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Central Command Operations Briefing

Presenters: Maj. Gen. John Sattler, Director of Operations, Central Command
April 16, 2004 9:45 AM EDT
Central Command Operations Briefing

STAFF:  I have 9:45 [a.m.], so let's go ahead and get started.  I'm sure a few more will join us in progress.  Thank you for joining us so early this morning.


            Today we have, from Doha, Qatar, the director of operations for U.S. Central Command, Major General John Sattler.  He is prepared today to provide you with an overview of Central Command's area of operation and the activities that Central Command is engaged in in the region.  He'll be able to address specifically Iraq -- I know that you have questions about that -- but, as well, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.


            This is on a phone line, so I'd ask that -- he cannot see you, obviously, so if you would please, when we get to the questions, state your name and news organization so he knows who he's talking to, and to speak kind of slowly and clearly, as the line sometimes is not as good as we'd like it to be.


            With that, General Sattler, I think I'll just turn it over to you.


            GEN. SATTLER:  Well, thank you very much.  And good morning, everyone.  And again, thanks for coming in early this morning to give us the opportunity to go ahead and explain what we have going on out here.  What I'd like to do is just sort of take a quick walk around our area of responsibility.


            Starting up in Iraq, for those -- and I'm sure everyone's fairly familiar with what the force laydown is, but up in the north section of Iraq we have our Multinational Brigade North, which is built around the Stryker Brigade.  Coming down to the south -- I'm sorry, a little south of that, in what we call the north-central sector, we have the 1st Infantry Division operating in the area that starts up by Kirkuk, goes down to Tikrit and moves down to the vicinity of the outlying area of Baghdad.  Inside Baghdad proper, as of yesterday we have the transfer of authority between the 1st Armored Division turned over authority to the 1st Cav[alry] Division, so the 1st Cav Division now owns and operates inside of Baghdad.


            Moving out to the west, we have the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, which runs from right outside Baghdad all the way out to the Syrian, Jordan and Saudi border.  And down in the south-central sector we have our Multinational Division South-Center, commanded by the Polish division.  And down in the southeast, Multinational Division Southeast, commanded by the British.


            Moving over to Afghanistan, we also had a transfer of authority yesterday in Afghanistan, where the 25th Infantry Division out of Hawaii took command away from the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, New York.  We're in the process of turning over a number of battalions also inside of Afghanistan.  We currently have forces in Afghanistan that are performing operations, running between 30 and 40 operations over a 24-hour period along the border region with Pakistan, down along the southern border region and then also in the interior of the country.  So we're quite active also in Afghanistan.


            Moving down to the Horn of Africa, which we describe as the countries of Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Yemen, we have a combined joint task force down there which is, has been engaged there for over a year now.  They're doing great things with the countries I just named, doing training with them, enhancing their counterterrorism capability, sharing intelligence and working civil military operations projects to help those countries, assist those countries, to take on the war on terrorism themselves.  So as we array out our area of operations, our area of responsibility, that's how we're arrayed right now in the global war on terrorism.


            Last thing I would close with is in the course of a 24-hour period we run between 1,200 and 1,500 patrols, combat-type patrols inside the country of Iraq.  That's in addition to multiple raids and offensive operations that can also be conducted during a 24-hour period.  I just wanted to make sure that everyone understands that these are, none of these three operations are in any way, shape or form static.


            So, hopefully that sets the stage a little bit, and I'm looking forward to your questions, please.


            Q  General, Charlie Aldinger with Reuters.  Can you hear me?


            GEN. SATTLER:  I can hear you, Charlie, thank you.


            Q  Thanks for being with us, sir.  Could we go to HOA?  I'm trying to find out if you all have had any engagements at all, any military engagements in that AOR at all? And with whom and what kind of movement do you see in the area, in terms of possibly terrorists or others, al Qaeda in from Afghanistan?


