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News Transcript

Presenters: Victoria Clarke, ASD PA
April 14, 2003 1:30 PM EDT

(Also participating was Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, vice director for operations, J-3, Joint Staff. The slides and photos from today’s briefing are available at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Apr2003/g030414-D-6570C.html, http://www.defenselink.mil/photos/Apr2003/030414-D-2987S-046.html, http://www.defenselink.mil/photos/Apr2003/030414-D-2987S-060.html, http://www.defenselink.mil/photos/Apr2003/030414-D-2987S-070.html .

CLARKE: Good afternoon, everyone. We continue to make progress on the war in Iraq. Coalition forces are rooting out remnants of the Iraqi regime, including in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown. The regime is at its end, and its leaders are either dead, surrendered, or on the run.

But progress did not come without great sacrifices. At the briefing on April 7, Secretary Rumsfeld showed a list of those who have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Unfortunately, since then we have had to add more names to the list.

(To staff) Terry?

(Pause while list of names of U.S. casualties is shown.)

War is also hazardous for journalists, as we know. At great personal risk, many of them have reported the conflict first-hand. We salute these professionals and offer our condolences to their families.

(Pause while list of names of journalist casualties is shown.)

Thank you, Terry.

On the brighter side, we were thrilled yesterday to see the return of seven former prisoners of war. While we celebrate their return, we are still concerned about the Americans still unaccounted for, and we will keep searching for them until we find them.

As we head into the fourth week of this conflict, I'd like to remind you of the eight objectives that Secretary Rumsfeld laid out at the onset of the war.

First, end the regime of Saddam Hussein. Baghdad is largely free of its influence, and so is most of the entire country.

Second, capture or drive out terrorists sheltered in Iraq. With the end of the Saddam Hussein regime, terrorists have lost their chief sponsor and ally in Iraq.

Third, collect intelligence on terrorist networks. As Iraqis come forward and documents are found, we are gathering more evidence.

Fourth, collect intelligence on weapons of mass destruction, the systems and the facilities associated with them. We've begun the long process of exploring sites, sifting through thousands of documents, and encouraging Iraqis to come forward with information. This will take time.

Fifth, destroy the weapons of mass destruction. We will make sure they never threaten the region or the world again.

Sixth, secure Iraq's oil fields and natural resources for the Iraqi people. We have now secured both the northern and the southern oil fields.

Seventh, end the sanctions and immediately deliver humanitarian relief. With the liberation of Iraq, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair have asked that the United Nations sanctions be lifted so that more aid can flow into Iraq. Some places in the country clearly need help, but we see no overall humanitarian crisis and no mass flight of refugees. Most Iraqis are staying in their homes or returning to their homes and have enough food to survive for some time. Coalition forces are working with local authorities and police forces to patrol the streets, and the looting is tapering off.

In addition, the World Food Program/United Nations combined are delivering over 1 million tons of food. This is enough to feed the entire population of Iraq for several months. A relief ship from the United Arab Emirates is on the way to help the Iraqi people. It is carrying 700 tons of boxed rations, bottled water, family first aid kids, four water tankers, an ambulance, two trucks, two cars and 12 volunteers.

The Japanese have pledged $100 million to support humanitarian relief efforts in the country. And the United Nations international staff is returning to northern Iraq, displaced persons there are returning home, and the water service in Najaf is returning to normal. Medical and other types of aid are also coming from Kuwait, Italy, Qatar and Turkey.

And the eighth and final goal, to help the Iraqi people transition to a non-threatening, representative form of self- government that preserves the territorial integrity of Iraq. We are working with clerics, tribal leaders and ordinary Iraqis. Many will meet tomorrow, April 15th, in An Nasiriyah to discuss the future of Iraq and the Iraqi interim authority. This will be the first of several meetings as the Iraqi people chart their future free of the oppressive Hussein regime.

General.

MCCHRYSTAL: Thank you, Ms. Clarke.

Operation Iraqi Freedom continues. I'd like to welcome back the seven former prisoners of war, who are now safe and will soon be on their way home. I have some footage I don't believe you've seen yet on their return. (Video shown.)

On a sad note, I'd like to express my condolences to all the families who have lost loved ones in combat. As we return Iraq to its people, there's been remarkable progress, but we need to remember that true American heroes gave their lives in this effort.

We in uniform also send our regrets to those journalists who lost their lives covering this effort to disarm Iraq.

