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Defense Department Regular Briefing

Presenters: Pentagon Spokesman Lawrence DiRita and Director of Operations, J-3, Lt. Gen. James T. Conway
May 10, 2005 2:35 PM EDT
Defense Department Regular Briefing

            MR. DIRITA:  Good afternoon.  Just a quick comment on an issue that I know people are interested in, and I'm unfortunately not going to have a lot more detail beyond what I tell you.  And then I'll ask General Conway to make a few comments, and we'll be happy to take some questions.

 

            There's obviously some interest this week in the global posture work that we've done in the department.  There's a congressional commission, or a Senate commission that's made some recommendations recently.  We're obviously completing our submission for the 2005 Base Realignment And Closure report.  That process has obviously got until, according to the statute, May 16th for the secretary to send the department's recommendation to the commission.  Today is May 11th, I guess -- 10th.  So we're obviously in a window where we're getting close to making -- completing a final submission.  But we're not completed with that process.  We are developing that draft.  And we, as I said, have until the 16th of May to submit it, for the secretary to submit the department's recommendations to the commission.  We will meet that goal as a target.  We hope to complete that this week, by the end of the week.  But our object -- our requirement is to complete it by May 16th, and we will meet that objective.  And I'm -- as much interest as I know there is in this, I'm not going to have a lot more to say about that, because that's where we stand at the moment.

 

            General Conway, do you have any --

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  I do.  Thank you, Larry.

 

            Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  First of all, I'd like to extend my condolences to the families and friends of those soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen who have recently made the ultimate sacrifice as we continue the war on terrorism.

 

            Secondly, I would announce to you folks that multinational forces continue Operation Matador in the western portion of the Al-Anbar province.  The mission is to eliminate insurgents and foreign fighters in this region that's known for its smuggling and as a recent location for foreign fighters and insurgents.

 

            Recently Iraqis have taken over the Iraqi TIPS hotline from U.S. forces in Baghdad, where Iraqi civilians can anonymously report criminal and insurgent activity.  In the first week of operation under Iraqi control, we find that the numbers of calls that have provided substantive information have increased tenfold.  And we see that as a testament to the determination of those Iraqis who want to see a safe and stable country.  

 

            In the Kelat region of Afghanistan, coalition forces are working a significant ammunition cache, which at this point includes more than 2,000 mortar rounds and over a thousand recoilless rifle rounds -- certainly the making of IEDs.  And the evacuation of that ordnance continues.

 

            With that, I think we'll take your questions.

 

            Q     Larry, I realize I might be heading down a dead end here -- (laughter) -- but is Secretary Rumsfeld currently reviewing that draft list that you mentioned of bases recommended for closure?  And can you say how many may be on that list?  And also, is the announcement definitely Friday?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Will, you have hit a dead end, and I apologize. (Laughter.)  It is not definitely Friday.  And as I said, the process is that the secretary will sign -- will complete a report, sign that report on behalf of the department and submit it to the commission. And our legal obligation is that be done not later than May 16th.  

 

            Q     Well, it was said from the podium yesterday --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Sure.  No, and I appreciate that.  And it is our goal to get that done this week.  But we have till the 16th.  We will meet our statutory obligations.  And I just, as I said, am not going to be able to say a lot more than that.  And I appreciate the interest in it.

 

            Bret?

 

            Q     General, can you describe the resistance the Marines are seeing out along the border, and talk about the enemy they're facing?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  I can.  Let me give you some geographical context, if I can.  Of course, Husaybah butts up against the Syrian border. Just southeast of there is the town of al Qaim.  We've had a battalion out there for a long time now.  Recently, I think it's fair to say that the commanders have evaluated that the center of resistance in the Al Anbar has moved further west since the fall of Fallujah, and now is in what we would call the Ramadi-Hit corridor, extending westward, as opposed to Ramadi-Fallujah.  

