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Operational Update on Fallujah, Iraq

Presenters: Colonel Michael Regner, Operations Officer, I Marine Expeditionary Force (G-3, I MEF)
November 15, 2004 1:30 PM EDT

Monday, November 15, 2004 1:30 p.m. EST

Operational Update on Fallujah, Iraq

            MR. WHITMAN (deputy Pentagon spokesman):  Colonel Regner, are you there?


            COL. REGNER:  Yes, this is Colonel Mike Regner.


            WHITMAN:  Colonel Regner, I think you just heard me, but we're not hearing you, so I'm having them adjust it here.


            REGNER:   Okay, I'll try to speak a little bit louder.


            WHITMAN:  This is Bryan Whitman, and you're here with about a dozen of the Pentagon press corps.  And we appreciate you taking some time to kind of give us a little operational update.  Before we get into the questions, though, if you have something that you'd like to say, well, we'll just kind of stand by.


            REGNER:  Let me first ask you probably a pretty boring question, and that is can you hear me all right at this time?


            WHITMAN:  Yeah.  You're a little scratchy, but given where you're at right now, we'll take that.


            REGNER:  Well, right now there's no artillery going off, so I believe that you should be able to hear me fairly clearly.  I'll just give you -- I'll give you an open one line or two here.


            As the Marine Expeditionary Force operations officer, it is my responsibility to the commander, as well it is my responsibility to the commanders that are actually engaged in the fight, to prepare them for all the necessities that they may face:  to equip them, to make sure they've got the training, to make sure that they have what they need to in fact prosecute any type of enemy forces that places themselves in the way of freedom.


            I think that in the Marine Expeditionary Force we're very fortunate that we have the ground combat element that is fighting a daily fight; a Marine aviation wing that has delivered precise munitions for about the last four months, especially in the last two weeks; and throughout all this, you really can't make it come together, again in a Marine Expeditionary Force, if you don't have the logisticians.


            I'll just tell you that having been a MEU commander recently, it's a great step up to be in the MEF.  But to be able to see all the hard-chargers that are putting this fight together, sustaining the fight, and trying to protect as many lives of young Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen, as well as the very, very few civilians that we have seen to date, just makes me feel really good that we've had as much success as we've had, even though, unfortunate, a few Marines and soldiers and Iraqis have paid the ultimate price for the freedom of what we're trying to do in Fallujah.


            That's my opening line for you.


            WHITMAN:  All right.  We'll go to some questions right here. Let's start with -- go over here to Reuters.


            Q:  Yeah.  This is Will Dunham with Reuters.  Colonel, can you say -- are you in control of 100 percent of the city right now?  And if not, can you give an estimate of the percentage of the city that's now under control?  And how much time would it take to take control of the remaining percentage?


            REGNER:  Okay, that's a good question, Will, if I got your name correctly from the phone connection here.


            We like to use the terms "secure" and we like to use the terms "clear."  "Control" is not necessarily a term that really fits into what I want to explain to you.


            Let me say this:  that the Marine and Army forces, as well as the Navy and the Air Force forces, that are in that city, as well as the Iraqi forces, can go anywhere at any time throughout that city.  That basically means that a hundred percent of the city is secure.


            Now "secure" is a -- in a military definition, is very similar to "control," but it does not mean clear.  "Clear" -- we see Marines right now -- within the last half-hour, we've got Marines that are involved in fighting in certain portions of this city.  It's true there are some portions of the city that we would probably say are more clear than others.  But to give you a mathematical percentage or to say this block in, for example, the northwest corner is most likely clear, or in the south -- correction -- in the northeast corner is very clear.  But to say what we would like to say, again, as a warfighter, is that the city is basically secure, is secure.  We have and we can go anywhere we want in that city.


