DoD News Briefing with Col. Twitty from Iraq
(Note: Colonel Twitty appears via teleconference from Iraq.)
BRYAN WHITMAN (Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs): Well, good morning, and welcome.
And good afternoon to Colonel Twitty. Can you hear me all right there, Colonel?
COL. TWITTY: I can hear you just fine.
MR. WHITMAN: This is Bryan Whitman at the Pentagon, and I have the assembled Pentagon press corps here bright and early this morning. We appreciate you taking some time this afternoon to spend with us.
This is Colonel Steph Twitty. He's the commander of the 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. His brigade began operations in Multinational Division North in the December time frame of last year. He's talking to us today from Forwarding Operating Base -- his -- from the forward operating base in Mosul. And this is his first opportunity to spend some time with us, hopefully not his last.
But Colonel, our normal procedures here is that we turn it over to you to give us kind of a brief overview of what your unit's been doing and an assessment, and then open it up for some questions here. So with that, I'll just turn it back over to you.
COL. TWITTY: Okay. Thank you.
Good morning. I'm Colonel Steph Twitty, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Task Force Lightning. I thank you for this opportunity to highlight the successes and the challenges the brigade combat team faces here in Nineveh province, Iraq.
I will start by providing you with information on the brigade combat team and an overview of our operations here in Mosul. The brigade combat team arrived in Nineveh province approximately five months ago from Fort Bliss, located in El Paso, Texas. The brigade is a new unit and activated less than two years ago, on October 18th, 2005. The brigade combat team assumed responsibility of Nineveh province on December the 9th, 2006.
The brigade headquarters is based in Mosul, Nineveh's provincial capital, which is the site of the biblical city of Nineveh. The province is in the extreme northern part of Iraq and borders Syria to the west.
There are three prominent cities in Nineveh province: Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, with roughly 1.8 million people; Tall Afar, with about 80,000 people; and Qaiyara, with about 50,000 citizens.
The province is slightly larger than the state of Maryland and is compromised of a diverse population, with 40 percent Sunni Arabs, 35 percent Kurds, 15 percent Shi'a Arabs, and 10 percent other religious groups, including Turkoman and Christians.
Our mission here is to build capable Iraqi security forces and to conduct counterinsurgency operations to neutralize Iraqi -- correction -- anti-Iraqi forces and transition responsibility for defeating the insurgency to the Iraqi security forces and the provincial government.
To that end, here in Nineveh, both the Iraqi police and the Iraqi army are truly in the lead, and are conducting operations unilaterally.
There are approximately 18,000 Iraqi police officers and 20,000 Iraqi army officers in Nineveh province, providing security to the Iraqi people and the people of Nineveh. The Iraqi army and police efforts are evident, and since they have assumed prominent responsibility, they're truly doing what they need to be out -- correction, doing out on the streets, not only Mosul but in Tall Afar and areas surrounding. I attribute their success to their increased presence and vigilance.
Recently in Mosul and Khiyarah, the Iraqi army discovered several very large caches with more than a hundred weapons and hundreds of pounds of munitions in each case. To date, the Iraqi army has discovered over eight caches within the province. These caches were found by Iraqis with their own intelligence and their own soldiers.
As I've stated, our mission is to continue to train the Iraqi security forces, to allow them to become self-reliant. In doing so, we have created a battalion-size training team that augments the military transition teams here in Iraq. The mission of the battalion is to train the Iraqi army on intelligence gathering, logistics, engineering capability and medical evacuation, to name a few.
I view the lack of these capabilities within the Iraqi army as a critical weakness, and we must continue to train them in that effort so they can be totally reliable and continue to fight the insurgency.
We continue to work hard to develop these capabilities within their force. Augmenting the military transition teams with a battalion will allow the Iraqi army to learn at a faster rate and give them additional combat power during patrols and operations.
