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General Zinni on Operation DESERT FOX and Iraq

Presenters: General Zinni on Operation DESERT FOX and Iraq
January 08, 1999 10:00 AM EDT

General Zinni on Operation DESERT FOX and Iraq

(Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, commander of the U.S. Central Command discussing bomb damage assessments from Operation DESERT FOX and the situation in Operation SOUTHERN WATCH.)

Mr. Bacon: We'd like to start right off with General Zinni because he has another appointment and has to leave here at 10:29, so he'll begin with some introductory remarks and take your questions, and we'll cut it off promptly just before 10:30.

General Zinni, welcome.

General Zinni: Good morning.

What I thought I'd do briefly is just an update on the results from DESERT FOX and additional information since the last time I talked to you, and describe a little bit about what we're seeing in the region in the aftermath, and then talk a little bit about the no-fly zone violations, and then get into your questions as quickly as possible.

We have upped our estimate on the time it would take Saddam to repair the damages from DESERT FOX from one to two years. The basis for this is as we've done more analysis we found that in some of the structures we struck, these were not empty buildings as some people reported. In some cases, especially in the first night's strikes, he didn't have the opportunity to disperse critical equipment within. Obviously in other buildings there was evidence of dispersal, and not all equipment but some was hit.

In this equipment now that we're seeing that was struck and severely damaged, we're seeing some unique pieces of equipment necessary for his missile development program. Things like test stands and other kinds of test facilities, special kinds of presses and equipment that he would have to go external to get and were one of a kind again.

In addition to that we're seeing some of the structural damage that was far more severe than obviously we initially saw from maybe a hole in the building, but then finally [we found] the penetration [was] much deeper, structural damage beyond repair to some of the critical facilities.

We have seen communications and other things that are not coming up that he's having problems with. So all these are indications that as we look deeper and we have more detailed reports on our intelligence and other means that verify this, we're seeing that the effectiveness was even greater than we first thought.

Having said all that, I want to emphasize we're still staying very much on the conservative side on all this.

I know there's been discussion of casualties. I don't have a figure for you. We have some bits and pieces of reports that we feel are solid, but nowhere in our mind paint the full picture. We have reports that range from 600 to 2,000, for example, in the Republican Guard. I can't confirm the validity of those reports. I can't tell you whether it's more like 600 or more like 2,000. Again, we stay very conservative. We only look at those intel reports that we can confirm and validate.

We are looking at reports that certain senior leadership targets that were hit, that there were senior leadership members in there who were part of the casualty lists, especially in the special security organizations and in the Republican Guard. Again, we're still in an attempt to confirm those reports as to who they are, what positions they held, verify names that we're getting. I won't go into that in any more detail than that.

In the aftermath of DESERT FOX we've seen a number of unusual things internally that I think clearly demonstrate that he was shaken and the regime was shaken. We have seen executions in the south, one division, in particular, lost its commander and several others.

I mentioned before that he broke his country into four sectors, put some very ruthless people in charge. In the south, "Chemical" Ali [Ali Hasan Al-Majid] who is famous for putting the chemicals on the Kurds in the north at Halabja and also for ruthlessly punishing the Shias in the south. It looks like he may have been behind some of these executions, and there might be still some going on. Military ranks and civilians also.

We have seen and heard reports of problems elsewhere in the country. Again, I can't put a measure on this and tell you that they're significant, not significant, but there's a number of reports coming to this effect.

Probably the most remarkable thing in my mind was the Army Day speech by Saddam. I think that was clear evidence of his isolation. The language he used, his attack on all the other leaders in the region I think showed a degree of desperation that we hadn't seen before. To us, that speech was shocking. If there was any attributed propaganda victory afterwards, certainly it didn't work in terms of the other leaders in the region for him to react that way. And I think we're seeing from the AOR, the area of responsibility, media and the reaction of the leaders in the region that they bristle at this particular attack on them.

On the no-fly zone violations, we have seen since the 23rd of December, when Saddam has declared the no-fly zones invalid, over 40 violations. Now what we consider a violation is an individual act, not an individual airplane. Say, some of these were multiple airplane intrusions. They range from racing down and tucking their nose in and running back, to attempting multiple plane kinds of tactical maneuvers against our forces, trying to work in cooperation with surface-to-air missile systems on the ground.

We have made adjustments to all of this. Obviously we've made, and I won't go into detail for obvious reasons, but we've made adjustments to tactics, we've made adjustments to how we package our forces, the procedures we use. We have all the confidence in our superiority not only technically, but in our pilot skills and everything else.

