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United States Central Command Briefing

Presenters: Maj Gen. John Sattler, Central Command Director of Operations
May 28, 2004 10:00 AM EDT
United States Central Command Briefing

Moderator:  Bryan Whitman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Public Affairs, Media Operations

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  Hi, thank you for joining us again, sir, and welcome back to the Pentagon briefing room here.  We appreciate you taking the time on an occasional basis here, every few weeks, to talk to us and to give us an overview of operations that are taking place in the CENTCOM area of operations.  And with that I think we'll just go ahead and get started.  And I know that you have a few comments that you'd like to make, and then we'll have some questions from here.

 

            GEN. SATTLER:  Thank you very much.  And, again, it's an honor to have the opportunity to go and talk and speak with the Pentagon press corps.

 

            I'd like to start out just by kind of giving a macro view of our area of operations, both inside of Iraq and Afghanistan, and a quick trip around the Horn of Africa.

 

            Inside of Iraq, we're averaging somewhere around 2,000 patrols in a 24-hour period.  I just want to make sure everyone understands that we are still out and about constantly working the streets, working the towns, and working the rural areas. Of those 2,000, we've climbed up to where over 300 of those on a daily basis are joint patrols, which means they're being conducted side by side with our Iraqi coalition partners.  There's an additional approximately 140 to 150 --  and that number continues to grow -- independent patrols that are conducted by Iraqi security forces, most of those by the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.  The importance of that is these particular units that have really honed in on their tactics, techniques and procedures are able to go out and conduct independent patrols without coalition forces with them.

 

            Looking up towards the north, first of all each -- we continue to focus on Iraqi security forces as we continue -- (audio break due to technical difficulties.)

 

            Okay – do we have connectivity?

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  I can tell you where we got cut off.  You had just finished talking about the joint patrols and the independent patrols of Iraq, and you were just about to talk about heading up north.  And that's when we lost you, sir.

 

            GEN. SATTLER:  Okay, I was well into my speech at that point.  We lost you till about three minutes later.  But I'll go and re-cock here, talking about the north.  We've got the Task Force Olympia, the Stryker Brigade up to the north, mainly focused in the Mosul area, continuing to patrol the main supply routes to ensure they stay open.  And they're conducting quite a bit of work with the Iraqi security forces in the north.

 

            In the north-central, where the 1st Infantry Division is, once again heavy patrolling on the MSRs to ensure they maintain and they stay open, as well as conducting offensive operations to go ahead and capture or bring to justice those individual targets and groups or cells that we in fact identified through our intelligence.

 

            Well, pretty much the same inside of Baghdad, where the 1st Cav Division continues to do journeyman's work all throughout Baghdad, ensuring the rule of law is evenly distributed across Baghdad.

 

            Out to the west, the Marines, as you well know, have pulled out of -- pretty much out of Fallujah, turning it over to the Fallujah Brigade.  The Fallujah Brigade occupies the internal sector of the town, and there's an ICDC (Iraqi Civil Defense Corps) unit, an Iraqi ICDC to the north of Fallujah, one to the south, and we still share a common checkpoint to the east.  We are working very closely with the Fallujah Brigade.  This has now freed the Marines up to push additional forces out towards the Syrian border, and to continue to work the other areas of Al Anbar Province.  They are also doing quite a bit of civil military operations work now out to the west, both in Ar Ramadi and Fallujah.  Civil military operations also being conducted in Baghdad and up in Samarra, and up in the rest of the north-central region.

 

            Moving on to the center-south, the Polish division continues to do great things in northern Babel Province, and we have now moved in the 2nd Light Cavalry Regiment down to work the southern side of the center-south sector.

 

            The 1st Armored Division -- which we extended -- they continue to do great combat operations along the MSR south of Baghdad.  They own the second LCR, so that's part of that extended force.  And the rest of their brigade, another brigade operates as the reserve coming out of the Baghdad international airport area.

 

            And then down in the southeast, the British division continues to do great work, again working with the Iraqi security forces, and constantly conducting patrols to ensure the southeast stays open and secure.

