JIM TURNER (Department of Defense): Good morning, everybody.
General Webster, this is Jim Turner at the Pentagon briefing room. Can you hear me?
GEN. WEBSTER: I can, Jim. Good morning.
MR. TURNER: (Off mike) -- good afternoon.
Our briefer today is Major General William G. Webster Jr., commander of Multinational Division-Baghdad and commander, Task Force Baghdad. General Webster and his troops are responsible for the ongoing security operations in Baghdad. General Webster spoke to us most recently in October. He is here today to provide us with another operational update.
Today's briefing is on the record. Please remember to identify yourself when asking questions, since the general cannot see you.
And with that, General Webster, I'll turn it over to you.
GEN. WEBSTER: Okay. Thanks, Jim.
I'd like to open with a short statement. As some of you know, the 3rd Infantry Division, which formed the base organization of Task Force Baghdad in the last year, is in the process of completing a one- year tour in Baghdad. And we'll -- we are tentatively scheduled to return back to the United States over the next 30 days.
Task Force Baghdad, consisting of around 30,000 soldiers from all over the United States and the three European nations of Georgia, Macedonia and Estonia, has been conducting operations in Baghdad since February of last year. Our mission was to improve the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, fight the insurgency, to secure Baghdad and the surrounding areas, and support the government's development in Iraq for a year or more.
The Iraqi security forces in Baghdad during this period have increased tenfold. They are now in charge of 60 percent of the city, with support from us. When we arrived, there was one Iraqi army battalion, and now there are 22 in Baghdad, with 12 of them in charge of their own areas of operations. And now there's an Iraqi division, the 6th Division of the Iraqi army, and he has six brigades for him and working for us.
Elections -- two of them were conducted in near-complete security in Baghdad, and people felt secure enough to vote in large numbers, with estimates of 60 percent or better going to the polls. The Iraqi security forces, supported by the coalition, provided that security, and polling stations were open in places never seen in previous elections.
Since the 1st of October, in combined operations with the Iraqis, we've conducted nearly 2,500 different combat operations, resulting in over 3,600 insurgent detainees, and we've executed more than 52,000 patrols. The pace of our operations, while intense, has disrupted the enemy and reduced car bombs by half. We're also finding nearly half of the roadside bombs, the IEDs, that the enemy is emplacing, and we've had a 92 percent increase in weapons caches found. This has put a big dent in the ability of the insurgents to continue to conduct operations. We'll continue to conduct these aggressive operations throughout our battlespace with the Iraqis, and we expect similar future successes.
We're supporting also the simultaneous development of political institutions and the Iraqi security forces with a goal of transitioning full responsibility for security to the Iraqis. We're making tremendous progress.
We also promote the development of essential services and economic development. We have access to a Baghdad survey, and overwhelmingly the people of Baghdad believe that their lives will be significantly better in the next 12 months, and they also believe that their own Iraqi security forces, the police and the army, will be able to secure them in the next 12 months.
Iraqis are being hired in numbers that exceed, they say in this survey, prewar levels. They think economically that they are better off than they were before the war. When I fly around Baghdad these days, I see the city expanding and large numbers of houses being built on the edges of the city in nearly every direction. There are people out there building new houses and adding on to their homes that already exist in most every neighborhood, and that says that there is some money out there, and there is also hope for the future. When I drive through most of these neighborhoods, although there are still some areas -- there are still some areas, rather, that have sewage and garbage on the street, for the most part, these essential services have been improved significantly.
The survey shows that people are more satisfied now that they have fresh water in most of the homes and electricity in greater hours per day than they've had in a long time.
Is there still going to be some violence? Yes, absolutely. And I think until the government is seated and secure, and the Iraqi security forces are relatively disciplined and fully trained, that there will be still be some chaos in the city. Many elements of the insurgency will benefit or attempt to benefit from this chaos, because they think they're going to get ahead by conducting it.
We've improved the situation we inherited, and we'll pass in on to our successors, the 4th Infantry Division, from Fort Hood, Texas, who will do the same.
There are some out there who question our mission or our capability to perform the mission. And all I can say is that the war is being conducted in a very complex combat environment, and we are moving the ball forward. And our greatest quality is our people and their ability to adapt to the situation so we can be successful. Conditions are being set to allow the Iraqis to run and secure their own country.
And with that, I'll take your questions.
MR. TURNER: Will.
Q General, this is Will Dunham with Reuters. What changes in the intensity of the insurgency have you witnessed since the December 15th elections? Has it remained unchanged? Has it diminished? Has it intensified?
