News Briefing with Maj. Gen. J. B. Dutton
(Note: Maj. Gen. Dutton appears via video teleconference from Iraq.)
BRYAN WHITMAN (deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Public Affairs): General, this is Bryan Whitman at the Pentagon. Can you hear me?
GEN. DUTTON: Yeah, I can indeed, Bryan. How are you?
MR. WHITMAN: I'm very good. Good morning, and good morning to the press corps that is here early for them. I know it's late in the afternoon for you.
This is Major General Jim Dutton -- I think most of you may recognize him -- of the U.K. Royal Marines. And he is the commander of Multinational Division Southeast. He last spoke to you actually in this briefing room in August. His command not only includes British forces but also troops from Italy, Australia, Japan, Denmark, Czechoslovakia (sic), Lithuania, Norway, Portugal and Romania.
He is responsible for the ongoing security operations in southeastern Iraq, to include the cities of Basra and An Nasiriyah. And he is, as is our normal mode, going to give you a brief operational update and overview of what his forces have been doing and then is going to take a few questions.
Thank you again, general, for joining us this morning.
GEN. DUTTON: Great. It's a pleasure to be here, and thank you.
You made my first point neatly for me, actually. When I last spoke to you in August, I gave you a rundown on some of the basic facts of this divisional area, and I wasn't going to do that again, because I thought you might want more time for questions. But I thought I would just make a few opening points about topical subjects.
But the first was just to reemphasize how multinational this division is -- 13,000 strong, but only 7,000 -- or actually, nearly 8,000 -- are U.K. troops. The rest are from the countries that you've already named, in varying proportions, going down to quite small numbers at the bottom end. But it is truly multinational, as is this headquarters, with other nations' officers in key positions throughout the headquarters.
Just a word on the referendum because that's probably the most topical thing that's happened recently. It passed off extremely well, as you know, in the whole of Iraq, and of course really well down here in the south. But you could have expected that. I think the real success for the referendum security was the increased confidence it gave to the Iraqi security forces themselves, and through them to the Iraqi people. And I think that will be significant in the way in which the ISF are seen by the Iraqi people in the future. And I'm pleased to say that although the robust security measures that were in place countrywide for the referendum have now been relaxed, there has yet to be any significant spike in insurgent activity down here.
Just on the security situation, I said to you last time that we accounted for about 2 percent of the security incidents in Iraq. It has varied from a low 1.2 percent up to approach 5 percent about two months ago. So even at its worst, this is a relatively stable area in comparison to other parts of the country. We're concerned, as are our colleagues further north, about the IED threat. The last time we had a person killed in an IED was on the 18th of October. There's been one exploded since, but without effect, behind a convoy. There have been 18 killed in this area since the beginning of August. So it is a concern.
We're continuing to support the government and the security forces in their efforts to tackle these attacks, and we're conducting operations both with and independently from the Iraqis to do everything we can to try and reduce the threat from this particular weapon system.
We've just conducted a roulemont of troops here in the Southeast. We've replaced roughly 8,000 U.K. troops with roughly 8,000 others. That is all but complete now and has gone very smoothly.
The last point I was going to make before asking for questions was about transition planning, which of course is a very popular topic. General Casey has said several times, and I can confirm, that like all my colleagues, like all the major subordinate commanders in Iraq, we are developing plans to enable the Iraqi security forces to provide for their own security with decreasing support from ourselves, the MNF. Now, obviously you have to tailor these plans to the area of Iraq you are in. The plans for the South are clearly going to be different than the plans for, let's say, Baghdad or Al Anbar province. But we are working well within the overall intent from the coalition commanders. And, of course, even as we start the drawdown, we will still be available here in the country to deal with the most serious security situation, should that be necessary. So there's still a lot of work to be done throughout Iraq and still down here in the south as well, in terms of security sector reform and in assisting in reconstruction.
How will it take? It partly depends on the Iraqis, and I hope that a stable government after the elections in December will speed up this process markedly. But as you've heard recently from the British prime minister downwards, the U.K.'s policy is to support the Iraqi security forces for as long as required but not for a day longer.