 

            About 72 hours ago, U.S. forces, the 2nd Regimental Combat Team, effected a river crossing at a place called Ukedi (ph), and they established a blocking position at a little townlet called Rommana, and put forces across the river to flush what had been reported as groupings of insurgents there.  They were decisively engaged; a fairly significant battle followed.  Use of close air support and combined arms have been employed.  And at this point, the fight continues. There are reports that these people are in uniforms, in some cases are wearing protective vests, and there's some suspicion that their training exceeds that of what we have seen with other engagements further east.

 

            So, at this point, the fight continues.

 

            Q     At this -- right now it's a U.S. operation.  From what we understand, there aren't Iraqis there.  Does that pose a problem as far as a U.S. face being on this battle along the border, that Iraqis have been very concerned about -- (off mike)?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  No, your assessment is correct based on my knowledge, Bret, and my observation of the task organization.  I think as you know, we do have Iraqi forces based at Habbaniya that are working both the Fallujah and the Ramadi area.  At this point, those operational forces have simply not extended their reach far enough west to join the U.S. forces there.

 

            There are Iraqis operating in border forts along the borders. But in that interim area, they're simply not there yet.  

 

            And I want to offer that the fight's not finished.  We saw where the Iraqis provided tremendous value to us in Fallujah.  And if the fight continues, if it does involve fighting in built-up areas, that's not to say you won't see Iraqi forces involved.

 

            Q     Can I follow up on that?  Can you say whether or not you've seen any evidence of some of these foreign fighters, as you've described them, crossing back over the border?  And are the Syrians in any way involved in this or in any way cooperating?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  I don't think I used the term foreign fighters.  I don't think we know that yet.  Certainly it's in proximity to the border.  There is a major crossing site there, Husaybah, and again, there's smugglers' routes both north and south of that location.  So it's not unrealistic to expect that there could be foreign fighters engaged.

 

            At this point, we simply don't know if the there is movement across the border associated with this, because the preponderance of our forces are engaged in this fight.

 

            Q     Has there been any contact with the Syrians or any sort of effort to get them to help out, any -- 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  From an operational perspective, I can only say that there is low-level contact that goes on, on a continuing basis. The captains and the field grade officers of that battalion have a fairly routine dialogue with the Syrians.  I cannot speak to whether or not it transcends that.

 

            Q     Assuming that this operation is successful, what do you expect the effect will be?  You said that the center of the insurgency has effectively moved west.  If you are able to succeed in this mission's objectives, what do you think the result will be?  Will you have broken the back of the insurgency?  Will --

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  No, I think it's way too early to say that.  I think, as we have experienced in every fight up to this point, where we find the insurgents, we will attack them, to capture or kill if they resist.  

 

            If you look at what happened -- what has happened in the region up to this point, we have had a fairly significant Special Operations operation south of al Qaim, where we captured or killed 54.  We have had two engagements in Husaybah, one the attack on Camp Gannon where they attempted to breach the perimeter with a large explosive device, the fire truck.  We've had a Zarqawi sighting, and now we have this fairly significant gathering of insurgents.

 

            So where we find them, we will fight them, to take them -- 

 

            Q     How do you explain that during the time when you've had these successes -- rounding up followers of Zarqawi and capturing or killing insurgents -- has corresponded with an increase in the number of bombings, particularly in the number of suicide bombings?  Can you explain that at all, or -- 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  I don't know that the two are related.  We know we're dealing with a willful and capable insurgent, and he has his operational plans as well.

 

            Q     General, what do you make of the fact that they don't seem to be running into your blocking force, but they're standing and fighting?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  It's an interesting development.  I -- and I think time will tell what happens here, whether or not they will attempt now to flee the battlefield if they sense that they are surrounded and can be sacrificed.  If they are intending on being martyred, that has to be cranked into the equation with this particular enemy.

 

            So those, I think, are future events that we will see unfold.

 

            Q     Is that unusual, that this would happen, that they wouldn't just melt away?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  No, not if you witnessed what happened in Fallujah. There, as many as 3,000 decided to stay.  About half that number were killed and about half were captured.  So it's not entirely unusual.