GEN. WEBSTER: If you -- there are a number of ways to measure that. If you measure the intensity of the insurgency by the number of attacks, they dropped off significantly just prior to and for several days after the elections -- the election rather. But if you look inside the numbers, those numbers have gone back down now to levels that we saw in and around October of this last year. If you look at those attacks that are being conducted, the majority of them are not successful; successful meaning causing injury or damage to us or to the Iraqi people. And only 10 percent of those attacks are successful these days. And our disruption of their ability to use car bombs and to lay successful IEDs or roadside bombs -- we have disrupted that ability so that they are now conducting more drive-by shootings which usually don't hit anybody, or they're shooting indirect fire, mortars and rockets, which also is mostly unsuccessful.
Q Follow-up. I'm not sure that I understood if you gave an answer to whether its -- if the intensity has diminished, stayed the same or increased since the elections. By whatever measure you consider to be the most legitimate, what has happened to the insurgency since the election?
GEN. WEBSTER: The insurgency has weakened since the election.
Q Thank you.
Q General, Ivan Scott, WTOP Radio in Washington. Happy new year to you and your men and ladies. A couple of questions, if I may. First of all, the road to the Baghdad airport. We're getting mixed messages here as to whether its now totally secure. We're told it is secure in part, and yet VIPs and senior officials are still using helicopters to go back and forth to the Green Zone and the -- most of the troops are traveling by Rhino buses at night -- if you can clarify how that is.
And secondly, under the new adjustment that Secretary Rumsfeld talked about, is it a plan to have most of U.S. forces, as the Iraqi forces come online, to fade away into the desert, so it's safe to get out of urban areas, to get a lower profile, but be in a quick-response mode if necessary?
GEN. WEBSTER: The mission over time -- to answer the latter question first -- the mission is exactly that: to stand back from operations and to take a lower profile over time. We have already done that. As I said, 60 percent of the city is being secured by the Iraqi army and the Iraqi special police. And we are in an advisory and support role only there, and so we will do that more and more over the next year as the 4th Division conducts its operations. That's part of the plan.
As -- relates to the airport road, you're generally talking about the road that we call Route Irish that runs between the Green Zone and Baghdad International Airport. The last major attack on that road occurred in about June of '05. The big difference that has occurred there is that we have trained an Iraqi special police brigade that is conducting checkpoints, and they have erected some barriers where the enemy was able to get out on the road easily.
And those Iraqi special policemen are being supported by one of our battalions of cavalry. And that has resulted in a much safer road.
I'll also tell you, though, that the most secure way to move is after the curfew, in what you referred to as the rhino buses. And so we still move the bulk of embassy personnel that way.
Part of the problem back when the attack levels were high is that there were as many as 3,000 cars an hour that used airport road, and there was plenty of opportunity for people to drop IEDs or to fire at other vehicles. So it's a combination of reduced traffic, as well as increased security by the Iraqi special police.
Q General Webster, Jamie McIntyre from CNN. Just before this briefing started, we got word from our folks in Baghdad there had been a number of explosions. I'm wondering if you know anything about what's just happened today.
And then a more general question: You said that you believed the insurgency was weakening since the elections. But the level of violence seems to be about the same. The number of U.S. casualties in December is running about the same as it was a year ago. How do you reconcile that with your view that the insurgency is weakening?
GEN. WEBSTER: Well, Jamie, first of all, you can pick a number of points to measure from. Since the elections, the Iraqi insurgency is weaker in terms of the types of attacks they're able to conduct, and the number of attacks is down since the elections.
If you measure it against last year at this time, the number of attacks is greater. But the number of successful attacks is down to 10 percent.
The casualty rate at this point is about what it was, as you said, last year at this time. And we're working hard to reduce that number.
Q Do you know anything about today's explosions, or is it too early to say?
GEN. WEBSTER: I don't have any specific details about explosions in the last 30 or 40 minutes. But there are explosions that occur at various times during the day. I don't know if these were ones that we conducted in detonating IEDs that we found, or whether they were in fact IEDs that might have gone off or some other form of explosions. So I don't have any details on that right now.
Q Thank you.
Q General, Lolita Baldor with the Associated Press. Yesterday, I think, you were quoted as saying that more U.S. military are accompanying Iraqi police commandos to help reduce the abuse against Sunni Arabs. Can you tell us how that is going and what the reasons are behind that?
And then one quick follow-up: You keep using the number 10 percent. Can you tell us another sort of comparable number, like what number were successful six months ago, to show that that is indeed a decrease?
GEN. WEBSTER: About a year ago, when we took over, about 25 to 30 percent of the attacks were successful, so down around 10 percent now -- and also the type of attacks has been disrupted, so that they're conducting attacks that don't require them, for the most part, to make and plant explosive devices.
Say again your first question? I'm sorry.
Q The first question was that more U.S. military are accompanying the Iraqi police to help curb abuse against Sunni Arabs. And you were talking about this yesterday, and I was wondering if you can expand on that a little bit as far as what progress, if any, is being made on that.
