JIM TURNER (Pentagon Press Office): General Milano, this is Jim Turner in the Pentagon Press Briefing Room. Can you hear me?
GEN. MILANO: Yes, I can. How can you hear me?
MR. TURNER: Fine. Let's get started.
We're privileged to have with us today Major General James Milano. He is the deputy commanding general, director of the Interior Multinational Security and Transition Command-Iraq. General Milano assumed his current duties in Iraq in July of 2008. This is his first briefing with us in this format. He joins us today from Baghdad.
General Milano will have a few comments and then he'll take your questions.
General, thank you very much for joining us today. And with that, I'll turn it over to you.
GEN. MILANO: Well, good morning. And thanks for the opportunity to speak with you. I'll share some of the hard work my team and I are involved in as we move forward in partnership with our colleagues in the Iraqi Ministry of Interior.
Our mission is to assist the MOI in completing the generation of a professional, credible police force. At the same time, we're helping the MOI develop institutional capacity to acquire, train, develop, manage, sustain and resource those forces.
What we and the Iraqis are striving for is a condition known police primacy. Under police primacy, the Iraqi police forces will have primary responsibility for internal security, under civilian control, in accordance with the constitution and consistent with the rule of law.
I've seen firsthand the progress the Iraqis have made toward this goal, from the highest leadership levels at the ministry to the policemen and -women on the beat at more than 1,200 local police stations across Iraq. Adding to their capabilities are a host of specialized forces, such as national police, Directorate of Border Enforcement, oil police, Coastal Border Guard and Facility Protection Service, as well as important institutional bodies such as the Criminal Investigations Directorate, internal affairs, inspector general and professional training academies.
All are seeing continued improvement and development. As a consequence, public trust and confidence -- correction -- public trust and support for the police are growing.
According to ABC/BBC poll results released in March, 74 percent of Iraqis say they have confidence in the police, up from 64 percent in 2007 and only 46 percent in 2003. An impressive 85 percent now view their local security situation as good or very good, nearly double the rate from two years ago.
Clearly, though, we have much work to do. The ministry has made significant improvements in fighting corruption and has implemented several initiatives, but we're not finished with this effort. The MOI court system is adjudicating increasing numbers of cases, but can do better. The MOI detention center inspection regimen is improving, but needs increased capacity. And logistics systems are materializing, but we can do better supporting MOI forces in the field.
The reduced Iraqi budget has caused us to address some tough choices with our MOI colleagues. As we help them validate and prioritize their needs, the aim is to ensure the smartest, most effective application of resources, ours and theirs. The true beneficiaries of our efforts, of course, are the people of Iraq. I'm proud to be able to assist in their steady transition to a peaceful, stable and democratic society.
And with that, I'm ready to take your questions.
MR. TURNER: Thank you, General Milano. And we'll take the first one here.
Q Hi, General. It's Laura Jakes from the Associated Press. There seems to be some disconnect between the Iraqi authorities who arrested five contractors over the weekend, who I assume are MOI forces, and what we're hearing back here in Washington. As I understand it, the Iraqi authorities are saying that these men were arrested in connection with the slaying of one of their colleagues, one of the contractors. What we're hearing back here is that they are not facing any kind of murder charges and are not arrested in connection actually with the murder, but on weapons permit charges. Can you explain what's going on here and what may be the cause for the disconnect?
GEN. MILANO: Well, that's an ongoing investigation, and I can't really comment on it.
In fact, I know only what I've read about that. So it wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment on that or speculate what's going on with that.
Q (Off mike) -- forces?
GEN. MILANO: Pardon me?
Q Are the arresting authorities MOI forces? Are they Iraqi police?
GEN. MILANO: Again, I -- I'm not at liberty to comment on that, nor would it be appropriate to do so, since it's an ongoing investigation.
Q General, Jeff Schogol with Stars and Stripes. The last Iraq progress report said that the -- there was a hiring freeze on Iraq security forces because of the low price of oil. Since then, the price of oil has nudged up a bit. Is there still a hiring freeze?
GEN. MILANO: Yes. The Ministry of Interior is under a hiring freeze. We have about 560,000 employees in the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, and we have not hired any new, additional personnel since December of 2008.
Q High -- even now that oil has pretty much doubled since it had in -- a few months ago?
GEN. MILANO: That's correct. As far as I know, the Ministry of Interior received its budget from the minister of Finance about four weeks ago, and as far as I know there's been no additional budgetary allocation through the ministry of interior since then.
Q On that -- Dan De Luce from Agence France-Presse. On that same point, you talked about tough choices because of this budget pressure and the oil price. Could you talk to us a little bit more about that? What choices are the Iraqis facing? And what does that mean particularly in some of the larger cities, perhaps?
