Moderator: Bryan Whitman, Deputy Assistant Secretary Of Defense For Public Affairs
MR. WHITMAN: General Metz, this is Bryan Whitman. Can you hear me, okay?
GEN. METZ: I sure can.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, thank you for taking some time to be with us this evening from your location in Iraq.
By way of introduction, Lieutenant General Thomas Metz is the commander of the Multinational Corps in Iraq. He is the operational level commander responsible for the conduct of coalition military activities in Iraq. This includes the forces that are engaged in the al-Fajr operation, which he's here today to give you an update on.
General Metz is also the commander of the U.S. Army III Corps, which is normally based at Fort Hood, Texas, but which now has its headquarters and several of its subordinate units deployed to Iraq.
I promised him that we would be respectful of the demands on his time, and so we will keep this again today to about 30 minutes.
With that, I know, General, that you have a few comments that you would like to make. And when you're finished, I'll assist you with reporters on this end.
If you would, for the general, please identify yourself and your news organization.
With that, sir.
GEN. METZ: Thank you. Multinational forces are just over 48 hours into Operation al-Fajr. We renamed the operation, which is translated "dawn," to signify the new beginning for the people of Fallujah. We are operating according to our plan, and so far we have achieved our objectives on or ahead of schedule, not only in Fallujah but also across Iraq. Iraq forces have performed admirably as an integral part of the multinational corps, and I am confident they will continue to be extremely effective against the insurgents in today's battle and the ones to come.
Our forces continue to encounter resistance. The resistance is with small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and indirect fire. Anti- Iraqi forces' outer defenses have been destroyed, and they are fighting in small groups as our forces press the attack. Anti-Iraqi forces continue to use misinformation in an attempt to sway the public opinion. And additionally they are intentionally damaging infrastructure with the intent of blaming the damage on the coalition forces.
The fight in Fallujah is far from over. We are proceeding with speed, not haste, to maintain the initiative, and we are using caution and precision in order to minimize civilian casualties and damage to the city. Coalition troops are highly disciplined, well trained and seasoned. I am particularly proud of the Iraqi soldiers who have already acquitted themselves very well in this fight.
We will return Fallujah to the legitimate control of the Iraqi government. As Prime Minister Allawi has stated: The terrorists in Fallujah have rejected a peaceful settlement and their removal is necessary for the safety of the Iraqi people.
Let me take your questions, please.
MR. WHITMAN: Let's start here with Charlie.
Q General, Charlie Aldinger with Reuters. Can you hear me?
GEN. METZ: I sure can, Charlie.
Q I just want to clear up some confusion over casualties in the Fallujah operation. Can you fill us in on U.S. and Iraqi casualties, and perhaps civilian casualties in the operation so far, differentiating Fallujah from what's happened in Baghdad and southwest of Fallujah the last couple of days?
GEN. METZ: Well, let me start with the civilian casualties. We felt going in that at least half if not 75 percent of the citizens had left Fallujah. We have seen very, very few civilians on the streets in Fallujah. I think they're adhering to the curfew, and I think many -- our predictions of the numbers that have departed the city were pretty close. And we have seen very few civilian casualties.
Friendly casualties are light. I am pleased with that. But I also am humbled by the sacrifices that those young soldiers and Marines offer our great country in this operation.
Enemy casualties I think are significantly higher than I expected. And let me just keep it there. We do not have a -- we have not so far, in Operation Iraqi Freedom, nor will we start body counting. But we have imposed significant casualties against the enemy.
Q General, just a brief follow-up. Can you give us any numbers of U.S. casualties over the last two days, even minimum casualties in terms of dead and wounded? And would you say that the dissident casualties, would they number in the dozens, the hundreds? How would you describe it?
GEN. METZ: You can count our casualties in certainly a dozen. I would not want to characterize it beyond that. It is light. Again, I regret any of the casualties we have. And I think our wounded in action as a proportion of the total casualties is about what we've experienced throughout Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Q Well, General --
Q Excuse me. Just to press this, I don't understand how you can not tell the American people how many troops have been killed in this. I mean, I don't see how you can just say a round figure, a dozen, sir. You can't give us any specific figures at all, minimum figures?
GEN. METZ: I would like not to give you a particular number. That number changes. I take updates periodically through the day, and they flow up from the chain of command. There are different periods of day we reconcile those numbers to ensure that we have accurate counts and that the casualty notification process is going according to the regulations that we abide by. And so I'd like to keep it at a figure that is low, and I don't want to state a particular number because that number would not have been the number six hours ago, and it may not be the number six hours from now. So things may go up and fluctuate over time, but I would not like to be pinned down to a particular number at this time.
