DoD News Briefing with Lt. Gen. Ham from the Pentagon
MR. WHITMAN: Good afternoon and welcome. It feels a little odd to me to be reintroducing General Carter Ham, but it occurs to me that there are some of you that weren't here when General Ham was the deputy director for Regional Operations on the Joint Staff and was meeting with you on a regular basis.
Since he's left the Joint Staff, he went and commanded -- was the commanding general at Fort Riley, Kansas, and the commander of the 1st Infantry Division and took them back to Iraq. He now serves as the director of Operations for the Joint Staff and is here today to give you a(n) operational overview and take some of your questions.
And so with that, General Ham, I'd like to welcome you back.
GEN. HAM: Thank you, Bryan.
MR. WHITMAN: Thank you.
GEN. HAM: If Bryan think it's odd introducing me, it's clearly odd to -- for me to be back here. I would make one correction. As much as I enjoyed my time with the 1st Infantry Division, I did not take the division headquarters back to Iraq; there are several brigades that are there, but the division headquarters did not deploy. And I would admit a little bit of sadness, frankly, at having left Fort Riley after an all too brief year with the soldiers and families of "The Big Red One"; it was pretty special. But I would tell you also that it's a little bit humbling and certainly an honor to be back here with the extraordinary people that make up the Joint Staff and work here -- and I would include this group, many of whom it's nice to see again -- that are in that group of extraordinary people who make this five-sided puzzle palace seem to work sometimes.
It's been a few weeks since we provided our last operations update from the Pentagon, so I'd like to do that, make a couple of comments and then get on to your questions.
In Iraq as part of recently launched Operation Phantom Strike, U.S., coalition and Iraqi forces are operating and establishing presence in areas where we have not habitually operated recently. Phantom Strike is about keeping the pressure on the enemy and building on the results of previous operations such as Phantom Thunder, and I think you know General Odierno will be available tomorrow and I think will talk some specifics about that.
We're about two months now into the surge, and there are today approximately 162,000 U.S. forces inside Iraq. And that number, as you know, will fluctuate over time as units move in and move out of Iraq. This fall, for example, there will be a period where there'll be up to five brigades simultaneously transitioning, and so we'll see a spike during that transition period up to as high as perhaps 171,000.
And then as the transition completes, we'll get back to the levels that we are today.
And as U.S. and other coalition forces expand their operations, it's important to note that so do the Iraqis, and it's very, very rare today for any operation to not include Iraqi forces. In fact, many are Iraqi-led and some are Iraqi only, though the Iraqi-onlys are usually accompanied by their advisors.
For example, Iraqi security forces planned, led and executed their own operation to protect the tens of thousands of Shi'a pilgrims who marched recently from all over the region to a shrine in north- central Baghdad in celebration of the death of the Seventh Imam. In years past, many of you know this is an event that was marred by high levels of violence and significant civilian casualties. This year Iraqi police and the Iraqi army were able to execute their security plan. They controlled the crowds, and ultimately, there were no civilian deaths due to insurgent attacks.
And now there's certainly challenges for the U.S. and for the Iraqis as development of Iraqi security forces, Iraqi army and the Iraqi police forces continue, but this is an event -- that some progress is being made, and I think it's noteworthy.
In Kabul, the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan recently concluded their peace jirga. The purpose of this landmark event was to address crucial cross-border issues, such as curbing the Taliban and fighting terrorism, and it really falls to others to address the outcomes of the historic meeting. From a security aspect, I'd note that security for the jirga was planned and conducted by the Afghans and they did so with great professionalism, and to the credit of the Afghan security forces, the jirga occurred and concluded without disruption.
If we come to our own hemisphere, there are several weather- related issues that bear monitoring. The loss of life and property damage resulting from the earthquake off the coast of Peru is certainly regrettable. The U.S. Navy hospital ship, Comfort, is nearby in Ecuador. Comfort is providing humanitarian assistance to the people of 12 nations in the Caribbean, Latin and South America. It was only recently in Peru and has already provided service to over 178,000 -- provided 178,000 medical services, including over 500 surgeries.
