BRYAN WHITMAN (deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Public Affairs): General Wolff, this is Bryan Whitman at the Pentagon. Can you hear me okay?
GEN. WOLFF: Bryan, I hear you loud and clear. How are you today?
MR. WHITMAN: Very good. And thank you for joining us this morning.
It's my privilege to introduce to all of you here, in the press corps, Major General Terry Wolff, who is the commander of U.S. Division-Center. He assumed those duties in January of this year. And this is his first opportunity to be with us in this format.
And we appreciate you taking the time this evening to give us some perspective on what you've been doing: of course most recently the most important elections that have taken place there. So I know that you have a few words that you'd like to set the context with, before we start taking questions. So let me turn it right over to you.
GEN. WOLFF: Great, Bryan. Thanks a lot. I would like to make a very brief opening statement. So that will provide the context you just talked about. So first of all, thanks to the members of the press for being here today. And good evening from Baghdad.
As Bryan said, I'm Major General Terry Wolff. I'm the commanding general of United States Division-Center. As many of you know, Multinational Division-Baghdad and Multinational Division-West were brought together in two separate transfers of authority, which occurred in January. And that created the organization we presently know today as United States Division-Center.
Our team is built around the 1st Armored Division headquarters out of Wiesbaden, Germany, and also the 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, which is an AAB out of Al Anbar province.
In Baghdad, we've got the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which is a Stryker unit out of Fort Lewis, the 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, which is organized as an AAB, and the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, another infantry brigade.
Additionally we've got an aviation brigade out of Fort Hood, Texas, and the 16th Engineer Brigade. Just as a point of reference, 1st of the 3rd AAB arrived in Iraq simultaneously with 1st Armored Division. But the remainder of these forces that I've previously mentioned have been on the ground for a number of months, before we arrived.
As you all know, Sunday's election was an historic event. The Iraqis in Al Anbar province and Baghdad were protected superbly by the Iraqi security forces, and the Iraqi people came out and voted in large numbers. In Al Anbar there were no high-profile attacks, no attacks on polling centers and no loss of life. In Baghdad, the ISF succeeded in preventing vehicle-borne IEDs and also suicide-vest attacks.
While there were a few incidents which produced casualties, and a number of noise-bottle bombs, the Iraqi security forces secured the population and provided a secure, credible election process. And so before I close and take a question or two or three, I'd emphasize that Sunday's election-day success didn't just happen. The ISF owns security responsibilities in Iraq. The battlespace is theirs. They're in charge. They set the conditions for the elections through their hard work in the months leading up to the election day, and it paid handsome dividends on Sunday.
The ISF task didn't begin on or end on Sunday, as I just mentioned. And since then, they've continued to provide security on a daily basis for the last couple of days. We know that the ISF has an important role to play in the future, and we look forward to continuing to partner with them.
And so with that, I'll take your questions, please.
MR. WHITMAN: Okay. Thank you, General.
We'll get started right here. Go ahead.
Q General, it's Anne Flaherty, with Associated Press.
As we await the election results, do you see any outcome that could change the pace of U.S. withdrawal, or should change the pace of U.S. withdrawal?
GEN. WOLFF: You know, at this point -- at this point, no. You know, we've been told, based on the president's announcement last year at -- during his Lejeune speech, that we -- that USFI would come down to 50,000 folks. And so that's what we believe will occur, and that's the -- that's the planning process we move forward with, to move to that number.
In USD Center the number's going to be, obviously, smaller than it is today, but will come down a fair bit. And some of the planning for that has already begun as you well can imagine.
MR. WHITMAN: Joe?
Q General, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. From now till September 1st, what kind of operation are the U.S. military involved in, and if you could give us what kind -- if you have any concerns during this transition period from now till September 1st?
GEN. WOLFF: Yeah, you've really given me an interesting question. What I would say is -- and I'd like to use the opportunity to talk to you a little bit about how the partnering has changed. I mean, the partnering has been reconfigured since the end of June when, based on the security agreement, we moved out of the Iraqi cities. And so how that applies in Baghdad and Al Anbar is a -- is a bit unique.