GEN. MILANO: Well, the kinds of choices they're being forced to make are in what types of equipment they purchase, what types of infrastructure they build. The good news is that this year we've helped them develop a three-year strategic plan for 2010 through 2012, and we have annual strategic plans for each of those years. And for the first year we're going to be able to match strategic priorities against a budget and use that to drive a budget submission, which should take place sometime this summer.
But some of the things they need -- and we and they agree on this -- is a comprehensive logistics system. They need additional warehousing, distribution capability. Information technology is significantly lacking in the Ministry of Interior, as it is in most government ministries. We're helping them increase their forensics capability. But we're just getting started with that.
And also we need additional surveillance and security equipment at the ports of entry and along the border. We're making progress in that area, but those are some of the items of equipment and capability that they need.
But again, it's the effective application of their available budget, their discretionary budget, and ours that we want to implement to get the biggest bang for the buck, if you will.
Q Can I follow up? A follow-up. Sorry. What, then -- what are they having to choose between? You talked about tough choices. For example, if there's a hiring freeze, does that mean, you know, they lack some manpower that they originally had hoped for? They'll have to scale back some plans?
GEN. MILANO: Yeah, let me just take, for example, the national police. Right now we have four national police divisions. The ultimate objective is five national police divisions. They're not going to be able to hire additional national police right now to fulfill that objective, nor will they be able to purchase the associated equipment for that. They'd like to hire some additional border personnel, which they're not going to be able to do right now. So those are the kinds of choices. They need additional four-wheel drive vehicles for their budget forces. So they're having to rack and stack their priorities and determine what are their most critical needs right now, and what can they possibly wait to purchase till the budget situation improves.
MR. TURNER: Joe.
Q Yeah. General, this Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. You mentioned that there was a lot of progress in fighting corruption within the Ministry of Interior. Would you please give us more details about how this progress was made and what kind of corruption you are facing during the last period?
GEN. MILANO: Yeah, the minister of Interior has taken on addressing the corruption issue very rigorously. We've got several programs and initiatives that he's implemented. The ministry -- the human resources director just finished a comprehensive audit of all MOI personnel to look at those who aren't qualified, or perhaps martyrs, those who have died in the line of duty who are still on the rolls.
We've just finished assisting them with vetting the Iraqi police cadre, up in Nineveh province, at the Mosul police safety academy up there and the Nineveh police college.
The ministry of interior internal affairs is going to begin background checks on all MOI personnel who are authorized security clearances. We've increased the number of IG inspectors, with advanced training, from 0 last November to 85 currently. And they are of course responsible for helping the minister ensure policy compliance throughout the ministry.
So all those are indicative of some of the ways that the minister is addressing some of the corruption issues that exist in his ministry. We're making progress. We've seen increased throughput in the ministry of interior court system.
We've seen almost 3,000 cases reviewed, since the court system began reviewing cases last August. So I'm confident we're making good progress in addressing the corruption issue. But we have more work to do.
Q Just to follow up, you didn't tell me what kind of corruption you were facing. If you could, give me like an example.
GEN. MILANO: Well, I mean, bribery, perhaps people paying for promotions, skimming money off of projects, that kind of thing. Most of the corruption involving, you know, issues dealing with money, exchange of money.
We need more transparency, for example, at our ports of entry. Which is where quite frankly information technology and automation will help, you know, reduce the incidents of corruption, by making that whole process of, you know, duty fees and import fees more transparent; the more electronic we can make it, versus actually exchanging of cash. So those kinds of things.
Q Sir, it's Mike Mount with CNN.
A little bit along those same lines, infiltration of the security forces, with insurgent forces, has been an ongoing problem for some time. Can you kind of tell us where you are with that now, on what level the infiltration sits?
GEN. MILANO: Well, part of the program I just mentioned up in Nineveh Province, where we vetted the Mosul Police Safety Academy cadre and the Nineveh Police College cadre -- we're also going to begin a retraining and vetting program for all of the police and the officers in that province. And that's going to serve, we hope, as a pilot program that we can implement in other provinces. So, you know, we've got to keep executing the background checks and vetting, and ensure that, you know, there's as much transparency throughout the ministry's forces as we can possibly achieve. And they're committed to that.
Q Follow up on that. Is there a specific problem up in Nineveh? And do you have maybe statistics on what the level is of infiltration?
GEN. MILANO: We've had some issues up there where some extremist elements have infiltrated. You know, over the last six months, I think there were two or three incidents, total, where we had some infiltration. So we've got to, you know, keep -- keep aggressive in checking and vetting and conducting background checks. And we're implementing programs to help the ministry do that.
MR. TURNER: Gordon?
Q Excuse me. Gordon Lubold from the Christian Science Monitor. Sir, can you talk a little bit about how the U.S. is assessing its -- the equipment that it will leave behind as it draws down, perhaps in conjunction with the State Department? Can you explain your role in that? And does this budgetary crisis for the Iraqis at all play a role in what might be left behind?
