(Also participating was Maj. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, vice director for Operations, J-3, Joint Staff. Slides from today's briefing are available at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Apr2003/g030402-D-6570C.html
Clarke: Good afternoon, everybody. Progress continues in the war to end the Iraqi regime. As we close in on Baghdad, U.S. forces continue their attacks on enemy forces near Karbala, Al Kut, and An Najaf. Our forces air and ground are performing superbly and continue to degrade the Republican Guard significantly. While we're moving forward we want to underscore again that some of the toughest fighting may well lie ahead.
Yesterday, as you know, coalition Special Forces rescued Army Private Jessica Lynch from captivity by the Iraqi regime. PFC Lynch was taken from a hospital where she was being guarded near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq. She's in good spirits and being treated for injuries. I think we have a video clip. (Pause.)
We're making progress. We salute the Air Force, Army, Marine and Mavy participants for a very successful joint operation, and all of America is thankful for what they did.
As we free our soldier, we are also making life better for the Iraqi people. Yesterday some of you may have seen an Iraqi regime spokesman went on television and was calling for the Muslims of the world to launch a jihad against coalition forces. Saddam Hussein in the past -- who knows where he is now -- has made similar pleas to Muslims on other occasions. But we must not forget that this regime has a history of killing hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Iraq. They killed thousands of Shi'a Muslims who rose up after the Gulf War, and that terrible memory still lives with the Shi'a population today. The coalition forces are the ones helping and feeding Muslims in Iraq. A single picture can disprove a thousands words of Iraqi propaganda. We have several pictures of coalition forces helping the predominantly Muslim populations in southern Iraq. And within just a few days, we expect two American ships to deliver more than 50,000 tons of wheat, enough to feed 4 (million) to 5 million Iraqis for a month.
Furthermore, we are showing so much more respect for the prominent mosque in Najaf -- the Ali Mosque, which is one of the most important religious sites for Shi'a Muslims -- than the Iraqi forces are. Iraqi troops are holed up in the mosque and firing at coalition forces. Against all international laws of war, the regime's forces are using and abusing the mosque as a military fortress. We have not fired back, and we continue to work hard to avoid civilian casualties and protect Iraq's holy sites.
And it's not just mosques that are being mistreated by the Iraqi regime. Coalition forces in An Najaf also found a school in which the Iraqi forces had stashed weapons and many rounds of ammunition.
As they see the end of the Iraqi regime near, more and more people are coming forward with vital information about the enemy. They approach coalition forces and tell them where to look for the enemy and where to look for the enemy's weapons.
The true nature of the Iraqi regime was recently discovered by a man who went to Iraq to be a human shield. This is a quote from Daniel Pepper in the London Sunday Telegraph paper on March 23rd. Mr. Pepper said, quote: "I was shocked when I first met a pro-war Iraqi in Baghdad, a taxi driver taking me back to my hotel late at night. I explained that I was an American and said, as we shields always did, "Bush bad, war bad, Iraq good." He looked at me with an expression of incredulity. As he realized I was serious, he slowed down and started to speak in broken English about the evils of Saddam's regime. Until then, I had only heard the president, Saddam, spoken of with respect, but now this guy was telling me how all of Iraq's oil money went into Saddam's pocket, and that if you opposed him politically, he would kill your whole family," end quote.
The Iraqi people do know this regime the best. They know what it has done, and they are helping bring about its end.
McChrystal: Thank you, Ms. Clarke.
I too would like to add my congratulations to the brave service members who rescued private Lynch last night. It was a well-executed mission that returned one of our own. "Well done" to all involved.
Operation Iraqi Freedom moves into its 13th day since major ground forces moved into Iraq. We're now engaging the Republican Guard divisions defending the outskirts of Baghdad, and irregular forces throughout the south supporting the Iraqi regime. We've moved to within 30 miles of Baghdad, but there remains tough fighting ahead.
