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Briefing on the First Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq

Presenters: Marine Corps Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, commanding general, First Marine Expeditionary Force
September 09, 2003 1:00 PM EDT

(Participating were Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs (Media Operations) Bryan G. Whitman and Marine Corps Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, commanding general, First Marine Expeditionary Force.  Photos of this briefing are available at:  http://www.defenselink.mil/photos/Sep2003/030909-D-9880W-069.html, http://www.defenselink.mil/photos/Sep2003/030909-D-9880W-028.html, and http://www.defenselink.mil/photos/Sep2003/030909-D-9880W-093.html.)

 

            Whitman:  Well, thank you again for joining us this afternoon.  Today it's my real pleasure to welcome back into this room, because we've seen him by scottie briefing from Iraq, Lieutenant General James T. Conway, who is the commanding general, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, which is headquartered at Camp Pendleton.

 

            During combat operations in Iraq, though, General Conway commanded 89,000 Marines.  They attacked from Kuwait all the way north to Tikrit, and took -- by my count -- on and defeated eight Iraqi divisions.  I MEF has recently -- more recently been responsible for security and stability operations in and around An Najaf, and is in the process of completing their turnover to the Multinational Division that has come in to that sector, led by Poland.

 

            He has some time today to talk to you about their mission and their operations and a little bit about some of the lessons that they learned.  He has some opening remarks, a little bit of a presentation, and then would be happy to take your questions for about the next 30 minutes.

 

            General?

 

            Conway:  Afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Let me apologize, first of all, for my uniform.  My aide and I packed our "Alphas" when we left San Diego the last time, but we think they probably joined Jimmy Hoffa somewhere.  We can't find them right now.  And so I'm in the best uniform I could bring forward.

 

            I returned from Iraq yesterday in the wake of a transfer of authority ceremony, conducted at the ruins of Babylon on the 3rd of September.  There, after five months of stabilization and security operations, my command, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, turned over responsibilities for four of the five governants in South Central Iraq to the Polish-led Multinational Division.  Although the MND appears quite capable, we maintained U.S. control of the governant of Najaf in order to provide a sense of security following the cleric Hakim's bombing assassination at the Imam Ali Mosque on 29 August.  We plan a final turnover of that governant in the next few days, and a closeout of U.S. Marine operational presence in Iraq not later than about the first week of October.

 

            I'm almost as proud of my Marines, sailors and soldiers for their performance and conduct during the stabilization phase as I was during the attack up through Iraq into Baghdad and beyond.  In the attack, they demonstrated aggressiveness, raw courage, and the ability to deal with any scenario.  During stabilization ops, they dealt firmly with the local population, but that was tempered with compassion, professionalism and the ability to deal with any scenario.

 

            There were attacks against Marines and others who moved through our zones -- over 330 of them in five months.  Many Iraqis were killed and many more captured or detained because our methods were always to respond to force with even greater force, and Marines normally hit what they shoot at.  However, for every attack, there were an equal number of Iraqi warnings that helped us avoid attacks and, therefore, casualties.  Indeed, over the course of five months, though we had many Marines wounded, we have not lost a single Marine to hostile fire.

 

            Yet Marines normally don't do nation-building.  The last time was in Vietnam, almost 35 years ago.  We have no consolidated doctrine for it.  However, sometimes a negative can result in a positive.  Absent doctrine, we developed a set of guidelines or principles that our leaders and troops were to follow.  Chief among them was to treat Iraqis as they would like to be treated themselves, were the situation reversed.  We sought out Iraqi leadership at the local level and asked them to help focus our efforts at reconstruction.

 

            And among other areas of emphasis, we pay particular attention to the children.  The children of Iraq represent the future of the country, and we made every effort to rebuild the schools, clean up the playgrounds and hand out soccer balls.  We held a belief that it's hard for a man to be angry with those who are doing good things for his children.

 

            We found in the people of southern Iraq an industrious, intelligent society, very knowledgeable in the state of current affairs and very interested in what was to be the future of their country.  I used to think Americans were the most impatient people on Earth.  I now believe that distinction belongs to the Iraqis.

 

            We should encourage that characteristic, however, especially as it relates to their security.  We must continue to mature the Iraqi police, resource the Iraqi militia and oversee the revitalization of the new Iraqi army, so that the next time there is a transfer of authority in an historic place, like the amphitheater at Babylon, it will be between a multinational division and the people of Iraq.

 

            Thank you.  Your questions, please.

 

            Q:  Could you give us, if possible, as firm a timetable as you can on the turnover of authority to the Polish-led division?  And can you say -- did the decision to put that off reflect a negative assessment of the capabilities of that division?

 

            Conway:  General Tyszkiewicz, the two-star Polish division commander, joined us probably 20 or 25 days at Babylon before the turnover actually took place.  That turnover, again, was on 3 September.  That was the final turnover of our five governates. Leading up to that time, we had turned over provinces on an individual basis to various brigades that he owned, just a few days before the 3rd, but the 3rd actually was the ceremony, and again, we turned over four of the five governates officially that day.

 

            Q:  Najaf --

 

            Conway:  Yes.  Najaf, now, we held.  And the reason we held it was not in any way related to what we assessed to be the capability of a multinational division.  Essentially, it was in the wake of two bombings in Najaf, the latter very much more the more severe, and a feeling that the Marine presence would simply serve to lend a greater degree of stabilization and security to the people.

 

            We had the two Latin American battalions who would assume responsibility for it with us there at the time.  We continue to work, turn over with those folks.  They appear to be good troops, are anxious for their mission.  And I think that we will turn it over it again in two or three more days.