But what -- but what has effectively happened is that we've kind of changed the partnering model that we have worked with, with the Iraqi security forces, and that will continue up until 1 September and then beyond.
Where in the old days -- the old days being during the surge -- we used to have, you know, partnered units down at the battalion level and even lower, right now most of our partnering happens at the -- at the brigade level and above. And so we put a lot of interest and emphasis in partnering with the Iraqi security force, at -- with their brigades and with their division headquarters and with their operations centers which exist above the division level.
Additionally, we continue to provide some enabler support to the Iraqis. But as I said before, they're in charge. So kind of a case in point for the election period -- and even out now -- we help provide the Iraqis a number of things. We provide some aviation support. We help them with some intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms. We help with some military working dog teams. We assist with some Backscatter Vans which help them search vehicles coming into Baghdad and other cities.
And then we are -- we are partnered with them and do combined and associated training with them at just about every echelon.
It's taken a little different shape than what you might remember in 2008 and 2007 during the surge period. And so I expect that to continue out until September. And you may have heard General Odierno talk a little bit about this yesterday or the day before, where he believes that to some degree we're already in the process of transitioning to stability operations, we're pretty close to what that will look like already.
Q Could I follow up on that?
MR. WHITMAN: Sure.
Q General, this is Anne Flaherty again with AP. It sounds like there are a lot of troops, though, in Iraq to be doing the task that you just outlined. Are there examples or -- can you give us a sense of how many troops there are actually not -- don't have that much to do? It just seems like 96,000 troops are a lot to do the tasks that you outlined. Are they there for the psychological value of security or in case something happens?
GEN. WOLFF: I mean, no, I would say not really. I mean, the -- our -- the soldiers in USD-Center are pretty busy. And it's not make- work, either. And if you think about the election and you look at what occurred during the election period -- I mean, consider the fact that out now in Anbar province there are about 350 polling centers, and then in Baghdad there are about another 1,500. And so part of what we did was partner up with our Iraqi brothers and help them work their way through their plan which they had developed for the election support.
And so let me give you an example. At the Baghdad operations center, which owned all of -- all of the security for Baghdad and Baghdad province, we have a -- we have a transition team that works with the Iraqi staff in that headquarters on a daily basis. I spend a fair bit of my time over there with the BOC commander, seeing him and talking with him and dealing with the issues that he brings up as he puts his security plan in place.
My deputy commanding generals, or DCGs, spend time with their counterparts, usually other operation center commanders, where we have training team staff that assist their staffs. And then down at the Iraqi division level, whether they are Iraqi army or federal police -- and in Baghdad there are six of those -- we're also partnered with them with these training teams.
And so what we've done at that level is work to help the staff training to give them a menu of things which has enabled them to prepare themselves for the election. And we've also worked to have a common operating picture between our headquarters and theirs. So I effectively see the same thing that the BOC commander does. My intelligence teams provide me intelligence at the same time he's getting intelligence from the fused staffs we've put together. Now, that's just at the higher level. That happens out in Al Anbar, as well, with the Iraqi army divisions and the police in that province.
And so what we have done is we have kind of lifted and shifted. Where back in 2007 and 2008 we were partnered at a lower level out doing combat operations with them, in some cases unilaterally but in many cases partnered -- in partnered operations, now effectively Iraqis have the lead for combat operations. We are still partnered with them in some cases, but we are partnered at a staff level and at a higher level, commander level, much more effectively, I think, than we were before. And it has enabled us to work on command-and-control skills together.
So we'll see if that helped answer the first part of your question. You may have a follow-up, please.
Q No, I think that answers it. Thank you.
MR. WHITMAN: Al?
Q General, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. So do you have any of your troops actually involved in combat at this point?
GEN. WOLFF: Sure. We work with the Iraqis to help them train a number of different elements. And so -- let me give you an example. Many of these Iraqi brigades have what we call commando elements or strike platoons.
They're little -- they're platoons or companies, commando companies, that help them execute offensive operations. This is in addition to many of the soldiers they have out on checkpoints and doing that sort of duty.