Yesterday, coalition aircraft flew more than 1,000 sorties over Iraq. The focus of air operations was on regime leadership targets, Republican Guard divisions and countering missile threats. Coalition forces have fired more than 700 cruise missiles and have now expended over 10,000 precision-guided munitions since Operation Iraqi Freedom began.
I have one video for you today. It's of an F-117 dropping a precision-guided weapon on a surface-to-air missile facility on the southwestern outskirts of Baghdad.
As General Brooks covered most of yesterday's events earlier, I have nothing additional to add. So we'll be happy to take your questions.
Q: Torie, and I'd like to ask the general this, too -- the United States -- the Pentagon has generally described degradation and destruction of Republican Guard forces around Baghdad. Have you seen any sign of retreat or surrender, or are these people apparently fighting to the death, as far as you know?
McChrystal: Sir, it's a good question. We have definitions of destruction within a unit, but rather than focus on percentages right now, what it normally -- to sum it up, what it means is when a unit can no longer act as a coherent element on the battlefield, i.e. a Republican Guard division cannot maneuver as a division, cannot defend effectively, is not effectively able to counterattack, and that's what we're seeing with a couple of these divisions. Clearly, there are pockets of resistance still capable within that organization. And the contact we've seen earlier today has been described as sporadic but not able to stop coalition maneuver.
Q: How about retreat or surrender?
McChrystal: Sir, we are seeing some surrender, but not in tremendous numbers. We are essentially able to move through. It's unclear what is happening to some of those elements.
Q: I want to specify -- play on Charlie's question a second. We were told today that the Baghdad Republican Guard division was destroyed. What are the prospects for cutting off any retreat back to Baghdad of the Medina and the Hammurabi divisions?
McChrystal: I don't want to speculate beyond what I can give you with assurance. But clearly, as we are destroying many of those organizations in place, their equipment in place, as people melt away, it's very difficult to stop very small groups of people. But organized formations would have a very difficult time pulling out.
Q: Can you quantify the destruction that was meted out to the Baghdad division? Were they totally eviscerated, or what -- how many tanks were destroyed? Do you have any --
Clarke: I don't think we've ever used that word again.
McChrystal: I wouldn't dare use that word. (Laughter.) I was warned not to.
Q: (Would it ?) be accurate though?
McChrystal: I would say, incapable of effective maneuver or defense anymore.
Q: But then, if we're on that track, can we go into the other divisions, the Medina Division? What's the perception and characterization of that right now?
McChrystal: If they are not at that point, they are very close to that point. But it's somewhat unclear on the battlefield because there has been reinforcement of the Medina and Baghdad sectors by some additional Republican Guard organizations. So they start to be mixed up. You start to have a certain number of forces within a geographical area. But I would say that the Medina and Baghdad divisions are no longer credible forces.
Q: And General, to follow up, on command and control, are you seeing any more signs of command and control from Baghdad? Obviously somebody's pulling the strings here to move these divisions, right?
McChrystal: Sir, there's clearly command and control evident. There are maneuvers being conducted. There is some level of integrated air defense in the Baghdad area. But having said that, there is command and control, but effective command and control, effective maneuvers is not as evident.
Clarke: And I -- I'd just follow up. We just shouldn't talk about the degradation of the Republican Guards or the progress that has been made, which is significant, without repeating again and again, we really believe some of the toughest fighting could lie ahead.
Q: General, as a warfighter yourself, how would you describe what these Republican Guards are doing? What's the strategy here?
McChrystal: It's tough to speculate what their intent is. Clearly they are arrayed for a defense on the southern side of Baghdad at this point and on the flanks as well. Whether they intend to defend in place or delay is just not clear.
Q: But they -- but they haven't been able to defend in place. They haven't been able to maneuver. They haven't been able to attack, as you say. And if there's the command and control, sporadic as it may be, what do we know about their orders? What are they doing? They're sitting there, sitting ducks, essentially.
Clarke: I'd push back on your characterization, and then the general can follow on. They're fighting. We have superior forces, superior capabilities. The end is inevitable. We know how this is going to end. But they are fighting. They're not just sitting there waiting for this to happen to them.
