DoD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Sherlock from the Pentagon
GEN. SHERLOCK: Good afternoon. Thanks for coming today. I'd like to open with a few comments, and then I'll be happy to take your questions.
The surge continues to create time and space for the government of Iraq to expand their capacity to provide services and security to their people. The trends are encouraging. And as Lieutenant General Odierno said earlier this week, overall violence is down to pre-Golden Mosque bombing levels. Iraqi security forces and coalition forces have been able to respond effectively to the violence during this Ramadan season. And al Qaeda and other extremists groups are losing support because of their indiscriminate targeting of civilians.
While those trends are encouraging, we still have a long way to go in order to reduce civilian deaths, continue to improve the capacity of the Iraqi government to provide basic security and services to their people, and to advance on the improving capacity of the Iraqi security forces.
As Brigadier General Gurganus told you on Sunday, about 2,200 U.S. Marines from the 13th MEU have left Anbar province. That unit, a part of the original surge force, represented about half the surge forces in Al Anbar. They've left as part of their normal timeline and won't be replaced in Iraq.
While the surge in Iraq has recognized significant successes in terms of security and reduction of casualties, the United States and its allies around the world have also realized successes on other fronts. In support of Operation Enduring Freedom in the Philippines over the last five years, the U.S. has supported the Philippine armed forces in a successful campaign to reestablish the legitimacy of the Philippine government in some of their outer islands and to establish a safer and more secure environment in the Sulu Archipelago.
That has been a multi-agency U.S. government effort from the outset, and the Department of Defense has made both security assistance and humanitarian contributions. U.S. forces have provided essential training to improve the capacity of the Philippine armed forces by training and equipping the country's first counterterrorist force, training three infantry brigades and assisting in establishing staff that can conduct joint and combined brigade-level operations, the results of which have enabled the Philippine armed forces to neutralize some key terrorist leaders.
U.S. forces have contributed humanitarian services in support of multiple projects, improving the quality of life for the local citizens. And for example, this government has built 16 schools, 7 medical facilities over 80 kilometers of roadways and 25 water improvement projects.
And with that, I'll be happy to take your questions.
Yes, I'm sorry, Paula.
Q General, Iraq has said that it now will buy some weapons from China, because the U.S. system is too slow for them. They're not getting what they need fast enough. What can be done to move along the foreign military sales for them?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, first of all, we've never been the sole supplier for Iraq. When I was in Iraq, for example, we were bringing in weapons from Hungary and other countries as well. That said, OSD and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which handles foreign military sales, have worked very hard for the last year-plus, to try to reduce that time frame from what started at about almost a year's worth of time down to an average right now of about 150 days from the time the letter of definition or requirements comes from the Iraqi government to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
Now, that timeline's an average. It depends on what equipment is being requested. It depends on whether it's in production, whether it needs to be placed in production, whether there's another claimant for those pieces of equipment that are in production or whether that equipment's on the shelf. So it does vary with the type of equipment, but OSD, DSCA and everyone is working very hard to try to compress that as much as possible.
Q General Pace mentioned a couple of months ago that after speaking with General Dubik, he was going to work to, you know, move things along faster. Is there a goal that you've got it -- thinking now to five months? Is there some goal you're working toward?
GEN. SHERLOCK: I don't know that we can set a target to say, you know, X number of days is success. We're trying to compress that as much as we can. You know, it would be great if we could get to 120 days or less. But again I don't know that you can point to a specific goal and say it's successful. Some things go faster; some things take longer. It depends on the pieces of equipment.
Q What's -- what are the Iraqi security forces require? How much are you going to have to provide between now -- say, over the next couple of years? And will these, you know, problems of delivery, you know, create obstacles for withdrawing U.S. forces, or drawing down U.S. forces?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, first of all, we have about two-and-a-half billion dollars worth of equipment that's been in or delivered -- in the foreign military sales pipeline. About a billion of that has been delivered. So there's about another billion to a billion-and-a-half that's somewhere in the pipeline.
Part of the time frame involved is getting a good definition on what the Iraqis want and what requirements they have. You know, for example, if you send a letter saying I want 100 fire trucks, you need to know what size, what capacity, what water flow, whether you need a hook-and-ladder truck and those kinds of things. So as you define those requirements and you get a good letter of definition and requirement from the Iraqi government, we then work very hard to try to get that equipment fielded.