Coalition forces are still patrolling Iraq with due diligence. Our air sorties have decreased over the last few days to about seven (hundred) to 800 sorties over Iraq per day. We dropped less than 200 precision-guided munitions in the last 24 hours to support our operations on the ground. In fact, today was the last day that aircraft from all five carrier battle groups will fly missions into Iraq. And as the 5th Fleet commander mentioned over the weekend, a couple of them will be departing the region over the course of the next few days.

On the ground, coalition forces are continuing patrols throughout Iraq. And as I've said before, there's still more difficult and even dangerous work to be done. We're working to create an atmosphere in which the Iraqi people can begin to govern themselves.

And with that, we'll be happy to take your questions.

CLARKE: Charlie?

Q: Torie, the Bush administration gave as one of the main reasons for attacking Iraq that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons, and that it was a state that supported terrorism and unveiled why there was a likely chance that these weapons had fallen into the hands of terrorists. Now, the United States has increasingly in the past week said that Syria contains -- it has such weapons, and that Syria's a state that supports terrorism. Why shouldn't the world take this increasing rhetoric about Syria as an open threat to invade Syria?

CLARKE: Two things. I wouldn't call it rhetoric, I would call it facts. And then, the president, the secretary of Defense, the secretary of State have all spoken about this. Secretary of Defense did just a few minutes ago, when he was with the Kuwaiti foreign minister. And we've got nothing to add.

Q: Well, why -- I mean, why shouldn't the world take this, as much of the world is, as a threat, perhaps, to invade Syria?

CLARKE: I just don't agree with your assessment that this is rhetoric. And there's just nothing to add to what the president, and the secretary of Defense and the secretary of State have said.

Ivan?

Q: Torie and General McChrystal, it seems obvious that there will be no more major, underline the word "major," battles in this war. And of the eight mission objectives, most have now been accomplished. When will this building and when will Tommy Franks advise the commander in chief to declare victory? Is it far away?

CLARKE: I'll take a stab. I'd say we're making good progress on those objectives. I'd say we've got a long way to go on many of them. There are still military operations under way. There are still people doing very, very dangerous work. And I think different people will define it differently. At the end of the day, it's about the Iraqi people having their country back, and the Iraqi people having an environment in which they can get that country up and running again.

So I think you're going to see us talking for a long time about work that needs to be done, and we'll let others decide.

Bill?

Q: With the fall of Tikrit, is the conflict now entering a new phase? And are you looking at the forces there as having a different role, as more stabilization than combat?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, clearly we are moving toward the goal of providing a safe and secure environment throughout Iraq. The anticipation is that that would occur in a rolling nature. I -- from the standpoint it would be at a -- probably at a different point in each part of the country, based upon conditions there.

So I think that as major combat operations wind down, we'll still conduct minor combat operations, to include some sharp fights in areas, and then adjust our operations in each area. I'm not sure it will be so close that all of a sudden we proclaim we are moving from one kind of operation to the next.

Q: Is this considered a new phase of operations that you're undertaking or will undertake?

MCCHRYSTAL: The operation is broken into phases. We're not yet at the point where General Franks would make the decision to transition entirely from one phase to the next.

CLARKE: And it may be entirely possible it's different in one part of the country than another.

MCCHRYSTAL: Yeah.

CLARKE: Right here.

Q: Yeah. Torie or General, has there been a change in Pentagon policy in terms of repatriated POWs? In the past, we have seen, when POWs have been released, that they go sort of into seclusion, if you will, till they can talk with doctors and really readjust, to get back into the world, if you will. But we've seen with -- in the case of Jessica Lynch, who got to speak to her parents, and also yesterday, when there were actually reporters on the plane after their release, is there a new policy? And what -- if there is, what is that based on?

CLARKE: I'm not aware of any changes in policy. I know the first and the primary consideration is their physical and emotional well-being, and great care and great attention is given to that. And I am not an expert on these matters, so I'll say this carefully. I also know that having contact and communication with your family can be a very, very important part of this.

And so I'm not aware of any changes in policy. You guys can let us know.

Q: (Off mike.)

CLARKE: But let me just say they take great care and great concern with the physical and emotional well-being of these people, and they would not be put in any kind of situation that wasn't appropriate.

Q: General, you say that there are combat operations ongoing. Can you characterize the type of combat? Are the major battles, are they finished now at this point? Are we just in this sporadic firefight, mopping-up operations in these cities?

