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DoD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Fil from Iraq

Presenters: Commanding General Multinational Division, Baghdad and 1st Cavalry Division Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil Jr.
February 16, 2007 9:05 AM EDT
            BRYAN WHITMAN (Pentagon spokesman): Good afternoon, and good morning to the reporters here. Today our briefer is Major General Joseph Fil. He is the commanding general of the Multinational Division in Baghdad, as well as the 1st Cavalry Division. He most recently served in Iraq from September '04 to October of '05 as the commanding general of the Civilian Police Assistance Training Team the Multinational Security Transition Command. Today he is at Camp Liberty in Baghdad where he assumed these duties in November of 2006. 
 
            General, again, thank you for hanging in while we fixed some of the technical problems. And let me turn it over to you to open it up, and then we'll get into some questions. 
 
            GEN. FIL: Okay. And thank you very much, Bryan. And good morning, everyone. Thank you for being here today and for giving me the opportunity to share some of my thoughts and to answer your questions. 
 
            It's been almost three months to the day since the 1st Cavalry Division assumed responsibility for this headquarters and the MND- Baghdad mission, and a lot has happened in that short amount of time. The province of An Najaf was turned over to Iraqi control, and the plan to bring security to Baghdad we revised significantly, most notably with the standing up of the Baghdad Operational Command and the influx of thousands more Iraqi and U.S. soldiers to the effort here.  
 
            This new plan involves three basic parts: clear, control and retain. The first objective within each of the security districts in the Iraqi capital is to clear out extremist elements neighborhood by neighborhood in an effort to protect the population. And after an area is cleared, we're moving to what we call the control operation.   
 
            Together with our Iraqi counterparts, we'll maintain a full-time presence on the streets, and we'll do this by building and maintaining joint security stations throughout the city. This effort to re- establish the joint security stations is well under way. The number of stations in each district will be determined by the commanders on the ground who control that area. 
 
            An area moves into the retain phase when the Iraqi security forces are fully responsible for the day-to-day security mission. At this point, coalition forces begin to move out of the neighborhood and into locations where they can respond to requests for assistance as needed. 
 
            During these three phrases, efforts will be ongoing to stimulate local economies by creating employment opportunities, initiating reconstruction projects and improving the infrastructure. These efforts will be spearheaded by neighborhood advisory councils, district advisory councils and the government of Iraq. 
 
            We'll know when we're succeeding when the levels of violence are reduced. Some areas of the city will see rapid improvement, while others will take some time to make the same levels of progress. We are here for the duration. 
 
            The Iraqi people have not given up their hope for a prosperous and peaceful Iraq, and we should not give up on them. We're working literally day and night with the Baghdad Operational Command to help bring down the levels of violence, and the government of Iraq continues to move forces into Baghdad as we bring in more U.S. forces. It's an extremely complex and difficult mission, but together we are up to the task. 
 
            It's important to remember that all of this will take time, and the mission is going to be tough. It will take time for additional forces to flow in; it'll take time for these forces to gain an understanding of their areas and to establish relationships with the local Iraqi leaders and the citizens. It will also take time to conduct the clearing operations and then to build on our achievements. 
 
            Iraqis are moving forward. I see it firsthand every day, and I see the commitment of our soldiers to finish the mission that we have started here. 
 
            Now, our senior leaders have said that time is running short, and we all certainly understand that. We will redouble our efforts in the coming weeks and months to do everything we can to make this security plan succeed. Ultimately, the Iraqis have to want to make this work as much, if not more, than we do. 
 
            We've experienced some initial successes, with thousands of munitions taken off the streets and many suspects detained during this past week. Our mission is clear: maintain that momentum over the coming months. 
 
            Well, thank you very much. And with that said, I'll take your questions. 
 
            MR. WHITMAN: Well, thank you, General. And we do have a few here, and we'll start with Mr. Burns. 
 
            Q     General, this is Bob Burns with AP. If I understand correctly, you do now or soon will have 10 American brigades under your control, and as I understand it, that's far more than one division headquarters normally can command and control. I'm wondering if you're giving any thought to asking for an additional division headquarters or there would be a different division of responsibility to handle all those brigades. And also, have you come up with a total estimate of the number of combat support and service support troops you'll need? 
 
            GEN. FIL: Well, thanks very much, Bob, and it's good to see you safe and sound back there. Thanks for coming to visit us recently. 
 
            It is -- right now we have eight coalition brigades under the command of the division. And we have asked for more, and we believe that they will be given to us in time. 
 
            Whether it's too much for one division to control -- I've told my bosses that it's just fine, that we do not have a span-of-control mission -- or issue right now. But we are looking hard at bringing in another division headquarters that might take regions perhaps to the outside of Baghdad in order to allow us to further concentrate our efforts inside the city. 
 