            GEN. SATTLER:  The Horn of Africa -- the combined joint task force in the Horn of Africa works very closely with our maritime component commander to make sure that we shut down the lines of communications that come across the straits and across the gulf, you know, possibly from Yemen or the Arabian Peninsula down into the countries that we call the Horn of Africa.


            All the engagements, all the arrests, all the terrorists that have been brought to justice over the course of this past 18 months in that theater have been done by the host nations themselves.  And that is the perfect solution from our perspective.  If we can work in concert with our coalition partners, share the intelligence, help them do the find and the fix of the terrorists/in this case, the transnational terrorists, and then they do the finish, that's the way it should be.  It's their country.  It's their sovereign territory.  And we've been quite successful.  Without going into numbers or naming anyone, and some of them have been in the press over time, we have been successful with our operations in that area by working very closely with our coalition partners.


            Q  In the interdiction efforts, aside from these dhows that have stopped and seized drugs, hashish and other things, have any al Qaeda or others been arrested on the sea, headed toward HOA?


            GEN. SATTLER:  In addition to when we picked up the dhows, were we -- the drugs that were found onboard the dhows were a by-product of the actual stopping of the dhows.  We had terrorist links, strong intelligence which drove us towards those specific dhows.  And once again, without getting into numbers, a number of those who were picked up on the dhows were just unwitting drug pushers who have been turned over to the countries, you know, in the Gulf region for proper trial.  A number of others have been taken off the dhows and pushed into the interrogation system because of their ties with al Qaeda.  So we have been successful when we stopped those dhows.  Our maritime interdiction has produced both.


            Q  General Sattler, this is Bob Burns from AP.  I have a question for you about Iraq.  Yesterday General Myers mentioned, as others have recently, the problem of foreign fighters coming in from Syria and Iran.  And in particularly the case of Syria, I wanted to ask you whether the Marines out in the west have -- what sort of operations are running to stop that, and whether you're putting more emphasis on that now?  Thanks.


            GEN. SATTLER:  Thanks, Bob.  The Marines had already -- it was well before this.  When they did their assessment of the region, the western sector, the Al Anbar province -- when they did the troop-to-task, they knew that that was a long, large, border region that needed to be patrolled constantly; not necessarily shoulder-to-shoulder, warriors standing next to each other, but a combination of reconnaissance assets, a combination of sensors, and a combination of active patrols.


            They have a substantial-sized force that is dedicated out into that western region that has shut that border region down.  And it's not only at the legal crossing points, where we do have Iraqi border police, but it's those nontraditional or those longtime, deep traditional crossing points where foot traffic and some mobile traffic comes across.  In addition to being able to patrol and find and fix any enemy that are attempting to cross, they also have strong Quick Reaction Forces that are out there, a combination of heli-borne forces and fixed-wing aircraft that can react on very short notice with a very precise attack on those who would attempt to come across the border.


            So is the border totally shut down?  I won't make that statement because it is a large border and at nighttime there's a lot of wadis and places where individuals can go in and work their way across.   But once they get across they still have a vast portion of desert to come through, and we constantly patrol that to either a. deter them because we are out there in such force, or b. catch them and go ahead and bring them to justice.


            Q  Yes, General, this is Vince Crawley with the Army Times Newspapers.  And could you give us how many troops total are in the Central Command area?  And could you tell us how many are at Horn of Africa and how many are in Afghanistan?  And I have a follow-up.


            GEN. SATTLER:  Okay, I'll give it a shot here.  I would say all forces -- Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines -- across the area of responsibility, it's probably -- and I haven't done a count on this, but I would estimate between 200,00 and 225,000 total with all those forces.  Inside the Horn of Africa there's probably right around 1,200 that dedicate or focus themselves on the Horn of Africa, and that's a combination of those who would be at sea -- (inaudible) -- in at certain times, and then those that are operating at Camp Le Monier there in Djibouti.  That is a coalition also that's down there inside the Horn of Africa, so that's not pure U.S.  Then we go on up into Afghanistan, the same coalition forces inside of Afghanistan, right now are running right around 12,000 to 14,000.  Without getting into exact, you know, size units and putting and exact number on it, I'll just leave it at that ballpark figure.