            Now I'll give you an example.  The deputy commanding general was in the city today, and I won't really say where he was, for OPSEC reasons.  But he was throughout the city.  Now only at one time did he stop for about 15 minutes and talk to young Marines, but it wasn't long after that in the immediate vicinity there was some sniper shots.  I will tell you that until the Marines get a chance and the soldiers get a chance to go through, house to house, and clear these houses, that the city is not 100 percent clear.  It's a percentage of being clear, but at this time, the only way to do that, in my estimation, for this city, which is the largest cache of weapons and IEDs and explosives that I think we have in any city in Iraq, which we clear up every day -- it is not 100 percent clear, but it is 100 percent having been secured at this time.  I hope that answers your question without dancing around it.


            WHITMAN:  Let's go over here to UPI.


            Q:  Sir, this is Pam Hess with UPI.  I have two sets of questions, actually.


            Could you run through the numbers for us on your casualties, estimated enemy casualties, your casualties wounded as well, those that have been returned to duty, any civilian casualties?


            And then on a larger question, would you talk to us about how you all planned and expected this battle to go and how what has happened squares up against that plan?


            REGNER:  Okay.  Number one, you -- I want to make sure I have your name correctly.  Is it Pam?


            Q:  Correct.


            REGNER:  Okay, Pam.  Let me start with just a little bit of information on numbers.


            I don't really like to ever, and nor will I ever, go through enemy killed in action, number one.  That really falls in the intelligence spectrum, so I don't go there.  I have rough estimates of numbers of enemy killed in action, but I won't go there with you at this time.


            What I will tell you is that at this time, on the first question still, that we have 37 killed in action.  Those are Marines and those are soldiers.  Of that 37 that was killed in action, we go on to the next number, and that's wounded in action of 320.  Of the 320 that were wounded in action, we have 134 that were returned to duty.


            Now just as importantly, of course, was your next question, which was how many Iraqis have been killed in action?  That number is six. How many have been wounded in action?  That number is 28.  And of that 28, two have been returned to duty.


            I'd also like to say that out of those numbers, I think that if you were to ask any Marine on the battlefield or any soldier, sailor or Iraqi on the battlefield, they are unbelievably comfortable when you tell them they're being picked up by the Navy corpsmen and going back to our different clinics to be treated.  The Iraqis are absolutely in our hospital right now.


            In fact, I was over there just a few hours ago with young Marines that -- one of them had a bullet hole in his leg, and he said, "Hey, it didn't hit a bone, Colonel.  Do you think I can go back?"


            I said, "Well, I'll leave that to the doc."


            Had another Marine that had a bullet hole in his arm.  He says, "I'm going back.  They'll just put some stitches in this."  And the Iraqis feel the exact same way.  Guys that have stitches, they know they can't stay on the battlefield because of infection, so they're only returned for just a few days.


            But your other part of that first question was enemy killed in action.  Again, I think you've probably seen reports --


            (The connection with Iraq is temporarily broken)


            (Cross talk.)


            Q:  Here he is.  Are you there?


            REGNER:  Okay, this is Colonel Regner returning.


            And I was basically speaking with Pam, and I'd just state what I had stated earlier, that enemy killed in action, again, I think people have heard somewhere over a thousand, maybe somewhere in there, maybe more, maybe less.  I don't know.  But I just don't cover enemy killed in action.  It's not a true reflection of the success that we've had in this battle to regain Fallujah for the good people of Iraq.


            I think the second question that -- Pam, if you're still there. Let me just do a com check.  Are you guys still there?


            Q:  Yes.


            COL. REGNER:  Okay.  The second question is, you basically asked how has Operation Fajr turned out, how well have we been prosecuting the actual plan that we executed?  Did I catch that one correctly?


            Q:  Yes, sir.


            REGNER:  Okay.  In all military operations -- of course, you guys there and gals there are smart, you know we do operations in phases.  Right now we believe we're in the third phase of this operation.  Third phase is really where we had to take the city, clear it of anti-coalition, anti-Iraqi forces, and we're well into the final stages of phase three.