MR. WHITMAN: I will just add, General, we do have a process for notifying about casualties and we will put out releases. The MNF-I as well as the Department of Defense will put out releases on casualties as we always have, again, with respect to preserving the next-of-kin notification process with respect to names.
Now let's go over here to Thom Shanker.
Q General, it's Thom Shanker from The New York Times here, sir. Can you give us a clearer picture, more description on the level of resistance American and Iraqi forces are facing in Fallujah? Is it uniform across town? Are there specific pockets? And as you get deeper into the city, are you reassessing the number of adversaries that remained in the city and any sense of whether the leadership stayed behind as well or fled to fight another day?
GEN. METZ: Yes, Thom. We -- so far, we feel that our predictions were pretty close. We felt like the enemy would form an outer crust in defense of Fallujah. We broke through that pretty quickly and easily. We also then anticipated him breaking up into small three- to six-person detachments or squads, which we've seen throughout the day today especially.
The numbers are about what we expected. I think General Casey and I, we were working with a number of 2,000 to maybe 3,000 insurgents in the city. As we've progressed, we feel like we've encountered the portion of those that we anticipated to this stage. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, we're a little bit ahead of the war game that we had done in our planning process. The leadership, I think, is at that very small level. We are working hard to impact his command-and-control capabilities in mainly electronic warfare jamming and those things that keeps him -- causes him to have a harder time to communicate.
So we are seeing, Thom, about the fight that we expected, although we are a little ahead of schedule based on the war game that we did in our planning process.
MR. WHITMAN: Martha?
Q General Metz, Martha Raddatz from ABC. Can you talk to us about the other areas? In Baqubah you've had some Iraqi police officers killed. Do you think this was part of the plan of the insurgents, to move to different areas and stage these attacks against coalition forces and Iraqi forces? And just give us a general idea what else is going on around the country that you might think is related?
GEN. METZ: Yes, Martha. Just as we saw in April, last spring, we anticipated that the enemy upon our attacking Fallujah would attack us especially in the Sunni Triangle but around the country. That is coupled with the period of time of Ramadan, which we also predicted would be a higher period of time -- of higher attacks by the enemy. So in preparation for that, we began a series of more offensive actions prior to Ramadan to stay ahead of the enemy. It was not a surprise as larger formations came out in Baghdad and Baqubah, as you mentioned, and Mosul. And so we were prepared for that and we have engaged the enemy in those contacts.
And I can report to you that -- again back to the casualty discussion -- these attacks during Ramadan have been less lethal, and I think that is because of the aggressive nature in which units around the Corps have been very offensively oriented and taken it to the enemy.
So nothing has surprised us to date. Things in the south and the far north are very calm, and it's this former-regime part of the country, formerly known as the Sunni Triangle, Ramadi to Baghdad and up to Samarra and Tikrit, is where we're seeing the most of the activity, and I think it is associated with our operation in Fallujah.
Q Just to follow up, when you say you were prepared for that, the attack on the Iraqi police, I believe, killed about 45 Iraqi police officers. In what way were you prepared for that? How did you respond? How did it happen if you were so prepared?
GEN. METZ: Well, obviously we regret that particular success by the enemy. But we were prepared from a point of view that we knew that the enemy was coming out. Of course, we didn't know where he would come, particular attacks.
We have established quick-reaction forces that have met the enemy in many of those encounters successfully. Regretfully, we didn't get to the particular point of the conflict in Baqubah fast enough. But we have in many other cases gotten there fast enough or encountered the enemy, predicting his attacks. So that particular one, you're right, that would seem that we were not prepared for that.
I do think the enemy is concentrating on Iraqi security forces, knowing that as they grow their capacity, that is the thing that they will have to fight in the future. And they are working hard to intimidate the Iraqi security forces, and I think we see that in his campaign.
MR. WHITMAN: John, go ahead.
Q How many insurgents have been captured in -- it's John Lumpkin with the Associated Press, excuse me. How many insurgents have been captured from the Fallujah fighting to date? And have you been able to learn anything from them about the nature or the character of the insurgency based there?
GEN. METZ: I do not have a number of those captured, but it is a very small number. And I do not have results yet in this time -- this time frame of any significant information that we have gotten from them. Generally, it will be tactical information that will assist the company and battalion-level leaders as that tactical information is turned around. So none of that has made it to the corps level that's a significant piece of intel information from those captured. But I do report that the number captured is pretty light.
MR. WHITMAN: Go over here to Bret.