Don't see any hangups right now with foreign military sales that would delay anything with regard to a drawdown of forces or a standup in a transfer of responsibility to the Iraqi security forces.
There's a variety of equipment that they asked for. You know, for example, the Ministry of Interior has elected to stay with AK-47s as their weapon of choice. The Ministry of Defense has elected to go with M-16s and M-4s. So it's a matter of what types of equipment, where it is and how fast we can get it to them.
Q What about their ability to absorb all these weapons?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Again, that's part of this building of capacity. As we worked very hard early on in the Iraqi security force development to develop combat power, we now are having to develop, as, again, Lieutenant General Odierno said, a lot of the logistics and administrative capacities that now go into making them an independent force capable of sustaining operations. And so, they have some capacity in warehouses at Abu Ghraib and in Baghdad Police Academy and at Taji, where they have equipment that they have yet to distribute. Where they're trying to go is they're trying to build enough capacity to be able to sustain that and to develop contracts and develop sustainable logistic systems, and that just takes time to do.
So again, this is all part of developing an independent security force that's capable of sustaining operations.
Q Just to follow up on this question, you said 2.5 billion, is this part of your military aid or sales to the Iraqi forces?
GEN. SHERLOCK: That's in foreign military sales. With regard to more information than that, I'd have to get you more details. I don't have specifics below that right now.
Q This plan is for the next five years?
GEN. SHERLOCK: I don't know what time frame that's across. As much as I am aware of, we have letters of definition and requirements for about $2.5 billion worth of equipment. About a billion dollars of that has been delivered, and again, we still have other requirements that we're working to fulfill. As far as the specifics of what goes into that number, how long it will take, again, I'd have to get you more information.
Q General, you mentioned in your opening statement that the 2,200 Marines coming back are not being replaced. Last month when President Bush announced the troop reductions, he mentioned those Marines as well as what he said was another Army combat brigade that would be coming home by Christmas, he said, that would result in troop reductions of 5,700 troops. And I've asked you this question before, but I'd just like to ask you again. Which brigade is that precisely that would be coming home by the holidays because of the success of the surge?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, again, as General Odierno said on Tuesday, that's a decision that he's going to make. He will make a recommendation to General Petraeus. What we've done here on the Joint Staff is we've issued a planning order to U.S. Central Command to operationalize and make decisions and make recommendations based on the president's decisions. We're waiting for them to come back; they've passed that to MNF-I.
Again, General Odierno and General Petraeus will make those decisions, pass that back through Central Command, back to us here at the Joint Staff. So we're waiting for that decision on what specific brigade that will be.
Q Some Pentagon officials have suggested that it's in fact -- it's not, in fact, a brigade coming home but a decision about a replacement. I mean, you noted with the Marines that they're not being replaced, that the real decision here is not replacing one of the brigades. Because if we look at the current rotation schedule, we can see that there are actually four brigade combat teams that were scheduled to rotate out of Iraq during the December time frame.
So is it really a question of one of those brigades coming home early, or is it a question of a decision not to send a replacement brigade in?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Again, a lot of the decisions -- it's actually a decision based on a brigade coming home, and that decision has to get made by General Odierno and General Petraeus. And that's what we're waiting for them to come back. There are a number of brigades that have been identified to deploy to Iraq and to Afghanistan. Those brigades will continue as they are replacing other capacities in a normal rotation.
The decision the president made based on the recommendations from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, again, we've gone back to Central Command and said, "Okay, here's the president's decisions. We need you to work with MNF-I and MNC-I and tell us how you're going to get there from here." And that's what they're in the process of doing.
Q One follow-up on the weapons purchase from China. Is the fact that Iraq is planning to purchase AK-47s and other light weapons from China a concern at all to the Pentagon? Particularly because some people have suggested that weapons purchased from other countries are not as easily tracked or inventoried once they get to Iraq. Is that a concern, that they're buying weapons from China?
GEN. SHERLOCK: No. We've never been the sole source. And again, as I said, that when I was in Iraq, we were bringing in weapons from Hungary and a variety of different nations.