            So let me back up.  Phase one of this was the shaping of the city to make sure it was ready for what we've attempted to do and have done very successfully thus far.  Phase two is really intensified or enhanced shaping with precision targeting, and that took place for about a day.  Phase three was the actual assault into the city, and by now you have the tactics in front of you how we assaulted from the north to the south and how we had blocking positions basically in the south and in the east.  And as we positioned forces -- clearly and visibly positioned forces from the north to the south and all eyes in Fallujah turned to the north, the east and the south, we attacked up the peninsula in the middle of the night and took down the hospital that rests on the northern peninsula.  And of course we took that down.  As we secured the peninsula, the Iraqi forces -- interim Iraqi forces with the 36th Commandos actually took down that hospital.  So now all of a sudden as they're looking one direction, they immediately -- in the middle of the night they see that all of a sudden their rear is shut, the doors are shut, the bridges to the west are shut down and we control those by the late night, early morning.


            So as the plan was developed to attack from the north heading to the south, that plan folded out quite well.  Of course, we knew from our intelligence sources where the stiff pockets of resistance would be.  There were no surprises.  The intelligence community did marvelous deeds in what they provided for us, and there's probably enough experts in that room to figure some of that out.


            As the battle continued to move from the north to the south, as we got closer to the bridges that take you from your northernmost bridge to your southernmost bridge, a flanking movement to shut down the bridges and force any of the enemy that wanted to go across those bridges to the waiting arms of the coalition forces on the other side, but in fact they did not do that.  Most of those forces decided we either swim the Euphrates River or we turn ourselves in, which some did, or many -- as we see today, many have determined themselves to go ahead and fight to the death.


            That being the case, I'm sure someone's going to ask me sooner or later, unless that was the first question and I missed it, what's your detainee number?  Our detainees not too long ago this afternoon was right about 1,052.  I think we're a little bit over that as we continue to progress through the evening.


            The next question, before I continue on to the tactical lay down because I brought up detainees, is yes, there are some foreign fighters in that element.  Predominantly, however, most of the 1,052 are in fact Iraqis.  But there are individuals that are from different countries, and I don't really have that right in front of me at this time.  I will just say this, that as we go through the mortuary affairs, which is a very humanitarian process -- a little gruesome, as you can imagine; a Marine who fought and might have lost a buddy is now aiding by picking up the terrorists and helping in the Islamic tradition of putting them with the right respect a combatant deserves on the battlefield.  We can't really identify all of those, but some of our Iraqi brethren which are helping out in this joint effort are saying this guy is clearly from -- let's just say Syria; this individual here is from another country.  And so they're helping out.  But at this time, out of 1,052 most likely about 1,040 -- or 1,030 are Iraqis.


            So as the battle progressed further to the south and we sealed off the bridges, both from the west and from the east, we came across a phase line called Fran, which just ran through the middle of the city.  At that time, the Marines rearmed, refueled and refitted themselves for the attack down into the southern sector, or the industrial sector of the city, still maintaining themselves really in battalion-size formations.  I say Marines; I should say Marines, soldiers and, of course, our Iraqis.


            Now, the Iraqis throughout this did an excellent job because they were blended in right beside our Marines and soldiers.  For example, we have multiple mosque, multiple sensitive cultural areas that the Iraqis went in and secured just so that we made sure we did the right thing for the Islamic world, that you didn't see an American face going into a sensitive area.  So these guys have been -- they've been fantastic in that regard.  They're right beside us.


            So the Iraqis, the Americans of all the different services came down to phase line Fran and, as I stated, rearmed and refueled and refit themselves.  It took just a little bit of time to do that, and then they progressed down into the southern sector.


            Meanwhile, there would be certain pockets of resistance as the roads and the alleyways would not allow armored or mechanized vehicles.  And in those city blocks it might have had alleys of three- feet wide, it was an individual fight, man to man; spider holes where guys would pop out of; after a Marine would go by it or a soldier would go by it, they'd pop out and attempt to shoot the Marine in the legs or in the back.  So it became a very tenuous fight, that if you weren't streetwise -- and you got streetwise about an hour into this operation -- you'd find yourself as a casualty.


