(Note: Admiral Spicer appears via teleconference.)
COL. GARY KECK (director, Department of Defense Press Office): Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Pentagon press corps and visitors. Appreciate your being here.
I am Colonel Gary Keck, the director of the Press Office, as you know. But Admiral Ray Spicer's on the other end of this call, Rear Admiral Spicer. And he's commander of the USS Enterprise Carrier Strike Group, and he's with us today.
And Admiral Spicer assumed command of the group in August 2005 and commenced his deployment in May -- on May 2nd of this year. And the admiral is speaking to us via telephone from his flagship, the USS Enterprise, and is here to provide us an operational update of the strike group's support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, as well as maritime security operations. Admiral Spicer has an opening statement. Then he'll take your questions.
And I would remind you that he cannot see you. So please identify yourself clearly for him when you ask your questions.
With that, Admiral Spicer, I'll turn it over to you. (Pause.)
And -- Admiral Spicer, can you hear me? (Pause.)
Okay. I believe -- they had been coming in and out. We thought we had them solid. Hold on just a second.
(briefing paused to correct audio difficulties)
ADM. SPICER: Can you hear me?
COL. KECK: Yes, sir, I can.
I've already done the introduction, so we're going to move right along, because your time is precious. Basically, I've given them an understanding of what you're -- where you are on the USS Enterprise and that you're going to give them an operational update. So with that, I'm going to go ahead and turn it over to you for your opening comments.
ADM. SPICER: Okay. Well, thanks, Colonel Keck.
I didn't hear your introduction, so forgive me if I repeat anything. But I'm Ray Spicer, commander of the Enterprise Strike Group, speaking to you live from my flagship, USS Enterprise, currently located in the northern Arabian Sea.
Enterprise Strike Group’s comprised of Carrier Air Wing 1, Destroyer Squadron 2, and the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Enterprise. The strike group also includes the guided missile cruiser Leyte Gulf, the guided missile destroyer McFaul and the guided missile frigate Nicholas, the fast attack submarine Alexandria and the fast combat support ship Supply.
We deployed nearly five months ago, on May 2nd, in support of maritime security operations in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Our Navy and Marine Corps team and our coalition partners conduct maritime security operations under international maritime conventions to ensure security in all waters, so all commercial shipping may operate freely while transiting the world's the world's oceans.
This mission also includes protecting the two Iraqi oil terminals in the northern Arabian Gulf, both of which are vital to Iraq's overall oil infrastructure as well as Iraq's economy and self- determination.
Likewise, maritime security operations help set the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment, and they complement the counterterrorism and security efforts of many nations, including our regional partners here in the Middle East. Since departing the United States, we've participated in several multinational exercises to enhance cooperation and interoperability with nations in the region.
This deployment has taken Enterprise Strike Group more than halfway around the world. We operated as part of the U.S. Navy's 2nd Fleet, 6th Fleet, 7th Fleet and have now returned to 5th Fleet for the second time this deployment.
While in 5th Fleet during June and July, Enterprise aircraft launched 781 aircraft sorties in direct support of troops participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and an additional 237 aircraft sorties in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Since returning to the Gulf Region at the end of August, Enterprise and the air wing have launched nearly 300 aircraft sorties and extended about 90 precision weapons in support of international security assistance forces and other coalition troops as part of Operation Medusa, Operation Mountain Fury and Operation Enduring Freedom. Likewise, Enterprise aircraft continue to support Operation Iraqi Freedom from an air base in Iraq.
Whether Enterprise Strike Group is protecting coalition troops on the ground, conducting planned strikes on known terrorist sites or providing airborne command and control for our coalition partners, we have demonstrated our ability to operate as a combat-ready naval force capable of sustained combat operations, deterring aggression, preserving freedom of the seas and promoting peace and security. This is just a sampling of the great work done by Enterprise Strike Group sailors and Marines, and we're grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in contributing to stability and security throughout the region.
I'm now happy to take any questions you may have.
Q Admiral, this is Bob Burns from Associated Press. As you're probably aware, there's been quite a bit of talk in Washington in recent days about Admiral Mullen having ordered his commanders to review contingency plans for a potential blockade of Iranian ports. I'd like to ask you whether you have reviewed such plans, whether you've rehearsed such plans and whether the Enterprise Strike Group could carry out such a mission by itself.
ADM. SPICER: I think I got most of the question. You cut out just for a bit there. But obviously, I can't talk about any future plans that we might have. I know the U.S. government remains committed to a diplomatic solution with respect to Iran. But having said that, we're always prepared for any contingency, and that's about all I could tell you.
COL. KECK: Will.