            Q  Thanks.  And also, yesterday General Pace said that one of the reasons that the Marines were stopped in their -- ceased their offensive operations in Fallujah was a concern about increasing damage to the civilian infrastructure, as well as harming civilians.  Were you starting to see evidence of that when you made the halt, or had you -- did you halt in order to prevent that from occurring?


            GEN. SATTLER:  Of course urban combat, as has been stated by many folks before myself, is -- it's the toughest combat you engage in.  It's very close quarters, it's high intensity.  You stick your head, go around the next bend, and you can go from calm and tranquility into extreme violence.  There's not much time for reaction.  And precision-guided munitions, it's hard to take out a building with bad folks in it when it's in proximity to other civilian structures.


            At the time when we went into an operational pause, we were asked to do that by the Iraqi Governing Council.  The Iraqi Governing Council wanted the opportunity to go into Fallujah, to go in and talk to the leaders of Fallujah and attempt to work a deal with those extremists, what I would call some of the deadenders, the former regime elements that have no future, especially if democracy and freedom comes to fruition here inside of Iraq, but to go in and negotiate with them.


            The Marines went into an offensive operational pause, but they still retain the inherent right to self-defense, which includes proactiveness; i.e., short offensive operations.  If someone's setting up down the street and preparing to take you under fire, or set up a mortar position somewhere where you don't have direct fire upon them, the Marines are able to go ahead and take some limited, as they see fit, offensive action to preclude that.


            So we did not notice any type of an increase in collateral damage or in civilian casualties.  But any time that someone may be able to broker a deal, the suspension of offensive operations for a period of time to give them that opportunity makes good sense.


            Q  Major General Sattler, it's Martha Raddatz with ABC.  I have two questions, one a follow-up to Bob Burns' question about the Syrian border, especially in Qusaybah and al Qaim.  I read a report from an embedded reporter the other day saying that the fighting has been particularly intense there, that some of the Marines we're hearing about who have died in the last two weeks were actually up in that area, and I think he referred to it as a "silent war."  Can you give us an indication if the fighting has increased up there, the casualties have increased, what you've been seeing in terms of that?


            GEN. SATTLER:  Sure, Martha.  The -- as I mentioned, the Marines put a pretty sizable force up along the border, realizing that that was, you know, as you just mentioned, coming through that -- up by al Qaim, coming down through that area, which we referred to as a rat line, where foreign fighters or infiltrators could come down through that, then work their way down to Ar Ramadi and Fallujah and eventually down into Baghdad.


            To stop that at the source, the Marines did put a very intense effort, and it still continues up there.  And we had an extreme amount of success on the front side, meaning that we did find, fix and ultimately finish a number of cells that were out there, that were facilitating this type movement or, in some cases -- and I don't have numbers, nor will I get into numbers of some of those who had come across the border to go and participate in the fight.


            When you take it to them up there in that area, or you take it to the enemy anywhere, this is, as we all know, a very dangerous business, and the Marines did suffer some casualties there.  But in the end, they were able to go ahead and calm that area down.  And over the course of the last -- I would say the last six, seven, eight days, we've had some sporadic fighting up in that area, but very limited casualties on the part of the Marines.


            So I guess I would sum it up, Martha, by saying that they realized the enemy was up there.  We took the fight to the enemy, which is our job and our responsibility.  And now that we have done that, that area is -- there is no safe area, but it is relatively -- relatively -- calm, compared to where it was, you know, two weeks ago.


            Q  And could you also comment on these attacks along the supply line, logistics line?  How frequent have those ambushes been?  How serious a problem is that?  And have you seen any U.S. forces in need of fuel or ammunition because of these ambushes on the supply line? Is that becoming a concern?


            GEN. SATTLER:  We obviously keep a real close eye on all the resupply -- you know, the reorder points to make sure that we don't become short on fuel, ammunition, obviously extremely important, fuel, water are rationed.  And we talk and we meet and discuss that within our own headquarters here and also with the components.  And there is no shortage in those areas right now.  I can make that statement very clear.