So that's all I wanted to say to start off with, Bryan. I'm very happy to answer questions.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, thank you very much, General. We'll get right into it here, and start with Charlie.
Q General, Charlie Aldinger with Reuters, two quick questions. Have you -- there's always interest on the movements along the border there with Iran. Have you seen any increased movement of foreign fighters or any movement of foreign fighters in recent months across the Iranian border, or more importantly movements of arms, sophisticated weaponry, explosives?
GEN. DUTTON: Yeah, certainly we've seen movements of explosives across the border, indeed. I think when I last spoke to you, there had been a large interdiction by the Iraqi Department of Border Enforcement Police a few days before, and they had picked them up about five kilometers west off the border. So certainly there is movement. We, along with the DBE and the Coast Guard and Inland Waterways Department Police, are doing all we can to try and interdict this supply. It's quite difficult. It's a long and difficult border to police, and one of the problems is it only has one legal border crossing between the Gulf and Baghdad at a place called Shalamchah, which is just northeast of Basra's town.
There are of course lots of good reasons for Iraqis wanting to travel to Iran and Iranians wanting to travel to Iraq, and it does make it extremely difficult for them to do so legally. And so we are pursuing with the Iraqi authorities the possibility of opening at least one other border crossing, so that could then better police the illegal crossings.
Q Just to briefly follow up. Could you give us any examples of recent discoveries of arms moving across the border?
GEN. DUTTON: Well, the -- we're not regrettably capturing these arms as they come across the border. That's what we would like to do. But I think you'll know from other reporting that the IED explosions, particularly the advanced technology ones, we believe the technology certainly is coming from across that border. And you will have heard that from political sources, and you wouldn't expect me to go into great details about how we know that. But we're pretty convinced that that is where these things are coming from, and we're trying to tackle that, of course, on a number of levels. We would like to interdict it on the border. But as I've just explained, it is a difficult border to police. But we are working on assisting the Department of Border Enforcement to make that a more effective operation.
But we're also attempting to pick up those who are -- those who are perpetrating these acts because, of course, these are Iraqis that are attacking us, not Iranians, even though the wherewithal may be coming from that direction. So we're attempting to pick up these people in search and detention operations here in the south. And we have had some success in that.
Q A follow-up. When you say technology moving, are you talking about already built, shaped charges, charges, that kind of thing? What do you mean by technology moving? Are you talking about bombs that have already been made or --
GEN. DUTTON: I think we're not -- we're not completely certain where the manufacture takes place. We know where the technological know-how comes from, and we suspect where the parts come from. Where they're actually put together is something that we're working on trying to establish. They come in various grades, these EFP improvised explosive devices, from those that could be made in a relatively simple workshop to those that would require a reasonably sophisticated factory.
So I don't think it's possible to answer that question in one go. Some are probably put together in country; others may not be. But it's -- I'm not certain of the complete answer to that.
Q Thank you.
MR. WHITMAN: Bob?
Q General, this is Bob Burns from Associated Press. I'd like to ask you about the development of the Iraqi security forces that you described in your opening statement. How much territory is now being -- is operating entirely by the Iraqi forces without support from your forces? And what's the timetable you see for getting them to the stage where they'll have complete control over the next year or two?
GEN. DUTTON: If I could just come at the answer to that question from a slightly different angle, because the situation in the southeast of Iraq is different to most of the rest of Iraq, certainly to the central areas where the insurgency is worse. And so we have -- we are in a situation here now and have been for some time when Iraqi forces take the lead for security. We are not after all fighting an insurgency down here. The sheer insurgency finished in August `04, and since then there have targeted attacks against ourselves and also sometimes intra-Shi'a and Shi'a-Sunni violence. But in general, there is not an insurgency going on down here.
So we are already in a situation in the southeast where the security lead is taken by the police, and when the police need assistance, they call on the Iraqi army. And there is quite an efficient system for doing this, through what we call provincial joint operation centers, in other areas of Iraq called PJCCs, but they're the same thing. And these are where the emergency calls come into, and there are representatives there of each of the emergency services. And we have been mentoring and monitoring and training and assisting these organizations for a long time now, and they're becoming really quite efficient.
