(Participating was Daniel Senor, Senior Advisor.)
MR. SENOR: Good afternoon. General Kimmitt has a opening statement, after which we'll be happy to take your questions.
I just have a few words on Ambassador Bremer's recent activities. Ambassador Bremer continues to work with the Governing Council on the implementation of the November 15th political agreement which lays the foundation for a free, democratic and sovereign Iraq. It does so with a framework and a set of principles and a schedule that includes the establishment -- the drafting of a transitional administrative law and the establishment of a provisional government over the next few months, culminating in the establishment of Iraqi sovereignty, political independence by July 2004; a deadline for elections, direct elections, for drafters of the new Iraqi constitution by March 2005; and then direct elections of a new Iraqi government, based under that constitution, by January 2006.
Against that backdrop, we are told the Governing Council took two very important steps yesterday. One was to set up a committee to look at the process and look at the details involved in the drafting of the transitional administrative law, and two, to set up a separate committee that will look at the preparations necessary for the setting up of direct elections for the constitutional convention, which, as I said, must take place by March 2005.
Ambassador Bremer welcomes both of those decisions as important steps in the implementation of the November 15th political agreement.
GEN. KIMMITT: Thank you.
Good afternoon. I'd like to take this opportunity to review last night's engagement in Samarra. On 30 November, elements of the 4th Infantry Division were assigned to provide security to the Iraqi currency exchange team as they conducted dinar exchange at two banks in Samarra. Coalition forces assigned to the mission were a tank company from 166 Armor, reinforced with two squads of military police and four squads of infantry. They employed eight tanks, four Bradley fighting vehicles and six up-armored Humvees. The total size of the coalition force was 93 soldiers.
The scheme of maneuver for the security element was to pre- position into the city of Samarra in advance of the arrival of the convoy. The plan was for the convoys to enter the city in two elements simultaneously in order to conduct currency exchange operations. The teams would then withdraw with the military police, followed by the security elements.
At 11 a.m., the initial security elements started movement into the city. Coalition forces reported contact with the enemy and the simultaneous explosion of two roadside bombs. The explosions wounded three soldiers, who were treated for shrapnel-related injuries and returned to duty.
The unit continued the mission to set up security in the vicinity of the banks. By 1245, the security elements moved into positions around both banks.
By 1325, the ICE convoy arrived at the Samarra bank. At that time, the bank came under small-arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire from multiple directions. The fire was determined to be coming from the windows and roofs of nearby buildings as well as from alleyways and from nearby vehicles. Coalition forces returned fire to defeat the enemy while the currency exchange was executed. Once finished, the ICE team departed back to the north, followed by the security element.
During this engagement, two coalition soldiers were injured, as well as a member of the ICE team. Twenty-four enemy were estimated to have been killed in that engagement.
As coalition forces moved north back out of the city, at about 1400 the enemy attempted to barricade -- to set up a barricade to prevent forces from leaving the area. The barricade was breached by friendly forces and our soldiers began to engage the enemy again. Five more enemy fighters were estimated killed as they attempted to launch rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire.
At approximately 1340, coalition forces at the Al Mulya (ph) Bank in the western part of the city were attacked by enemy small-arms and rocket-propelled grenades. Initial reports show that at least 12 attackers, all armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, were seen running out and firing at coalition forces from a nearby mosque. After engaging the initial wave of enemy from the mosque, coalition soldiers came under fire from enemy forces who were using nearby rooftops, gates and walls as cover. Coalition forces returned fire, and an estimated 22 enemy attackers were killed. After completing the dinar exchange at that bank, the convoy and security elements moved back out of the city.
During these engagements, another coalition convoy was moving through Samarra. At 1422, the unit reported that it was engaged by four men in a black BMW with small-arms fire. Coalition soldiers returned fire and wounded all four men and captured the vehicle. Inside the car, three AK-47s and two rocket-propelled grenade launchers were captured.
In this engagement, five coalition soldiers were injured, none with life-threatening injuries, and four of them were returned to duty. Fifty-four enemy personnel were estimated to have been killed, and an estimated 22 were wounded. One enemy is in detention at this time.
At this point I'll take any questions you may have on this engagement. Yeah?
Q (Off mike.) How do you respond to that?
GEN. KIMMITT: Yup. The reports that we have are from visual battlefield reports. These are reports that we got from the soldiers who were involved in the engagement. And that's why we have said that all of these are estimated killed and wounded.
Q Steve Kirby from AFP.
GEN. KIMMITT: Hi, Steve.