Tropical Storm Erin, you know, has made landfall in Texas. And though we have not received any requests for DOD assistance, our coordinating officers are in close contact with civilian officials. And Hurricane Dean is approaching the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and there, too, we have answered a FEMA request to position a defense coordinating officer and a communications team to work with civilian authorities.
Here in the U.S., the Defense Department, acting in support of civil authorities, has provided some airlift to move seismic and video equipment in support of the search for the missing miners in Utah, and I think you are aware that we have a Navy mobile dive and salvage team from Norfolk, Virginia, who is assisting in the bridge collapse recovery effort in Minnesota.
Finally, I'd ask you today to always remember those who have been killed or wounded in the conduct of current operations. We should all keep their families in thoughts and prayers. Those families carry the heaviest load. And today I think it's appropriate that we especially remember those service members whose duty status and whereabouts are presently unknown.
And with that, I would be glad to take your questions. Lita, please.
Q General, just back on Afghanistan. Can you give us some further details on the Tora Bora offensive, including maybe the number of troops involved, and whether or not any al Qaeda operatives, which we understand may have been part of the intelligence leading to beefing up the offensive, have either been killed or captured? And can you at least detail in some degree what cooperation or coordination the U.S. and the Afghans are having with the Pakistanis in this offensive? When the insurgents move, they move generally back across the border.
GEN. HAM: The Regional Command East, under General Rodriguez, conducts frequent operations in their area, almost always based on significant pieces of information of Taliban movements or positions. So in this instance they had credible reporting that there was a sizable Taliban force in the Tora Bora area, and so regional Command East, appropriately, planned and is now conducting an operation to strike those targets. It is joint U.S. and Afghan, several hundreds involved in the operation.
So far, the results are killed and captured in the teens so far.
But it is important to remember that the insertions only recently occurred into what many of you know is extraordinarily difficult terrain, and there has been some bad weather, which has hindered movement as well. So the forces, while in the general area, are not all precisely where the commander wants them to be. So they're still moving in those direction -- in the positions where they want them to be.
With regard to cooperation with the Pakistan military forces, it -- this is -- we should not -- you should not construe that this is a joint operation. This is a U.S.-Afghan operation. There is frequent communication between the commander, General Rodriguez, and his staff, through the U.S. Office of the Defense Representative in Islamabad, so that they are aware of operations that are conducted in the border region, so that they're not surprised by that.
But it would be wrong to say that this is -- that there is a -- that there was a closely coordinated joint U.S.-Afghan and Pakistan mission. And it would be -- we are aware that the Pakistanis are conducting some operations, but it would be appropriate, I think, for the Pakistanis to talk about the operations that they are conducting.
Q Well, as a follow-up, does this then involve any incursions into Pakistan by either the coalition or the Afghan forces?
GEN. HAM: The Regional Command East, General Rodriguez's area, includes only Afghanistan. So he operates inside that -- inside of his boundaries.
Q Follow-up, General?
GEN. HAM: Please.
Q Why not is the question. Why not coordinate with the Pakistanis and have coordinated, if independent, operations to prevent the kind of cross-border fleeing that Lolita mentioned?
GEN. HAM: Well, I think that that, again, is a question for the Pakistanis, sovereign nation. The direction that the International Security Assistance Force has -- that mandate does not include operations inside or outside of the country of Afghanistan. So there is -- so that -- there is that constraint there. But the cooperation, I think, and the communication between Regional Command East -- again, through the Office of the Defense Representative in Islamabad -- is quite good. So I think there are no surprises that occur.
But again it wouldn't be proper, because of the authorities under which the forces are operating, to operate on the other side of the border.
Q But we have extensive relationships with Pakistan, and operations could be coordinated at a higher level above RC East.
GEN. HAM: They certainly could be. And again -- but I think it would be best for the Pakistanis to talk about the operations that they may be conducting inside their -- let's go over here first, Barbara, and come back.
Q What can you tell us in the aftermath of this strike on the Yezidi community in Iraq, and reports today that there is new concern about a kind of house bomb attack that the soldiers, U.S. soldiers, are facing in Iraq? Are you seeing new tactics by the enemy in Iraq? What can you tell us about these strikes?