            As to the combat troops, the additional combat troops, the additional combat support troops and the additional combat service support troops, we do believe that with additional brigades, they would be needed as well. And we've likewise been discussing those same requests for forces. 
 
            MR. WHITMAN: Paul?   
 
            Sir? 
 
            Q     General, have you recommended a particular number on that additional support forces?  
 
            GEN. FIL: We've -- I haven't put a number on it. We have requested specific elements -- in other words, additional attack helicopters and additional engineers. But no, I have not put a specific number on it. And we'll leave that to the folks who generate the forces for us to do that. 
 
            MR. WHITMAN: Right there. Nick. 
 
            Q     General, it's Nick Simeone at Fox News Channel. Wednesday President Bush said that he did not believe there would ever be a time when car bombs, suicide bombs would be eliminated from Baghdad. I'm wondering -- you said that the test of success will be when violence is reduced, but on any given day, it seems that most of the civilians being killed in Baghdad are from car bombs and truck bombs, which many people in Washington and in the field have said are almost unstoppable, that anyone can strap explosives to their body or put them in a vehicle and do this.   
 
            How will the surge, even if there are troops on every street corner in Baghdad, prevent something like that from happening? 
 
            GEN. FIL: Well, car bombs certainly are a major threat. And you're absolutely right; the targets for them have been primarily innocent civilians, men, women and even children. 
 
            Where they're taking these bombs has generally been where the crowds are the largest. And these are quite frequently the downtown shopping areas and market areas.   
 
            We're right now in the process of blocking those off, making them in fact pedestrian-only zones. And we've done that to the largest market in the city over the past couple days. 
 
            We're going to continue to do that to at least six markets that are in downtown Baghdad, and then we'll expand that to other areas of the city. And we'll therefore be denying these car bombs the ability to direct themselves as a precision weapon where people are the most vulnerable. 
 
            We also recognize, though, that there are many places in the city where lines form and where -- denied these first market areas, where these car bombs are likely to be redirected. And we're going to work very hard to increase security there, with forces, and also to alert the Iraqi people to be more careful about where they're actually gathering street-side. 
 
            MR. WHITMAN: Kristin? 
 
            Q     General, this is Kristin Roberts with Reuters. We've been hearing here in Washington that a key part of this surge or this crackdown in Baghdad is the commitment of additional Iraqi forces to the mission there. I'm hoping that you tell us whether those forces are showing up in the numbers that you've been expecting and whether or not you can characterize for us their capabilities to contribute to that mission. 
 
            GEN. FIL: Yeah. We actually have seen a large increase in not only the numbers of the forces who are inside Baghdad but also the type that are here. And the Iraqis have added what now -- 13,000 Iraqi soldiers, 20,000 national policemen, in addition to the 41,000 Iraqi police service troops. And of course we've increased the American forces here, too. We're well over 35,000 now. So it's -- you know, it's 112,000 security forces that are devoted to this effort, and growing. 
 
            As to the quality, the Iraqi forces are getting better and better every day. I've been watching this closely not only over the past three months but, frankly, over the past three years, and they are much more capable, they are much more committed and they are much better led. And so I've been very impressed with their operation so far. And they've actually been leading several of the operations that we conducted recently in the different districts around Baghdad, and successfully.   
 
            So I'm encouraged by all of this. I must say, though, there's a ways to go and they continue to improve themselves. And the enemy that we face is a tough one and he's fighting tooth and nail. 
 
            MR. WHITMAN: Mike? 
 
            Q     General, it's Mike Mount with CNN. Yesterday at a briefing here, Secretary Gates said he was essentially expecting a lot of these insurgents to go to ground during these operations over the next few months. In the past a lot of these operations, obviously, have gone off, insurgents have essentially gone to ground and then they pop back up again. What are you seeing so far in the operations in that case? And down the road, how are you expecting to prevent that from happening if these folks are leaving or telling their folks to leave? And how long are you expecting to have to stay in place? And what's going to happen when you start to back off? Are you expecting these folks to start coming back? 
 
            GEN. FIL: I guess there are about three questions in there, and I'll try and answer them in the order you asked them. First of all, what are we seeing? So far in this, we have seen a reduction in the violence. And we believe it's personally attributable to the significantly increased and enhanced stature of security forces on the streets and the operations that we're doing, the clearing operations, in many areas of the city. 
 
            We also do believe that they're watching us carefully. There's an air of suspense throughout the city, expectations, if you will, and we believe there's no question about it that many of these extremists are laying low and watching to see what it is we do and how we do it. 
 