So as an example, when we had some violence in the city of Samawa or the town of Samawa, the capital of Al Muthanna province at the back end of August -- at the end of August, this was handled through the permanent joint operations center, actually in the end with no multinational force involvement at all, apart from some aerial observation. And that was at the request of the Iraqi security forces, who were capable of sorting this out themselves, with involvement from the army and the police. I'm not suggesting it is perfect in any sense, but they are improving rapidly. And I think their experience of policing the referendum and shortly the election coming in December will increase their confidence in this respect.
So I haven't quite answered your question because it's quite difficult to do so, because your question implies a different situation to one that exists here in the south.
MR. WHITMAN: Let's go to Pam.
Q General, this is Pam Hess with United Press International. I was in Basra this summer, but unfortunately you weren't able to accommodate my interview requests. So consequently, I have a lot of questions.
I'm interested -- you say that there have been 18 deaths since August. Is that what I heard, from IEDs?
GEN. DUTTON: That's right, 18 since the 1st of August.
Q It sounds like a considerable increase from what I understood was happening there before. And I'm wondering if you look at that and the car bomb in Basra that killed 20, 30 a couple of days ago, whether or not you see a trend? You said you don't see an insurgency there, but do these numbers suggest to you that maybe they should be on the lookout for violence moving -- an organized violence moving down from the north?
GEN. DUTTON: Yeah. I mean, certainly, I'm not suggesting this is an entirely peaceful country, but what we're not fighting is an insurgency of the proportions of further north in the country. I mean, there is Shi'a-on-Shi'a violence that still takes place. And we've seen examples of that, and we saw some in all provinces on the 24th, 25th of August. I think this was OMS versus Badr-Sciri type violence, Badr versus Sadr violence.
I think what was remarkable about that was the speed at which they were able to turn it off, which means that they can at some level control this violence.
There is an element still of Shi'a-Sunni violence. And although we're still not a hundred percent certain who the perpetrators of the bombs in Basra on Monday night were, they bear all the hallmarks of the local Sunni groups. I think the final death toll was 18, with quite a considerable number of casualties and a lot of damage to property.
The -- I think the fact of the matter is, there is no particular appetite amongst Shi'as for wholesale violence amongst themselves. They are, after all, part of the same electoral list for the elections in December. So there will still be some breakaway groups, some hotheads on the fringes, who take part in violence against each other and against us. But I'll come to that in a minute.
But as for Shi'a versus Sunni violence, there is such a predominance of Shi'as down here that although we will see some violence -- and we have done after the bridge disaster in Baghdad about two months -- there was some tit-for-tat violence down here, which led ultimately to the last two VBIED car bombs in early September, or it may have been the end of August -- that -- the Sunnis know that if it came to a real fight, they would lose. And this is not friendly territory for Sunni terrorism to prosper, because of the preponderance of the Shi'a population.
The third violence is against us, principally through these EFPs.
I would point out -- and I can't show you a graph, although I'd like to -- if I showed you a graph of numbers of incidents of violence from 12 months ago, it was extremely high, but the fatality rate for coalition forces was extremely low.
That position has now been entirely reversed. The number of incidents is extremely low -- and I told you the percentages at the beginning -- but the fatality rate is quite high, much higher than it was a year ago, because these breakaway Shi'a terrorist groups -- and they are Iraqis, as I pointed out before -- have found a piece of technology which is working particularly well at the moment. And as I said in my opening statement, we, like the multinational forces in the rest of Iraq, are doing all we can to tackle that problem by both offensive and defensive means.
MR. WHITMAN: Very good. We will maybe let you continue your interview in a minute, but let's see if we can get some of the other people.
Jeff, go ahead.
Q General, Jeff Schogol with Stars and Stripes. You said the money and the technological skill to make these IEDs is coming from Iran. Do we know if the Iranian intelligence service is teaching the Iraqis how to make these roadside bombs?