GEN. WEBSTER: Okay. The plan has been all year for us to partner with the Iraqi security forces and to train, support, assist and lead them in operations until they were at the level where they could do it mostly on their own.
We began with the Iraqi army, and in Baghdad, that means the 6th Division. And we've had hundreds of men in battalions who are dedicated to training the Iraqi army in Baghdad. And as I said, two brigades now are operating in Baghdad more or less on their own. That allows us to take some of the forces that we have and turn them towards the Iraqi special police, which are a relatively new organization. And each of those battalions now has a 10-man team with it, and the plan over the next several months is to increase those numbers so that we can spend more time with them to plan, train, coach, coordinate with and conduct operations with them. So it will be stepping back somewhat from the Iraqi army forces and assisting in greater numbers the Iraqi special police in Baghdad.
Q Just to follow up, that is to help curb the abuse against the sort of -- within the country against the Sunnis?
GEN. WEBSTER: Well, it's much more than that. It's certainly to prepare them to conduct operations within the rule of law. It's not specifically designed to prevent them from abusing detainees, but that is certainly part of our goal, just as we help train the Iraqi army on working with detainees within the rule of law. We'll continue to turn our attention to that and to help the Iraqi special police do the same.
Q General, it's Nick Simeone at Fox News on a related issue. Can you describe how widespread -- if that's the word -- the infiltration of Shi'ite militia members is in the police forces, whether their loyalty to their commanders is in question, and if there have been more cases of abuses at Iraqi-run detention centers for these same reasons?
GEN. WEBSTER: Well, I will tell you that the Shi'ites are the majority in the country, and it appears that the election results will probably reflect that. Some open source reports that I've seen estimate that those numbers will be about along the lines of the split between Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds. As a result of that, the majority of the people filling the ranks of the Iraqi army and the Iraqi special police that we're working with are also Shi'ite, so are their -- most of their commanders.
We are working with the Iraqi government to ensure that we have a balanced force that lives within the rule of law. And we have not seen any large numbers of additional abuse of detainees, but we are still working to find it wherever it exists and to coach and teach and correct that behavior as well as to arrest anyone who is breaking the law, if that's necessary. The Iraqi police and the Iraqi army are helping us do that.
Q So you've said -- I'm sorry. Can you --
GEN. WEBSTER: The number of militia members that are -- as to the number of militia members or how widespread is the militia in the Iraqi security forces, that's very difficult to tell. You can't tell from appearances. You can't always tell from talking to people because in a very complex society, where allegiances and loyalties go back thousands of years to tribe and family and political groups and religious groups, on any given day it might be one of those that they say is motivating them more than allegiance to the nation, but that's also something that is a new idea to people here and that we're working through as we coach and teach and assist them.
Q So you haven't found any more detention centers where there's been abuse of Iraqi detainees by Iraqi Ministry of Interior personnel -- other than the two that have already been spoken about.
GEN. WEBSTER: As a result of the investigation surrounding the Jadriya facility, otherwise known as the bunker facility where a number of detainees were found to be abused, the Iraqi government and General Casey's headquarters has initiated a series of inspections of detention facilities throughout Iraq. And the first two of those inspections were conducted on MOI or interior facilities, and they're -- while there were overcrowded conditions, there was no -- there were no signs of recent abuse. There were detainees who talked about having been abused before, and some of them showed signs of that. And this committee of both the Iraqi government and the U.S. government and the coalition are continuing their investigation and inspections.
Q General, Vicky O'Hara with National Public Radio. Yesterday, General Pace was talking about the decisions to withdraw U.S. forces over the coming year and where drawdowns might be possible. And he said it would be based on areas where the U.S. felt comfortable that the Iraqi security forces could handle the job if troops were withdrawn. What's your assessment of the situation in Baghdad? Would you be comfortable with some U.S. forces in that area being pulled out?
GEN. WEBSTER: Well, as we are replaced by the 4th Infantry Division, there will be a small reduction in the number of forces from the coalition who are working here in Baghdad, and at the same time, there will probably be an increase in the battlespace that the 4th Division and the coalition is responsible for. In addition, there are opportunities over the next year for us to turn over parts of Baghdad to the Iraqi security forces even greater than what we've already done and to begin to move into other areas on the outskirts of town or to accompany the Iraqis in smaller numbers. So I think there is opportunity there, but on the other hand, with a city of 6 million people and the surrounding area probably another million that we're responsible for, this is the seat of the government. It seems to be the center of gravity for the insurgency as well as the Iraqi government. And this is probably one of the last places we would pull out of altogether, but that certainly depends on what the insurgency capability is in the future as well as the capability of the Iraqi security forces.
Q General, Brian Hartman with ABC News. You mentioned that the Iraqis now control about 67 -- 60 percent of the battle space in the city. Could you break that down between army and police, and give us an idea how much of a grip the U.S. military has on what they're all up to?