            Just about two hours ago, I got a note from one of my buddies out there who said that his battalion commander just gave him a phone call and said here we are, we're getting ready to secure as we -- again, they moved all the way down to phase line Jenna, or the very southern sector.  As they continue to go back north, wanting to reclear some buildings that they originally bypassed because there was no one in it.  And this battalion commander had talked to his regimental commander and said, "There we were.  My Marines were just up against a wall, discussing the movie 'The Battle for Fallujah'" --     


(The connection with Iraq is temporarily broken)


            (Cross talk.)


            REGNER:  Okay.  This is Colonel Mike Regner.  I'll try to wrap this piece up.


            I'll just tell you that a regimental commander got a call from a tank commander.  He had a fire team, which is normally about four Marines, up against a wall, and they were -- not machine gun, but   sporadic fire all around them.  They were talking about who was going to be the actor -- John Wayne was no longer with us, and who could play the role.  And just then the Iraqis that were the -- not necessarily Iraqis, but the terrorists that were on the other side of the wall were screaming at these Marines.  And while these guys were so focused, the guys that were putting the fire inside the building, and the Marines -- their morale was so high, they were talking about the battle of Fallujah and who would do the movie.


            In goes the weapons system that we used, a SMAW, which is a bunker-blaster -- goes into the building and blasts them.  And within two or three seconds the Marines turn from the wall, run into the building, and the one or two that are after left in there, they take out everybody in the room.  This is no kidding.  This is street fighting.  And these guys that are in these small pockets of resistance, some of them up to maybe squad size -- 10, 11, 12 of them -- very few are giving up.  They're in there.  They're fighting for the death.  And they're making it difficult on Marines, but -- and soldiers.


            But I can tell you that based on today's activities, it seems like as the Marines now progress back up from the south to the north -- and they've broken out of battalion formations and are now in platoon and squad and company formation, which is always a good sign to see, because now you're getting the clearing phase of a military operation.  And that's -- so -- sum it up:  This is -- they've done everything we've expected them to do.  They've done it in record time.  You just don't clear cities the way these hard charges are clearing cities, remembering now the day is D plus eight, with d-day being on the 7th of November at 1900.


            So there's my wrap-up for --


            (The connection with Iraq is temporarily broken)


            (Cross talk.)


            WHITMAN:  Live.  Yes, I don't know if you heard -- this is Bryan Whitman -- the -- we were looking for a little clarification on the number of KIA and whether or not that included non-battle deaths.


            (Technical difficulties.)


            (Off mike conversations.)


            OPERATOR:  Anyone there?


            WHITMAN:  Yes.  We're back with you, Colonel.  I don't know if you heard my question that we were trying to get some -- that we'd like some follow-up, some clarity on.


            OPERATOR:  This isn't Colonel Regner.  We're going to try and do this one more time, but the colonel's got to move on.  So if we can just have one or two more questions, and then we'll wrap it up.  If it cuts off again, we're going to have to move on.  Okay?  Hold on one second.


            WHITMAN:  We'll do two more if we can, and if you get cut off we'll close it from there.


            If it cuts off again, we're going to have to move on.  Okay?  Hold on one second.


            WHITMAN:  We'll do two more if we can.  If you get cut off, we'll close it from there.


            Can you give us some clarity on the 37 killed in action, though, whether or not that number includes non-battle deaths, or are those all considered -- are those killed in action considered combat deaths?


            REGNER:  Okay.  I'll clarify that the killed in action does not include the non-battle death.


            Q:  And do you have a number on those, by any chance?


            REGNER:  I'll state that my number right now for a non- battle death is one.


            WHITMAN:  Okay.  Very good.


            Eric Schmidt?


            Q:  Colonel, this is Eric Schmidt with The New York Times.  I wonder if you could give us a feel on what's going on in Ramadi today. To what extent is the fighting there intensifying?  And maybe just the same general question; how much of that city is secured by American forces and how much of it is contested right now?


            REGNER:  Okay, Eric.  In regards to Ramadi, the provincial center of the Al Anbar Province, there has been challenges in Ramadi. Do we control Ramadi?  Yes, we do.  We have a couple of battalions there.  We don't always have the fortunate manpower strength to put two battalions in Ramadi, but in the last 48 hours, because we've had two battalions there operating throughout, the numbers of caches that we have found and the number of terrorists that have either been killed or captured has reached a higher level than it has been in the past.


