(Also participating was Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, vice director for operations, J-3, Joint Staff. Slides from today’s briefing are available at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Apr2003/g030410-D-6570C.html. Photos from today's briefing are available at http://www.defenselink.mil/photos/Apr2003/030410-D-9880W-048.html and http://www.defenselink.mil/photos/Apr2003/030410-D-9880W-013.html.)
Clarke: Good afternoon, everybody. As the statues of Saddam Hussein fall in Baghdad, hopes continue to rise for the people of Iraq. The enemy is surrendering and scattering, but not everyone, and not yet. The fate of Saddam Hussein himself is not clear, and some of his supporters may be willing to go down with him. We continue to search for the remaining enemy in Baghdad and elsewhere. Troops had a fierce fight in north-central Baghdad within the past 24 hours, leaving at least one Marine dead, and we may well face more tough fighting ahead.
The firefight reminds us that in any war, victorious or otherwise, there is a price to be paid. And in the last few days, seven Army soldiers, seven Marines, and one airman have lost their lives. We respect and honor those brave Americans who have paid the price on the battlefield so their fellow citizens can live in peace and freedom.
There have been some concerns continued to be expressed about a possible humanitarian crisis in parts of Iraq. As Secretary Rumsfeld said yesterday, the Iraqi people were already suffering before this war started. Saddam Hussein had oppressed and abused his people for many years. The war didn't launch a humanitarian crisis, it is ending one, however. Free of the Iraqi regime, the people and the economy will have a chance to recover and grow.
The coalition is giving the Iraqi people substantial amounts of food and medical aid. The British ship Sir Galahad unloaded 200,000- plus tons of food, water and medicine at the port of Umm Qasr. The United States sent off two ships from Galveston, with a total of more than 50,000 tons of wheat for Iraq. Australia is shipping 100,000 tons of wheat, and President Bush and Prime Minister Blair have called for the United Nations to restart the oil-for-food program for Iraq to get more aid to the people immediately.
Let me just walk through a few of the key areas of Iraq and give you a sense of what is going on.
In Umm Qasr, the water supply is above prewar levels, as the secretary said; electricity is restored; sufficient food is readily available. The medical facilities are sufficient and operating. The United Nations Children's Fund is providing medical supplies to Umm Qasr. The Czech Republic, a coalition partner, is setting up a hospital for enemy prisoners of war in Umm Qasr. A hospital ship from Spain, another coalition partner, has arrived there, carrying food and medical supplies.
In Basra, food supplies are sufficient; electricity has been restored; piped water is available to 60 to 80 percent of the city, water is being trucked to the suburbs, and supplies are adequate; the medical facilities are functioning at prewar levels.
In Nasiriyah, also, the food supply is sufficient. However, water is in limited supply, the electricity is not operating well, and health care is rudimentary. The first Marine expeditionary force is providing medical support to the population of Nasiriyah, and the United States Agency for International Development is also providing health kits, enough basic health supplies for 5,000 people for three months.
In As Samawa, citizens tell us they have stockpiled two to three months of food. We're delivering water supplies and are working to get their water and electricity service back to normal. The medical situation there is still being assessed.
In An Najaf, there are no reported shortages of food, and we're working to restore the water and the electricity. The main hospital there is fully operational. On April 7th, an 18-truck relief convoy arrived in An Najaf, coming from Kuwait. The cargo included water, food, and medical supplies provided by the Kuwaiti Joint Red Crescent Society. Kuwait is providing humanitarian aid literally every day to the people of Iraq.
In Baghdad, the food is adequate. Hospitals are operating at reduced rates, with a large patient load at some hospitals and not at others. Power is down in some parts of the city, but emergency power is going to critical facilities. Their water supply is in no immediate crisis in Baghdad.
In northern Iraq, water, electrical, food, and medical service all remain at prewar conditions. Five UNICEF trucks carrying 31 tons of hospital equipment and supplies are headed toward northern Iraq, and another 11 UNICEF trucks are destined for southern Iraq.
The food supplies are expected to last for some time but, obviously, we remain concerned, and that's why we are working so hard with our coalition partners to make sure the Iraqi people get what they need.
McChrystal: Thank you, Ms. Clarke.
Operation Iraqi Freedom continues. As Ms. Clarke mentioned, and as the secretary and the chairman clearly stated yesterday, the conflict is not over. Since the Saddam statue was toppled yesterday, two U.S. servicemen were killed and several dozen injured in firefights throughout Baghdad and around the country. We continue to discover weapons caches and military equipment hidden and abandoned. Death squads still pose a threat. And there's still coalition forces fighting organized resistance in the north near Tikrit and Mosul. We've already begun removing remaining pockets of resistance in the north. Specifically, earlier today elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade entered the town of Kirkuk, meeting minimal resistance.