GEN. DUTTON: The answer is I don't know that. I'm not sure I did say the money, actually. If I did, I didn't mean to. I think the technology certainly, and probably the equipment is certainly coming through there. I simply don't know whether this is Iranian government policy or whether this is simply groups who are using Iran for their own purposes and not being controlled. I'm simply not qualified, and I don't have the knowledge. I wish I had. It would answer a lot of questions for us. But I think we don't know whether this is official Iranian policy.
MR. WHITMAN: Courtney?
Q General, can you just -- it's Courtney Kube from NBC News. Can you just clarify -- what do you mean when you say EFP?
GEN. DUTTON: Oh, I'm sorry. The EFP is -- it stands for explosively formed projectile. It's -- it's -- for those of you who've seen them, it looks a bit like an off-route mine. If you imagine a cylinder of varying diameter with the length slightly more than the diameter sitting on a stand full of explosives with either a copper- or a steel-shaped plate on the front, which, when detonated, produces a slug of hot copper which then penetrates armor protection on vehicles.
Q Thank you.
MR. WHITMAN: Let's go to the back.
Q General, I'm Carl Osgood, I write for Executive Intelligence Review. I think it was in September there was an incident where two British soldiers were arrested by the police in Basra, and then there was -- they were broken out of the prison by British troops. Can you explain what happened, why it happened, and how it has affected your relationship with the Basra authorities since then?
GEN. DUTTON: Yes. I can give you a long answer and a short answer. I'll give you a short answer. What happened was that two members of British forces were arrested by the police. We identified them to the police as British forces and made great attempts, including through ministers in Baghdad, to get them released on the grounds that, of course, UNSCR 1546. It doesn't permit the Iraqi police to hold multinational forces. But they didn't do so. And at some stage during the day, after much negotiation, they were transferred within the police station to militant factions who removed them from the police station. We didn't know at that stage that they had been removed from the police station, and so -- because it appeared that they were now in a hostage situation, we entered the police station with the appropriate but minimum force in order to release them. They weren't there. We found out where they were, which was close by in a house, and undertook an operation to go and get them from there, and did so. So it all ended -- it all ended satisfactorily, and neither of them were significantly harmed.
It affected the relationship with the Basra authorities because the governor and the council broke off communication with the multinational forces for a period of time. We eventually, through both our own negotiations and with the British consul general -- who's rather like your regional embassy officer -- here in Basra, managed to agree with the authorities that this was not serving any useful purpose. And our relations are now back to what they were before the 19th of September, and we have full cooperation, and we are continuing to do our security sector reform training with the police, the army, the DBE, and the other armed groups -- armed security forces down in the south.
Q A follow-up?
MR. WHITMAN: Go ahead.
Q Yeah. Just to follow up, it's still not clear what those two British soldiers were doing when they were arrested. Are you able to answer that?
GEN. DUTTON: No. But they were operating perfectly within the rules of engagement at the time. But I wouldn't want to go into any more details than that.
MR. WHITMAN: Let's go back to Pamela.
Q This is Pam Hess again. In establishing communication again, or your relationship with the Basra authorities, did you change your operations or the way that you patrolled or what you did in Basra and the region at all?
GEN. DUTTON: No, absolutely not. We issued a joint statement of regret over the incident. That was a statement of regret. Clearly, we both regretted the incident had happened. Both sides would have preferred that it had not happened. And that is what we meant by a statement of regret. We didn't issue an apology because no apology was required because we had nothing to apologize for. But we regretted the incident. And that was sufficient to allow the governor and the council to resume negotiations -- to resume normal business with us, to their advantage, of course, more than to ours.
Q Pam Hess again. Aside from this incident, what it reveals is some concerning corruption or entanglement between the police in Basra and I know in Azubair and some other places, and militia groups. What are you all doing to ferret out that problem, if anything? Or is it not your problem to deal with since this is an Iraqi thing?
GEN. DUTTON: Well, no. I mean, it would be really nice to say no, this is an Iraqi problem, nothing to do with me. I think the fact that we are here means it becomes our problem, although there is certainly a very large Iraqi element to this.