And so when -- let's say a federal police unit goes out and executes a mission of this nature to go get a bad guy. There will usually be a U.S. partner element that will move and operate with them.
And so the answer is yes, we partner in that regard. But the person who's knocking on the door of the house that they're going into is Iraqi. It is a warranted operation, based on rules of evidence under the Iraqi system that have been brought forward, with a Article 4 warrant that has been issued by an Iraqi court.
So it really has changed since the 30th of June, with the -- with that part of the security agreement going into place.
But yes, we are partnered and -- but it is -- we are not the guys going through the door first, nor are we apprehending Iraqi citizens. The Iraqi security forces are doing that. And so, as I said, it's a very different-looking partnership than what you might remember.
Q Has this been reflected in your casualty figures for the last couple of months?
GEN. WOLFF: Gee, I think that you do make an interesting point. I mean, the number of U.S. casualties has certainly gone down, and the number of Iraqi casualties has certainly gone down. And there are reasons for that. Part of it because we're seeing their tempo of operations increase significantly.
And it leads me back to my point that I made in my comments about the Iraqis just didn't stumble onto election security on Sunday. They have been executing a lot of missions, and they've been partnered a lot of different ways. They have been some of the searches that the Iraqis do to go into an area based on their intelligence tips that there might be some IEDs there, or there might be a cache there. Well, they will effectively put that operation together, they will issue the orders and instructions, and they'll go search those areas.
When we get to an operation where there might be a combined offensive operation to go get a bad guy, some of those Iraqis do by themselves, some of those we partner with them. And then there are other higher- order and counterterror operations that are also partnered. There are no more U.S. unilateral operations here, but we still do participate in some combat operations.
You know, many of our -- the casualties we have suffered, at least since we have been in Baghdad, really have been through vehicle accidents or suicide attempts. One happened just as we arrived on deck here. But that still doesn't mean it's not dangerous out there. Our soldiers go out there ready to protect themselves, and -- as do the Iraqis.
And so the growth that I've been talking about is really about a much more capable Iraqi security force that, even in our short time here, we've seen get better and a lot more focused.
Q So considering this picture that you painted for us, now that the election has passed, when do you anticipate beginning to draw down the forces in your AOR? And from what level now to approximately what level in August?
GEN. WOLFF: Sure. I won't talk about exact numbers, but what I can say is that -- you know, you've heard us talk about this as a responsible drawdown. Well, some of the responsible drawdown has already happened. I basically took the place of two division headquarters across two provinces. So responsible drawdown began with the arrival of the 1st Army Division assuming its role as the United States Division-Center. We've already had one of the brigade combat teams that were part of the United States Division-Center off-ramp and return to home station.
So in Baghdad province we're down to three brigade combat teams, as you -- as I commented. And now, Anbar, we're down to one; one -- now Anbar is end-stage. In Baghdad, we will eventually come down to one over time. And so the decision that will be made when to start that off-ramp is General Odierno's decision.
That will certainly be made based on some planning factors that his staff and ours are working through at this time.
Q Thank you.
MR. WHITMAN: Mike.
Q General, it's Mike Mount with CNN.
As you're well aware, the north still has some problems with violence and insurgents. Are you -- or have you moved any of your forces up to the north to assist there? And do you also anticipate possibly moving some troops from your AOR to the north if General Odierno needs to keep more troops in the country past the August deadline?
GEN. WOLFF: There was one organization of United States Division Center that was moved up north to reinforce USD -- United States Division North, and that happened just before we arrived. So there is some internal movement of organizations around, you know. I have no orders and instructions to prepare for that at this -- at this time.
And again, what I would say is that while, you know, I've talked a lot about the successes, you know, the successes don't come easily, and that there are aggressive operations every day and every evening to deal with -- to deal with terrorists and extremists that try to -- to try to have an impact on the Iraqi people. So it's not as if -- that we're sitting all on our operating bases and doing nothing. So I really emphasize that and try to dispel that notion, because there's this belief at times that no one's doing anything, that 96,000 soldiers are just kind of waiting for something to happen. We are not in the -- we are not in the observe-and-write-about-it mode. We are effectively out there doing things every single day.