I have three pre- and post-strike images for you today that indicate the kinds of targets we've been focusing on lately. All three are from the Tikrit area.
The first one is of a Special Republican Guard military barracks. It also housed an obstacle course, a small-arms firing range, and a parade field. The second one is of a VIP retreat house. The residence was used by a small network of VIPs when they needed to move from place to place around the country, while maintaining command and control for Saddam's regime. And the last image is of a facility that was used to jam radio broadcasts of foreign news services and internal groups that tried to disseminate news and ideas contrary to the regime's viewpoint.
And with that, we'll be happy to take your questions.
Q: Torie, regarding Kirkuk, you've said repeatedly from this podium that Kirkuk and the northern Iraqi oil fields are extremely important. You said that, I believe, units from the 174th [sic] Airborne entered Kirkuk today, meeting minor resistance. Our story out of Kirkuk says, in fact, that Kurdish forces have taken control of Kirkuk, under the auspices -- (inaudible) -- U.S. forces. When will U.S. forces take control of Kirkuk? The Turks are quite worried about this, and they seem to feel that U.S. forces are going to throw the Kurds out of Kirkuk. What's the situation there? When will U.S. forces take control of Kirkuk?
McChrystal: Sir, the situation is fluid and has been all day. In fact, Kurdish forces, a combination of KDP and PUK forces, entered Kirkuk earlier today with United States Special Forces with them. Elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, in fact, followed them later in the morning and are now in the city as well. We view it as an important opportunity that was given when regular army forces in the north, Iraqi regular army forces in the north, pulled back.
Q: Do U.S. forces now control Kirkuk or do the Kurds? And the Turks seem to feel that they've been assured by Secretary Powell that Kurdish forces will be removed from Kirkuk, and yet the White House says that U.S. forces were sent to be -- who controls Kirkuk?
McChrystal: I think the situation is fluid. We have United States forces in Kirkuk. We are talking very closely with the Turkish forces as well, as we have been throughout this, as they are a coalition partner.
Q: Is that a battalion-size force, the 173rd, or larger?
McChrystal: Sir, the first element that went in was about a battalion-size force, and then they retain the capability to reinforce as required.
Clarke: And I would just add on, we tend to stay away from words like "control," for the obvious reasons and because these situations do remain fluid, often, for quite some time. But looking at it from the other perspective, the Iraqi regime no longer controls that town.
Q: Torie, there was another suicide bombing in Baghdad today. I wondered, A, if you could give us any detail of that, and B, if you could address the issue of how concerned you are as the organized fighting goes down and the Fedayeen Saddam or whomever does more and more of these suicide bombings in various parts of the country.
McChrystal: Sir, I think we're very concerned about it, because force protection is a complex task, because as you try to allow life to get back to normal, maintaining protection of your forces is increasingly difficult, as we transition from high-intensity combat. This certainly reinforces the danger that will remain.
So we'll have to take all the steps that we do in any other high-threat environment to both protect the population and allow them to try to get some semblance of normalcy, but still protect ourselves.
Q: Any details on the bombing that took place today?
McChrystal: Sir, all I've seen is the initial articles.
Q: It's been several days since there have been reports of chemical weapons. Do you have any update on whether the tests on those weapons prove that there are chemical weapons?
Clarke: No update.
McChrystal: None, sir.
Q: There's a report with the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, embedded with a Marines unit at the Al-Tuwaitha facility, and he reports that a large underground facility has been found there and that he has been told by the Marines of the possible presence of weapons-grade plutonium.
Now, understanding that initial reports are sometimes wrong and you want to give tests, can you tell us anything about this -- what you know about it -- anything that's developing?
Clarke: I really can't. I'm only aware of the report from the embedded reporter.
McChrystal: I'm in the same situation.
Q: Okay. What about the process? When these reports come in, does the exploitation task force then go in right away? How does that work?
Clarke: I think every situation is different. The one common factor is, it takes time. It's hard work. It is a long process. You often have -- in different circumstances, sometimes things test positive, and then it turns out to be negative. We're taking our time and we remain focused on the primary task of winning the war. Doesn't mean we can't do other things at the same time. We do, but we will take our time and do it properly.