I would like to highlight the anti-Iraqi forces that we're fighting here in Nineveh province. We average 10 to 13 attacks a day here. These attacks range from IEDs, small-arms fire, and VBIEDs, vehicle-borne IEDS. The Iraqi security forces are more than capable of handling these attacks. The prominent threat in our area of operations is not sectarian violence which is due to the ethnic composition of the province, it is the disenfranchised, predominate Sunni, former Saddam regime, and separatists that make up the anti- Iraqi forces here in Nineveh.
In the midst of the violence there are signs of progress and indicators which keep us constantly optimistic. If you were to visit Nineveh province, you'll find the citizens out and about daily. There are markets everywhere with goods of all sorts. And I'm sure that the Iraqi security forces will overcome the security threats and the province will flourish over time.
Finally, I would like to tell you that our efforts here are not wasted. The people and leaders of Iraq want and appreciate their freedom. As the Iraqi security forces continue to grow in numbers, knowledge and capability, this province and nation will destroy the insurgency and have a capability to operate independently.
The bottom line, I am optimistic about the future of the province. Yes, violence continues, but the Iraqi security forces, supported by our assistance, continue to prevail. I see growth daily in accomplishments of the provincial government, its leaders, and its security forces.
I will now take your questions.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, thank you, Colonel. We'll get started right here with Kristin.
Q Sir, this is Kristin Roberts with Reuters. You said that you're seeing 10 to 13 attacks daily. Can you tell me how that compares to perhaps a year ago, and also, how long you think it will be before the critical weakness that you've identified in the Iraqi security forces is overcome?
COL. TWITTY: Yes, when you take a look at attacks -- and I'd also like to talk about a year or so ago -- you have a brigade combat team in Mosul, two battalions, one on the west side of the river, one on the east side of the river. We no longer have that here in Mosul itself. What you have in Mosul is one battalion -- one U.S. battalion. The rest of the security in Mosul is being conducted by the Iraqi police and the Iraqi army.
So a year ago, you didn't have 18,000 police and the army that I mentioned before. So as you look at the attacks, a year ago or so most of the attacks were on U.S. forces. Out of those 13 attacks that we get a day, probably four or five are actually on U.S. forces; the rest of them are on the Iraqi forces and the Iraqi police. And as we look at the numbers, we're probably fitting about at the same level that we were a year ago. However, it is the Iraqis that are taking the majority of those attacks, not U.S. forces. And I will tell you the Iraqis are being vigilant. They're standing up to these attacks; they're repelling these attacks.
And in addition, the enemy weapon of choice these days is the vehicle-borne IEDs, the suicide vehicle-borne IED. That is the area where he can get the most bang. Whenever he uses that weapon, he routinely kills anywhere between two to three up to sometimes perhaps 15 people. This enemy cannot conduct a full-scale coordinated attack on the Iraqi security forces right now simply because the Iraqi security forces' capability.
Q And the timeline question. Sir, on the timeline question, on how long it might take to overcome that critical weakness you identified?
COL. TWITTY: Sure. I think in terms of engineer skills that is where we're trying to focus hard on. As you know, the IEDs here are a serious threat. I think it's going to take somewhere within the next six to eight months before we get them capable of actually conducting route clearance missions, such as you see U.S. forces doing today.
In terms of the intelligence, we're seeing great progress in the ability of the Iraqi people to collect intelligence now. I truly believe within the next two to three months we'll have them to where they can conduct full-scale intelligence operations.
In terms of logistics, we have a way to go, and I'm looking somewhere in the neighborhood of six to eight months.
They are able to provide their soldiers food, water. They're able to sustain themselves in a perimeter situation with all the logistics they need. But when they pick up and move to different locations and they stretch their lines of communications, that is where they're having a problem sustaining theirself with fuel and the parts they need to keep their vehicles running. So we'll probably look at somewhere in the neighborhood of six to eight months before they are capable of conducting full-scale logistics operations.
Q Thank you.
MR. WHITMAN: Pam.
Q Sir, this is Pam Hess with United Press International. Are you seeing any uptick or any effects in violence or attacks from the Baghdad operations like they're seeing in Baqubah and in other parts of the country? And could you talk to us more about the car bombs? How often do you see them and how big are they? They tend a lot less effective than the ones in Baghdad.