Obviously any time we fly into Iraqi airspace, and this goes for the past seven to eight years, whether it's in the north or the south, we treat it as flying into a potentially hazardous situation. We have flown over 140,000 sorties in that time, both in the north and in the south, and never do our pilots go in unprepared for any eventuality.

We have focused our intelligence much more on the kinds of tactics we're seeing and approaches he's using. I think clearly he's trying to lure us into a possible shoot-down situation, and we're taking every measure to prevent that and have made adjustments, as I said, to ensure that that wouldn't happen.

With that kind of brief opening statement, I'd be glad to take your questions.

Q: What about the loyalty of his troops? You say there have been these executions. Are they in response to any signs of refusal to obey orders? Is there any sign that the Republican Guards are being sent to quell some disturbance but refusing to go? Anything like that?

A: I think we're seeing, especially in the case of the executions in the one division in the south, the indications, the reports that we're getting, is that was as a result of not obeying orders. And it may have been because of this command structure that he overlaid on the existing military structure -- these ruthless four that he's put in charge and the way he divided it up and superseded the military command structure. I think there's some confusion in the ranks, and there's some disgruntlement with how this is done and who they answer to.

I think obviously we have seen Republican Guards and others move around in the country which, by our judgment, looks like moves for internal security reasons also.

I can't, again, give you a feel for how serious this is, how extensive it is, but we are certainly seeing these kinds of signs that there are problems.

Q:...he did not follow to get that execution...

A: I do not. I do not know what order or the exact motivation or reason behind it.

Q: Can you provide us with your assessment of what you have heard from the cockpit of these aircraft as the U.S. chases them? Any sort of intelligence you can share with us on the attitudes of the pilots when they are being pursued by the Americans or the guy that crashed?

A: We are, without going into specifics which I can't do, we are not seeing a great deal of enthusiasm to engage directly. I think these are all attempts to lure us in, to certainly not get close. Obviously we fired missiles and we fired at extended ranges. Our pilots are smart enough not to fall for traps or get themselves in some sort of maneuver position where they're vulnerable or follow a plane into a missile engagement zone.

These planes do not want to come close where they can be engaged by, again, the superior technology and the pilot proficiency. It's obvious that they want to, I think the term used before was cheat and retreat. That's very clear. The guy that ran out of fuel, I think he was pressing that MIG-23, the pedal to the metal so hard, that he didn't look to his gas gauge and eventually landed short.

Q: General, when you say 600 to 2,000 casualties, are you talking dead or dead and injured?

A: Again, it's a mix. Some of the reporting we see from all kinds of sources, they say dead. In some we see just casualties. So I can't tell you what that is. In most of the reports, these are reporting dead.

Now we obviously have seen some unit reporting. We obviously have some indication, anecdotal reporting of funeral processions and things like that in the area. We have no way of... We look at exactly the hard figures we have, but we have no way of being able to estimate from that what the total figures might be -- what we're not seeing -- and to validate some of these reports that are coming from all sorts of sources to judge whether they're inflated or not.

So I can't give you an answer. They're mixed. Some say dead, some say dead and wounded.

Q: In terms of the execution, are we talking execution of regular army, air force...

A: Regular army.

Q: General, on the casualty issue, I wanted to get a sense, were deaths of Republican Guard units or soldiers, were those among your measures of success? The numbers of soldiers killed among the barracks and...

A: No. I think I told you before, we weren't measuring success or after a goal or a number. Obviously, we do the estimates on what might happen. That's situationally dependent. I mean if there's total surprise, if they're in the barracks. But our real target was after infrastructure. By that I mean command and control, headquarters, equipment, that sort of thing. So the casualties were not a direct objective of the attack.

Q: Since you're going to be subject to criticism by analysts who say, oh, 2,000, there's 60,000 Republican Guards possibly. How could you have degraded the Republican Guard unit if you only possibly killed a small number?

A: Well, my answer to that would be -- I mean there are some brigades and divisions right now that are operating out of tents. They don't have barracks to go back to. They don't have a headquarters. They don't have the com equipment. We've seen derelict tanks and APCs and other things being pulled away. They have com problems because we hit communications nodes. They're still being given missions for internal security and other things that they have to execute under some very tough situations.

To replace all that and to reestablish that kind of capability within the Republican Guards critical to the security of the regime, you know, will take quite awhile. So I think they have been degraded. Again, what our mission was.

Q: General, can you say whether the U.S. military used any intelligence gathered through UNSCOM to select targets during the attack?

A: I have no knowledge of any special or, you know, I know the reports that are coming up, but I have no knowledge of any kind of special efforts or intelligence coming through there.