 

            Q     General, were you surprised by the level of organization and the skills and the ferocity of the fighting that the Marines have encountered there?  And do you feel like you have enough troops on the ground there to deal with it, or do you think you need to send reinforcements?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Let me answer your last question first and say, of course, I'm 9,000 miles away, and I don't have a feel for that.  But I have every confidence that the commander in the region, both the regimental commander and the division commander, his MEF commander, will apply forces as need be to be successful in this instance.

 

            No, I don't think we're surprised.  We know, again, that this is a determined enemy; that he has the skill and the ordnance, the weapons, to be to resist fiercely, as we're seeing here.  So it should not be a surprise to us when that happens.

 

            Q     Uniforms, body armor, that sort of thing?  I mean, that suggests a level of organization you really haven't seen, right?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  We have seen that in some instances.

 

            Q     You have?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  It's spotty, but we have seen it.

 

            Q     What uniforms?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Let me make sure it's understood.  This is not a uniformed -- a single entity that is all in the same uniform.  Okay. We are seeing some uniforms on some of the fighters.

 

            Q     Sir, I have two questions on this.  On the question of the number of troops, the Marines in Anbar province have been spread very thin since the start of this.  There's not that many out there at all.    And I've been talking with folks who have suggested that perhaps if there had been a greater sized force and it hadn't been diverted for Fallujah, more troops would prevent these things from happening, because it's this idea that they've been squeezed out from Fallujah and have gone and found vacuums where they can take up residence, and then U.S. forces have to go in after them.  Could you address sort of the strategic issue of are there enough forces in general in Anbar province to prevent them from just getting squeezed out of this area and going somewhere else?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Yeah.  Well, once again, we have some very able commanders in Baghdad and in Fallujah, a number of them friends of mine, and they're making those determinations on a daily basis.

 

            A commander certainly has the ability, with the mobility of U.S. and coalition forces, to flex on the battlefield and put forces where he needs to have them.  

 

            Now in the case of the Al Anbar, you make a great point.  It is a huge piece of terrain.  But that said, our basing strategy at this point is to operate out of fixed locations and patrol certain sites in order to accomplish just what we've done -- that is, find fixed locations of enemy insurgents and then go after them.

 

            Q     And the second question is, could you discuss this fairly new development of talking about enemy casualty counts?  Tommy Franks said we don't do body counts, and that was certainly the point in Afghanistan.  But now we're hearing a hundred here, 50 there.

 

            Could you explain why?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Well, you haven't heard me mention body counts because I don't think it's something we should do as a matter of course.  In this case, that number has slipped out.  It has happened before.  It does add perspective, but I don't think it's something we'll do as a matter of course.

 

            Q     Why not?  Why not do it as a matter of course?  I mean, doesn't it show some sort of progress?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  It's not a metric that I think we want to use to gauge our relative levels of success.

 

            Q     Thank you.

 

            Q     Can you say anything about the -- what U.S. casualties have been suffered during this operation?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Last reports, as a result of this operation, are 3 Marines that have been killed and less than 20 that have been wounded.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  And I think that they have been putting that out in the theater pretty regularly, and that's -- that's how we do it.  And again, it hasn't been our practice, but on the other hand, we've done it from time to time.

 

            Q     But, Fallujah 1,500.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Right.  It hasn't been our practice, but we do it from time to time.

 

            Q     General, the 100 figure that you say slipped out -- is that an accurate figure that slipped out, or what?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  I have no way of knowing that.  I will say that there have been significant amounts of close air strikes.  When that happens, I would offer that an actual precise count is difficult.

 

            Q     You mentioned the nature -- the air-land kind of nature of the -- (inaudible).  You have a better feel for that in terms of -- are drones being used, with Hellfires, helicopters, airplanes in a combined -- (inaudible).  GEN. CONWAY:  I think we need to guard against too much detail only because the operation is still ongoing.  If I can just couch you this:  combined arms, if you look at a manual of how Marines fight, you'll see a listing there of what might be involved.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Okay.  Sir? 

 

            (Inaudible) -- and then we'll come to -- (inaudible).