Q: General, can you comment on reports that possibly there are some regular Army troops or divisions that are also arrayed south of Baghdad, some of these divisions that sort of were not engaged up until now, that they've retreated back towards the city?
McChrystal: We have indications that elements of the regular army have been brought in to reinforce Republic Guard organizations. Interestingly enough, we think that's a sign of weakness on their part. They would not normally match those formations.
Q: Can you give us any details of Jessica Lynch's treatment? She apparently had some medical treatments. Was she treated in any sense well in hospital? And does that give you any encouragement as to how other prisoners of war might be treated, or, alternatively, could they face some retribution for the fact that you've come in and rescued one of them?
Clarke: Nothing to add on to what you've learned before. I'm sure those details and information will come forward when people think it's the appropriate time. She's on her way to Germany as we speak, on her way to Germany for medical treatment there. But that's all we can say about her for now.
Do you want to add anything?
Q: Could you describe the situation on the ground a little bit more? You said that the Baghdad position -- or, they said over in Qatar there's a Baghdad division that's been destroyed, but it's been reinforced. Does that mean that that area, there still continues to be credible fighting, or have U.S. forces been able to move through there? Could you also talk about some Medina --
Clarke: I think he said that we have information that some of the Republican Guard divisions had been reinforced with regular army. I don't know if he specified a particular one.
Q: And could you describe, then -- I think when people hear that that division has been destroyed, people think okay, that's all clear now, they can go through. What's the situation?
McChrystal: I don't think we described it as clear. There's still sporadic fighting. But the elements, the coalition elements are still able to maneuver.
Q: And could you just explain what that means in English?
McChrystal: When you can maneuver, when you have freedom of maneuver, you still have the ability to advance or move to the flanks. So you still have the initiative. And the coalition still possesses that.
Q: But there is fighting there.
McChrystal: There is sporadic fighting there.
Q: Could you give us sort of a bigger picture of what we're seeing happening on the ground now with the movement of the Marines and the 3rd Infantry Division? Is this the beginning of the so-called battle of Baghdad?
McChrystal: I think it's hard to -- it's hard to say exactly. It's clearly threatening Baghdad and threatening the core of the regime.
Q: No, but do you -- should we expect to see any pauses such as we saw before that created so much confusion about what was actually happening, or is this a military action that's going to go on to its logical conclusion?
Clarke: I think there may have been confusion among some. And General Franks will decide what the right steps are and when to take them. But as the general said, we have the initiative.
QI'd like to follow up on the earlier question about this hospital. Could you describe what kind of activities were at this hospital? And secondly, what can you tell us about additional casualties at that site? Were there American casualties there?
Clarke: I really can't add anything to what's been said already, Bill. I know what great interest this is for many, many people, but it's sensitive issues, so we'll just let it come forward at the appropriate time.
Q: Can you address, as we continue to engage these Republican Guard divisions, conditions, what concerns U.S. commanders have? Have they seen any evidence that any of their missiles are loaded with chemicals or biological weapons? Are we concerned about the question of them retreating back into Baghdad? Can you go over some of the -- we know that U.S. forces are still taking the initiative, but I'm wondering if you can go over some of the obstacles.
McChrystal: I think that's a great time to bring up the fact we are expecting, or at least planning for, a very difficult fight ahead. We are not expecting to drive into Baghdad suddenly and seize it in a coup de main or anything like that. So in regard to that, we are paying great attention to their ability to defend on the ground. They may just suddenly be effective on the ground.
Additionally, their ability to use chemical and biological weapons, they've proven it historically. We believe they have the capability now. Clearly, as we threaten the core of the regime which Baghdad and Tikrit represent, we believe that the likelihood of them using those weapons goes up. And so the posture of our force is prepared for that. But if they do use it, what I'd want to stress is, first, it's a war crime, and it will be a grave mistake for either who orders it or the people who execute it, but it also won't change the outcome on the ground. We'll still be able to maneuver. We'll still be able to execute the operations as planned.