 

            Now, moving quickly over to Afghanistan, we continue to conduct offensive operations, as we have over the last almost two years, operating along the border, the Afghan-Pakistan border, also operating down towards the south and southeast of the country.  And we have forces now maneuvering through the central portion of the country, in the Aruzkhan-Zormat (ph) area.

 

            So once again constant operations to go ahead and keep anyone who would think there is a safe haven in Afghanistan, to keep them off balance and again bring them to justice through combat ops.

 

            We also are now with our provisional reconstruction teams -- we have 16 provisional reconstruction teams that are stood up in Afghanistan.  That takes those civil military operations projects, it takes commerce and takes other capabilities out of just -- (audio break due to technical difficulties.)

 

            Mr. WHITMAN?

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  Yes, hello, we're back with you, I think.

 

            GEN. SATTLER:  Can you confirm the last you heard again?

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  Yes, we left you right when you had finished talking about the PRT teams in Afghanistan.

 

            GEN. SATTLER:  Okay, great.  We picked up the drop about the exact time it happened, so I didn't continue to rehearse without the phone working.  So we're back in sync here.

 

            So the bottom line on Afghanistan is, things are moving along as we approach the elections in September.

 

            Taking a quick trip down to the Horn of Africa, where our combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa is operating, once again, working very closely with the countries of the Horn of Africa to go ahead and shut down the maritime lanes across the Gulf of Aden and in the Red Sea, utilizing maritime interception operations with our AFCENT component, and the combined joint task force has individuals and units that are training and working very closely with the Kenyans, the Ethiopian, the Yemenis, and the Djiboutians.  So a lot of great cross-training going on down there to ensure that our coalition partners have the capability, if and when the time comes, to go ahead and bring any terrorists who move down through their countries or through that area, to justice.

 

            So that's a quick trip around our area of responsibility, and I look forward to your questions.

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  Very good.  If you could just let the general know who you are, that would be helpful to him, I'm sure.

 

            Q     General Sattler, this is Bob Burns from AP.  I wonder if you could -- on Iraq -- bring us up to date on the latest you know about the sarin gas, the mustard gas, in terms of the number of shells or other devices found -- what's been confirmed; what's still being tested and what kind of progress you're making on tracing it back to its origins?

 

            GEN. SATTLER:  Bob, I can tell you what I am aware of -- that there was one round that was found; that it has been sent back; it has been analyzed and confirmed that there was sarin associated with this round.  It appears, and I do not have the full story on it, but it appears the round was very old.  It was one that was probably buried for some time, and it was pretty much in disarray.  I think my personal thought would be that whoever found it did not realize that it was, in fact, a sarin round.  It was probably utilized in an improvised explosive device, not knowing that whoever found it probably did not even know what they had.

 

            Q     Hey General, Tom Bowman with The Baltimore Sun.  Hope all is well.  Could you give us an update on what's going on with the Sadr brigades?  And also around Najaf, any fighting or any activity?

 

            GEN. SATTLER:  Around -- An Najaf, Tom, this morning, local time, probably between 8 and noon, there were actually five incidents down by An Najaf.  We have ceased conducting offensive operations in An Najaf, but we continue to patrol.  Reconnaissance-enforced patrols can go out and ensure that the MSRs stay open and that no one is permitted to either plant IEDs or to set up ambushes or mortar firing positions.  While we were conducting our combat patrols this morning, we were actually hit five different times total down in the An Najaf area.  Three of those were direct-fire RPGs or small arms, and two of those were mortar attacks.  We did have two soldiers wounded, and we captured three anti-coalition militia during these -- combination of the five encounters.

 

            So, once again, no large-scale operations, but doing what we said we would do.  There was some light -- relatively light activity down in An Najaf this morning.

 

            And, Tom, I'm sorry, the first half of your question, I missed it.  I was passing my greetings on to you, and I kind of tramped on you.  If you could please repeat that.

 

            Q     It was just what's going on with the Al Sadr brigades and Muqtada Al Sadr -- if you can give us a sense of picking up more of his people, his whereabouts, et cetera.

 

            GEN. SATTLER:  Well, we continue to obviously monitor Muqtada's militia to go in and keep an eye on them.  We are staying out of the holy city.  We are -- we were asked to go ahead and step back, and we have done that, although we have not relinquished our presence, which we will not do.  We will continue to go ahead and go where we feel we must go and do what we must do.  But, again, we are, in fact, honoring the request to stay clear of the holy city and the holy shrines, Tom.