 

            Q      Different issue.  There have been protests in Pakistan over reports that investigation over abuses in Guantanamo has found that guards have apparently put Korans in the toilet.  And I'm wondering if either of you can comment on whether that's accurate, or whether the investigation has found that, and what's being done about it?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  I can't speak to any particular -- I've not seen the reports on that specific point.  As we've said many times, we have conducted multiple investigations into the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere in the world, and we are facing an adversary -- in the case of many of these detainees, particularly at Guantanamo -- who are exceedingly well-trained in counter-interrogation tactics. And the procedures that are provided for by field manuals, as well as other authorization, have taken that into account.  But I can't speak to a particular assertion about what may have happened.

 

            Q     (Inaudible) -- at least the status of that investigation at Guantanamo?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Which investigation?

 

            Q     This is -- I believe this is an investigation that was sparked by allegations by FBI officials --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Oh, right.  That was an investigation that because of these FBI e-mails that we learned of, the commander down there asked for it to be pursued.  I know that the investigators down there have coordinated with the FBI, which apparently is doing its own separate investigation.  The Department of Justice inspector general is involved because there are FBI interrogators as well as other -- as well as military.

 

            So I think where we are is that the commander is coordinating closely with the Department of Justice so that we have -- we can be as linked together as we need to be.  He, I think, received some -- the commander received some initial assessments early, asked for some additional inquiries, and those have not been completed.

 

            And I think we're probably -- because of the desire to make sure that we're working closely with other agencies, it's a little bit more complicated.  And I think we're probably several weeks away from being able to say that the commander has made his final assessments there.  

 

            Q     Larry, can I follow up on that?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  We'll come back -- we'll come back to you.

 

            Q     How much do you think the low level of contact with Syria, as you said, is helping the U.S. to maintain a sort of stability on the border with Iraq?  And my second question is, do you think -- do you still believe that the Syrian government is still hiding top Iraqi Ba'athists inside Syria?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  I want to defer your second question to Mr. DiRita. In terms of the first question, I do think that contact with the Syrians cross-border is helpful.  We have had over the months now a number of cross-border firings, and I know that dialogue amongst the local commanders there has helped to mitigate that in time.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  What were you -- what was the question that -- ?

 

            Q     About if the Syrian government is still hiding top Ba'athists, top Iraqi Ba'athists.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Well, I think we've had -- as a government, the U.S. government has had multiple interactions with the Syrian government at multiple levels.  There's no question that -- we've made clear the concerns that we have regarding Syrian support for the foreign elements that we're finding in Iraq at some level.  And whether that's a level that's official or sanctioned is beyond my purview.  I just know that we've had multiple interactions by state -- led by the State Department with the Syrian government, and they're -- it's well understood the concerns that we have.

 

            Mark, did you have something you wanted --

 

            Q     Yes.  For General Conway.  I wondered if you could speak more broadly about Anbar province.  You deployed there twice, and, as you say, they're -- you're 9,000 miles away now, but you still talk to commanders out there.  Here we are a couple months after the election. I'm wondering, is your sense that the province as a whole is moving closer towards the democratic process, or acceptance of Iraqi government, or does it still remain the biggest trouble spot in Iraq, and, as you say, the center of the insurgency?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Yeah.  It's mixed.  If you look at numbers of attacks, there are significant numbers in what we call MND West, but there are also significant numbers in Baghdad and in the north as well.  So that remains a factor.

 

            Now, I sense that portions of the Sunni population are wanting to join the political process.  There is still, however, a goodly number of insurgents there who continue with the murder and the intimidation campaign; that's making it difficult for those people who want to join a free and hopefully democratic Iraq.  

 

            So it is a region that is in turmoil and, in some regards, in conflict with itself.

 

            And we're starting to see that, as a matter of fact, in some of the reporting, where even some of the Sunni elements are starting to have conflict with each other over which direction a province should go.

 

            Q     If I could follow up on that, one of the key elements of the Fallujah campaign was the follow-on, having reconstruction ready, sealing off the city so bad guys couldn't get back in.  Is this operation going to be modeled on that?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  It's too early to say.  And there are many differences that would make it unlikely.  You don't have the major metropolitan area that Fallujah is out there, the number of smaller towns and villages.  So certainly I think in the wake of the successful effort there, we will see civil affairs people reengage, gain the credibility and contact with the community, but likely not on a scale that we saw in Fallujah.