Obviously we're aware of what UNSCOM does, as is any other country in the UN Security Council. We see what UNSCOM does and where it goes and what the reports are, but nothing [in] the reports that I have [indicates] any knowledge of any deliberate spying or effort worked through UNSCOM.

Q: General, what's the basis of the reporting that some of the top leaders... Is it that they're not showing up at meetings? Is it that they're not showing up on television? How solid is this information?

A: We don't know. I mean we have seen those reports with obviously the evidence that there's some leaders that seem to be missing. I have no particular confirmation as to what this means, whether they have been excluded, purged, or off about some other business, or what might be going on.

But again, we're seeing a lot of these kinds of things happen, some of which we're unsure what they mean. But there's enough out there that's sort of circumstantial evidence and some hard evidence like the executions, that there is a degree of internal control problems and unrest. And again, the speech on the 5th, and what he did was remarkable in our eyes.

Q: Did you have some information that specific units other than the ones in the south may have questioned loyalty as far as their views towards Saddam?

A: No.

Q: General, are you considering any more aggressive action or perhaps even preemptive action to stop or cut down on these numbers of violations of no-fly zones and the threatening of U.S. and British planes that are patrolling those no-fly zones?

A: I think it's obvious. The Chairman had said this in his testimony, we have a number of plans on the shelf which we can execute if that decision was made.

Q: What's your understanding of the situation with that division in the south? Is that an insurrection? Was that, were these people executed for incompetence? Was this in support of something with the Shias there?

A: I'll tell you. My best take on it is that they resented the orders they received, they resented who gave them the orders...

Q: What orders?

A: I'm not sure, as I said before, what specifically the reason was, but it looked like in effect there were two chains of command. One that reports to Chemical Ali, ruthless, directly back to Saddam, obviously for internal control. And it seemed to have conflicted with the normal army chain of command, so I think you have a problem with loyalty and confusion and probably to some degree a resentment, but I don't want to speculate beyond that.

Q: Do you think that was limited to a single commander or small group of commanders, or do you think it was widespread among the troops?

A: We're hearing things that it's beyond just the one incident, that there were others. But we don't have anything specific that I can give you, other units or other incidents beyond that.

We've also heard there have been some executions of civilians in the region, and obviously a series of executions have been reported going back even to November when Saddam's son was in the region and in charge of some of these with the security services.

Q: How many executions...

A: I don't have a specific number. And again, some of these aren't even, some of the reports aren't even mentioning numbers.

On the division, we heard it was the division commander and some of his staff, but I didn't get a specific number.

Q: You say Saddam is shaken by this, but would you be willing to draw the judgment that his hold on power has been a lesson that he is less secure in his control of the Iraqi regime than he was before these strikes?

A: I would be reluctant to make a judgment as to how much control he may have lost or how shaken he is. I would, I do believe personally that he is shaken. I don't think you would have heard the words in that speech; I don't think you would have seen these actions that he's taken to put these ruthless guys in charge, to create an overlay command and control organization over the existing one if he trusted it. It's obvious that that organization was not done for any military purpose, certainly no reaction to DESERT FOX or anything that we've done.

So I think there are signs there that there is a degree of loss of control, and he is shaken. Now to what degree that is and how significant it is, I couldn't make that judgment.

Q: General, if he's as shaken and desperate as you think he is, what are your concerns that he might do something totally irrational militarily?

A: Well obviously he's capable of it. He's capable of not only doing things irrationally but of miscalculating. I think he's made a profession out of miscalculation. He hopes for the propaganda victory. He obviously doesn't value the lives of his own troops in what he does. He doesn't care about his own people. So someone with that attitude and that track record, that makes him dangerous.

We have tried to look at every possibility, any events, every eventuality as to what he might do militarily in reaction to us, and we have prepared, obviously, contingency reaction plans for that, should it happen. And these range from, I think, the things that you can speculate on, that he might make a move toward Kuwait, that he might fire a SCUD that he has concealed, the range of things we've heard out there.

Q: Is there any evidence that these executions were in any way in response to a coup attempt?

A: No.

Q: Can we return briefly to the empty buildings or the non-empty buildings?

A: Yes.

Q: As you've looked at the number of targets that you destroyed, you obviously had a calculation that some of them would be empty. Is there a way to quantify in percentages or something most of the buildings now that you thought might have been empty actually had stuff in them, they weren't as clever as we thought? How do we...