GEN. HAM: Let me answer the second part first.
There have been a few instances in the past weeks and months where there have been U.S. and Iraqi soldiers, in the conduct of operation, that have been subjected to attack by an IED that has been emplaced inside of a building, a home or someplace else where the soldiers are conducting operations. That's not really a new technique, but it's been probably more prevalent in the past weeks and months than we had seen previously. A very, very dangerous threat, obviously to our soldiers, because as they're entering and clearing a building, that's a vulnerable time for them. So that's a tough threat, and the soldiers are -- they're working very hard to counter that. And I think General Odierno probably could talk a bit in more detail than I could.
With regard to the attack on the Yezidis in Nineveh Province, I think many of you heard General Bergner talk about that yesterday, and several of you know that I operated up in that area as well. And it would be hard to find a quieter, more peaceful group of people than the Yezidis. And to see them attacked like this, I think, it just -- it's heartwrenching to see this very peaceful people attacked in that way.
What is heartening, though, to see is the level of cooperation from local leaders, the provincial government and the central government in Baghdad, the 3rd Iraqi Army Division, led by – Major General Korsheed (phonetic spelling) -- who has the lead for providing security -- to see them come together to support that community in a time of need.
U.S. support entails medical support and now some of those who were injured in those attacks that are being treated by U.S. and in U.S. facilities. And we are assisting the Iraqis in the delivery of humanitarian assistance: water, rations, blankets, those kinds of things.
As to why an attack like this might occur, there clearly -- we don't yet know who did it, but it certainly has the markings of an al Qaeda-in-Iraq-type of attack. They've made it known that they wish to attack non-Muslims, and so that may be a part of this. It may be part -- just it is their nature to attack innocent and vulnerable targets to -- as an effort, I suppose, to convey that there isn't security across the country. But it is -- it just -- it really is heart- wrenching to see such innocent people attacked.
Q Sir, are their tactics changing from what you're seeing? Do you consider this a change in tactics or just a continuation of tactics they've used in the past?
GEN. HAM: I think probably a continuation. It's clear that al Qaeda in Iraq and others they recognize that next month there's -- you know, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have some reporting to make, and I think it's not surprising to see that they may be trying to influence that by their actions.
Come back to Barbara.
Q I wanted to follow up because now that you've laid out that there's this house IED threat, without waiting until tomorrow, what more can you specifically tell us? For example, what parts of Iraq is this happening in, how many cases? Are we talking about houses being booby-trapped in a typical military fashion as we would understand it, or are you talking about some particular type of actual IED device being placed in the house? Do you see any EFP Iranian connections? What are we really talking about here?
GEN. HAM: I would -- I have not -- I have not seen any EFP connection to an IED that's been placed in a building. I think -- booby trap is not necessarily a bad analogy, but the type of explosive is larger than you would normally associate with a booby trap. It would be something similar to perhaps a smaller roadside bomb but would have an effect inside -- inside the building.
And I don't know numbers, Barbara, I'm sorry.
Q Well, are you finding these mainly in Baghdad?
GEN. HAM: It has occurred in Baghdad, but in other sites, as well.
Q Are these artillery shells wired together? Are they munitions? Are they homemade explosives? What are they putting together to do this?
GEN. HAM: I don't have that level of detail. I'm sorry.
Let me come here.
Q General, back to Afghanistan, this credible information that the U.S. and Afghan military got regarding the Taliban in that Tora Bora region. Was there any information to indicate that any al Qaeda are also there, or any high-value targets, either al Qaeda or Taliban?
GEN. HAM: The reporting that I've seen indicated that -- that was based upon -- upon which the operation was based was a gathering of Taliban forces. We're constantly seeking information with regard to where al Qaeda, and especially any senior leaders in al Qaeda, may be operating. But in this particular instance, the information that I'm aware of indicated Taliban forces.
Q So no high-value Taliban targets, as far as you know?
GEN. HAM: Not that I'm aware of, no. No.
Q Are there any plans under consideration to extend troops in Iraq now?