 

            Q     General, is there any recent assessment about the size and sophistication of the insurgency throughout Iraq?  And is there a sense now that the biggest threat is becoming foreign fighters?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  I've seen nothing that would indicate either of those things.

 

            Q     Is Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi a target of this operation?  And is it expected that he -- is it believed that he's in this area?  And even if he's not the target, is it possible that he might be picked up in an operation like this?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  He is not specifically a target.  Again, there was a sighting with him out in that region not long ago.  It would be a welcome event to come across him or his body and find him in that region, but that's not the purpose of the operation.

 

            Q     General, following up on the earlier question about Al Anbar Province, there is a report that the governor was kidnapped today and that this may be part of a tit-for-tat kidnapping between a clan that supports the coalition and a clan that supports Zarqawi. Can you shed any light on that?  And is that part of what you were talking about earlier about some cracks in the opposition?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  The answer to that last question is no.  And in fact you may have more information than I do, based on what you just said.  My initial reports from our watch cell is that the governor and his son were kidnapped on 9 May enroute from Qaim back to Ramadi; that members of his family are engaged in discussion.  And that's about all we know at this point.

 

            Q     Can I follow up on that point?  Did the governor ask the U.S. military to provide him with protection?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  I don't know the answer to that.  I can say not that I'm aware of.  

 

            MR. DIRITA:  But as a general matter, we don't discuss personal security matters like that.

 

            Q     Could we go back to BRAC? 

 

            MR. DIRITA:  I'm not going to have much for you, (Brian ?), but you can try.

 

            Q     This is more of a process question.  You said this week.  

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Mm-hmm.

 

            Q     Can you give us any insight as to whether the secretary will brief Congress before this is made public or before it goes to the commission?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  I would say that it is a principle of how we sequence all of this that we do our very best to let members of Congress know what the recommendations will look like before anybody else knows.  That is a principle.  We are going to work very hard to achieve that objective.

 

            And then, you know, I recognize that you do your best on something like that.  But it is one of the principal objectives of how we sequence -- how we talk about this that members of Congress, to the maximum extent that we're capable of doing, will hear about it from us.

 

            Q     That would be on the day before, or the day of?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  It'll be before.

 

            Q     Okay.

 

            Q     Larry, how -- 

 

            Q     There are -- there are -- separate subject.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  I'll come back to you, Tony.

 

            Q     This is a separate subject.  There are allegations that at least two Army recruiters in Denver and Houston may have acted improperly.  In one case one recruiter was said to have made a threat against a potential recruit.   What can you tell us about this?  Is there an investigation?  And is it true that there is a system-wide review about recruiting?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  (To General Conway.)  Do you have anything on that?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  I do not.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  I've seen press reports to that, and we'll try and provide a little additional information.  I think these were Army recruiters -- is that right? -- and when -- if we can get some more information, I would suggest you maybe talk to the Army.  But at the moment, we don't have any more beyond what we've seen in the press.

 

            Q     But -- but is it true that there is a system-wide review of recruiting?  We've been told that -- that is a --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Yeah, I don't know.  

 

            Q     Okay.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  I simply don't know.  Tony.

 

            Q     On BRAC, could you -- can the department release the transcript that the secretary had last week with editorial writers? We've gotten some second-hand accounts of what he allegedly said about the extent of the closures, and the building hasn't released a transcript.  A, can you do that, and B, can you give a sense of what a -- what is the latest figure on excess capacity that the department is looking at?  The secretary a couple years in the report said about 25 percent.  Is there -- can you give a ballpark on what's the figure --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  First of all, on the question of the transcript, let me think about it.  

 

            Q     Well, the -- (off mike).  Come on.  I mean, do you -- you do these things routinely.  It's been about --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  We do, don't we?  We don't -- there's nothing routine about base realignment and closure, let me assure you. (Laughter.)