Q: Can there be definitive tests on the ground, or do all of these samples have to be sent back to the United States?
Clarke: I don't know. I think different circumstances will be different.
Q: Torie, a question for General McChrystal. General, yesterday General Myers said that there are approximately 10 divisions of the regular Iraqi Army in northern Iraq. Can you tell us, without violating OPSEC [operational security], roughly where they are? Are they around Tikrit or elsewhere?
And perhaps more important, what is the fighting capability of those forces as intelligence analyzers? Are they well trained, poorly trained, well equipped, poorly equipped? What can you tell us about them?
McChrystal: Yes, sir. If you remember, some weeks ago there were also two Republican Guard divisions up north as well, which were essentially backstopping the regular army divisions, which at that time were 11, I believe, in the north, and they pulled one south. They have been viewed on the low end of the spectrum of the Iraqi army, on the low end of readiness of the regular army. And so they have not been viewed as combat-ready as some of their other forces, and certainly less than the Republican Guard.
We have been targeting them aggressively, both from the air and then with the Special Operations Forces, for the last days. And we judge their capability to have dropped significantly, both from casualties and also from people just simply leaving the battlefield.
Q: Are they the last main force, so to speak, of Iraqi troops?
McChrystal: Sir, they are the last significant formations on the battlefield that we're aware of.
Q: I want to go back to the 173rd – (word inaudible). Can you give a sense of when elements of the 173rd will actually seize the oil fields up there? A lot of the world wants to know that. And what steps are being taken to reinforce what's essentially a 2,000-person light brigade? Are there steps -- is the 4th going to go up there at some point?
McChrystal: Well, that'd be a decision for General Franks. I think it's clearly just an option at this point. We have -- and you may have seen -- begun to reinforce the 173rd from outside by air with some heavy forces, and that will continue to the extent that General Franks sees the need to do that.
And, then, as for their move into the oil fields, that's clearly a future operation. They respond to opportunities and to the enemy situation on the ground.
Q: Well, it's an obvious one, though. I mean, in the next day or two, is it likely they'll go in?
McChrystal: I just wouldn't speculate on a future op like that.
Q: Can I just sort of follow on that? The oil fields themselves, sir, have you seen any instance of sabotage in there by the Iraqi regime?
McChrystal: I wouldn't go into detail. We're certainly concerned about that and certainly looking for that.
Q: General McChrystal, understanding that Baghdad is still a combat zone or combat operations are certainly going on there, nonetheless, can you -- two questions. Can you tell us now what the U.S. military task is in Baghdad, in terms of providing security for the people of Baghdad? What will U.S. troops do specifically to help provide security for the people?
And the other question is, once again, as another day goes by, any update on your concerns about the fate of the POWs, since they have not yet emerged?
Clarke: Two very different questions.
McChrystal: Yes, ma'am. We are very concerned about the prisoners of war. We do not have intelligence that I could share with you now. We are working very hard to get that. We believe that now that we are in the city and among the population and, essentially, regime control has gone, that the opportunity to get information about our prisoners goes way up, because as the regime can no longer threaten, we believe more people are available for us to talk to, more people may feel free to give us information, so we're very hopeful about that. But I couldn't share any specifics.
Our task in the city right now is still very two-fold. On the one, we have to defeat those remaining elements of the regime -- some Special Republican Guard elements, potentially some Saddam regime elements -- that are in pockets throughout the city and still fighting fiercely, as we saw from the firefight with the Marines. So that is a direct war fighting task. And then the end result of that has to be a safe and secure environment so that life can get on for the Iraqi people. We have got to be able to secure certain things so that they can get around and do what it is people have to do in a city just to live a life. And that will take some time.
Q: What would you be doing, though? What would -- any specifics about what troops will be doing to provide security for the people of Baghdad?
McChrystal: Well, the first is to get rid of the death squads and get rid of those elements that are threatening, and then to secure key facilities, routes, transportation, and then facilitate -- not necessarily execute themselves -- bringing key supporting assets on line, like electricity and water and things like that.
Q: Thank you. This is a question for Egyptian television. My question is about the power vacuum now in -- there seems to be in Iraq. It is chaotic in Basra, the suicide bombing in Baghdad. Are you concerned about that, the occurrence of such suicide bombings again in Baghdad?