Q Admiral, Will Dunham with Reuters. Have the number of bombing missions involving your aircraft increased over Iraq and Afghanistan? And if so, why?
ADM. SPICER: Let me answer them -- that question in two parts. Over Iraq, the primary focus of our efforts has been on intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance. So as far as kinetics go, there hasn't been a whole lot. So you've seen reports of that. But in Afghanistan, I think you've also seen reports where the forces on the ground have sort of upped the momentum a bit, if you will, and so there has been some considerable kinetic effects ongoing there. And we've been supporting those effects from Enterprise.
Q Can I just follow up? Could you give us the daily number of bombing runs you've done with Afghanistan? And can you also tell us how many aircraft you have involved in it?
ADM. SPICER: I can't get that specific, and it really depends on the day and what the effort on the ground is. I can tell you that we've been involved since the 2nd of September when Operation Medusa began, and so we've been supporting that since the 2nd of September. And it varies day to day, and it really depends on what the forces on the ground are seeing with respect to any kind of insurgent or Taliban activity. And really the focus of our efforts has been to protect those forces on the ground that are receiving fire from the Taliban. So it really -- the forces on the ground are driving what we're doing to support them, and what's driving them is the resistance that they from the Taliban.
Q Admiral, Dale Eisman with the Virginian Pilot. Are you seeing any signs of increased activity by Iranian naval forces, particularly the diesel submarines that the Iranians have?
ADM. SPICER: I can say that, from our perspective, it seems pretty normal. You know, we both operate in the same waters routinely; it's all international waters. And as far as activity goes, to me it seems pretty normal. So I haven't seen any upsurge in activity.
Q Admiral, Jeff Schogol with Stars and Stripes.
Can you talk about what kind of a relationship you have with the Iranian navy?
ADM. SPICER: Sure can. From what we've seen in our operations here, it's entirely professional, and it was that way when we first arrived in theater back in June. And when we rolled back in here a little while back, every -- (audio break) -- with their naval forces has been entirely professional.
Q Do you ever speak with their counterpart in the Iranian navy?
ADM. SPICER: No, I never have.
Q Admiral, Sandra Erwin with National Defense. I wanted to ask you about the security. You said one of your missions is to cure commercial shipping and -- in the Iraqi oil terminals. What are some of the threats that you see currently that would be targeting commercial shipping or Iraqi oil terminals?
ADM. SPICER: I could hear most of that, but I didn't hear the most important part, which was your question. Could you repeat the question, please?
Q Sorry. The -- one of your missions you said was to secure the commercial shipping and Iraqi oil terminals. What are some of the threats that you see right now that are targeting the oil terminals and commercial shipping?
ADM. SPICER: Actually, you know, we're not close enough for me to give you a good assessment of that, but, you know, I do stay plugged into it because I have to know what's going on up here. But I think the best answer to that is that we have not seen any threats to those oil terminals recently, which probably would speak very highly of the fact that we have forces that are up there acting as a deterrent force. So I think that's probably why we haven't seen such activity, but I can't say for sure because we're not co-located.
Q Thank you.
COL. KECK: Al.
Q Admiral, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. I want to try to follow up on two questions that have already been asked. On Bob Burns' first question, he also asked about what you've been doing, not only what your plans are which you said you couldn't talk about, but whether you have been exercising for the possibility of enforcing a blockade. So I wonder if you could talk about that.
And then on Jeff's question about dealings with the Iranians, you said the dealings are very professional, but can you give us an example of what sort of dealings you do have with them?
ADM. SPICER: Sure. Let me talk about exercises first.
Again, it's difficult for me to get too specific on what exercises we conduct, but, you know, we -- it runs the gamut. I mean, we do all kinds of exercises every day from a training standpoint, so -- anything from humanitarian assistance, disaster relief kind of efforts like we did for Katrina or tsunami relief all the way to major combat operations. So on any particular day, we're doing some sort of exercise or another. So I can't specifically say that we've been conducting those types of exercises, but I can say we do everything. You know, we train to every possible contingency.
On the second question about the interactions, they're usually limited to when we transit, say, the Strait of Hormuz or other waters that are relatively close to Iran, and we're fairly closely located to their naval forces, then we exchange information over the bridge-to- bridge radios, and it's usually who are you, where are you going. And, you know, we can only say so much, but then they say, "Okay, thanks." And they're just trying to maintain situational awareness in that area, as are we, and then, you know, it ends with, "Have a nice day." So that's about the extent of any communications that we would have with them on a routine basis.
COL. KECK: All right. Jeff.
Q Admiral, Jeff with Stars and Stripes again. You had mentioned that planes from your carrier had dropped about 90 precision weapons since August. How does that compare with your first deployment in June and July?
