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News Transcript

Presenters: Victoria Clarke, ASD
April 08, 2003 1:30 PM EDT

(Also participating was Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, vice director for Operations, J-3, Joint Staff. Slides from today’s briefing are available at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Apr2003/g030408-D-6570C.html

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Video shown.)

Thanks, Terry (sp).

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

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

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

General.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLARKE: Charlie?

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Torie --

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

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

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

CLARKE: Which military?

Q: Whoever fired the tank round, for example.

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

Bill?

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

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

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

CLARKE: Ivan?

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

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

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

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

CLARKE: No, I can't.

Q: Torie.

CLARKE: Let's do Brett.

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Are you close to that now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: General, can you --

(Cross-talk.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLARKE: Bob?

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

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

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

MCCHRYSTAL: I would rather not define it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: I'm not disputing --

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: (Off mike.)

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

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

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

Q: Okay. What about Chemical --

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

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

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

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

Q: And that contained area is in Iraq?

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

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

Q: Yeah. (Laughter.)

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