We're doing what we have always been doing with the police. And I think I'd like to just emphasize that although I'm not an expert on the police in the rest of Iraq, I don't think there's a particularly unique situation down here in Basra. We have a police force 13,000 strong. The chief of police would like 7,000 in his police force. Only about 55 percent of it is trained, and we are working very hard to train the rest.
We are pursuing what we know down here as the three-point plan, which actually is the same plan that we have been pursuing for some time, even before the events of the 19th of September, which didn't really change anything in terms of our work on police security sector reform.
The first part of that plan, which is the part that I would like the Iraqis to do, which is to get rid of the really bad individuals from militant factions who are in the police force, who are relatively well-known. And we have started that process in a series of targeted list operations and are now holding some members of the police force in detention as an imperative threat to security.
It would be far better if the Iraqis themselves could do all this, but we recognize that this is a difficult time for them at the end of this particular government and before a new and hopefully cross-party government is formed after the December elections.
The second part of the plan is to try to reduce the 13,000 down to a more manageable number, which the chief of police believes he needs. And that's going to require some sort of redundancy and possibly severance package. But we're going to have to be quite clever about how we do that, to make sure those police that are made redundant and given severance pay don't just continue to operate as police, in a rogue sense.
And then the third thing -- and this is the thing that I can make the most difference on here -- is to re-double or re-triple our efforts on training the good ones at the lower level. And I wouldn't want to give you the impression that the Basra police force is a complete disaster. We have lots of evidence to show that much of our training is running extremely well. And at the lower levels the battle groups in both Basra City and the other cities and in the rural areas, who on a day-to-day basis are surging their input into police stations, monitoring what's going on, giving advice, marking them against a sector data sheet, then going back perhaps two or three weeks later to see whether it's improved -- and most of the time it has.
So there is a lot of good work going on. And my belief is that eventually, if we train that level of police officer well enough, some sort of internal Iraqi process will happen. We will reach a tipping point at which the good in the police force, in its own way, pushes out the bad. If we don't believe that that can work, then we might as well stop now. But I absolutely do believe it will work. It's worked well for the army, where the training is going particularly well, and they're now a very capable force. It's worked almost as well for the Department of Border Enforcement. They're the same sort of people. There's no reason to believe why it shouldn't work for the police.
Q Two clarifications. How many police have you taken into custody, and if you could tell a little bit more about when? And is the 13,000, that number, is that for Basra the city or the province?
GEN. DUTTON: No, that's for -- that is for Basra -- sorry, let me just check my figures -- that is for Basra the province. We have 25,000 in the entire AO, that is, the four provinces of the southeast, of which nearly 15,000 are now trained, and we're working hard to train the rest.
How many did we take? We have in detention, in the detention facility that I have down here, 23 people at the moment. I think five or six are actually serving policemen. We didn't pick them up because they were serving policemen. We picked up a group of people in an operation about four weeks ago, and it turned out that some of them were policemen, and they were individuals who we knew to be militants and owing allegiance to factions other than the Iraqi police service and the Iraqi state.
MR. WHITMAN: We're about getting out of time, but Courtney, why don't we let you finish up with the last question.
Q Thank you. General, it's Courtney Kube from NBC News again. I'm just curious if -- yesterday the Department of Defense announced that they were going to create this new joint task force to address IEDs, improvised explosive devices. Is the British military going to have any input into that, that you know of?
GEN. DUTTON: I actually wasn't aware of that joint task force. But what I can tell you is that we are absolutely joined together in everything to do with IEDs. The exploitation of the ones we've found that haven't exploded and also the ones that have exploded, all that information is shared virtually instantaneously. And of course, you wouldn't expect me to go in any details, but anything to do with scientific advances that may enable us to defeat this threat is absolutely shared between our two nations, as indeed are all the much low-tech TTPs, as we call them, tactics, techniques and procedures, that allow us to operate around -- in the roads around here and have a better chance of the bad guys not being able to catch us with an IED. So all that is completely shared, and there are no secrets.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, general, thank you again for taking the time this morning and sharing your thoughts and your insights. It's been very valuable to us back here, and we continue to wish you the best as you continue operations.
GEN. DUTTON: Thank you very much indeed.
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