GEN. MILANO: Well, our role in that is helping assess what capabilities the Ministry of Interior will need when the U.S. forces leave Iraq in December of 2011, and then helping feed that information up to Multinational Forces-Iraq so decisions can be made on -- and recommendations, I should say, could be made on what equipment might be left behind that will fill a need.
In my case, in Ministry of Interior forces -- vehicles, for example. There may be some vehicles currently here -- four-wheel- drive vehicles or other types of vehicles, sedans and what-not -- that could be provided to the Ministry of Interior for their use.
Q The budget situation, though, it all dictate -- or shaped the thinking on what gets left behind?
GEN. MILANO: Well, again, we're -- we provide, you know, assessments of what the -- we think their capabilities are, what the current status is on various types of equipment needed to fulfill those capabilities. And then decisions will be made, you know, to address those issues or not.
Q Hi, General. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. Two questions for you. First of all, is absenteeism still a problem in the Iraqi police? And can you give us some numbers, some statistics on that?
And then second all -- of all, I'm just curious of your assessment of the Iraqi police capabilities up in Mosul and then sort of in the larger -- in Diyala province, if you feel that they're strong enough. It's been a, you know, continued problem area for the last several months last year. How strong are they? Are they able to maintain security there without the U.S. presence?
GEN. MILANO: I don't have any specific numbers on absenteeism. And in my, you know, many meetings with ministry leadership, that isn't brought up as an issue. So I don't know the extent that that may or may not be a problem.
Regarding the Iraqi security forces in Nineveh, Diyala province and elsewhere, the MOI and the MOD continue to develop and refine their plans to assume security responsibilities at the end of this month. There's a lot of coordination and assessment going on at the tactical and operational levels, and we're confident they'll be able to assume security responsibilities effective 30 June.
Q Can I ask you just one other question, actually? You said earlier -- you were talking about some Iraqi police officers who had been killed, and you referred to them as "martyrs." I'm just curious, is that a U.S. term, or is that an Iraqi -- I've never heard that used for someone who's presumably killed in the line of duty.
GEN. MILANO: It's a -- it is an Iraqi term. If a policeman or woman -- police officer, employee of the Ministry of Interior, is killed in the line of duty, then he or she is considered a martyr, and there's a very complex process that takes place to include a legal review and a recommendation to the minister of Interior where that person is removed from the rolls and placed on the martyr rolls.
And then that individual's family receives a martyr payment from the government of Iraq, I believe, for the rest of their lives or for at least a certain amount of time.
But there are some of those, who are martyrs, who have not yet been removed from the rolls. It's a lengthy process. And the purpose -- one of the purposes of this audit was to identify and gain clarity, on exactly how many martyrs they have, so they can look at each and every instance and make sure that those martyrs' families are taken care of.
Q Hi, sir. Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg News.
Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq Reconstruction, over the last several years, has warned of a sustainment gap, as he called it, where United States tax dollars that paid for reconstruction projects, projects turned over to the Iraqis, and the ministry of interior and other ministries failed to sustain or put enough money into the projects to keep them going.
He's raised this question a number of times. Do you see that as a problem, from where you sit? I mean, are the Iraqis taking over U.S.-built projects and putting the requisite maintenance dollars and money to keep them operating?
GEN. MILANO: I think by and large, in the ministry of interior, the projects that I've seen that, you know, we've built for them and handed over to them are being maintained, some better than others.
But you know, this is part of an overall, comprehensive logistics and maintenance program that we're helping them build capacity toward: supply-chain management, repair-parts management, facilities maintenance.
They do dedicate portions of their budget towards facilities maintenance. But in some areas, I think, they could do that better. But by and large, the projects that I've seen, that we've provided them, are being adequately maintained.
Q Equipment question. The Iraqis last year asked the United States Air Force -- it was a letter of information for F-16 fighter planes. Do you know at your level whether they have abandoned any quest, short-term quest, to buy F-16 fighters, given their budget crunch?
GEN. MILANO: I really can't address that. I -- my expertise, if you will, is with the Ministry of Interior, so I couldn't adequately address that.
MR. TURNER: Lou?
Q General, it's Lou Martinez of ABC News. Can I ask you, how many personnel are currently in MNSTC? And as the transition towards a training mission occurs over the next year, will your responsibilities increase? Will the number of personnel that you have increase? What's -- how is that all going to change for you?
GEN. MILANO: Yeah, as we transition, our mission will not change. We will continue to advise and partner with our Ministry of Interior counterparts. In my directorate, there is approximately 400 personnel. I believe the overall number for MNSTC is -- is 1,100, 1,200. I'm not sure of the exact number. But our mission won't change. We're going to continue to train and advise -- in my case, our Ministry of Interior counterparts.