Q General, Bret Baier from Fox News Channel. Following on Thom's question about the terrorist leadership, do you believe that the leaders of these terrorist cells are staying in the city to fight in the city center? Do you have any information about Abu Musaab al- Zarqawi? And can you talk a little bit more about the seal around the city and how effective you think it really is in preventing terrorists from leaving?
GEN. METZ: Well, first of all let me start with the seal around the city. We patrolled aggressively around the city for months. As Ramadan approached, we enhanced those patrols. We don't want to keep traffic control points in place for too long, because they become a target for the enemy. We've learned to make them much more dynamic.
But it wasn't until night before last that we really began to seal off the city completely. And before that time, I think some leaders went in and out periodically. I personally believe that the -- some of the senior leaders probably have fled. I would hope not, but I've got to assume that those kind of leaders understand the combat power we can bring and the fact that we will free Fallujah of the anti-Iraqi forces.
There are leaders in Fallujah that are orchestrating the battle to the best of their ability, which is -- which it appears not to be very good. They seem to be, again, fighting in very small groups, without much coherence to the defense, after that initial attack we made last night.
Q Just the Zarqawi specifics -- you believe he's one of the ones that may have already fled?
GEN. METZ: I think it would be -- it's fair to assume that he's left, because we would then continue our intel effort across the country looking for him. And so I -- from a tactical point of view and making the -- an assumption that Zarqawi has left, I still have the intel capability to hunt him in the city as we fight. But because of the -- we think he moves around Iraq, we are keeping the intel capability looking for him outside of Fallujah also.
Q Yes, General, Vince Crawley with the Army Times. You said only a very small number of enemy fighters had been captured. Is that because they're fighting to the death or because they're fleeing from you?
And also, you said that they appear to be damaging intentionally some of the infrastructure. Could you elaborate on that?
GEN. METZ: Yes. Let me -- I think the enemy is fighting hard, but not to the death. And I think that they are continuing to fall back. In many cases it's hard to tell whether or not the enemy was killed in a particular engagement because of the complexity of urban terrain. If you know a sniper or a machine gun is fired at you out of a second-story window and you put a main gun tank round in it or some other large kinetic weapon system, it's hard to tell whether or not he escaped just before that or was killed by that particular round.
But there is not a sense that he is staying in particular places. He is continuing to fall back or he dies in those positions.
MR. WHITMAN: Let's go over here to Pam Hess.
Q General, this is Pam Hess with UPI, and I have two questions. On the strategic side, what is your most realistic, best- case scenario for where Fallujah ends up after this? What is it that you envision for the city? And what kind of presence do you think the insurgent forces will continue to have? Do you expect to see IEDs and car bomb, et cetera, even after the Iraqi government is in power there?
And my second question is, I understand you have some information about the number of IEDs and booby-traps. Could you describe for us what kind of threat they're posing and how you're mitigating that?
GEN. METZ: I did not hear the first part of your question very well, but I think it was -- quite honestly, I did not get it.
On the last part of the question --
Q I can shorten it for you, if you want. Just what is your hope for -- where do you think realistically Fallujah will be after this battle strategically? What will be the insurgent presence there? What kind of ongoing threat do you think they'll pose?
GEN. METZ: First of all, as we prosecute this battle, we will rid Fallujah of the anti-Iraqi forces. There will be some that may be able to melt into the few civilians that are left, but we, in our planning process, will leave enough of the Iraqi security forces to ensure that the intimidators do not come back to Fallujah, and so that is in the plan.
Now will individual terrorists come back? Will there be a suicide vehicle-borne explosive device? Will there be attacks? Yes, there will be, just as there are -- there have been in Samarra since we had that successful operation.
But in our war game and our plan for Fallujah, not only is there -- are there plans to properly protect the people of Fallujah, but we've also got the economic plans and the reconstruction plans and the governance plans ready to put in place as soon as we've finished the kinetic part of the fight to rid the city. It will take a while to do that reconstruction, to do the cleanup, to get the economy back on its feet, to firmly establish the civilian leadership that runs the town, runs the city without the intimidation of the anti-Iraqi forces, and that will take -- that will be numbered in weeks, maybe months to get the city to a normal operating level. And all the while we will be retraining and the revetting and rebuilding the police force that someday will then assure the law and order in Fallujah.
Q And the second question about the IED and booby-trap threat, what you're doing to mitigate that.
GEN. METZ: The IEDs continue to be a chosen weapon by the enemy. We knew that the streets would be -- could be very thick with IEDs. As an example, as we finished the efforts in Sadr City, hundreds had to be removed, and we've been removing them for a couple weeks. We anticipated the same kind of density in Fallujah, and I don't think we have seen that density thus far in the fight. We have seen some. Because we put the curfew on and ensured that the word was out not to drive a vehicle, we haven't had the vehicle-borne IEDs thus far because given that situation, our soldiers have the tactics, techniques and procedures to defeat the oncoming potential suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. So my report is we haven't seen as many.