What we're in the process of doing is building the Iraqi capacity in their logistic systems and in their administrative systems to be able to receive that, track that, contract for that, distribute that and to be able to sustain that. That's all part of making them an independent military that's able to sustain operations and accept more responsibility. So that's not an unusual thing. And that's not something that's new.
Q So inventory control is not an issue when weapons such as AK-47s are purchased from other countries?
GEN. SHERLOCK: The same inventory controls that track U.S. weapons, that track Hungarian weapons will track Chinese weapons, so that's not an issue.
Q General, I wanted to ask you about security contractors in Iraq. Today the House passed a bill that would make all security contractors in Iraq subject to prosecution by U.S. courts. Something like 389-90 it passed. And if I understand it correctly, it brings all security contractors under MEJA, something that the DOD security contractors are already under.
In your opinion -- is it your opinion that these are -- this is an adequate measure, or does -- or does it need to extend beyond MEJA?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, there are two things going on in Iraq right now. First of all, there's an investigation into what occurred on September 16th, and that's being conducted by the Diplomatic Security Service. There is another investigation -- there's another -- a joint panel that's recommending overall disposition of security contractors.
With regard to the MEJA, the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, you know, that's a tool in the commanders' kit bags and in the people that are responsible for contracting kit bag to use.
Q Is that --
GEN. SHERLOCK: I haven't seen what Congress passed today. And I don't know that it's not an inadequate tool. We have to go ahead and see what events may occur that would warrant prosecution under that act. To this point, I don't know of any events that potentially -- other than what's being investigated -- that could warrant prosecution under that act. I mean, the processes for that are still being laid out and worked by the different staff judge advocates and groups, so I think we have to wait and see what develops on that.
Q General, nearly half of the unit members of the Minnesota National Guard were cut deployment orders that fell just shy -- I think a day shy of many of them receiving a significant benefit package. There were some folks alluding to the fact that this was something the Army was doing to save money. Are you aware of this particular issue? And if you are, do you have anything you can comment about, any -- your knowledge about it?
GEN. SHERLOCK: No. I'm not aware of that issue or the details, and I'd have to refer you to the Army for that.
Q Just to follow up on the contractors, what has the military in Iraq learned so far about the events that unfolded that day in its own investigation into it?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Those investigations are still ongoing. The Diplomatic Security Service is the one that's conducting the investigation with regard to the Blackwater incident on the 16th, and they need to be the ones to report out on that.
Q But I mean, the U.S. military obviously, you know, has its command and is interested in finding out what's happening. So can you give us any details of what they found out so far?
GEN. SHERLOCK: No. I think you need to refer that to the Diplomatic Security Service. Blackwater is a Department of State contractor; they are conducting that specific investigation. There are other panels that are going on in Iraq to discuss the overall disposition of security contractors, and we need to let them report out on that.
Q General, one of the arguments that's used against employing security contractors is that their -- because of their behavior, because of incidents like September 16th, that tends to undermine the counterinsurgency mission. Do you agree with that? Do you think that they can have a negative impact on the military mission?
GEN. SHERLOCK: There are all kinds of events that can affect the mission that's ongoing in Iraq or Afghanistan.
With regard to events that are hypothetical, you can get into any number of different scenarios as to whether they affect or don't affect.
Again, we need to take a look at what is developed with regard to specific incidents. With regard to the specific Blackwater incident, we need to let the State Diplomatic Security Service finish that investigation. There is also a 16-member panel, a joint Iraqi-U.S. panel that's looking at the overall disposition of security contractors and contractors in Iraq, and we need to let them finish their -- their discussions.
Q I wanted to ask about the special groups. There's been increasing discussion about these Shi'a militia known as special groups. Can you define the magnitude of these groups, how many of them there are, how many numbers they may have, and more about how the military is targeting those groups?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, I don't want to get into specific numbers as far as special groups go. We do have different extremist groups in Iraq. It's not a simple insurgency. It's not a simple Sunni or Shi'a or other group insurgency. There are also a variety of criminal activities that go on in Iraq. There are a variety of foreign fighters in Iraq.
With regard to what's referred to as special groups, we think that some of them are locally born but foreign led. We think that there is influence from Syria and Iran to control different parts of the insurgency or to support different parts of the insurgency. We're working very hard to target those groups inside of Iraq or inside of Afghanistan that are acting counter to coalition forces. I don't want to get into specifics with regard to the types of tactics, techniques and procedures we're taking against the special groups, because that gets into operational areas that are out of my -- out of my lane.