Q And will your -- if I could follow up with that -- will your numbers -- I mean, will they increase as well? Because obviously, there will be greater responsibilities in a training mission. Will there be additional personnel that will be flowing in to you, additional resources?
GEN. MILANO: No, our numbers won't increase. They'll get smaller, slowly, over time. But we'll retain sufficient capability to do what we have to do.
Q General, it's Laura Jakes from AP again. What is the current sectarian or ethnic breakdown in the INP nationwide, or the Iraqi police, province by -- I don't want to ask you to break down each province's IP force numbers, but if you could just give me an idea of whether or not there have been more Sunnis hired recently. I know that's been a concern in the past.
GEN. MILANO: I don't know the ethnic breakdown across the Iraqi Police Service or the National Police. And they don't maintain that kind of information, at least as far as we know. There's a big effort towards transparency in the Ministry of Interior. When a hiring packet is submitted in the Ministry of Interior, it does not make any reference to a person's ethnic background or sectarian background.
So -- so I don't know really what the ethnic makeup is. But what I can tell you regarding Sons of Iraq, in my estimation, the Ministry of Interior has led the way for the government of Iraq in incorporating the Sons of Iraq into the Iraqi police forces. Since June of 2007, the Ministry of Interior has brought onboard over 13,000 Sons of Iraq into the Iraqi police forces. So Minister Bolani is very committed to the Sons of Iraq program. He understands the importance of it. The government of Iraq has budgeted over $300 million for the Sons of Iraq program. But Minister Bolani understands the importance of it, and he's made significant progress in hiring SOIs into the Iraqi police forces.
Q Are those SOIs being paid now? Because there's been some concerns, as I'm sure you know, over the last few months that some of these people who have been manning checkpoints and elsewhere have not been paid, going back months or even years.
GEN. MILANO: The SOI are being paid. We did have a few glitches in the payment mechanism back in March, but those have been ironed out. So the SOIs are being paid by the government of Iraq.
MR. TURNER: Okay. It looks like we have time for one more question. Jeff.
Q Hey, General, Jeff with Stars and Stripes again. Going back to 2005, I remember MNSTC-I talking about the ISF having problems with logistics. Why does this continue to be a problem?
GEN. MILANO: Well, logistics is a big challenge, and part of that is exacerbated by their lack of automation, their lack of information technology. It's still very much a papers-based process with multiple signatures and stamps required on pieces of paper to get things moving.
But they are making progress. They're increasing their warehousing capability and management of warehouses. They're getting better accountability on the equipment that we've provided them and that they've bought. So I'm confident that we're making progress in the area of logistics, but I think that's their most pressing need right now, is a comprehensive logistics and maintenance system, understanding the importance of preventive maintenance programs and scheduled services.
So it is a major area, and part of the complexity or challenge in this area, I should say, is the complexity and the diverse nature of the Ministry of Interior. Not only do we have Iraqi police services, we have national police, we have border police, we have oil police. We will soon have electricities police. Facilities Protection Service. Again, 560,000 employees in the Ministry of Interior -- a very widely deployed, disparate force that, quite frankly, there is no one-size-fits-all logistics solution for.
So we're helping them work through that, and we are making progress. But it's going to take a little more time.
Q I think I've heard that as well, that the Iraqis are making progress in logistics. Why does this remain the one problem that seems not to be able to be solved?
GEN. MILANO: I'm confident it will be solved. Again, we're making progress. We're not where we want to be, but we know where we need to go. And I'm confident that, you know, by the time U.S. forces leave Iraq in accordance with the security agreement in December 2011, they will have an adequate logistics capability.
MR. TURNER: Well, General, it looks like we've reached about the end of our time for questions, so let me turn it over to you for any closing remarks you would care to make.
GEN. MILANO: Well, I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today. You can see there's a lot of work left to be completed. My advisers and I are fully committed to continuing to build police capacity and a capable Ministry of Interior.
Candidly, the low-hanging fruit's been picked, and we're now reaching for the shiny apples near the top of the tree. Producing a policeman or woman is easy when you compare that to the more challenging efforts, for example, of developing an evidentiary based criminal-justice system, of helping the ministry develop merit-based promotion systems and professional development programs and of developing an understanding of the benefits of a preventive maintenance program.
The U.S. and Iraqi governments have advanced to a new stage of enduring cooperation and partnership, and we remain committed to providing continued support. The security agreement and the strategic framework agreement are the centerpieces of our enduring partnership.
Finally, we're all extremely proud to be serving in these historic times. Your soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians are doing a terrific job.
Again, thank you for allowing me to be with you today.
MR. TURNER: Well, thank you, General Milano. We really appreciate your insights and hope to see you in this format again sometime soon.
GEN. MILANO: Thank you.
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