COL. TWITTY: To answer your first question, whether we're seeing an uptick in violence, we have not seen a true uptick in violence. However, I expect an uptick in violence. As you know, as we start squeezing Baghdad, those anti-Iraqi forces have to go somewhere, and I expect them to migrate up to Nineveh province. We're prepared for that, we have contingency plans for that, and we're looking at that on a daily basis.
In terms of the vehicle-borne IEDs, this past week we had a total of three vehicle-borne IEDs. We routinely see somewhere in the neighborhood of three to five vehicle-borne IEDs in a seven-day period. And it depends on whether or not they can get those things into a target whether or not they will be effective. And I will tell you that out of the three we saw this week, only one was effective. It killed three local nationals, within the compound, it hit and wounded approximately 17 local nationals.
We have fortified all the police stations here, the police checkpoints here, as well as the Iraqi army compounds to ensure that we can protect the force out there.
So those are things we're doing to mitigate. We're also doing some intelligence stuff that I would prefer not to talk about here to also get after the vehicle-borne and the suicide vehicle-borne IED problem.
MR. WHITMAN: Tom?
Q (Off mike.)
COL. TWITTY: We do not have a big boom of large-scale VBIED attacks here. They're not the huge VBIEDs that kill up to 30 to 50 people, like you see down in Baghdad. But what we're trying to do is not to let this problem grow here.
Q Colonel, it's Tom Bowman with NPR. I wanted to get back to the logistics question. First of all, which Iraqi division is up there in your area? Do they have a -- I forget the exact term -- a motorized transport regiment for their logistics? And also, who is helping them with fuel and spare parts? Is it the Americans? Is it contractors? If you could explain that, please.
COL. TWITTY: Sure. I have two Iraqi divisions in my area of operations. I have the 2nd Iraqi Division, commanded by Brigadier General Mutah, and I have the 3rd Iraqi Division, commanded by Major General Khorseed.
In terms of the motorized transport regiment, we have the motorized transport regiment in the 3rd Iraqi Army. We do not have the MTR in the 2nd Iraqi Army. We anticipate having that force trained and ready no later than June. The barracks for that particular element are built now, and we got some contract things we're trying to do to make sure that that force is situated. They're going through training now, and we'll move that force somewhere between April through June time into their barracks and they'll start sustaining the 2nd Iraqi Army.
In terms of where are they getting their supplies and how are they doing it, they are sustaining themselves with their fuel and with their parts. The problem is there's no true system. It is on the books, they have a doctrinal way that they're supposed to do it, but the logistics forces, the officers, they have not been trained properly and educated in the system in which they use. Sometimes you'll have a part that's located in a depot and they will not know the procedures to go through to get these particular parts.
In terms of the fuel, they are rationed fuel. In many cases they run out of fuel. They're rationed fuel through coupons through the MOD.
And then we have to go through various means to get fuel up here for them to conduct operations. They do not have a mature resource fueling process; it is all "Here's your fuel rations for the month," and if you run out of fuel within that month, okay, we're out of luck. We need to be able to sustain a force regardless of how many gallons of fuel they need. There need to be resupply process. So we're working on that as well.
Q A follow-up. Has that lack of fuel affected any operations?
COL. TWITTY: Yes. I can think of two operations where it -- we were conducting operations and half of the 2nd Iraqi Army, they were out of fuel. And it is a -- basically, what we've learned to do now is, when we conduct operations up here, is just pre-position tankers up here, and it is basically a "Hey, you, bring the tankers up." It is not a "Okay, let's go through the proper logistics systems."
Now, the training teams that we have put in place, we're coaching and training them through this process. And as I stated, I think in six to eight months, they're going to be better across the board in terms of how they sustain themselves and coordinate logistics within their divisions.
Q Did you have to stop those operations, or did the Iraqis have to stop them because of lack of fuel?