MCCHRYSTAL: I would anticipate that the major combat engagements are over because the major Iraqi units on the ground cease to show coherence. Tikrit was the last area where we anticipated seeing major combat formations, if in fact they were there. There were some sharp fights there, but not a coherent defense. So I think we will move into a phase where it is smaller, albeit sharp fights.

Q: And al Qaim out in the west, we heard some firefights there. Are they over? Is that done?

MCCHRYSTAL: I won't say that al Qaim is completely done. I will say that from our standpoint, the regime no longer has control of it. We have not yet proclaimed it secure under coalition control. But clearly, Saddam Hussein's regime does not control it.

Q: I swear -- I promise, this is the last one. Anything on the 101st Airborne Division find of some vehicles underneath -- underground?

MCCHRYSTAL: I saw the news reports of that, and clearly, we're going to treat that very seriously, as you could see from the activity of the soldiers there. But I know no official estimation at this point.

Q: Torie, Secretary Rumsfeld has said a number of times that these people who are going into Syria are Iraqi officials. Could you offer a little more definition of -- for example, are these people who are on the top 55 list? And if not --

CLARKE: I've got nothing to add. You've had the president, the secretary, the secretary of Defense --

Q: I'm just asking -- (inaudible) --

CLARKE: I know. But they've --

Q: Are they on the list or not?

CLARKE: We've said as much as we're going to say right now.

Q: But if they're not on the list, why does it matter if they've --

CLARKE: Mr. McWethy?

Q: Not going to answer that one? Okay.

You have now had Republican Guards by the thousands or tens of thousands, depending on how you count them, sort of either being killed or vanishing. You have had this long list of high-ranking officials that have vanished. Are either of these two categories of great concern, especially the fighters that are no longer there, but obviously you can't have tens of thousands of fighters leaving the country. Have they all had a conversion?

CLARKE: Well, the leadership obviously is a concern, and that is part of our military objectives, is finding the leadership, finding the people who were running and enforcing this regime for so long. And we've had some success; we've got a ways to go. Speculation about what happened to the others, I'll leave it to the general. But we have not seen thousands of people pouring out of the country.

MCCHRYSTAL: And we haven't in the case of the Republican Guards. As you know, there's sort of a hierarchy of loyalty in the Iraqi defense forces, or so we have assessed. The Republican Guards, many of them may, in fact, go home and rejoin society without any issues. We are probably more worried about some of the Saddam Fedayeen, potentially members of the Special Republican Guards. But even within those organizations, many may just decide to rejoin what, in fact, will be a new Iraq. So, we are concerned about it and stay focused on it, but don't have an assessment right now that there is a looming threat.

Q: General, you said there's been some repositioning of naval assets, and that was said over the weekend -- (word inaudible) -- respond to new positions. Can you tell us if there's been any repositioning or if there's any repositioning in the immediate future for air assets, Air Force assets, and are any of our ground forces going to leave Iraq?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, I'll address the air assets. In fact, General Franks is free to make decisions to redeploy those assets that he no longer feels he needs for this part of the operations, and he is doing that in selected cases now.

Q: Do you want to give us any clarity on which squads are being redeployed? B-2s, or --

MCCHRYSTAL: I can't give you specifics on what types or numbers of assets, but clearly, those assets which were focused on a high intensity air campaign would be the most likely, initially.

Q: General?

CLARKE: Wait.

Q: Go ahead.

CLARKE: Quickly.

Q: And the second part of the question is on the ground.

MCCHRYSTAL: We're still early in the ground forces. As you know, we had devised a very flexible force flow that was based to be able to be metered as we go, to either increase or decrease as time passed. There had been no ground units that had been redeployed at this point. We still have the ongoing flow, as programmed, of other ground units, but General Franks and the secretary of Defense continue to review that to determine whether or not that should be adjusted.

Q: General McChrystal, I want you to go to number two again. I'm going to focus on the elimination of WMD. Can you give us a feel for how now the level of effort will increase to go after -- to look after suspect sites? This 75th Intelligence Exploitation Task Force apparently is going to get more involved. And there was a published report today saying roughly 36 suspect sites are being reviewed. Is that an accurate figure?

And for Torie, the scientific adviser for Hussein the other day surrendered and said that Iraq had no WMD program at all. From your perspective, how should the public assess his answer, his claim, given that he's got no reason to lie at this point?

CLARKE: Old habits die hard.