GEN. HAM: Not beyond -- not beyond the 15 months boots on the ground, the decision that Secretary Gates made. So those forces that have deployed -- that have been extended, those who -- some deployed expecting to deploy for 12 months have been extended to 15 months, but certainly not beyond that.
Q General, Admiral Mullen in his testimony said that the surge begins to end in April when the first of the surge brigades leave, next April. Is it -- will that necessarily be a gradual return to the pre-surge level, or has that yet to be determined? I mean, is it month by month? How would that go?
GEN. HAM: Well, two things, I think. The five additional brigade combat teams that have been deployed for this period will continue. And you're exactly right, the first of those will hit their 15 months in the spring of '08.
But the second part is, in terms of the pace of any change in the levels of forces inside Iraq, I think we must wait for General Petraeus to come back with his assessment and his recommendation.
Again, I think the phrase that he used is ideal: A "battlefield geometry" to say what's the right level of force, where should it be inside Iraq or in the region to properly take advantage of the operations to date, and what's the pace at which you might change those level of forces? So "battlefield geometry," I think, is a good descriptor of that, and it -- we'll necessarily need to await General Petraeus's recommendation and then subsequent decisions as to how quickly or slowly or what those changes may be, if any.
Q Can I follow up on that very --
GEN. HAM: Sure. Go ahead.
Q Can you tell us what the Joint Chiefs are doing? We understand that they're preparing their own set of assessments or recommendations that will also be submitted to the White House along with General Petraeus's. Can you tell us exactly what that -- what is the Joint Chiefs doing in that regard?
GEN. HAM: Well, I think what -- I think the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are executing their mandated responsibilities to provide military advice to the Secretary of Defense and to the President. But I wouldn't view it necessarily as a separate assessment and recommendation, but rather this is a very collaborative process with the commander on the ground, General Petraeus, and clearly Ambassador Crocker, Admiral Fallon at Central Command, General Pace and the other Joint Chiefs in a collaborative effort to make sure that the Secretary of Defense and the President are getting the best advice so that they can make the best decisions.
Q So the president's not going to sit there with two sets of separate recommendations?
GEN. HAM: I don't believe that will be the case, no.
Q A quick follow-up. Will the -- will General Pace -- does he plan to bring these recommendations -- inform Congress about these recommendations, or is this is only for the president?
GEN. HAM: Well, the -- obviously General Pace's first duty is to provide the best military advice to the Secretary of Defense and to the President, and he'll certainly do that.
I think the mechanics of how this -- the recommendations and the subsequent decisions are rolled out, I think that process is still to be determined. General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will make their recommendations at some point; there'll be a determination made as to what is the right methodology and timing to inform Congress and other leaders, but I think that -- those decisions have yet to be made.
Let me come back over here, please. Yes.
Q You said that there would be a spike in the fall, perhaps about 171,000 troops in Iraq.
Does that mean that absent any other guidance, you're planning to continue the surge level through the fall? Because clearly if brigades were coming out and you decided to reduce, you wouldn't necessarily need to replace those brigades.
GEN. HAM: It could be. But presently we know that in the fall we have five brigades that will get to the end of their normal deployment timeline. We are planning to replace those, and as -- you know, so when you replace them, you've got two brigades in one -- at one time in the same space. So your strength goes up.
So don't -- please don't read more into this than there is. This is scheduled and expected unit rotations, but that -- because so many occur at the same time, there will be an increase in troop levels.
Q But --
GEN. HAM: If there's a decision prior to that, then certainly that could change -- it could change the level of force. But at present, that's what we're planning.
Q And that would maintain the surge levels, then. If you swap those brigades out, you maintain the 20 combat brigades in Iraq?
GEN. HAM: No, no, no, because, again, the first -- the very first of the additional brigades which deployed will not reach the end of its deployment timeline until the spring of '08. So these are brigades that deployed pre-surge.
Q I understand, but the overall level is 20 combat brigades, including the surge, and these rotations would maintain that level.
GEN. HAM: It could. Yes, that's right. And it could be a decision to reduce it.