ADM. SPICER: It is about 30 times what we did in June and July. In June and July, we were operating mostly in OIF over Iraq, and we dropped three bombs during a period of about three and a half weeks. And so 90 in a period of about the same -- about -- length of time here for OEF, so it's vastly different as far as what we've been doing for OEF than what we were doing for OIF in June and July.
Q And as a quick follow-up, what do you attribute the significant increase in the number of precision weapons that you're using?
ADM. SPICER: I think -- you know, I'm not the guy on the ground there in Afghanistan, but I am somewhat plugged into it, and I think what we're seeing is a result of the NATO forces, the ISAF there on the ground, other coalition forces on the ground, and they are taking the fight to the Taliban. And for Medusa, it was centered around the Kandahar province and trying to flush them out of there, and they stood and fought and they massed forces and were fighting back with the coalition and ISAF forces, and those guys on the ground there that were trying to take the fight to the Taliban needed air support, and that's what we delivered for them.
Q And lastly, would it be accurate to say that the ferocity of fighting in Afghanistan has increased?
ADM. SPICER: I would say at times, yes, and I think because we see those forces on the ground there, our forces, the NATO forces trying to flush out the Taliban out of various provinces there on the ground.
Q Admiral, Dale Eisman again. We all recall from the early days of Enduring Freedom what a long haul it is from aircraft carriers in the Gulf to hit targets in Afghanistan. Can you enlighten us as to why your airplanes are being used as opposed to land-based air that, I presume, would be closer?
ADM. SPICER: Well, I can tell you that it's a combination. It's not just our aircraft that are supporting this effort. So it's a combination of shore-based aircraft as well as carrier-based aircraft that are supporting the effort on the ground.
But I got to tell you, even if we're operating in the Gulf and supporting OIF, it's about the same distance that we have to travel in order to support these missions. So it's about six hours from the time that these pilots launch off the deck here until they come back and recover in either case, whether it's OIF or OEF.
Q So they average, sir, six-hour total mission time usually?
ADM. SPICER: That's about the norm, yeah.
COL. KECK: Okay. Al.
Q Admiral, Al Pessin again. On these missions, are you facing hostile fire in either case, in either on the Iraq side or the Afghanistan side, aimed at your aircraft?
ADM. SPICER: There is occasionally some ranging from small arms fire to RPGs to very short-range missile fire, which is actually pretty infrequent, but there is an occasional burst of small arms -- some sort of surface-to-air fire. But you know, we're aware of that; we're taking all the necessary precautions to protect our aviators flying over the ground there. I'd say the folks that are at most risk are the slower- and lower-flying aircraft, which is typically the helicopters, but they're also taking precautions as well.
So as far as what's gone to the beach from Enterprise, though, it's usually strike fighter aircraft. And you know, they're pretty fast and can fly at higher altitudes with those weapons, those precision weapons. So they're out of the line of fire, for the most part.
Q Admiral, it's Luis Martinez with ABC News. Sir, you described that there's a land-based element in Iraq of your forces. Can you talk in more detail about their mission, and particularly your ISR mission, what it is they do? Is it specifically to counter the IED threat?
ADM. SPICER: There is a contingent of aircraft from Enterprise that are up there, shore-based, and they are supporting ISR efforts as well as some IED efforts, as well as some close air support. So it depends on what they need on the ground as far as what our aircraft deliver. But we have a small contingent up there that's helping out.
Q And if I could follow up, sir, how would you describe their OPTEMPO, as compared to yours?
ADM. SPICER: I'd say they're pretty similar. You know, our folks are working pretty long days here at the sea and then likewise there ashore. So we're working pretty hard. And our sailors and Marines are just doing a phenomenal job, staying committed. And I think just knowing they're able to contribute in some way to fighting terror and helping folks on the ground, I think, keeps them motivated and keeps them going strong. So they're doing a phenomenal job.
COL. KECK: Okay, Admiral. I think we probably have come to the end of the Q&A time. I would ask you if you have any closing remarks you'd like to make.
ADM. SPICER: Probably just the last one that I made, that I'm really proud of what our sailors and Marines are doing. They're committed, they're motivated, they're proud to be contributing to maritime security operations and the war on terror. And I think the American people would be proud, too, if they knew just how hard these sailors and Marines have been working and how tremendously they've been at what they've been doing.
So I appreciate the opportunity to share a little bit of that with you and thank you for all the great support that we're getting from our families and the American public back home.
COL. KECK: Well, thank you, sir, for spending some time with us today. We hope to hear from you again real soon.
ADM. SPICER: Okay. Thank you.
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