Clarke: We're always concerned about things like that, and -- force protection is so important to us -- but I'd say the situation is erratic throughout the country. In some places, obviously, when you have a power vacuum, some bad things happen, but it happens differently in different places. There are towns in the south, for instance, in which now that the influence of the regime is gone, some of the locals have come forward themselves and started to take control of some of those issues: working with the coalition forces to get the power and the water back on, encouraging the people there, “don't loot.” Some of the clerics have been going out and saying the right things to try to maintain calm. So it's different in different places throughout the country. And we take different steps, depending on the circumstances.
Q: Do you have any clue or any information as to where the top Iraqi officials have gone, the people that we used to see on television screens every day?
Clarke: We don't.
Q: Could you clarify one thing for me, General McChrystal? When you said Kirkuk is a fluid situation, do you mean it's fluid between do the coalition forces have control or the Iraqis, or fluid within the coalition as to who's in control?
And could you explain to us the reason why Military Police -- or why the troops themselves aren't going in and actively stopping looting? The Pentagon or the military's coming under a lot of criticism on that from the humanitarian community, which says it makes it hard for them to do their work and it makes Iraqis feel unsafe.
Clarke: Let me push back on part of this. They have not come under a lot of criticism from the humanitarian community. I think I saw one person that might have been from the ICRC who said they had concerns about their people being in certain neighborhoods because of problems like looting, which I'll let the general address. But throughout the country, as I was just saying, we're working with humanitarian organizations, we're working with the ICRC, we're working with coalition partners to bring in humanitarian assistance. So --
Q: Right, I'm not trying to criticize what you're doing, I'm trying to understand -- can you explain from a military standpoint why you wouldn't want to go in and get involved in that at this point?
McChrystal: I can take that part on. You can't do everything at once, although you try to do as many things simultaneously as you can do safely. Clearly, the focus right now has got to be on getting the death squads and the Special Republican Guard elements identified, and defeated, and out of the city, because that is the major threat. Looting is a problem, but it is not a major threat. People are not being killed in looting. So that's something we have to do as we have the time and capability to do it. Sure, we want the looting to stop, but it's something that will be gotten to.
In terms of the situation in Kirkuk, what I mean by fluid is when I came to work early this morning, it was one situation that has continued to change throughout the day; it has not seesawed back and forth. But the Iraqis owned it when we went to bed last night, they do not own it anymore; the regime doesn't own it, the Iraqi people own it now.
Q: So there's no question that it's not questions between U.S. forces or Kurdish forces?
Q: General, I wanted to ask you about Tikrit. Torie described it as a stronghold for Saddam. What remains there, air defense-wise, ground defenses; what's happening on --
McChrystal: We are trying to figure that out right now. There were some elements that we know that they had positioned routinely around Tikrit, historically. They moved the Republican Guard elements down around Baghdad, so there's not a Republican Guard element there. So we are trying to see whether it's a combination of Special Republican Guard elements, maybe some remnants of other forces, maybe some Ba'athists, Saddam Fedayeen, trying to judge their strength, trying to judge to what extent they have an integrated air defense, although we think we've taken most of that down. I wouldn't -- if anyone starts throwing around "Fortress Baghdad" or "Fortress Tikrit," I don't think we're prepared to say that at this point. But I think we are prepared to be very, very wary of what they may have and prepared for a big fight.
Q: Following that up, you said, I think, if I'm not mistaken, a little earlier that bringing up armored units from the South to the North is an option at this point, I guess, as opposed to a plan. Can you really take on the situation around Tikrit just with those airborne troops you have up there, or are you going to need more heavily armored force in order to tackle what you might be facing there?
McChrystal: I leave it up to General Franks to make the decision, of course. We have the forces that are postured already in Baghdad -- significant forces -- which is a hundred miles from Tikrit. So it's actually pretty well postured. The 4th Infantry Division has largely flowed into Kuwait now. On very short order, they'll be ready to start flowing north. So it gives us even more options, either to use the forces in the vicinity of Baghdad, to use forces from the North, or some combination, which is, in the end, probably what will happen.
Q: Torie, can you say whether there are any plans to start broadcasting from Iraqi TV, rather than Commando Solo?
Clarke: Well, we use every resource we can. I was trying to get more details before this briefing, but we're broadcasting a lot now -- radio and television -- using Commando Solo and those sorts of resources.
Then again, the primary focus right now is finishing the fighting, assessing that sort of infrastructure and see what could be used going forward. But again, it's also transitioning it to the Iraqi people as soon as possible. There's a significant amount – hopefully, we'll have more information for you tomorrow -- but a significant amount of what I would call enhanced Commando Solo-like activity, and we hope to do more going forward.
Q: Has the damage to the TV installations there been such that that's something that would be difficult to do?