Q: Well, seriously --

CLARKE: Seriously. You're talking about a senior player in a regime that took lying and deception and denial to new heights. So we'll see what happens going forward, but this is a regime that we know and the international community knows, with great certainty, had extraordinary designed to hide and deceive everyone about their weapons of mass destruction program.

Q: Well, what stake would he have? If he said we have -- they have tons, he'd be at the White House today, probably in a Rose Garden ceremony.

CLARKE: I wouldn't even begin to try to get inside his head.

Q: Okay. General, on the whole issue of site surveys?

MCCHRYSTAL: In terms of the level of effort, we have gone in fact, at this point, to a very small percentage of a very extensive list of known locations. And I would expect that that would grow in fact -- the number of suspect locations -- as we talk to more people.

And I would say that as combat operations begin to slow down, that we will have more forces available, and we'll have a more secure environment in which we can get to these locations more easily.

It will still be a very long process, because each has to be handled very carefully, both from the ability to protect the forces to go to investigate, but also for rules of evidence, for other practical reasons, and because of the limited number of experts that you can bring. So I would suspect it will go for an extended period of time.

Q: Is 36 an accurate figure? That was in the New York Times today.

MCCHRYSTAL: I won't talk specific numbers of sites we've been to. But we've been to a very small percentage of those that are already --

Q: (Off mike) -- sites, though. Their list was winnowed down to 36. I'm just trying to get a sense if that's a valid universe.

MCCHRYSTAL: It in fact is not a valid number that I'm familiar with. There are other numbers, but we've only been to a small percentage of those.

CLARKE: It's also not, I don't think, a complete picture to just look at sites and say that's what it's all about when it comes to WMD. It's sites. It's paperwork. It's people. It's documents. It is a very complex system, and so it'll require a long and complex process to get to the bottom of it.

Al?

Q: General and Torie, last week General Myers had talked about -- even while combat was going on at al Qaim, that the forces had visited certain sites of interest -- WMD sites, as I understand it -- and results were pending. Can you give us any more detail on what was found at those sites?

And then, secondly, do you have any reason to believe that any of the WMD components have left Iraq?

MCCHRYSTAL: In terms of what we have looked at, there are no positive results a this point. There are a number of samples that are still being tested. So we don't have positive or negative either way. We have gone to some of the major sites, as I said, and in fact shipped samples back to the United States for detailed analysis.

CLARKE: And I'd say well before this war started, one of our chief concerns was that weapons of mass destruction, the means of producing them, things associated with their program, could be moving in and out of the country to other places, going to other countries and transiting. So it was a concern and it remains a concern.

Q: And you don't know whether it has?

CLARKE: Nothing to share with you.

MCCHRYSTAL: I'd like to add on that if I could. The whole idea of gathering information on their weapons of mass destruction program, we believe, gets measurably easier once we have a safe and secure environment, when we can start to talk to people in Iraq. As more people feel safe and secure that the regime is gone, and we have the ability to connect the threads, it becomes police work.

CLARKE: Mick?

Q: Last week the U.S. military flew Ahmad Chalabi and 700 armed INC members into Iraq. There are U.S. Special Forces deployed with those INC and Chalabi, and today he's on his way to Baghdad. Presumably, he wouldn't be able to do that without the knowledge and support of the U.S. So how can the U.S. military or the Pentagon deny the perception that they are giving Chalabi and his INC members favorable treatment? And if that's not the case, then what, exactly, is this relationship between the INC and the Pentagon and U.S. military?

CLARKE: Well, it's really the relationship with the Iraqi people overall. We've been working with the Kurds in the north, we've been working with the Shi'a, we've been working with and have brought in free Iraqi forces that were trained in Hungary, we're working with local leaders, with tribal leaders, with clerics, with a wide range of people both within and without Iraq. And at the end of the day, what matters and what's really going to happen is the Iraqi people are going to decide the course of action going forward. So I think if you look at the complete picture, the perception's very different. And it's the reality, as well.

Pam?

Q: I think, given all the stern warnings and concerns from here about the treatment of prisoners of war, I was surprised to see that they are in such good shape. And I'm wondering if you could address what you know of their treatment. I mean, besides the televised pictures of them and the fact that ICRC didn't visit them, do you have any evidence that they weren't treated in accordance with international law? And by the same token, could you tell us when we're going to see Iraqi prisoners of war freed?

CLARKE: I don't have information on our POWs, the ones that were returned. I don't. I'm sure that will come forward at the appropriate time.