            How long that will last, we don't know. We expect that there will be some -- and we have seen some attacks, by the way, not only on our forces, but car bombs on innocent civilians, since this operation began. Fortunately, those attacks on our forces have been largely ineffective. In fact, today just before I came over here, there were none that have been effective against coalition forces. The car bombs that have been launched recently likewise were not nearly as lethal as they had been in the past. So I would characterize the attempt so far as not well organized, not well aimed. 
 
            Your second question, which regarded how long do we expect them to do that, we don't know. We believe they'll wait as long as they think it's going to take for them to be effective when they come back. And we're fully expecting that they will come back and that there will be some very difficult days ahead. 
 
            As regards how long we'll have to stay here, we're -- our mission in the division is to significantly lower the level of violence, to help the Iraqi security forces to stand up, to be able to provide security throughout the city in their different components -- army, national police, regular police, and to allow the nation of Iraq to get on to governing. And we'll stay here as long as it takes to do that. It is my belief that we'll be able to achieve certainly the first two within the time of our tour here. And that's what we're committed to. 
 
            Q     General, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. You said there's been some reduction of violence since this operation began. Can you give us some statistics on that?  
 
            And can you explain the difference between the phrase we had been hearing -- "clear, hold and build" -- and the phrase you used in your opening statement -- "clear, control and retain." 
 
            GEN. FIL: I will do both.   
 
            First of all, as regards the actual levels of violence, yesterday we had what we considered to be a calm day, and we were particularly concerned with car bombs. We knew that -- we had intelligence that suggested they had some that were ready to roll and they were going to use them in vulnerable parts of the city, I'll just say. And we were concerned that they would be directed -- since we were increasing our security in those areas, we were very concerned they'd be directed elsewhere. Again, it was a total of really three bombs that were directed, and their effect was minimal compared to what it normally has been. So again, significant reductions in what we've seen in the past.   
 
            Likewise, the amount of indirect fires that we received -- in other words, their mortars, their rockets, artillery -- significantly reduced and ineffective. And today, as I mentioned, of the nearly 20 -- I think it was 19 attacks that have been committed at the time I walked over here, zero were effective. In other words, against coalition forces, not a single troops had been injured by any of those attacks. So I would say that's significant.   
 
            But make no mistake, we do not believe that that is -- that's going to continue, and we do expect there are going to be some very rough, difficult days ahead. And this enemy knows how -- they understand lethality and they have a thirst for blood like I have never seen anywhere before. And again, we're committed to doing everything we can to help the Iraqi security forces to stand up against that, and to protect the people of Iraq and our soldiers. 
 
            Q     The second part of my question. 
 
            MR. WHITMAN: Oh, yes.  
 
            And, General, the "clear, control and retain." 
 
            GEN. FIL: Yeah, thanks very much. I didn't write it down, but I've got it.  
 
            These are terms that are out of our new doctrine, recently published at Fort Leavenworth. And we are -- although we are at war here, we are continually keeping up, frankly, with the doctrine for our forces as it evolves.   
 
            The difference is that, first of all, clearing involves, of course as you know, the elimination of enemy forces or any organized resistance against us. And that's normally done in offensive way with a series of well-organized raids. "Control" is where we maintain physical influence over an area to keep the enemy out and to put whatever conditions are necessary to move into the next phase, which is "retain," which is where our friendly force remains there, keeps the enemy out, and allows the civilian population to develop. That is different than "hold and build" in that involves the application of force to do so and is the direct application of our soldiers and the Iraqi security forces to move into neighborhoods, to move into areas and to maintain their presence there full-time in order to secure that piece there, that stability, the control and the retention, and to allow the neighborhoods to get on with economic development, infrastructure development, and again to allow the nation of Iraq to get on with governing. 
 
            So it is significant. And I would say that the largest difference that I think you'll see is that the pace of operations, the tempo, is based not on how quickly we can clear, but on how quickly we can stand up the forces to control. And so we are measuring our offensive actions on these clearance by how quickly the Iraqi security forces with whom we're working, and their American partners, are able to establish these joint security stations, establish the combat outposts in these villages, towns and neighborhoods, and actually stand up the forces so they can retain it and get on with the infrastructure development, the economic development and the governance. 
 
            MR. WHITMAN: Go ahead, Luis. 
 
            Q     General, it's Luis Martinez with ABC News. There were reports out of the Iraqi government yesterday that the head of al Qaeda in Iraq had been wounded in some kind of an incident. Do you have any information that would indicate that that is accurate? And is al Qaeda in Iraq such a hierarchical organization that taking him out would actually have an effect on the organization itself? 
 
            GEN. FIL: I didn't hear the first part of the question. Please, can you -- 
 
            Q     There were reports yesterday out of the Iraqi government that Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the head of al Qaeda in Iraq, had been wounded in an incident. Do you have any information that would indicate that that is accurate? 
 