            The ambushes and the attacks along the main supply route, northern supply route, we take that very seriously.  Any time that you can disrupt a large flow of rolling stock that comes into an area of operations, that is something we need to be concerned about.  But we are currently and will continue to take very strong action against those who would in fact continue to attempt to go ahead and disrupt those supply lines.  I don't want to get into, you know, what type of forces we moved and what type of tactics, techniques and procedures we're pulling together, but the intent, Martha, is to go ahead and clear those lanes up, to eliminate those who would take shots at contractors and convoys, what are not really soft targets, but -- again I'll use the world relatively speaking -- they're relatively soft compared to an armored unit or a straight infantry unit.  Although the warriors who ride in those convoys that come up and down fight extremely well, they can be outnumbered at a point on the road, and it's a long MSR.  But we're taking the appropriate action now to go and clean that up.


            Q  Good morning, General.  This is Sandra Erwin with National Defense.  I had a question about the rules of engagement for the Marines.  You said it was based on self-defense, which I assume that means they would only fire when fired upon.  Can you talk maybe about any specific steps that Central Command may be taking to help the Marines get better intelligence about the enemies because they seem to be in a situation that they're vulnerable because they don't know where the enemies are and who they are.  And are you doing anything to improve that situation?


            GEN. SATTLER:  Sandra, without, again, getting into the tactics, we have a fairly -- we know where the enemy is, we know who the enemy is right now, and we are not hamstrung or hampered in any way, shape or form with the rules of engagement.  The inherent right to self-defense also gives the unit, in this case the Marines -- affords them the right, the inherent right to take action if there's a threat of offensive action on the part of the enemy.  In other words, you don't have to wait for the enemy to shoot or throw the punch to go ahead and engage a threatening enemy set, you know, a group of enemy, an enemy weapons position, et cetera.


            So the intelligence, without getting into it, we're comfortable -- very comfortable with the intelligence and we are -- we're comfortable with the rules of engagement as they stand.  (Telephone rings)  And the intent is to go ahead and let this negotiation process with the Iraqi Governing Council, give that an opportunity to succeed.  (Telephone rings)


            Q  General, this is Eric Schmitt with the New York Times. General Sanchez, General Kimmitt have talked about the mission of U.S. forces around Najaf now to capture and kill Muqtada Sadr. Operationally, though, how will this be accomplished without further inflaming the situation over there now?


            GEN. SATTLER:  I'm sorry, Eric.  I'm in my office and that was the -- the other phone was ringing and I was trying to disconnect it here.  I know you were talking about -- could you please repeat the question?


            Q  Sure.  Just looking at the number of U.S. troops now surrounding Najaf and the statements by Generals Sanchez and Kimmitt that the mission there is to kill or capture Muqtada Sadr. Operationally, though, how do you do that or how could coalition forces do that without further inflaming the situation in that region?


            GEN. SATTLER:  Very good.  What we've done on this up to this point -- we went back down into the center-south sector and assisted the coalition forces there in restoring the rule of law in cities like al Kut, in An Nasiriyah, where our coalition partners did a superb job and continue to patrol and control those cities.


            In the city of An Najaf, we do have a force in the area which -- I don't want to talk about the size of that force, but at this point Sadr continues to marginalize himself.  He has not drawn onto the -- the Shi'a population has not rallied around him.  He has had his -- I believe his day in the sun.  He continues to marginalize himself, and we are at this time, although there's still a warrant out for his arrest -- you know, that's an Iraqi warrant not a U.S. warrant out for his arrest for the murder of al-Khoei -- we're not applying, at this time -- moving any offensive operations into An Najaf.  So Sadr is there.  We know where he is.  But right now we're letting him continue to marginalize himself and we're not focusing any combat power or combat operations into An Najaf.  But we do have forces present to make sure that we keep the situation stable.