But I think that one of the things we're seeing is that for the extremist groups on both, the Sunni side, al Qaeda side and the Shi'a side, that there are a variety of things that are contributing right now to the reduction in violence. First of all is the fact that coalition forces and Iraqi security forces are targeting those groups to reduce their capacity. We have sustained presence in areas where we have not had sustained presence in before, and that's making a difference because we removed many of their safe operating areas where they've operated with somewhat of impunity up to this point, up until about three months ago.
We're also seeing a number of local neighborhoods turn against those extremist groups because before, when there was a lack of security, those extremist groups in some cases filled that void and were able to provide some measure of security against outsiders for the local population. But at the same time, they conducted their own operations against people that they didn't feel fit their mold, and the local populations are turning against them. At the same time, we're seeing a number of tribal efforts against those extremist groups as well, not just in Al Anbar but also southeast of Baghdad in the Arab Jabour area.
We're seeing that area and the same thing occur in the Four Corners area. We're seeing that same thing occur in the Baqubah area. And so there are many different things that are contributing, I think, to the overall reduction in violence.
Q General, what can you tell us about the level of attacks against coalition forces using some of the more sophisticated weapons that are believed to be shipped from Iran into Iraq, EFPs, rockets, mortars? Are the level -- is the level of those kind of attacks decreasing?
GEN. SHERLOCK: The overall number of attacks are decreasing. I think the level of effective attacks are probably staying about the same and decreasing about the same on about the same -- or decreasing about the same rate. We're having some effect on the networks. We've had a lot of effect on VBIED networks and IED networks for groups that are operating in and around the Baghdad area, in and around the belts of Baghdad area, which is where the preponderance of violence occurred. What we're also seeing is we've taken and given some serious hits to the networks that move those sophisticated weapons back and forth across in Iraq and to Iraq.
But as far as specific numbers go, I'd have to get back to on what that is.
Q Is there any indication that those responsible for the shipments and use of those weapons, whether it be the Qods Forces, the Iranian government, whoever it is, is there any indication that they have decided to reduce their activities in that regard?
GEN. SHERLOCK: There are some groups that have reduced their activities. You know, for example, in response to Muqtada al-Sadr's call for a succession of activities against coalition and ISF, some of those groups have responded to that, and we're seeing some reduction in activity amongst portions of those groups. Other groups, some of the extremist groups, some of the JAM special groups have not responded to that and, in fact, have said that doesn't apply to us. And so we're seeing mixed results for that.
Iran has said on a couple of occasions now that they would like to contribute to the stability of Iraq. We would like to see them live up to that pledge, and again, we would like to see them take positive action to reduce the flow of foreign fighters, to reduce the flow of sophisticated weapons into Iraq that the Qods Force has been moving back and forth into Iraq and to some extent into Afghanistan. Again, we have to wait and see what they -- if they live up to their pledge.
Q Is there any evidence that they are taking steps to do just that?
GEN. SHERLOCK: I'm not aware of what specific steps they might be taking or not, but again, we're seeing mixed results, where some of those groups say that doesn't apply to us and continue to act. Where those groups continue to act, we will continue to target them inside of Iraq.
Q So whatever reduction on the use of those more sophisticated weapons, you're saying today that that cannot necessarily be attributed to any steps that the Iranian government or the Qods Forces may have taken?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Just to go back for a minute to the -- this reduction and the time it takes to deliver weapons to Iraq, is there -- who's doing that, who's working on that problem? Is there a task force that's working on that, and if there is, when did you stand it up, and if you can explain the circumstances around the decision to do this?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency is the one that actually conducts and works through foreign military sales, not just for Iraq, but for everyone with which we sell arms and different pieces of equipment.
They have, with regard specifically to Iraq, taken a look at a variety of things: the priority of transportation; whether -- if it's an urgently needed piece of equipment, how do we prioritize airlift for that versus sealift for that. And they've also gone to prioritize what -- you know, where in the chain of demand -- if there are several people or agencies or countries that are asking for that equipment. If it's urgently needed, then the priority for that shipment to Iraq goes up.