            GEN. FIL: Okay. Yeah. Thanks for that. 
 
            I'll just say he should know -- he knows very well that we are definitely after him and that he is a hunted man. And I'll leave it at that. 
 
            Regarding whether or not his loss will mean anything to al Qaeda in Iraq, it certainly will. But we've also seen that they're able to rejuvenate leadership fairly quickly at not only the very senior levels but at the intermediate levels as well. And so we are continuing to go after their entire architecture, and we've committed not only our own soldiers to that but all of the -- many of the additional assets that we have available to us here in intelligence to that endeavor as well. 
 
            MR. WHITMAN: Courtney, go ahead. 
 
            Q     General, this is Courtney Kube with NBC News. We've heard about a possible power vacuum in the Mahdi Army recently. There's been reports that their leader, al-Sadr, is perhaps in Iran or is going back and forth. Are you seeing evidence of that, of specifically a power vacuum or perhaps a fight for power of the militia?   
 
            GEN. FIL: I don't know that we've seen a fight for power. We've heard of it. We're tracking the same reports you are.   
 
            I will say that we've seen a substantial reduction in attacks that we would attribute directly to Jaish al-Mahdi. And whether that's a result of strategy or a power vacuum, I can't say. We're watching it very closely, and we've got the full resources of our intelligence assets watching it very, very closely.   
 
            Regarding al-Sadr and his location, you know, we're watching the same reports you are, wondering why he would not be with his people at this, I think, critical time. And we'll leave that up to his people to determine what that means to their commitment to him and his leadership. 
 
            MR. WHITMAN: We're at the end of our time. But Carl, why don't you go ahead and take the last question. 
 
            Q     Thanks. General, I'm Carl Osgood with Executive Intelligence Review. A simple question: How many U.S. and Iraqi troops will it actually take, do you think, to carry out this -- what you just described a few minutes ago as, you know, this clear, control and retain, particularly moving into areas and maintaining presence full-time in the -- across the entire city?  
 
            GEN. FIL: Yeah. Thanks. I believe that we're coming very close. With the additional commitment of Iraqi forces, there are four more battalions on their way. And these are powerful battalions. They're -- the strength that is being reported at this time, in any case, are nearly full strength. They're similar to a U.S. infantry battalion in strength. 
 
            So I think that'll be hugely helpful. They are Iraqi army, and they are reported to be well-trained, well-equipped. So we're looking forward to that. 
 
            We also will receive some more American troops.  
 
            And my boss, General Odierno, the corps commander, has committed another brigade to us, and I believe that there will be decision points that come up in the months ahead that might even bring further forces, if they're required.   
 
            I'm absolutely convinced that although the mission is tough, make no mistake, and there are some very rough days ahead, that -- and by the way, those rough days are going to be for the bad guys -- that we'll have the strength that we need to be successful in this and to provide the security that's required across the city in each of these 10 security districts and in the mahalas and through these Joint Security States and combat outposts, as we set them up. 
 
            MR. WHITMAN: Well, General, we have reached the end of our time, and we want to be respectful of your time. So allow me to turn it back to you for a moment, though, in case you had any final thoughts you'd like to share with us. 
 
            GEN. FIL: Okay. Well thank you very much. I appreciate the questions and I appreciate your attention. 
 
            I would like to say that our soldiers here remain committed to this mission, to help Iraqis realize their full potential. And our nation has made a huge commitment in terms of resources, but more importantly, by sending its sons and daughters, husbands and wives, here to assist and to fight as necessary. I'm extremely proud, as you all should be, of the dedication, the service, and the sacrifice of our nation's finest. And some have made the ultimate sacrifice. We'll be forever indebted to them and never forget their devotion to duty. 
 
            I would also be remiss if I didn't thank the families of our troops who also sacrifice for their nation there on the home front. And just as you remember us in your prayers, please remember, too, the families that are left behind. They are our strength and they are our solace.  
 
            It is my privilege to be here leading this formation, and it's very important that we stay the course to defeat those with a radical ideology who would take away our freedoms, freedoms that have been earned at a high cost by those who have gone so nobly before us. I have no doubt that the radical groups we're facing here, left to their own devices, would spread their barbaric methods far beyond the borders of Iraq. We all see their brutality firsthand every day.   
 
            In closing, I'd like to say that while there are certainly challenges here, this plan can work. Iraq can have peace. It will work if our country remains dedicated to this mission, and the Iraqis place their nation above the personal interests that have so divided them. 
 
            Again, thank you very, very much. First Team! 
 
            MR. WHITMAN: Well thank you, General. And thank you for your time this afternoon. And we hope that we'll be able to talk to you again soon, as well as some of your brigade combat team commanders that are working this problem for you. 
 
            GEN. FIL: We will look forward to it.
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