Q It's quite clear, from the reports from the hospital, that -- as well as the battlefield assessments of dead insurgents you give, there were a large number of innocent civilian bystanders who were caught up in the crossfire. Both -- the chief of police, the chief of the hospital, the administrative director of a nearby state-owned enterprise are all adamant that they were killed by U.S. fire, and they all concur that that fire was indiscriminate. I'm sure you would say that it wasn't indiscriminate, but nonetheless the impression has been given in the town that there was indiscriminate fire. And both members of the tribal council and members of the municipal council have called on all U.S. troops to withdraw from the fire. Was it a successful operation in that light?
GEN. KIMMITT: Well, first of all, two points. Let's remember that our soldiers were being fired on. Our soldiers were performing a mission, and our soldiers were attacked.
Second, we have no such reports from either the Iraqi police service nor the medical facility in Samarra that would corroborate the reports that you're making. If we do in fact get those reports, that will be entered into the investigation as well, and they'll be examined, and a judgment will be made. However, we have not received any reports of collateral damage nor wounding or killing of innocent civilians, as you assert.
Q Luke Baker from Reuters. Sir, can you explain -- if there were 54 or 46 or however many that were killed, can you explain what might have happened to the bodies?
GEN. KIMMITT: Well, I would expect that the enemy would probably have pulled the bodies back and taken them to wherever his initial locations were. But that's only speculation.
Q Sir, in the past, some of these engagements -- I note that your soldiers have actually collected the bodies. So were there any bodies collected in this instance whatsoever?
GEN. KIMMITT: I'm not aware of any bodies that were collected. Once the dinar exchange was complete, the units withdrew from the town of Samarra and returned to their original locations.
Q Were any enemy wounded treated by U.S. forces?
GEN. KIMMITT: I don't have any reports on that. I do know that we do have one soldier in detention. It may have been that he was wounded. If he was wounded, appropriate medical care would have been given to him, consistent with the law of warfare.
Q One soldier from the other side? Is --
GEN. KIMMITT: Correct. One enemy soldier.
MR. SENOR: Yeah?
Q Peter Spiegel from The Financial Times. There were some early reports, I thought, coming out of CPA that some of these -- the dead were wearing some sort of Fedayeen uniform. Is that correct? And can you give us more detail on that?
GEN. KIMMITT: Sure. We -- some of the enemy that we engaged were wearing uniforms that had been consistent with those uniforms that had been worn by Saddam Fedayeen in the past. However, we have not established a definitive linkage between theseenemy and any organization. That's one of the issues that our intelligence people are investigating at this time.
Q (Name inaudible) -- with the Wall Street Journal. Your troops --
GEN. KIMMITT: Hi.
Q Hi. -- had pulled out of Samarra about two weeks ago. Since then, was this the first time that they went back in a large convoy to run an errand? And in general, how often do they go into these kind of cities to go exchange dinars at a bank or shopping or whatever?
GEN. KIMMITT: Well, we're not going to discuss operational details about where our soldiers are at any time. However, I can tell you that coalition forces have performed these types of missions in Samarra at least four times in the last three weeks, every time being engaged by some sort of small arm, rocket-propelled grenade during those operations.
Q Hi. Jim Crane with the AP. We're wondering if the 4th ID might have had some intelligence that there was an ambush being prepared for them? From the look at some of the death toll and, you know, the use of tanks and the prepositioning of troops, it appears that maybe there were some -- they'd received some tips or some intel that something might have come down.
And then, on the other side of this, it looked like, you know, these attackers, as well, also had some pretty good intel about the currency exchange.
I wonder if you could address both of those points on the U.S. side as well as on the Iraqi side in this case.
GEN. KIMMITT: I have no idea what information the enemy had or didn't have. But as I said earlier, we had done currency exchanges on the 7th, the 9th, the 10th and the 16th of November. At each one of those times going into Samarra, they had come under fire. So a reasonable commander would make the prudent judgment that if you're going back into Samarra again, be prepared to take fire. And that's exactly what happened with the soldiers of the 4th ID, and I think the consequences -- what happened are pretty well known.
Q Alan Sipress, Washington Post. First, General, can you tell us what these uniforms that were consistent with Fedayeen militia uniforms look like? Can you describe them for us?
And then, if I could, Dan, can you comment on published reports that the Governing Council has voted unanimously to support elections to choose members of the Transitional Assembly? And following up on that, what impact will Ayatollah Sistani's insistence on elections have on the political transition process agreed to November 15th? Thanks.