COL. TWITTY: Only in one case have we stopped an operation, and it was not stopped across the entire division. It was basically resident in one brigade. The other two brigades up here continued the missions. We got fuel to the brigade, and they continue their operations.
But we are anticipating shortages based on the amount of patrols that they're doing now, and we're getting fuel up here to them. And like I said early, it is not the proper process that you should go through, but my intent is to keep Iraqis and the police on their streets at all times to protect the people. So as we continue to train, once again, they will get better at it.
Q (Off mike) -- and in detail that they have on that operation? Could you say?
COL. TWITTY: Can you say that again?
Q (Off mike) -- did the lack of fuel have on that particular operation? Could you give more detail?
COL. TWITTY: Sure. The -- in the -- on the eastern side of the river in Mosul, we were conducting a couple of cordon-and-search missions, going after enemy terrorists that were down in a particular neighborhood. I anticipated an entire brigade to conduct that mission. In fact it was a battalion and a half that conducted that mission, simply because we did not have the fuel available to get the entire brigade out.
So it -- the mission was not up to my standards. And I quickly learn, and that's why we put into place the procedures that we have now with getting the fuel up here, pre-positioning, so we do not go through that again.
And with all the missions that we've done, I've got to tell you that we have not gone through that again. We lost a valuable opportunity to pick up a couple of bad guys as a result of it.
Q (Off mike) -- that happen?
Q He didn't hear the question.
MR. WHITMAN: I think the follow-up on that was a timeframe when that happened, if you could recall.
COL. TWITTY: Yeah. It was when the 2nd Iraqi Army first took over operations here in Mosul. And for all of you, both the 2nd Iraqi Army Division and the 3rd Iraqi Army Division are under Iraqi Ground Forces Command. They were under my command when I first got on the ground here. They have now moved to the Iraqi army command now.
So they're under Iraqi control, and I am in a coaching, teaching and mentoring stage. No longer do I give orders to these two divisions. But once again, they respect what I have to say. I continue to train them. We continue to do combined operations. And my soldiers continue to mentor and be out there with them to ensure that we set them up for success.
This happened somewhere in the neighborhood of January timeframe. This is when they had just gone under IGFC control. I think all of us learned from it, once again, and this was basically somewhere in the neighborhood of the second or third week of January.
Q Thank you.
Q Good question.
Q Colonel, Bill McMichael with the Military Times newspapers.
You talk about your soldiers out there mentoring. Could you give us a broader sense of the posture of the U.S. troops, your troops in the area? Are you walking the streets? Are you driving through the streets? Are you in combat posts, outposts? Or how are you mixing in with the local population on a daily basis?
COL. TWITTY: Sure. We mix in a myriad of ways. The first thing is, I help platoons out in combat outposts with the Iraqi army forces, both in Mosul and in Tall Afar and also down in Khiyarah.
So we have platoons out with the Iraqi army. Those platoons are there for two full reasons. The first reason once again is to continue to train the Iraqi security forces, and the second reason is to conduct combat operations with those forces. We not only conduct mounted patrols, but we also conduct dismounted patrols within the combat outpost, an area of responsibility of those combat outposts.
In addition, I have a strike package that I use to conduct intel- driven raids and cordon and searches and so forth, and we do that throughout the day and out the -- throughout the night based on the intel that we gather. That is a battalion-size unit. Also, I have a battalion out in Tall Afar area that's postured in the same manner and a battalion south of Mosul in Khiyarah, in a economy of force protecting the lines of communications leading into Mosul.
So to answer your question, yes, we're out there in the combat outposts. We're also doing dismounted patrols, and that is the part where I see where the real coaching, mentoring and teaching the Iraqis to get out of their vehicles, to go to the neighborhoods, to talk to the people, to gather intelligence from the people, to look at the needs of the people, and not only to focus on the kinetic fight, but also to focus on the non-kinetic fight -- focus on the schools, focus on the markets and all the things that make the people's life better.