            Do we control Ramadi?  Yes, we control it, but again, it is not at this time a cleared city, because as everyone probably realizes, some of these terrorists decided not to go against the might of the Iraqi army, as well as the American forces, and they have escaped that -- our city of Fallujah and moved on to -- in fact moved into Ramadi or some of the other cities that are in the area.


            It has been -- for about a week now, it's been tougher in Ramadi, but I think we've measured up to that with the strength that we've put in that.  And we've put a different battalion than normally operates in there, and so the enemy -- you know, the enemy, some of these guys are former military, and they study you just like we study them.  And when a new force comes in, it throws then off guard.  And we've been very successful in Ramadi.


            WHITMAN:  I think we have time for one more.  Do we give it to Jamie?


            Q:  (Off mike.)  Go ahead.


            Q:  Colonel, Jamie McIntyre from CNN.  Some critics back here have invoked the old Vietnam-era phrase, "We had to destroy the city to save it."  I assume that you reject that comparison.  But can I just get your thought about somebody who thinks that that's what's going on in Fallujah?


            REGNER:  Yes.  I'm responsible to the commanding general as the precision targeter for this entire Marine Expeditionary Force. Not a piece of ordnance goes into that city that I don't watch electronically, kinetically, or in one form or another.


            Today, for example, we had three artillery fire missions go into that city.  We had nine go outside of that city.  The point of origin was from outside of the city.  Now, that's just artillery.  Artillery, as you know, is either point-detonating or it has a variable time fuse.  Predominantly, the fusing that we use sprays little small pieces of shrapnel, which limits your amount of destruction.


            I could tell you over the last -- since I've been here, for almost seven months I've been actively engaged with every piece of aviation ordnance and the precision nature of that, such that it takes three-star approval before it goes to four-star; or if the estimated casualties go above a certain number, it goes to the secretary of Defense for precision targeting.  I sat down with Prime Minister Allwai, showed him three tapes on precision targeting which has taken place on d-day and d-plus-one, and he was pleased with that level of precision targeting.  Now, that was on d-day and d-plus-one.


            There has been buildings that are damaged because, unfortunately, terrorists have taken up refuge in minarets or near mosques.  And the news will tell you, whether it's armed forces combat camera or embeds, that many of these terrorists have no respect for hospitals or sensitive religious and cultural sites.  And those areas are, again, precision-targeted with laser devices which put the bomb in an area.


            One picture, for example, that I showed to Prime Minister Allawi was a minaret that had three or four snipers in it.  That minaret was dropped almost like it was an engineering feat of excellence.  It was dropped, and a mosque was within 20 feet of it; not a single brick fell on that mosque because of the way the targeters engaged that minaret.


            So I would say to you, I am responsible to the commander on precision targeting.  Is this like Vietnam?  Absolutely not.  Vietnam had Hue City, and that was leveled and there wasn't precision targeting, and they didn't secure it in the amount of time that we've secured.


            But again, yes, there will be and there has been buildings damaged.  And it now becomes our responsibility to help the country of Iraq clear up this with the reconstruction efforts, which have already gotten under way, really, a couple of days ago.  I'd mentioned Mortuary Affairs.  Yesterday and today we started working on the meals program.  We've worked electricity yesterday.  We've put guys in to see where and when they can turn on the electricity.  We've got many, many forces in line just to go into that city and set up a CMOC, a civil/military operations center, in the government building right next to the incoming provincial mayor of the city.  He's pleased with it.  In fact, tomorrow he and I will participate in a brief to General Casey to explain some of the phase four, which is reconstruction of this city and how we're aligned to start doing that in the near -- not too distant future.


            WHITMAN:  Colonel, we appreciate you taking some time.  I know this was not on your schedule this morning when you woke up, and you've been very busy, and it's very late there.  So we appreciate the time that you've given us.


            REGNER:  Okay.  Thanks.  I appreciate you guys getting out the straight scoop.  And "semper fi" to all of you.


            Thank you.



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