A: I can say that we had several buildings, especially the ones we hit on the first night, that didn't have the opportunity to disperse valuable pieces of machinery and equipment. Other buildings obviously hit later on or moved rapidly when they had the first indication, and again, I think I mentioned before, probably UNSCOM's departure might have been the trigger that did begin dispersal, some were in the process. Others hit later on that moved a good deal of equipment out, was dispersed out, and then so was not affected.

Q: There were quite a few of the targets that were still empty buildings.

A: If I had to give you a number I would say that there was something in all the buildings. Obviously they prioritized what they had to get out. I would say in half the buildings they either didn't get it out, or they didn't get enough out of what we would consider the critical pieces of equipment.

I think I mentioned before, you can look at this in whole numbers. I mean I can tell you we had 100 targets, and I can tell you, take the WMD, the command and control, the most significant targets. We struck and damaged significantly 85 percent of those. But what does that mean?

Within those target sets there were what we call target elements that are critical. You went after this building for a special reason. Maybe there was a test facility within the building. Maybe there was a wind tunnel. Maybe there was a special piece of machinery or equipment. To get that critical piece of equipment then made the effect greater in our mind. It was not only the damage to the building and the infrastructure and how long it would take to replace that. But now you've got a one and only one unique piece of equipment necessary for missile development. As we're beginning to see those effects come in, we've upped our estimate because of the success we're getting and the confirmation of those kinds of results.

Q: Are you giving, given the scenarios you just described of the way that the regime might react, are you giving any thought to augmenting your forces or moving them around?

A: Yes. I've made a request for additional F-16 CJs, eight of them, and additional tankers which obviously gives us the ability to stay up longer and react. So there's a request for additional F-16 CJs and for additional tankers that I have...

Q:...Would they go to the northern no-fly zone or...

A: To the south. To CENTCOM's AOR.

Q: General, there's an impeachment going on in Washington right now. General Shelton said this morning that the timing on the counterterrorist strike in August and Operation DESERT FOX was incredible, but the question is, during the '70s when this situation was somewhat similar, the Defense Secretary issued guidance to commanders to be sensitive about the chain of command.

My question to you is have you received any guidance related to the impeachment, and these plans that you have on the shelf, have they been affected in any way about your recommendations for whether they should be implemented during this...

A: The answer to both questions is no. I received no such guidance and it has not affected the planning or anything else. The planning is done at Central Command. I'm given a mission and we develop the plans.

Q: What kind of events inside Iraq would indicate to you that Saddam's hold on power is beginning to slip?

A: I think the kinds of things I'd look for -- I would follow the special security services, the Special Republican Guards, the Republican Guards themselves, look at their activities. They're responsible for regime security and maintenance of regime control and power. What we see them do, where they go.

I would look to any signs of disloyalty or breaking ranks in the regular army in the military.

I would look for signs that key leaders that may not be supportive of Saddam's policy suddenly disappear from the scene, or we get reports of executions or jailings or whatever.

I think I would look for, in places where there's been traditional dissident activity in the south, in the north, that that might increase, that there might be a degree or encouragement, might be acts of sabotage. I think those are the kinds of things you could possibly see that show a greater degree of loss of control.

  • Q: General, Senator McCain, a Vietnam era fighter pilot, suggested on the Hill the other day that perhaps you ought to take out some of these airfields where these planes are flying from that are violating the no-fly zone. What's your reaction to that?
  • A: Well, the first point I would make is we are taking action based on what Saddam's doing. I just mentioned that we have asked for additional assets. I mentioned that we have made adjustments in our tactics, in our procedures, the way we package forces going in. It isn't that we have done nothing.

Obviously we have rules of engagement that allow us to react not only to a hostile act, but even hostile intent. If we get illuminated, if we see a plane coming at us, it's clearly identified as, by our battle management birds, that we have a fighter moving in. We take the shot, we've done that, so we've been very proactive.

To take the additional step to go beyond that obviously is a policy decision. If that were made, we could execute that, but right now, given the situation that we have, we feel confident that we've made the adjustments to handle it.

Q: General, the eight CJs you want to bring out, those are radar killing airplanes.

A: Right.

Q: Does that imply you expect the duration of these cat and mouse, in and out incursions to be fairly long term?

A: The reason is that as we fly into there we want to make sure we have a robust capability in this area and coverage. We always go in with those kinds of airplanes covering our packages. We want to do this now with more. The SAMs in the area are moving around. There's more surface-to-air missile activity. So prudence calls for us to provide additional capabilities to counter that with deep strike.

Q: How about more Rivet Joints to help pick out the electronics on the ground?