 

            I'm not sure what Muqtada Sadr is doing; how he's upholding his half of the request that was placed against him, and we'll just keep our eye on that.

 

            Q     Yes, General, this is Vince Crowley with the Army Times newspapers.  You said you'd have regular patrols that are Iraqi forces only.  Could you characterize how they are being employed?  Are they in low-threat areas?  Are they in areas where only Iraqis should go, the particularly high-threat?  And is there a goal -- what is the goal for increasing these kind of patrols so that the Iraqis can handle their own security?

 

            GEN. SATTLER:  That's a good question, Vince.  The ICDC -- some of the ICDCs were obviously formed earlier than others.  Some of them have had the benefit during that longevity period to become very good with their tactics, techniques, procedures.  They've also -- some of the equipment has been delivered to some ICDCs before others.  So a combination of starting earlier, i.e., the longevity piece; having the equipment; and having the units there to train with them and teach them.  Some of the units are capable of going out in anything from squad-size patrols, some are around 10 to 12, operating up as large as platoon or platoon-reinforced -- somewhere between 30 or 50.

 

            We still work very closely with the ICDC across the entire area of responsibility.  They do patrols -- we've had a number of ICDC warriors who have fought extremely well -- they have proven themselves on the battlefield, and many of them have paid by being severely wounded or lightly wounded, and some have paid with their lives.

 

            The goal would be, as we stand up the 45 ICDC battalions, eventually, over time, to have each and every one capable of doing independent operation.  But we're not trying to rush that.  It'll be event-driven; it'll be based on their performance, and it'll be based on the assessment and the capability of which areas they do go into, how large and tough a mission they might take on.  All those will fit into that equation.

 

            But the bottom line is, the goal, as we move toward sovereignty here, and as we transition into sovereignty as a partnership will be to continue to work with the police force and the ICDC to get to where at least 50 percent, working up to 100 percent, of our patrols are, in fact, joint.  Where no patrol goes out, no operation is conducted, without an Iraqi alongside of a coalition member.

 

            Q     It's Craig Gorton from Newsday.  I want to get you to talk about two, sort of, past events and maybe give us a little clarity on them.  One, the decision in Fallujah, which you say now the Marines have pretty much completely pulled out of.  There had been some confusion when that originally happened.  I think folks on the ground were saying Marines were repositioning outside the city.  Folks here in the building were sort of saying, "Not to our understanding."  There seemed to be a little bit of a disconnect there.  Was that a decision that the Marine generals on the ground made or CENTCOM made?

 

            And I'm also curious if CENTCOM had any role either in the decision to raid Chalabi's house or in actually carrying out that raid?

 

            GEN. SATTLER:  Craig, the decision in Fallujah, General Abizaid obviously stays in very close contact with all of his commanders, actually went out to the [inaudible] sat down with General Sanchez, General Conway, the MEF commander, and a number of other of the leaders within the MEF and within General Sanchez's staff.  It was discussed.  There was a way ahead that was, in fact, discussed.  General Abizaid listened to the commanders, those who were on the ground closest to the combat situation, and a decision was made to go ahead and move towards and listen to the leadership within the town to go and take a look at the former Iraqi military leadership, those who had charisma, those who had the capability to stand tall and lead.  The idea was to go ahead and form a brigade which had Iraqi leadership and Iraqi warriors in it that was dedicated to the new Iraq and the way ahead.  We knew it wouldn't happen overnight.  Something like this just can't happen overnight.

 

            So over the course of time, the Marines have continued to work very closely with the Fallujah brigade.  And as it increased its capability and increased its confidence and our confidence in it, then the Fallujah brigade took over the inside cordon, as you mentioned.  And then when the ICDC started to show that they were ready, the Marines went ahead and battle-handed the outside cordon over to the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.  Then there were still joint checkpoints along the outer perimeter, but over the course of the last week to 10 days, both have gradually been transitioned to the Iraqi forces.