Now, I must tell you that in our preparation for this battle, we did conduct some strikes that did destroy many of the IEDs that we could observe and predict, and so that has helped us out. But I do believe we are pleasantly enjoying less IEDs than we thought initially going through our war game and the plans for this operation.
MR. WHITMAN: Jim?
Q General, Jim Mannion from Agence France-Presse. You said that the Iraqi forces have performed well so far. Could you give us an idea of how many have actually, you know, been involved in the fight in Fallujah, what their role was? And have there been any instances of discipline problems?
GEN. METZ: First let me answer the last piece. Discipline problems, no. There have been no discipline problems since we began this operation. They have performed very well, as I mentioned earlier. They are essentially light infantry troops that have been trained at squad and platoon level. They are operating in those configurations on the battlefield. The better battalions have been given sectors to fight as their piece of terrain. Some of the more elite forces, like the 36th Commandos who took the hospital the night before last, or an equivalent special unit from the police that helped take the Haidra (ph) Mosque today, have done very, very well. They have assisted in clearing buildings and homes because it's a manpower-intensive battle in the urban terrain. And they have performed very well in all those clearing operations.
Fallujah is called the City of Mosques, and I think the number is 77. And so for cultural reasons, we find it much better for Iraqis to search the mosques. In several mosques today, lots of munitions and weapons were found, and they were found by those Iraqi soldiers. And they're just -- they're performing very well and I'm very proud of them.
MR. WHITMAN: We have time for just a couple more.
Let's go over here to Jamie.
Q General Metz, based on what you've said, can you give us -- about the insurgents essentially either dying or falling back, can you tell us a little bit about what the overall strategy is for finishing off this campaign? And can you give us any estimate of how long you think it's going to take, based on what you've seen so far?
GEN. METZ: As I mentioned, we're a little ahead of schedule. I would say that the coming days will tell us whether or not the enemy is thickening as he moves back into the city, or we are killing the enemy or capturing the enemy or pushing the enemy back. I think we're looking at several more days of tough urban fighting.
I'm very pleased at the position that we have the force in right now and the situation that the enemy is facing. He doesn't have an escape route because we do have the cordon around the city very tight.
The weather is -- was a little less than optimal in the past two nights. It's now very clear, so that all the assets that we can bring to bear certainly in the intelligence and the surveillance business will assist us. And I think we are -- we can measure the rest of battle in a number of days. I do not want to pick a number of days. But I think we are progressing. And we will see -- as the tempo goes through tonight and tomorrow, we will have a much better feel for whether or not the enemy is thickening and letting us, or he is being attritted in this urban fight such that it'll be a consistent fight here on in.
MR. WHITMAN: Jonathan, I think we might have to make yours the last one.
Q General, looking beyond --
STAFF: Tell him who you are.
Q Jonathan Landay with Knight Ridder Newspapers. Looking at Fallujah and beyond Fallujah, there are -- that's -- Fallujah's one of 22 major towns and cities in the triangle, I believe, that are -- that have a tendency towards insurgency, have been infested with insurgents. Can you say at this point whether or not Fallujah and those towns and cities will be ready, as a result of this operation and other operations that are going on, to have elections, to have the elections held in January, albeit under difficult circumstances?
GEN. METZ: Well, in -- the toughest place will be Al Anbar province, which is where Fallujah is, and its capital is Ramadi. We will need, once we finish the operation, to pick up the pace with the registration, which is going well in all of the other provinces. I believe that we have every chance to conclude this operation and put the governance and the security in Fallujah to help those people register and get them ready for the election. I think because Fallujah has been the cancer, that when the cancer is removed it will impact other places, especially Ramadi, especially Baghdad and other parts of the triangle that you mentioned.
So we are over 60 days away. We have time to really put forth an effort in these towns. And I remain confident that we will be able to have successful elections here in the country late January of this coming year.
MR. WHITMAN: General, we know you're very busy and we're very appreciative of you taking the time to spend a few minutes with us today. And we hope that we'll be able to talk to you again soon and wish you the best.
GEN. METZ: If I could thank you and ask upon closing how proud I am of the soldiers and their performance, especially the Iraqi soldiers. However, no hard-fought battle is without casualties, and I just would like to send my heartfelt condolences out to those soldiers and Marines, coalition forces and Iraqis, that have lost their life and the condolence to their families for their sacrifice to help Iraq become free.
Thank you very much. Have a good night.
MR. WHITMAN: Thank you, General
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