Q: As you get closer to Baghdad, can you say what you see the other capital defenders doing, the Special Republican Guard or the security services, how much of a fight you'll see from them?
Clarke: We wouldn't go into any more details than what we said. Some of the toughest fighting can lie ahead, for the obvious reasons.
Q: CENTCOM earlier today put out a release saying that a couple of Al-Samoud missiles had been found in central Iraq. There's also a CIA report that came out in October talking about a whole bunch of different missile production facilities in -- around Baghdad, but also in southern Iraq. Have you hit those facilities at all? And separately from that, have you found any other sort of traces of Scud missiles, either the launchers or anything else, up until now?
McChrystal: We have not found any Scud missiles at this point, nor have there been any Scud launches. We have hit --
Q: (Off mike) -- Scud launches.
Clarke: There have been no launches; we have not found any launchers, either. However, we have done targeting on every known or suspected missile location we could find, to include time-sensitive targeting. Every time we get intelligence on a potential missile location, we strike it for a couple reasons. One, because it's a weapon that threatens our neighbors, but also because of the chemical and biological capability that represents.
Q: General McChrystal, two questions. As the regime feels more threatened, do you have any increased sense of the potential threat to the northern oil wells? Do you feel that they are any more vulnerable now than they might have been? And is there anything you can -- the U.S. military can do to reduce that? And also, as this period -- as you get closer to Baghdad, do you see any -- (inaudible) -- in the Iraqi military command structure insofar as some reaction by the regime to their lack of success? Are they replacing commanders in Baghdad? Are they replacing air defense commanders because they've been so unsuccessful? Anything along either of those lines?
McChrystal: On the second half of your question, we do have a report that the air defense commander in Baghdad was in fact replaced, reportedly for having so many munitions fall back on the city -- SAMs and triple-A guns -- which of course, could account for some of the civilian casualties in the city.
Q: Do you think he's alive?
McChrystal: I wouldn't speculate, ma'am. I wouldn't want to be him, either.
Q: On the question of the northern oil fields --
McChrystal: That's a self-destructive tactic that they could use. We are very interested in preserving that for the Iraqi people.
Clarke: And in the category of the good news that people should be focusing on, the bad things that haven't happened that a lot of people predicted: The oil fields in the south, obviously, being saved for the benefit of the Iraqi people, keeping a close eye up there; the Hadithah Dam. I know with the obvious excitement of the return of the POW, it got a little bit lost. But the fact that we have the Hadithah Dam -- because as we've said many times, the kinds of economic and environmental damage they've wreaked on the country before, the possibility of them doing it again was pretty high. So, there's a very good sign of the progress we're making.
Q: In light of closing on Baghdad now and the pounding the city has taken, are you aware of or receiving any feelers, or are you putting out any feelers designed to encourage an early surrender, capitulation, in an effort to avoid any further loss of life on either side?
McChrystal: I guess I could answer a couple pieces of that, and then ask Ms. Clarke. The first is the pounding that Baghdad has taken has been extraordinarily precise in its nature. So, it has been nothing like what some people visualize the destruction of the city. It has been regime-oriented targets and very carefully done. So certain things have been pounded. But we think those are things that represented regime-oriented targets.
We have been sending messages in a number of ways to the regime that we believe the regime is through. And we've been sending them both in information operations and kinetically. And we hope that they understand that.
Clarke: A couple of things. One, who knows who's in charge? We just don't know who is in charge. We have made it very, very clear what our expectations are. As the secretary said the other day, it doesn't seem likely at this stage that someone's going to come forward.
Q: So you see no sign that anybody appears to understand that their predicament is --
Clarke: Oh, I think they probably understand their predicament. We just haven't seen somebody come forward and say, Let's stop this.
Q: Torie, the news that the Baghdad division no longer exists and the Medina has been degraded so, is that -- is that being broadcast to the Iraqi people, and have you seen any reaction on their part, assuming they know that?