Clarke: I don't know that the assessments have been done yet, but it is something we hope to do going forward. It was part of the -- a major element in the strategy was to try to end the regime and do as little damage as possible to the infrastructure, so the Iraqi people can get it up and running again fairly quickly.
Q: Can you tell us a little about the level of activity now in the air and, in particular, some of us -- reporters embedded on aircraft carriers -- are continuing to hear reports about a shortage of tankers, that missions are long because they have to break away from target zones early to get in line to get gas. Is that a continuing problem and have extra tankers been dispatched to deal with it?
McChrystal: I honestly don't know the answer on the tanker issue. We've been flying more than a thousand sorties a day. We continue to fly more than a thousand sorties a day, so there's been no shortage of being able to generate sorties. We have been able to focus -- now that there's less of the regime power available -- we've been able focus more at certain areas, like the units around the Tikrit or the regular army divisions in the north, which allows us to do more damage.
Q: Can you tell us, the photograph that you showed of the VIP retreat near Tikrit, do you believe anyone was in that facility when it was struck?
McChrystal: I don't know.
Q: U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan earlier today said that he hoped to get his weapons inspectors back into Iraq as soon as possible. And he said that their mandate had not finished, had not been -- was still valid. What role do you see for weapons inspectors -- for U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq, given the administration's previous -- given your skepticism over their effectiveness in the past few years?
Clarke: It was less skepticism over the inspectors; it was more the reality of the regime was not going to allow anybody in any numbers do an effective job. So set that aside. What might happen with inspectors going forward, I don't know. I think it's probably better addressed over at the State Department.
Q: Following up on the forces in the north, who exactly made the decision to go into Kirkuk? Was it the Kurdish fighters who saw this opportunity and then the U.S. followed along, or who was actually giving the orders to the Kurdish fighters?
McChrystal: Ma'am, I'd let CENTCOM provide the details on that. Our Special Operations Forces have been with the Kurdish forces throughout, and so they've been accompanying them for the last weeks, in fact.
Q: Is there any doubt, though, that the Kurdish fighters would be taking orders from the U.S.?
McChrystal: I don't think that they are taking orders from United States Special Forces. I think they are working with them. I certainly wouldn't want to give the impression that we are commanding and controlling all of the forces in the north, the Kurdish forces.
Clarke: We'll make -- two in the back, right there, and then -- (off mike).
Q: What access or investigation has there been so far regarding any of the underground bunkers in terms of weapons of mass destruction and/or any injured or dead members of the Iraqi regime?
Clarke: I think going into these structures, they're pretty -- what we've seen thus far -- fairly extensive underground facilities, some at great depth, some very, very complex. But my understanding is they have just begun to start to work their way through some of those.
Tom? Last question.
Q: (Off mike) -- about the significant erosion of the combat power of the 10 divisions in the north. Do you have any numerical estimates on how many have demobilized themselves and gone home, how many have surrendered? In that kind of environment, where there isn't a significant American presence, how do you surrender?
McChrystal: That's a good question. The first one is the issue of what strength are they at. It's hard to tell. We continue to target them with information operations, we continue to target them from the air, and with limited elements from the ground. To get a very precise number would be difficult. But they have been significantly degraded or attrited as time passes.
They're -- how they surrender is --
Q: I mean, is it a white flag, like in the movies? Is there an 800 number? I mean --
McChrystal: No. (Laughter.)
Q: There's a big -- again, in Baghdad, there's significant American presence; there isn't from the north. How -- how do they surrender?
McChrystal: We dropped a number of leaflets providing instructions for how to indicate that you wanted out of the fight. And they included some steps to park your equipment in such a way that from the air it could be so identified, to move away from that, to do some other things which signal their intention not to fight, and they just stop being targeted.
Q: Has that happened? Do you see that in the north? Do you see surrenders like that in the north?
McChrystal: We have not seen major surrenders like that in the north.
Clarke: Thank you.
Q: Torie, could I just get -- just something on numbers straightened up? General, you said that the 4th ID is largely -- has moved into Iraq now and is ready to -- did you say Iraq, or did you say Kuwait? I'm sorry.
Q: Kuwait. Kuwait.
Q: Could you tell us how many forces there are in Iraq now, how many troops there are? You said approaching 125(,000) before. Is it closer to 150(,000) now? Could you give us a number?
McChrystal: Sir, I don't know the exact number at this point. I'd hate to speculate on it.
Q: Could you take that and try to fill us in next time?
Clarke: Thank you.
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