            Q  General Kimmitt, this is Kathleen Koch with CNN. What additional risks do the Marines around Fallujah face as this operational pause continues?  If you could explain to us -- we're being told that there is a limit in how long this operational pause can be allowed to continue, so if you could detail what risks, additional risks do you believe the Marines face as this pause continues.  And also, what additional risks do you believe that the populous of Fallujah faces the longer we wait?  And also, can you tell me if in the last 24 hours or 48 hours any significant-sized weapon, 2,000-pound bomb has been used at all in Fallujah?  There were some reports of that.


            GEN. SATTLER:  Obviously it's risky business.  It is a combat zone over here.  You know, we attempt, as we always do, to mitigate risks as much as possible and then we move out to go and perform the mission.  In this particular case the mission for the Marines is to go in and continue the cordon of the city of Fallujah, to maintain their positions where they are.  And they are -- I mean, again, I keep using the word relatively, but they have the ability and they continue to improve the positions that they're in, even though they're there for what we would expect to be a temporary period of time.


            Again, I do not want to attempt to guess how long the negotiation process will move on.  But we must give that the opportunity to run its course.  If it does run its course and those that are in the town decide to go ahead and surrender, keep it in mind our goal is not to -- it's not to capture the town of Fallujah.  Our goal is to go and free the town of Fallujah, to go in and eliminate those fighters, foreign fighters, those extremists that are in the town that have taken it away from those who reside there.  We want to make sure that we give the negotiations the opportunity to succeed.  I do not believe that the Marines are being exposed to any undue risk at this time, but once again, this is a combat zone and it's risky business.


            Q  Hello, this is (inaudible) from AFP.  Again, I have another question on the foreign fighters that have been arriving.  I was wondering if as a result of that you're seeing a higher degree of sophistication or maybe coordination in the attacks?


            GEN. SATTLER:  I can't identify or tell you, you know, how many foreigner fighters or who they are at this time.  We can identify that the enemy we're fighting is -- you know, they're fighting a pretty tough fight.  On some occasions we have noticed that they are a little more coordinated than they have been in the past, but that's to be expected over time.


            So I think that -- you know, we have the force set the way we need it to be set.  We have additional forces, if in fact they would be required to move in.  And we're very comfortable with the way that we are set right now across the entire country of Iraq.  I know we've been focusing on Fallujah, but all the way out to the west in the western sector, up to the north and down to the southeast, we feel that we have the forces arrayed appropriately now that -- and we're prepared for the next move.


            Q  General, this is Jeannie Ohm with NBC News.  Going to Afghanistan, can you explain why there's been a buildup, why now, with coalition and U.S. forces?  And do you remain as confident in your search for Osama bin Laden, that he will be found perhaps in the coming months?


            GEN. SATTLER:  There has not really been a large buildup of forces inside of Afghanistan.  We've continued to run operations, you know, throughout Afghanistan over the course of the last years.  I know there's been a lot of focus and a lot of hype on upcoming offensives, but we have run multiple offensives up, you know, back in the winter, and we continue to run them throughout the year.


            There's a -- you know, there's not just the al Qaeda, but the Taliban and the HIG [Hezbe Islami Gulbuddin], the three insurgent elements inside of Afghanistan that we're constantly in hot pursuit of, that we -- again, we develop intelligence, we do precision attacks.  We continue to restore the -- you know, the rule of law inside of Afghanistan.  So although we're doing some operations along the Pakistani-Afghanistan border, and the Pakistanis are performing their own operations on their side of the border, so it's only prudent that if they were working through the federally administered tribal area along the border, that we would be positioned with our forces to ensure that if any of those individuals came from Pakistan into Afghanistan, that we would be set to ahead and block their movement.  So there are constantly -- we are constantly conducting offensive operations.


            And I know that everyone's aware we did bring in the Marine Expeditionary Unit, so that was the one additional force that came in. But that was to permit us to go ahead and do some additional operations a little bit later on.


            So that -- I guess what I would say is we've been very active up there.  It just has not been in the press or in the media as much as Iraq.