And the battlespace that each of the U.S. battalions operate in in concert with their Iraqi counterparts looks uniquely different. And because it looks uniquely different, each of those commanders have a much different tempo, based on whether it is in a -- in a(n) urban area, or whether it's outside of Baghdad proper, out in a rural area.
MR. WHITMAN: Mik.
Q General, Jim Miklaszewski with NBC. There are reports coming out of Iraq this morning that a U.S. convoy accidentally opened fire on perhaps a group of civilians today and there were some civilian casualties. Do you have any information on that?
GEN. WOLFF: There were two incidents this morning that it sounds like perhaps they got mingled together. One was a -- one was a convoy that was hit by an IED, and you know, we're still trying to sort out the -- sort out the nature of that.
The second incident was a -- an incident out in downtown Baghdad in which there were -- there were shots fired. And we know that there were several Iraqis -- the report is several Iraqis were killed. We're trying to get to the bottom of that.
And a good example of how I do business with General Hasham, the Baghdad operations center commander: Once the report of that incident came in, he and I talked through my training team chief who's down there with him and put together a combined or joint inspection team, which is on site now, taking a look at what happened, and why we think it happened.
So what we do know at this point is that there was an incident. There were two people killed, and the details will follow once we get to -- get to the bottom of it, based on the combined investigation that's ongoing.
Q Any casualties in the U.S. convoy hit by an IED?
GEN. WOLFF: There were -- that was a -- that was a contractor convoy, and there were several people wounded. And they've been medevaced, and details will follow later.
Q And was the second incident involving the Iraqi citizens, was that a U.S. convoy also?
GEN. WOLFF: It wasn't a convoy. It was a -- it was a platoon that was moving into a site that both we and the Iraqis worked together in Baghdad.
And there was an incident which caused some weapon firing. And as a result, we know that a couple of people were killed. So again, that's about all the exact details we have now.
But it was a normal movement. And movements that normally happen in Baghdad are partnered movements. We usually move with our Iraqi security force brethren or they clear the movement. So another indicator of kind of the partnering that goes on here. We work all these movements in these operations centers and coordinate for movement in the city of Baghdad, which is, you know, what we have agreed to do as part of the security agreement, out of courtesy to our Iraqi -- Iraqi friends.
Q Can I clarify on that, General? Was the platoon moving into the site -- was that a platoon of Iraqi soldiers with some U.S. troops as advisers? Is that correct?
GEN. WOLFF: No, it wasn't. No, it wasn't. It was a platoon moving into a fixed site, and there was already an Iraqi element there. So it was a movement, it was a daylight movement, and it was on -- in downtown Baghdad on the west side of the city, in the Karkh area. And so just a routine movement.
Q Movement of U.S. troops?
GEN. WOLFF: Right. It was a platoon -- it was a platoon of U.S. troops that were moving, that's correct.
Q And General, what was this site? Was it like a FOB or was it a site where they were clearing, looking for a bad guy or doing something?
GEN. WOLFF: It wasn't a -- it was not a -- it was not a combat operation in the way you've descried it. It wasn't -- all they were doing is moving to a fixed site to link up with another American platoon.
MR. WHITMAN: All right. We have any others out there? (No response.)
Well, General, it looks like we've completed our questions here. So before I bring it to a close, though, let me throw it back to you in case you have any final thoughts that you'd like to share with us.
GEN. WOLFF: Well, I would give you a couple of perspectives.
See, you know, you touched on responsible drawdown today. And there's a lot of work that has been ongoing with that. And it didn't just -- doesn't just start or stop with the end of the election process. And so you know, there's a lot of movement that's happened. We're positioning now to turn over a number of American JSSes to the Iraqis. We will also turn over some other bases to them.
It's a fairly comprehensive plan that we've been -- we've been working for a number of months, that our predecessors worked as well, that we continue to refine. And that's based on discussions we have with the Iraqi security forces. So responsible drawdown has been going on for a while around here. And it will continue to September and then beyond.
Secondly I would state that the environment out here is incredibly complex. And while casualty levels seem down, and we acknowledge that the Iraqi security forces did a bang-up job securing their population for the elections, I'd also tell you that we're asking an awful lot of these young American leaders and young American soldiers.