Clarke: We have seen some evidence and information that increasing numbers of Iraqi people are aware of what is going on. And I won't go into too many details of how we know that. But you could -- just evidenced by the people who are coming forward to help the coalition forces, I think they are getting a better sense that this regime is coming closer to its end. So there does seem to be some awareness of this. Specifically about the Republican Guard I don't know.
Q: Well, is there any evidence that -- of groups of people rising up against the regime, or is there -- are there more incidents of Iraqis welcoming U.S. troops?
Clarke: The -- An Najaf. The televisions were filled with it this morning, I think. I know one newspaper I looked at had a front page story that talked about the welcoming of the coalition forces. We have seen what we think is a lessening of the influence of the regime death squads in the southern part of Iraq. And as that occurs, more people seem willing and eager to come out and support and help the coalition forces.
So it seems to be happening. They are -- the bad guys are still out there. They are still putting civilians at risk. They are still putting civilians in front of fire. They are still using civilians as human shields. So this -- I'm sure there is still a fair amount of fear there. But we're seeing it start to move.
Q: As the days pass and you do not see visual evidence of Saddam Hussein, are you picking up any evidence of his existence any more, whether it is in communications that you can't specifically talk about, or anything else referencing him that you feel is credible?
Clarke: I have not seen anything.
McChrystal: Nor have I.
Q: Can I just follow up on the Republican Guard? Can you talk at all about the formations that you've seen in the north and how much you've attrited some of those divisions that we heard were in the north, near Tikrit, for example? Can you give us sort of an around- the-world view of the entire Republican Guard, all six divisions?
Clarke: I think the secretary yesterday was just generally describing just how we'd like to keep it, that the Republican Guard that was based around Tikrit seems to have moved south, which is, again, a sign of something.
Let's do Ivan and then one more.
Q: Thank you, Torie. General, maybe we're reading a little too much into this, but some of the embedded correspondents seemed to imply that elements of the 3rd Infantry have broken through elements of the Republican Guard and are surprised that there's not more resistance. Are you surprised there isn't more? And do you believe that the Republican Guard perhaps is falling back to lure us into urban warfare, where our technological advantage could be severely diminished?
McChrystal: Sir, I'm not sure. I've been watching it very closely, as I'm sure you have as well. One of the thing that I think we all need to remember is, in the period and prior to the period when people were talking about a pause, in fact we were working very hard on Republican Guard organizations with fires, with information operations, with a number of other things. So the fact that the synergism of all of the different arms of our services coming together are having effect shouldn't surprise us.
Are they as weak as we think they are? The battlefield will prove that, but we hope that.
Q: What about urban warfare? Do you think they're falling back to try to get us to fight in the streets?
McChrystal: Sir, I just don't know.
Clarke: And I just want to calibrate everybody again, because as much as we are making good progress, and we are, the toughest fighting could lie ahead. The likelihood that they might use chemical weapons is in front of us now. So I just want to calibrate everybody. We are not underestimating how tough it could be going forward.
I think Cathy, the last one.
Q: Could you shed some light on what PFC Lynch has been going through since she was captured back, and --
Q: -- (laughs) -- what she might expect for the days ahead?
Q: Even if -- even if in general terms, what are the normal procedures that a returned POW would go through once they're back in your control?
Clarke: You know, it'll come forward at the right time. And having a little bit of experience with the POW community, there is great deference given, as there should be, to the individual and to the family, making sure all the medical treatment is appropriately given. So it will come forward. It is a wonderful story. It was a heroic act on the part of many, many people. So we're glad it happened, but we'll just let that information come forward.
Q: (Inaudible) -- that you didn't answer, General. Bill asked about --
Q: Bill asked about missiles. You did say that you'd found no Scud missile or launchers. How about the Al-Samoud 2s? There's a report that the Marines have found two Al-Samoud 2s, and that --
Clarke: Yeah, we've got -- CENTCOM put out a statement on it. Two Al-Samoud near Al Hillah.
Q: They were found?
Clarke: They were found. And they were in violation.
Q: What about (the other ?) POWs?
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