And just to follow up on that, could you tell us -- how concerned do you think we should be about these conflicting loyalties that you mention? You're in the process of training and arming these folks. How concerned should we be back here in the states that had they had these conflicting loyalties and that we're not just training what might be one side in a three- or four-way civil war at some point?
And I know that's a long question, but I'd appreciate it if you could get both of those.
GEN. WEBSTER: Okay. Let me take the last one first, and then I'll probably have to come back to you by then.
But the last question there, about how concerned should the Americans be about these conflicting loyalties, I think this is something that is rather natural around the region. As we have trained in and worked with other security forces in the region, we have seen that the Arab and Persian cultures had existed this way for thousands of years. And the process of causing people to set aside those loyalties or allowing them to set aside some of those loyalties and to stand up for the nation above all else is something that will take some time. And I think this is a natural progression. It is a concern, but it is not a show-stopper. And I think we'll be able to work through that.
We find some awful good men and women in the Iraqi army, and I'm sure that over time we'll find out that working with the Iraqi police, we'll see the same thing.
And would you ask the first part one more time?
Q Sorry. Just -- I was trying to get an understanding -- it kind of dovetails off that -- an understanding of the 60 percent who control the city, their battle space in the city. How many of those are army? How many are police? And how much awareness do you have of what they're up to?
GEN. WEBSTER: Yeah. About 50 percent of the urban area of Baghdad is controlled by the 6th Iraqi Army Division and about 10 percent controlled by the Iraqi special police at this time.
We have teams of a hundred or less working with those Iraqi army forces every day, and we currently have teams of 50 or so working with each of the special police brigades. And over time we will increase those numbers.
MR. TURNER: We've got time for about one short question. On the end.
Q General, Gordon Lubold from Army Times. I wondered if you could just clarify, on the 92 percent increase of, I think you said, weapons cache discoveries -- just kind of elaborate on that a little bit. It seems like a huge increase. I just wondered if you could tell me from when is that and what are you finding and what do you attribute that to.
GEN. WEBSTER: When you look back at the number of caches that we were finding in the early summer to midsummer, the numbers were not very high, and they were not very big caches.
As we look now at the number of tips that we're getting from Iraqi citizens who feel more comfortable with their own Iraqi army and special police, and feel comfortable with talking to us, they're giving us more information that we're turning into usable intelligence.
We also specifically focused our operations in the run-up to the elections, first of all, on finding those caches, to help eliminate some of the homemade explosives and the ordnance that was being used against us and could be used against the Iraqis.
And so in those kinds of operations, we are finding as many 15 or 20 large caches a week. One of them in particular was on an island in the Euphrates River, where we found 4,000 pounds of homemade explosives, 25 or so 500-pound bombs that had been hollowed out to be used -- to be stuffed with explosives and buried as IEDs, and dozens of artillery rounds and even a facility -- a ramshackle facility for welding bombs into cars to make VBIEDs. And that's just an example. That's a pretty large one.
But most of those caches were large like that, and we think we took a lot of explosives off the street in those operations.
Q Earlier in the year, it would be 90 -- was it like 70 percent, 80 percent, or what -- if it's 90 percent now, what -- can you give me some comparison to earlier in the year?
GEN. WEBSTER: We're -- we were finding less than eight or 10 caches a week, and they were relatively small.
So it's the quantity as well as the number of caches that we've found that has increased nearly a hundred percent.
MR. TURNER: Thanks a lot, General, for spending this time with us today. We've run out of time, and we thank you for everything that you and your soldiers do.
GEN. WEBSTER: Well, thank you.
I -- if I have time for one more, I'd like to add something here about one of our heroes.
MR. TURNER: You can go ahead and try, sir. I think they're going to cut us off in a second, though.
GEN. WEBSTER: Okay. I just wanted to tell you about one of our young sergeants here who was wounded badly months ago in one of our operations. And he had a broken leg, a broken collarbone and over 100 shrapnel wounds, and it took him months at home to recover. And while he was at home, he decided he wanted to stay in the Army. His wife and he had decided prior to that to get out. He fought to rehab and come back, and once he got here, he still had over 80 pieces of shrapnel in his body. And when he rejoined his platoon, he reenlisted to stay in the Army, and four of his soldiers decided to sign up at the same time because they didn't want to let their sergeant down.
And I just wanted to point out that's the kind of young trooper we've got serving in our military today, and we thank everybody for their support back home.
MR. TURNER: General, what's his name, please? Do you have the soldier's name?
GEN. WEBSTER: Staff Sergeant Barr, B-A-R-R.
MR. TURNER: Thank you very much, sir.
GEN. WEBSTER: Okay. You're welcome. Thank you.
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