 

            Q     Yeah.  But you talk to reporters, and you've --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Yeah, I take the point.  Now, let me think about it.

 

            The secretary has said from here that there have been estimates over the years -- there was one in the late '90s, there was another one done in the last year or two or three, I don't remember exactly when, that suggest, based on certain ways to measure it -- and it's an imprecise measurement -- that some -- the people responsible for that have estimated we have a 20 to 25 percent excess capacity.  And then the question becomes, what is capacity, et cetera.  He has also said that he expects that we'll be -- we'll end up in this process, for a variety of factors, that -- or, reasons, we'll end up shy of that lower range, lower number in that range.  And I think that that's probably the way this thing's going to come out.  But again, we're going to have something to say on this in finite detail within no more than six days.  And at that point it'll all be as understandable as it can be.

 

            Q     Get that transcript out.  (Light laughter.)

 

            Q     Back on Al-Anbar province, on another issue, could you talk about what kind of requests you may have received for assistance from the Japanese government of the U.S. military in regards to the Japanese citizen that's been reported kidnapped there?  And then, what if any assistance have U.S. military forces been able to provide?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  (To General Conway.)  You know anything about that?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  I know about the kidnapping; I don't know anything about requests for assistance.  MR. DIRITA:  I don't have anything for you on that.

 

            Q     It seems that there's been a spike of detention of American journalists over in Iraq.  I wonder if the posture that the U.S. military is taking towards U.S. journalists over there has changed, the unembedded journalists.  Do you have any intelligence that maybe insurgents are trying to infiltrate foreign media organizations over there?  What's going on?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Yeah.  Well, I -- first of all, I'm not sure I know enough to know whether there's a spike or not.  I do know that we have -- that -- let me just describe the practical circumstances, which I think most of the folks represented here who have colleagues over there understand.  

 

            These operations happen, military operations.  A lot of times there are journalists, who are local hires, who rush to one scene or the other that's involved.  And military personnel are making rapid decisions on a spot -- you know, in part to achieve their mission, in part to defend their own lives.  There have been circumstances that we know about where journalists have -- or terrorists have -- or insurgents have been -- have pretended to be journalists, or we found journalist paraphernalia in captured caches, et cetera.  It all adds to the split-second decisions that are often made.  And there have been instances where we've scooped up people that were at the scene, and had to sort it out later, after interrogations.  There have been instances where we've, after interrogations, decided that some of these folks that have represented themselves in one capacity might be something else.

 

            So I wouldn't say that there's been a change in posture.  We're clearly dealing with an insurgency where that kind of activity is possible; it has been seen.  And the objective is that these guys -- first and foremost, the rules of engagement always allow them to defend themselves.  So we're -- the commanders -- or the Multinational Force Iraq public affairs people try and maintain a very regular communication with the bureaus, with the reporters who are stationed in Baghdad and elsewhere, to make sure that there is as much transparency as there can be.  I think they're very sensitive to that. But again, it's a tough, tough problem.  

 

            I wouldn't say there's been a change in policy, because the policy is kind of what I've described.  They defend themselves.  They understand there's going to be journalists in the area, and they try and be careful, but they're going to always want to achieve the mission and defend themselves --

 

            Q     Have warnings been sent to the frontline troops, the folks outside the wire, who might be dealing with unembedded journalists, have warnings been sent to those troops that there's a new threat, or you need to be more vigilant about looking at people who are -- appear to be journalists?  MR. DIRITA:  Not that I'm aware.

 

            (To General Conway)  Do you know anything about that?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Not, specifically.  No.

 

            Q     General, when you mentioned that there had been a Zarqawi sighting recently, are you talking about in the last week, 10 days, or are you talking about the incident back in February?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  I think it's probably been within the last three weeks.

 

            Q     Where about?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  In the west, the vicinity between al Qaim and Husaybah, that region.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  But, of course, there's no way to verify that.  So that's somebody's belief.  I mean, it's -- I'd be real careful with that.  It's just --

 

            Q     You had a tip called in or --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  I don't know that we have more --

 

            Q     Had a sighting by U.S. military?