And so that's been worked on by OSD and by the DSCA over the course of the last year, year and a half, very heavily. And I'd ask you to go to them for specific steps.
Q Can I -- to clarify on that, so things have been expedited more or less for Iraq, as opposed to the whole system is getting faster, for every country. Is that what --
GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, I think as you gain efficiencies for Iraq, there's spin-off of those benefits for all foreign military sales. So I can't say that everything that we've learned and everything that we're doing for Iraq or for Afghanistan is only for Iraq and Afghanistan. There are a variety of systems and a variety of things that occur in a foreign military sales program, some of which were designed to go step by step by step, so that as you go through that process, you have, you know, a good accountability for money, a good accountability for the pieces of equipment, a good length of lead time for when that's not an immediate need, to be able to arrange transportation assets based on how to best get the equipment there. The lessons that we learn from that, I think, will translate across foreign military sales for everybody.
Q Sir, just going back to Iraq again -- I'm sorry to whiplash you back and forth like this -- but when you were talking about the special group, some of them deciding that Muqtada al-Sadr's order didn't apply to them, there's obviously a split there between these special groups and the Jaish al-Mahdi. Are you working to reconcile or is the government of Iraq working to reconcile with the Jaish al-Mahdi? And do they -- are they having any kind of success in bringing them into the government?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, I believe the government is working to reconcile with the groups that are reconcilable. There are irreconcilables in Iraq that you don't have much of an option with, other than to kill or capture. Those groups that are reconcilable, I think, the government of Iraq is reaching out to, to try to bring them into them government, to try to bring them into places where they're tied to the central government with regard to bringing tribes into the security forces, into the police; different people in Al Anbar that before may have been fighting against the coalition and against Iraqi security forces -- to go ahead and have a virtual reconciliation on some level, where they are brought into the security forces, where they get vetted.
Those that they determine have crossed the line, that are al Qaeda-affiliated, that are guilty of some terrific or horrible events, they don't bring in. Those that are reconcilable, they're reaching out to bring out, and I think we're seeing positive results of that; again, as I said, not just in Anbar, but in different neighborhoods around Baghdad, around the Arab Jabour area, around Baqubah. So I think there are positive results out there.
Q So the JAM -- we're the figuring the majority of the JAM folks are reconcilable.
GEN. SHERLOCK: We're not at war with JAM, we're not at war with any specific group. What we are doing is we're looking at those groups who are fighting against coalition forces and Iraqi security forces and are targeting civilians and are targeting different neighborhoods in a way that isn't contributing to the security and stability of Iraq. Those groups we will continue to hunt down, those groups we will continue to try to separate from the population and make them ineffective.
Those groups that are reconcilable -- I think it would be a positive sign for any group to be able to come back to the government and say we now wish to be part of the solution as opposed to part of the problem.
STAFF: We have time for one more.
GEN. SHERLOCK: Yes.
Q Just following up on that, the main Shi'a political alliance has stated that it wants the U.S. military to stop the recruitment of the -- you know, the Sunni tribes or bringing them into the security forces. They're opposing that. They've made some -- the political alliance and some other leaders have made some fairly strong statements about that. What do you do to overcome an obstacle like that? Do you think that that could pretty much stop this process in its tracks? How concerned are you about that?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, we're not just working that process with Sunni groups; we're also working that process with a variety of Shi'a groups as well. It is -- it shouldn't be a surprise that the Shi'a are very wary of Sunni groups. I mean, they were dominated by a Sunni minority in that country for decades. And to say that this should be a surprise, I think, is a -- you know, we shouldn't expect that.
What we are continuing to do -- and again, we're not arming those groups; we're bringing them in as concerned local citizens, we're bringing them in to where they are providing information, verifiable and quality leads and information to coalition forces, to Iraqi security forces. We're seeing results from that, again, not just in Sunni groups but in Shi'a groups as well. I think as those groups continue to work more with each other, they will gain a trust for each other that they haven't had based on their last 35 years of history.
I think that as they also start to become more tied to the central government, and as they start to have a stake in the success of the central government and in the stake of the success of the Iraqi security forces, that trust will grow, and they will continue to be able to work more together towards a better reconciliation.
Q Thank you.
GEN. SHERLOCK: Thanks very much.
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