            STAFF:  We've got time for probably two more.


            Q  General, this is Lisa Burgess with Stars and Stripes.  You were talking about the transfer of operational control or control between 1st Armored Division to the 1st Cav.  The 1st Armored Division's been extended.  How does that work when you have two major forces in the same operational area?  How do they share that control when they're in that type of situation?


            GEN. SATTLER:  That's a very good question.  Once they do the transfer of authority, what we do is we move -- the 1st Armored Division moves out of that Baghdad sector to be positioned in a location designated by General Sanchez.  And the 1st Armored Division then becomes another maneuver element for Lieutenant General Sanchez to use, to do multiple -- and as everyone knows, it's one extremely fine combat unit with a lot of combat experience, a very tough unit that can take on just -- it can take on any mission that we want to push it into across the country.


            So what we do is we turned over -- the Baghdad sector was turned over formally to the 1st Cav, and then the 1st Armored Division has in fact moved out and is positioned in areas, which I won't go into. They're already conducting operations and prepared to conduct additional operations.


            Q  General, Charlie Aldinger, Reuters.  Following up briefly on the questions about Syria and the rat line, would you say that in recent weeks that you've increased pressure and have slowed, if not -- you made clear that you can't cut it off completely, but do you believe that in recent weeks you've slowed the infiltration of these foreign fighters from both Syria and Iran?


            GEN. SATTLER:  Yes, I would say that.  When we swapped out -- when the Marines came into the west, they brought a larger force in than the one that they replaced, the warriors from the 82nd Airborne Division.  Because they brought in the additional -- when they did the troop-to-task, when they went out and did their reconnaissance, they had made a conscious decision to bring more so they could in fact work that border region very hard.


            So I would say because they did have more forces and because the way that we continue to use our reconnaissance asset and our combined arms, that they have been able to shut down -- they have been able to make that border region tighter.


            Q  And Iran?  And infiltration from Iran, too?


            GEN. SATTLER:  We have always worked hard along the Iranian border.  It goes all the way from, you know, the 1st Infantry Division to the Polish division down to the British division.  We have worked that hard.  There has been an operation that's been going on for six or seven months to keep those border regions tight, Operation Chamberlain, and it continues.  Oh, the -- yes, we have also kept that border region all along the Iranian border shut down pretty tight also.


            Q  General, just one last quick clarification from Eric Schmitt again.  Can you quantify how many more forces the Marines have up on that Syrian border area than the 82nd had?


            GEN. SATTLER:  I -- no, I really don't want to go into troop strengths because of the sector and because of everything that's going on.  And Eric's got a good question, but just for our operational OPSEC [operational security] I -- you know, we talk about the macro numbers inside the country, but I really don't want to get into the actual breakdown of forces in the individual sectors.


            Q  So, in order of magnitude, is it twice as large or 50 percent as large or --


            GEN. SATTLER:  You're killing me.  I would say that -- you know, I really don't want to -- I'm kind of walking a fine line here and I think I've been fairly candid up to this point.  I would say that, let's see, it's at least -- I'll tell you it's larger than a third. They brought in larger than a third of the force that they replaced.


            STAFF:  All right, General Sattler.  We're going to let you go now.  As you know, the rule is that the last question can always be the one that gets you.  (Laughter.)  So I think before we press you on that point, we just want to thank you for taking the time.  I know this was rescheduled a couple of times, and we really do appreciate you making time on your schedule to do this and hope that we can do it again soon.


            GEN. SATTLER:  Yeah.  And if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to thank -- there's a number of folks who asked questions today that I've seen out here.  And just to stress the fact that how much it means to the folks who are deployed out here, especially those who are in Iraq and Afghanistan, down in the Horn of Africa, when you take time out of your busy schedules to go hear their story and to give us the opportunity to tell the entire story, that means a lot.  So thanks a lot for those who have come out, and we'll look forward to seeing everyone out here again, hopefully real soon.


            STAFF:  Very good.  Thank you, sir.



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