A: Well if you look at our tankers and additional tankers requested, this allows us to keep what we have up longer, and maintain a longer stretch on the intelligence and reconnaissance kinds of needs we have. So that's supportive of that kind of requirement. Rather than additional planes, the tankers give us the ability with what we have out there to maintain those longer.

Q: General Zinni, going back now to the end of DESERT FOX, can you just reconstruct for us what made you decide to cut it off at that 70-hour point? What did you see that made you say that's enough, that's sufficient? And why did you decide not to recommend to carry it on further?

A: We looked at the critical targets and the critical elements as we knew them. We had targets we needed to restrike right up to the last night. I really looked hard at the restrikes and the initial reports we had back. I felt at that point on the first cut we had achieved what we had set out to do. We had a degree of success that we could ascertain at that point that met our requirements. I didn't see the need to go on beyond that. Going on beyond that we would have put, you know, more bombs on targets we had already hit. We had known by then, obviously, that there was dispersal that had occurred, as I mentioned. There was more dispersal going on during the daylight hours. We were not in a position where we were going to get much more effect unless we began to change the way we did it and add additional assets and really begin to change the mission. I thought I wanted to, obviously wanted to, stay within the parameters of the mission.

So when asked that night as to whether we needed to go beyond that, I felt that we didn't, given the mission we had, and the military tasks, and what we'd achieved.

Q: Did the United States have access to any of the real time intelligence information that would have been conveyed by UNSCOM eavesdropping equipment or surveillance cameras either during the strike or after the strike?

A: Not directly to me.

Q: Did you know where Saddam Hussein was at the time of the airstrike?

A: No.

Q:...an uprising in the southern part of Iraq. What would you do? What are your orders and what is your inclination?

A: Well, any action... I would infer from your question, would we support it or would we act on it? Obviously, I don't have the authority for that. That would have to be a presidential decision to take any action.

Q:...standing guidance?

A: We have the plans for everything, but no...

Q: Have the French...

Q: Can I follow up? Just very quickly, could I follow up on that? To reverse that question, if the Iraqis should launch a major offensive or action against the Shiites in the south, what are the rules of engagement there? What are...

A: Well the first thing, if it were major, that assumes he would have to bring additional forces in. He would be in violation of the no-drive zone. If they were air forces, he'd be in violation of the no-fly zone. So he would be in violation of sanctions enforcement of UN resolutions to begin with. That could be perceived even as a threat to Kuwait, you know, and we're obviously committed to the defense of Kuwait. So I mean the rationale, if I get your question, the rationale for taking action would be based on those.

Q: Have the French stopped flying missions in the southern no-fly zone? And are they being denied access to the headquarters in Riyadh?

A: They have stopped flying Southern Watch, awaiting a political decision as to whether they continue. And based on that, since they've stopped flying, they are not obviously being pre-briefed, or there's no requirement for them to be involved in Southern Watch planning. So they're not.

Q: During DESERT FOX you did not target the regular army at all. In fact, you gave them propaganda leaflets saying we're only after the friends of the regime.

Does the regular army in your judgment have the military capability, should it have the motivation to do so, to take on the Republican Guards, to take on Saddam and actually topple him?

A: Obviously we were after two things. One was to keep the regular army out and the other was to minimize any civilian casualties which, by the way, was a measure of success, and we felt very confident in that we achieved that.

The regular army outnumbers the Republican Guards. They're not as well equipped, not as well trained, not as well manned. I think the Regular Army has a problem, too, not only of the quality of the Republican Guard, although smaller, it's also the pressure that's put on them. It's obviously, the Special Republican Guard, the security services, the welfare of their own families. There are many ways, many subliminal ways I think that threats are conveyed to anybody in the regular army that would mean to uprise.

Physically, in terms of raw numbers -- tanks and all that -- the capability is there. The ability to pull that all together and to have the qualitative edge and then to ensure loyalty throughout the ranks and not the pressures from threats to family members and other things that happen from secret police, Mukhabarat or others, that's a different question.

Q: General, what is your response to some of these reports from the UN relief agencies who say they have seen what looked like damage done to civilian facilities?

A: The UN asked immediately after DESERT FOX to go in and see any claimed collateral damage. They were denied by Saddam Hussein. They made their request, and initially they had started in at 24 hours. They were cut off. That request still stands. It has not been approved. I notice CNN has not been able to get in or see any of that, or anybody else that has coverage in the region. So he's made these claims, but it's been denied for media or for the UN.

These claims are not coming from eyes on the site. We've looked very hard to our intelligence to see if these claims are valid. We have not seen any of this.

Press: Thank you very much.

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