 

            So I would really like to stress the fact that since the 3rd of May, there have not been any violations of the cease-fire agreement.  And prior to that, and I'm sure everyone here remembers, there were some nights we had between 10 and 20 violations of the cease-fire agreement with quite a bit of bloodshed on both sides of the line.

 

            So where we stand right now, we're still working very closely with the Fallujah brigade.  We're working very closely with the ICDC.  And there are still red lines that have to be met.  No one has walked away from Fallujah.  The rule of law will be re-established.  Freedom of movement will be established throughout the entire town.  Those that are culpable of crimes, especially those who were involved in the killing of the contractors, still must be brought to justice, and there will be no safe havens in the town of places where either extremists or terrorists or foreign fighters can in fact hide out.  So there is still work to be done, but we are very optimistic as to how it's gone up to this point.  But at this point, General Conway -- Lieutenant General Conway -- is the man on the scene, and he is the one that, likely so, that both General Sanchez and General Abizaid have put their total trust and confidence in.

 

            Q     Hi, General, this is Jeannie Ohm with NBC.  You also mentioned that, with the Marines out of Fallujah, it freed them up to head toward the Syrian border.  Is that an indication of increased activity there?  Because from our last conversation, I was under the impression that things along the Syrian border were fairly well contained.  And also, is there a follow-up on the investigation regarding that wedding party there?

 

            GEN. SATTLER:  The operations -- I guess I would start by stating right up front that along the Syrian border, things have been fairly well contained.  But what the Marines did, is they stretched the lines -- as you do in any combat operation, you put your combat power where you need it for the time at hand.  They were able to go ahead and pull some of those forces back out to not only secure the borders but also to work the towns along the Syrian border, which is important -- all the same reasons: to make sure that there are no safe havens in those towns and, in addition, to work civil military operations projects, bring some degree of commerce, bring money into the town and go ahead and enhance the quality of life.

 

            So it was not because there was any reason that pulled the forces out that way, but that's where they had started, and then that's where the Marine commander decided to go ahead and push them back to.

 

            Concerning the safe house incident out towards the west, we have very good intelligence that indicates beyond our shadow of a doubt that that safe house was in fact being used as a safe house to bring fighters across the border and into Iraq.  It was a halfway house where there were clothes there, there were weapons there, there were false documentation there.  We are very comfortable that what we struck that night, based on intelligence that I really can't get into, that we did, in fact, hit a safe house, which was, in fact, harboring those who would bring harm and discredit and dis-rail the sovereignty process for the Iraqi people.

 

            Q     General, it's Craig Gordon again.  I had a second part of the question, the Chalabi raid.  I was curious if CENTCOM was involved in the decision to carry out the raid, and then if soldiers in any way were involved in actually, you know, executing the raid?

 

            GEN. SATTLER:  I'm sorry, Craig, I forgot the second part of the question.  It wasn't intentional.

 

            Q     That's okay.

 

            GEN. SATTLER:  On the Chalabi operation, there were actually three targets that were taken down.  There were a number of warrants, and I would try to guess the number, but I don't want to -- I don't have it right in front of me.  There were a number of warrants -- it was greater than 10 -- that had been drafted up by the Iraqi Department of Justice and the minister of interior.  It was their decision to go ahead and go after these targets.  They did in fact approach the coalition forces to see if our military police could be used in the outer cordon -- not to serve the warrants, not to enter into any of the target areas, but to go ahead and occupy the outside cordon to ensure other forces did not come in once they commenced their operation.  So it was coordinated with us.  We did stay out on the outer cordon, and there were no coalition forces that participated in serving of the warrants or entering into any of the three target areas, Craig.

 

            Q     General Sattler, this is Bob Burns again.   I wanted to ask you about the problem of IEDs, which has been a problem for many, many months now, and I recall that a special task force was sent over to address the problem some -- a few months ago perhaps.  Just looking at the month of May, I looked at the figures, there's at least 20 troops -- soldiers were killed this month by IEDs, and we don't know how many Marines were killed by IEDs, because they don't specify anymore.  But I wish you could -- could you just describe why that cannot be eliminated or reduced more as a killer of Americans?  And what is being done at this point?