(Turning to General McChrystal) And on the second? Don't have --

MCCHRYSTAL: There is a process to review all of the prisoners of war under our control and to determine which of those are appropriate for very speedy release. And the secretary has given that guidance and CENTCOM's working it.

Q: So the Article 5, have any of those proceedings happened yet?

MCCHRYSTAL: To my knowledge, they have not. But I am not sure.

Q: A question on the return of the police to the streets of Baghdad. Last week, General Brooks said that they had to be cautious about the use of the former police because many of them were associates of the regime. And yet there was a report out that significant numbers of them have been reporting back to duty and we've been utilizing them. What's the status of using the former Iraqi police?

MCCHRYSTAL: There's an effort ongoing to augment the situation, the security situation in Baghdad and other areas by using Iraqis to help with the policing function. To my understanding, in each case we are still largely in the organizational phase to identify the appropriate people, to do the kinds of checks that ensure that it's a credible and legitimate force. But this will be a long process. This is something we are just starting, and to produce a representative security element within Iraq will be something that takes a long time, and must be done by the Iraqis, in the end.

Q: Are some of those people -- are they considered acceptable to the Iraqi citizens because of their past association with the regime?

MCCHRYSTAL: I'm not sure of any specifics. I would just say that we are going through a process to, as much as possible, balance the requirement to get people on the street quickly, with the requirement to have them be legitimate.

CLARKE: Barbara, and then Tom is the last one.

Q: Torie, General Brooks talked this morning at Central Command about the legal issue of when the cessation of hostilities happens, when the combat phase is declared over, under the Geneva Convention, which the U.S., of course, follows, the U.S. military may have a legal obligation to become formally the occupation force of Iraq and take on the military legal obligations of being the occupation force under the Geneva Convention because war will have stopped. What kinds of obligations does that put upon the U.S. military, and how do you deal with this phase with the understanding that you've always said you're not the occupation force? How do you take on these legal obligations under the Geneva Convention?

CLARKE: I think he also said he's not a lawyer. And neither am I. But there will be plenty of people who will make sure everything we do is appropriate, how we do it and when we do it. As the general said, right now we are focused on primarily the military operations and using those military operations to create an environment in which the Iraqis can get their country back. We could consider and talk to some of the general counsel people about a briefing of some sort if it would be useful. I just don't know enough about it.

Okay? And we'll do Tom last.

Q: Now that you foresee no more major combat operations, do you see a different mix of U.S. forces heading into the region; more Civil Affairs units, Military Police? And also, some analysts are suggesting you bring in international police of the kind we saw in Bosnia and Kosovo.

MCCHRYSTAL: I wouldn't speak to the international police in specifics, but clearly, the mix of U.S. forces will continue to be adjusted. There will be a requirement for combat power for some period of time to maintain or to establish that secure and safe environment. But clearly, the requirements for Civil Affairs, engineer organizations, Military Police, will be significant. And in fact, that's designed into the force flow.

Q: General, will we might be seeing that anytime --

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, in fact, I think you're seeing it right now. As the flow goes, those elements are embedded. We have -- the flow's designed into packages that were, in fact, deployment orders. And although there's a major unit with each deployment order, for example, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment or the 1st Armored Division, that's only part of that package. In fact, that may be 60 or 70 percent of the package, and a number of other forces, echelon above division and echelon above corps units, built into that. And so we tend to say, well, the 1st Armored Division is going, but in fact, it's a much more capable, wider element than that, that include many of the things that were anticipated and that you mentioned.

Q: The 1st Cav., they've been put on hold?

MCCHRYSTAL: There is a review going on right now of what forces will be required. We have --

Q: Does that mean they've been put on hold?

MCCHRYSTAL: There's been no dep. ord. modification signed at this point, so I wouldn't comment on any specifics.

CLARKE: And I would just add, Tom, there are lots of conversations and discussions underway right now with other countries about providing some of those services, international organizations. And there's a lot of enthusiasm from different countries --

Q: This is for police, or --

CLARKE: In terms of providing some of the functions that will be necessary going forward. Obviously, humanitarian on the civil front and perhaps performing some of those functions, as well.

Q: Police functions?

CLARKE: Mm-hmm.

Thank you.

Q: A brief follow-up --

Q: General, is much of the 4th ID now in Iraq?

CLARKE: We're done.

(Question unanswered as briefing ends.)

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