So we're looking at all of those things, and we're pushing the Iraqi security forces to make Mosul, to make Tall Afar, to make Khiyarah and the surrounding areas a better place by cleaning up the cities and conducting combat operations and focusing on the people.
MR. WHITMAN: Go ahead.
Q A quick follow question, Colonel. What's the command and control situation like for your troops who are with the Iraqis in the combat outposts? Do they take orders from the Iraqis since they're in the lead? How does that work?
COL. TWITTY: No. The way it works is you have the Iraqis once again that are under IGFC control. You have the American soldiers that are under U.S. control; they're still under my control. Any time an Iraqi unit go out and about on the streets of Mosul, that platoon will go out with them, and it will not be that they'll be under an Iraqi officer, but they will assist.
It has not been a problem where you have an Iraqi chain of command and you have an American chain of command. We continue to conduct combined operations with them. We continue to conduct combined enemy operations in terms of combined fighting together. And we have not seen anywhere where it's been a problem having a unit under Iraqi control and a unit under American control. There's just not a problem with that.
MR. WHITMAN: Gordon.
COL. TWITTY: And in terms of medical support. Let me speak to the air support. You know, our helicopters support the Iraqis as well, because we do not have Iraqi helicopters up here. And the way we support them -- as you know, the Military Transition Teams are embedded in the Iraqi army, and we have the Military Transition Teams talking to the air and controlling the air to assist the Iraqi army. And they are able to call for air support and Air Force support based on that embed capability that we have within their force.
MR. WHITMAN: Gordon, we're going to make you the last one, I think.
Q Sir, Gordon Lubold from the Christian Science Monitor. Back to the fuel thing. It's real interesting. I'll try to make it quick, though. I understand there may be shortages in Iraq, but have you been able to change the mind-set or the process under which the units such as the one you're working with get the fuel? Is that fixed going forward or is there still an ongoing problem?
COL. TWITTY: We have definitely been able to change the mind- set, and especially since the 2nd Iraqi Army received a new division commander a couple of weeks ago. I sat down with the division commander and I told him my priorities and my expectations in terms of the division commander focusing on these things in order to get better, in order to train his force on those areas where I thought needed improvement. And I think, to be quite honest with you, once we get the MPR in the 2nd Iraqi Army Division, it will make life easier in terms of getting fuel to them.
The issue once again will be making sure everyone in division -- in both divisions understand the process for getting fuel. It is more so a coupon-based fuel army here. And we have to get to the point where the fuel is constantly coming based on the amount of time that these vehicles are being used here in Nineveh province. It cannot be a cookie-cutter, "Here's your coupons for the month." It's got to be a sustainment program that allows the divisions to go out to conduct combat operations and fuel is constantly pushed to them. And that's the growing pain. That's what we're working through.
And I truly believe both division commanders are focused on this. We have a system set up, it's just a matter of the procedures being followed and the officers and the NCOs doing what they're supposed to do in terms of getting the sustainment stuff to the units.
MR. WHITMAN: Colonel, we have reached the end of our time. And I'd like to turn it back to you in case you have any closing remarks.
COL. TWITTY: Yeah, I got to tell you that you can be proud of your soldiers. And it makes me proud to command this group of 4,000- plus soldiers here in Nineveh province. And the morale is extremely high here. These soldiers care 100 percent about what they're doing. I went out on a patrol this morning with the Iraqi army and also with a platoon that's embedded with the Iraqi army, a U.S. platoon, and it made me proud to be out there seeing my soldiers caring about what the Iraqi army soldiers are doing, talking to the people, gathering their needs. And I guarantee you that the things that were brought up by the people today will be taken care of because we care here.
And Nineveh province I believe can be a model for all of Iraq. As I stated, we do not have the sectarian violence here. We are making significant progress here. We have two divisions that are under Iraqi Ground Forces Command. We have 18,000 police that are capable and out there taking the fight to the enemy. I just think we need to persevere and take this farther, and I do believe that there will be success here in Nineveh province.
Thank you very much.
COL. KECK (Director, Defense Press Office): Thank you. Thank you for being here today.
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