 

            GEN. SATTLER:  Bob, we do have -- there's multiple improvised explosive device task forces across the government.  They all come into one focal point to ensure that we're not stove-piping, wasting effort, redundancy you might say, or spending money in the same area twice.  So there is a very focused effort to come up and take a look at the technology side of the improvised explosive device, both how can we jam it; the possibility of predetonation of some of the devices.   You could walk down through multiple ways to go ahead and find them based on taking a look at the ground and then coming back later to see if it's been disturbed.  So a lot of technology is being worked on, mainly back in the United States, and we have our best and our brightest pushing the technology envelope with the intent of getting that out in the hands of the warriors sooner rather than later.

 

            We've also worked very hard on our tactics, techniques and procedures on determining where they put them, how they put them, what times they put them in, trying to pattern the enemy and then tasking and sharing those lessons learned throughout all the units across our area of responsibility to include Afghanistan.

 

            The improvised explosive device and the mortar have become the weapon of choice.  And the main reason for that is that each and every time that the extremists take on a soldier or take on a Marine who is being reinforced by a sailor or an airman from the sky, that the outcome has been constantly the same:  that when the smoke settles, that we are victorious in those direct-fire engagements.

 

            Over the course of the last two months, let's say, the enemy has really figured this out.  Each time that they take us toe to toe, we win.   We very -- we suffer very minor casualties, because of our training, our tactics and our techniques, and the enemy suffers severely.

 

            Based on this, they have gone to -- you could possibly say we forced them to because of our efficiency -- they have gone to a shoot-and-scoot with a mortar or rocket or an IED when they feel they can go in under the cover of darkness and place it along a main supply route, which can patrol, but we can't guard constantly, Bob.

 

            So the bottom line is we will continue to work it hard.  We continue to come up with novel ways to -- when they think of a way to go ahead and put them in, we think of a way to counter that.  So it's a matter of staying and never resting on our laurels, never accepting the status quo, and continuing to drive on till in fact we can come up with tactics, techniques and procedures that preclude them.  But you are correct, that is our biggest menace right now, is the improvised explosive device.

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  Okay, I think we've got time for one more question before we've got to move on.

 

            Q     General, thanks.  This is Brian Hartman with ABC News.  Can you quantify in any way what the opposition you're facing is right now?  How much of it is former regime leaders?  How many terrorists do you think you're facing?  How many are criminals?

 

            GEN. SATTLER:  Brian, you obviously hit the nail on all the areas that are out there -- the foreign fighters, the terrorists themselves, the mujahadeen, the jihadist terrorists that come in, the criminal element that was released out of prison that has no way to make a living except -- and has no future if in fact sovereignty stays on track, and a sovereign government does take power with a capable security element.  The other part of that being the former regime element, those who have blood on their hands from the former regime who have no future.

 

            I really -- and I know you want me to go ahead and state a number, Craig, but I can tell you that all four of those categories are out there.  Each one comes at us a little different way.  We continue to focus on them different.  But if I had a number, Brian, I would give it to you.  I've got possibly a swag kind of trying to pull it in all together, but I just don't want to go out on a limb and then put out a number.  I'm not the intel officer, I'm the operations officer.  You know, we know who we're going to fight in each one of the operations, and we have good intel as to who we're going to take on.  But as far as trying to give you a whole countrywide perspective on it, I'm afraid that I can't really do that, Brian.

 

            MR. WHITMAN: Well, General, again, thank you for taking the time to be with us -- your afternoon, our morning here.  And we hope to have you back soon so you can continue to keep us updated on the broad range of activities that are occurring in your region.

 

            GEN. SATTLER:  And you're definitely quite welcome.  And, again, thanks a lot for taking the time out to come in and first of all hear the opening comment and come up with the great questions.  And, as I stated before, we look forward to seeing you back out here again, each and every one of you.

 

            MR. WHITMAN:  Thank you.

 

            GEN. SATTLER:  I would just close by saying as we move towards sovereignty that the key word is the partnership.  You know, it's been a partnership up to this point, but when 1 July comes here, as a senior partner of the organization becomes the sovereign Iraqi people and the government, we will stay beside them.  There is no intent to walk away from our commitment, to walk away from the job that we have already started, and we will see to fruition.

 

            So, again, thanks a lot.  We look forward to seeing you out here.

 

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