MR. SENOR: The only agreement we are aware of is the November 15th agreement, which I said lays the foundation for a free, democratic and sovereign Iraq. It does so with the establishment of a transitional administrative law provisional government, followed by the election to the constitutional convention -- direct election to the constitutional convention, followed by a newly elected government based on that new constitution.
The direct elections that both the Governing Council and the coalition have agreed to are those for the constitutional convention. And we are working on implementation now. And that's why Ambassador Bremer welcomed so strongly the decision by the Governing Council to establish a committee to move forward on that front as well as the -- the drafting of the transitional administrative law. Those are the two actions taken by the Governing Council yesterday that we are aware of, and those are the two that we strongly welcome.
GEN. KIMMITT: With regard to the uniform, why don't we talk about that after the press conference. We can show you some examples.
Q Craig Homeyer (ph) from German Press Agency. In the earlier reports on the Samarra incident, there were words about up to 25 enemy personnel captured. Is this still standing? And if it's so, did first interrogations of these enemies give you some insight who these attackers were?
GEN. KIMMITT: Well again, as I said, I'm only aware of one soldier that was detained. I believe those earlier reports might have been a bit off. And you can be assured that we are interrogating the soldier that we do have detained, the enemy that we did detain, to find out those exact questions -- answers to those questions.
Q Hi. Mark Stone, ABC. General, would you agree that the incidents yesterday further the concerns that the enemy is becoming much more sophisticated?
GEN. KIMMITT: I would not agree with that. I think that any enemy that is looking at eight tanks, four Bradley fighting vehicles and 93 coalition soldiers and still decides to fight is making a dreadful mistake. So I wouldn't consider that sophisticated at all.
MR. SENOR: And I will just add to that, what is definitely sophisticated is the success and implementation of the currency exchange. Twenty-seven 747 flights full of currency, 2,300 tons of currency, to 240 exchange points across the country; almost 1,000 Iraqi personnel trained for the mission, over 10,000 if you include banking personnel. Each of these exchange sites are being visited multiple times by convoys, of which there have been 600 convoys shooting across the country. This all in just a month and a half. This currency exchange was launched on October 15th. It's set for three months. And 75 percent of the currency is in circulation that we are exchanging.
In normal transitional situations in transitional countries, Germany, for instance, it takes a couple of years before the announcement of the new currency and the beginning of the implementation of the campaign. This campaign was launched, announced in July, and the actual implementation began in October. So this is an incredible success story, a logistical success story that could only be possible with the cooperation between the coalition and the Iraqi people. And that continues to move forward.
Q If I could just follow up. Sorry, General, perhaps "sophisticated" was the wrong word. Coordinated. They're certainly becoming more coordinated, aren't they?
GEN. KIMMITT: Well, in this case it was a little better coordinated than some of the attacks we've seen of late.
Q John Hendren, LA Times. With 54 dead alone and multiple attacks from rooftops, vehicles, elsewhere, it does suggest a level of coordination that has not been reported before. Is it unprecedented? And was there any evidence of foreign fighters among the dead, for instance?
GEN. KIMMITT: We have no indication of foreign fighters among the dead. With regards to coordination, it was a large group of people. We have seen, since the end of major conflict -- major combat operations on May 1st, we've seen a couple of other large operations like this. Are we looking at this one closely? Yes. Is this something larger than we have seen over the past couple of months? Yes. And are we concerned about it? Yeah. We'll look at it and we'll take the appropriate measures in future operations.
Q How many times have similar convoys, not in Samarra, but other places, been also attacked? Have there been regular attacks?
MR. SENOR: There's been less than a dozen engagements, with no fatalities on the coalition side.
Q I'm sorry, Dan, but other than Samarra, less than a dozen?
MR. SENOR: Yes, less than a dozen.
MR. SENOR: We have time for one more question. Someone --
GEN. KIMMITT: Over here.
MR. SENOR: Where? Oh, go ahead.
Q Ed Wong from the New York Times. In previous engagements, have you found enemy attackers to be wearing Fedayeen uniforms? And if not, why do you think they're donning these uniforms at this time? Does it mean anything to you that they're wearing these uniforms now?
GEN. KIMMITT: Again, I don't think we can draw anything -- and that's why I didn't mention anything in my initial report about the uniforms. That was brought up because I think it came out in early reports. We just don't know what that means. We're taking a look at some of the battlefield indicators, some of the reports that we've got, to see if that does mean anything or not mean anything. I wouldn't draw any conclusions in any direction on what they were wearing at this time, but we're going to be looking at it.
MR. SENOR: Thanks, everybody.
GEN. KIMMITT: Thanks.
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