 

            Q     Or a tip called into the hotline, or what?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  You know, I don't know how it came.  We get lots of Zarqawi sightings, as you might imagine, with a $25 million price tag on his head.

 

            Q     North Korean issue.  North Korea is known to make a nuclear test in the middle of June.  What is the United States Defense -- Department of Defense -- (inaudible) -- against the North Korean nuclear test?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  I don't -- you're saying that the North Koreans have announced they are going to do that?

 

            Q     Yes.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Oh, I'm not aware of that, and we'll wait and see what happens.

 

            Q     Didn't you have any sources from North Korea -- ?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Well, certainly we don't -- I mean if you're asking me, do we have -- am I prepared to discuss any intelligence matters from the podium, the answer is no.  North Korea is a country that by its actions every day seems to be further isolating itself.  It is the U.S. government's view that the best thing for North Korea would be to rejoin the six-party talks.  That's the approach that the president and other -- his -- our other partners in the six-party talks believe is the best approach.  And then, we'll just wait and see how North Korea chooses to respond to that offer.

 

            Yes, sir.

 

            Q     General, the uniforms that you mentioned, first could you describe them?  Are these like old Iraqi military uniforms?  Are they from somewhere else?  And second, does the presence of a uniformed armed force on a battlefield give -- particularly the foreign fighters, give them extra legal rights, I mean are they -- if they're captured under the Geneva Conventions, than a typical foreign fighter receives?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Yeah, what I expressed to you was one line out of one report that talked about some insurgents wearing uniforms.  And I think the answer to your second question is no, in that it is not an organized army per se, as a result of whatever -- 

 

MR. DIRITA:  This is not -- we're not going to do Geneva on the fly.  We will be -- I will be happy to provide you the assessment, but as a practical matter the conflict with Iraq is governed by the Geneva Conventions and we've said that.  And then, there's always questions about individuals who are detained and establishing their status, and we have procedures for establishing status within Geneva and we follow those procedures carefully.

 

            Last question or two maybe.  We'll go to the back.

 

            Q     Yeah, the Marine Corps is in the process of trying to gather up about 5,000 outer tactical vests that may have failed ballistics tests.  And there are as many as 19,000 total that may be out there.  Is the department involved at all in that or is that strictly a Marine Corps situation?  And, General, as a Marine, are you concerned at all that there may be Marines who are wearing less than proper protection?

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Well, in that the Marine Corps is involved, the department's certainly involved.  But the answer is no.  I have read some on this.  I've had some discussion with some of my counterparts. There were vests that were tested; the number is down to just over 5,000 vests that on the one hand, failed a test -- but when they were retested, they were fine.

 

            It is dealing with the vest, per se, and it's ability to stop nine- millimeter or fragmentation rounds.  Quite frankly, every Marine that wears the vest in Iraq or Afghanistan wears it with the SAPI plates. So in some regards, it's almost a moot argument.

 

            Those vests the Marine Corps has called back simply because of what might be concerns on the part of the troops or their families to make sure there is absolutely no cause for alarm.  And the aggregate of those 5,000 vests are something less than 3 percent of the total. So in my mind, the right thing has been done pretty much at every step of the way, and it should be yesterday's news.

 

            Q     A quick status question.  The suicide bombing at Mosul in December -- we haven't heard the final investigative results.  Do you have any insight?  It's been almost six months now.

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  I'm sorry, I do not -- have you heard anything?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Not -- has it been concluded?  What's the status of it?  It's under review by General Casey?  I expect it's under review by General Casey.

 

            Q     The final report is under review?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  The investigation.  So I think -- I think the way that worked is we had -- help me out here, General --

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  (Off mike.)

 

            MR. DIRITA:  General Jacoby was --

 

            STAFF:  Formica.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Formica.  General Formica did an investigation at the request of General Ham.  And that investigation -- as I understand it -- has been concluded by the investigating officer, but the process allows for higher-echelon commanders to review it and accept or not findings, and move it on from there.  And that's where it stands at the moment -- it's with the commanders.

 

            STAFF:  Thank you very much, folks.  

 

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