Q Just to clarify something --
Q In the run-up to the Petraeus report, do you anticipate more of these sort of dramatic mass-casualty attacks or other kinds of headline-grabbing incidents?
GEN. HAM: Well, I think -- I don't know what -- whether that type of attack -- but clearly al Qaeda in Iraq and others are cognizant of the timing of recommendations and decisions. And so I think it is prudent to expect them to try to influence the decision-makers, and clearly the commanders in theater are cognizant of that as well.
Let me go -- just one more, I think.
Q Just to clarify on the numbers, I thought you said earlier that there could be this spike to 171(,000), but it would come back down to the current level. We were led to believe that 162(,000) is itself a spike, related to overlap of brigades. So what's your understanding of what the sort of surge baseline consistent figure is?
GEN. HAM: Yeah. I think where we are right now, with the five additional brigades in country, at about 162(,000), as we get into several units transitioning simultaneously, we'll see that bump up. And then it'll come back to about 162(,000), absent any other decisions with regard to force level.
Maybe one more for somebody who hasn't asked one.
Q Just a quick clarification.
GEN. HAM: Okay.
Q Regarding Andrew's question, if you have 20 brigade combat teams and you replace five, how is that not keeping it at -- it sounds like you are keeping it at 20 brigade combat teams.
GEN. HAM: It -- it -- it is absent any decisions to alter the force levels before the spring of '08. We are planning to maintain the current levels until spring of '08. That's the point at which the first of the so-called surge brigades expire.
Okay. Thank you.
Yes, Barbara, one --
Q Can I just clarify --
GEN. HAM: Yes, ma'am.
Q You were talking about the geometry of the battlefield, and you said that one of the things you were talking about was where to put forces in Iraq or in the region. You used that phrase.
Is one of the options the military is considering now is placing some forces in the region either -- whether they're coming out of Iraq, whatever, but placing forces nearby in the region in another country to be on some sort of -- besides what you have -- in nearby countries as some sort of standby force outside of Iraq?
GEN. HAM: Yes, but that's not new. We've had forces afloat before. We've had forces staged in Kuwait as a call forward force or reserve, if you will, so that the commander in Iraq had those available to him. So I think those kinds of discussions are certainly available for the commanders to consider.
Q I understand that. I know you've already had standby forces, on-call forces. I guess what I'm asking is: In these discussions in this assessment that you're doing, are you talking about possibly then having a greater number, a surge on call, standby outside of Iraq forces?
GEN. HAM: I think the -- I think the way I would say it, Barbara, is that the commanders -- MNF-I commander, the Central Command commander, the chairman and the joint chiefs -- I think necessarily are looking at this in a bit of an unbounded sense to say, what do we think is the best thing to do. And so I don't think -- if they believe that having some forces stationed nearby but not in Iraq is the best thing, then I think that -- I think they're free to make that recommendation.
Let me move on just real quickly here, and I'll wrap up.
I'd like to introduce Brigadier General Rick Sherlock, who has recently been assigned to the Joint Staff as deputy director for operational planning inside the J-3. And as such, General Sherlock reports directly to me and is responsible for ensuring that the work we do in current operations is effectively linked to future operations and plans.
In that regard, he is, in effect, the primary link between current ops, those of us in J-3, and Brigadier General Wiggins, who you all know well, and linked to the Joint Staff, J-5, and others whose planning horizons are a bit longer than those of us in the J-3.
His duties will require him to maintain close linkages with the staffs of the combatant commands as well. General Sherlock's duties make him, in my opinion, ideally suited to help place current operations in context. And accordingly, General Sherlock will usually be the officer who will provide you updates from the Joint Staff.
General Sherlock has been selected for promotion to major general. We're proud of that. And I'm confident that his background and experience, especially his service inside Iraq, will allow him to be successful in his new duties.
So Rick, welcome. And perhaps you'd like to make a few introductory comments.
BRIG. GEN. RICHARD SHERLOCK (deputy director for operational planning, J-3): Sir, thank you very much.
I'm very honored to have been selected for my new position. And I've met several of you over the course of the last couple of weeks, and I look forward to working with you and getting to know you and continuing this in the future. Thank you all very much.
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