These young officers, these noncommissioned officers and soldiers, are just doing a great job. And what we have learned over the years serving here and in Afghanistan is just how complex the human terrain is here.
And so we have gotten much better at learning that -- at learning how to deal with tribal sheikhs, with provincial leaders, with district leaders out in these cities and towns -- how to partner better with our Iraqi security forces and all the while doing, you know, combat operations or partnered operations now.
This Army and our military has grown significantly. And I just have enormous respect for these great folks out there doing this heavy lifting. And all the while keep in mind that the enemy threat continues to evolve and change. Whether it's an al Qaeda threat or other extremists, they like we are learning organizations. They continue to adapt as well.
Additionally we're doing a fair bit out here working with the State Department and these provincial reconstruction teams doing civil capacity operations.
And so we kind of consider that a supporting line of effort of ours. Security and helping the ISF deal with the security is mission number one, but we also have a strong and vibrant effort working with our State Department and other interagency brethren who partner with us on -- every single day.
So it's not unusual to have a session, either out on the ground or back in headquarters planning, where we have Provincial Reconstruction Team members, State Department folks working side by side with USAID with a small American element, be it a platoon or a small company, that's out there doing business with Iraq tribal sheikhs, provincial leadership and Iraqi security forces all together. That's much different than what we experienced in 2003 or even 2004, and we've gotten a lot better at doing that. And that's what you're seeing play out both in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
So I tell you that I'm incredibly proud of these Americans and other forces that partner with us as we do this job on a daily basis out here.
I'd also mention that the Iraqi security forces, again, have grown significantly. Some of you know I worked -- I worked helping train the ISF on my last rotation, in 2006 and '7. It was a -- it was an army of about 110,000. Well, it's grown to about double that. It was a police of barely 150,000; it's nearly triple that. And so the Iraqi security forces demonstrated on Sunday that they're up to the task.
If it were -- if it were a test, they'd pass with flying colors. And I'm pretty confident that they can continue to secure the government of Iraq and the Iraqi people. There's no doubt in my mind that they can do that exceptionally well.
And so as we move beyond the election period and all the back- and-forth that will go on with election results and, you know, challenges and things of that sort, I'm confident that the ISF can provide the backbone necessary to form the next government. And as the next government settles in, they're more than up to the task, and they demonstrated that.
And they have a very robust command and control. And I kind of liken them sometimes to a boxer, that they're very robust, they take a jab, once in while they take a body blow, but they rarely get knocked down anymore.
And so that's the major change that I've seen out here, and it's pretty encouraging to see. And it's really a pleasure seeing how far they've come and grown over the years here. And I'm just -- I'm just confident they're ready to take these next steps.
And as I said, they're in charge now. We're in kind of a supporting role, and we're proud to be there. And you can only imagine how proud they were after the elections. On Sunday evening, as the polls closed, every Iraqi leader that I ran into had -- you know, had a big broad grin on his face and was absolutely beaming with pride, with his ability to have led his organization to do what the nation -- his nation demanded of him. And they did it pretty doggone well. And they responded to the challenges they saw on Sunday and worked their way through it. And the Iraqi people knew they would, so that's why you saw voters flocking back out in the afternoon to get to the polling sites. And they're pretty encouraged by what they saw.
So with that, I'll just close by thanking our great -- our great soldiers and our airmen and our sailors and Marines that are part of our great organization. And they're joined by State Department folks. They're joined by other agency friends that make this a real team of teams out here. And they operate across a pretty complex battlespace that's constantly changing, as we've talked about, with this responsible drawdown business.
And so thanks to you for asking lots of questions today. I know that there are a lot of other things competing with Iraq now and everyone basically thinks Iraq is solid, based on the elections. We believe that as well. But again, thanks for your time. And I'll stand by for any final questions.
MR. WHITMAN: General, we're good from here. But thank you. Thank you again for your time. And we hope that perhaps in the not too distant future we'll get another update from you.
GEN. WOLFF: Yeah, I sure look forward to that. Thanks a lot, Bryan.
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