 

            Q:  Physically?

 

            Conway:  Yes.  We hope -- I would hope by the end of the week.  That is based on a conversation I had just before I left with Lieutenant General Sanchez.

 

            Yes, sir?

 

            Q:  General, if I heard you correctly, I think you -- did you say that not a single Marine has been lost to hostile fire since --

 

            Conway:  Since about the 21st of April, when we headed south into our -- actually, at that point, seven governates, in south and south-central Iraq.

 

            Now, let me clarify.  We have had one Marine who was killed responding to a firefight.  He was a member of a light armored unit. The vehicle went off the road, and he, unfortunately, was crushed and killed -- a vehicle accident many miles from the actual scene of the shooting.

 

            Q:  My question is if you can explain that -- the sharp contrast of that to the situation elsewhere; the Army, in particular, having lost so many people?

 

            Conway:  Well, I think for starters, we're fortunate that we're in the south-central sector of Iraq.  That is a predominantly Shi'a population.  We went in with an attitude that the war was over; that we were there for security and stabilization operations.  We wanted to make friends and we wanted the people to understand, of course, that we would not tolerate anyone shooting at our troops.  And as I have said, we've had to respond to a lot of that.  But I'd like to think that the combination of the population where we were -- good methods well-applied have kept down the numbers of casualties that we have had.

 

            Q:  General, there's been a lot of talk about whether there are more -- whether there's a need for more U.S. troops, whether there's a need for more troops period.  Your assessment in the south-central area and how the force is arranged there?

 

            Conway:  Bret, I would say first of all, I don't think we need more troops.  We think that the numbers of troops that we have are sufficient.  We have had essentially one battalion applied to each governorate, and that has been plenty, based upon our methodologies. And let me explain that for just a moment, if I can.

 

            We have tried, and have been very successful, I would argue, to train new Iraqi police in Western policing methods, and they represent our first line of defense.  Behind that, we have incorporated into the MEF some very capable Army MP companies who take up residence inside the cities.  They reinforce the police and they take care of that next level of problems, if and when they arise.  We have used Marines after a time principally as quick response forces, QRFs, who respond when something starts to get out of control, and you need a very capable force to accomplish that.  So in that regard, we've been able to make max use of the troops that were available.  And we think that we don't need any more.

 

            Q:  That's (defining ?) the mission to execute infrastructure protections?

 

            Conway:  Yes.  We have a lot of pipelines, power lines and that type of thing, of course, that roll through our area.  We have enlisted the support of some of the Iraqi tribes to assist us in security there.  The FPS system, the protection system that's been developed to use Iraqis, is having some good results.  We think they'll get better as they get more mature.  We fly helicopters along the pipelines.  We have mobile patrols that run the pipelines and those types of things.  And I think it's fair to say that in the past five weeks or so now we have not had sabotage or stealing -- sometimes stealing results in a sabotage to the pipeline because there are explosions and there are fires and those manner of things.  But, knock on wood, in recent weeks we have not seen either of those in any kind of numbers.

 

            Q:  Just to follow up, what did you find was the best way of enlisting the tribes in this?  I mean, to pay them per day trouble- free or what?

 

            Conway:  Well,  a personal relationship works.  And we've tried to manifest those things in time.

 

            If you appeal to the logic that the thieves and others, the saboteurs, are committing crimes against the people of Iraq and that the result that you're seeing is a large black market and your people are paying unfair prices, they understand the logic of that.  So there has been some minor payment of seized funds, but not -- not on an exorbitant scale.

 

            Q:  General, the Army's 4th Infantry Division commander told us a couple months ago that the Marines had come to him with concerns about the Javelin missile in combat and that they were working to address those.  Have you heard, you know, what the results of that were, and --

 

            Conway:  No, I have not.  I read some of the same things that you're talking about in regards to Javelin.  And we had some concerns before we crossed the line of departure about some of our tank-killing methods.  Some of it was reliability in some of the blocks, some of it was training on TOW 2s.  You know, the missiles are so expensive any more that you don't get a lot of opportunities to fire in training.  But we didn't have problems with the Javelin.  And when I went back to just informally canvas in the wake of having read that report, I didn't get a lot of negative comment on the Javelin. So I'll be anxious to see what the Army's study presents, when all is said and done.

 

            Q:  General, since the bombing in Najaf there have been militias that have been appearing on the streets.  I understand that there's been an ultimatum given to one -- at least one of the militias to have to clear out, basically.  Can you explain what -- what that situation is all about, and also, what is the risk of militias moving in to basically take control of security, you know, if there -- if there aren't U.S. forces there?  And they're creating a situation where you may have militias later competing with the police or fighting among themselves for turf.

 

            Conway:  Let me give you the bottom line first, if I can. What you described is exactly right.  It applies to all militias.  And that is, that there will be no armed militias on the streets of Najaf. That has been worked through our assistant division commander and the mayor of the city.  And those people are no longer present today.

 

            Now, the effort came to pass as a well-intended, short-term, almost experiment, if you will, on the part of the CPA to see if we couldn't get rapid security into the shrine area in the wake of the bombings as we trained up -- provided additional training for a 400- man police force in the Najaf city police.  It was to be for a two- or three-day period.  We let it run that far and then we terminated it because of some of the very things that you describe.  It was getting to be a little bit problematic.  People were ranging outside of the assigned area, conducting vehicle checkpoints. They weren't always identifiable to us.  And so some of the things you very, I think, adroitly picked up in your question were the things that we thought were problematic with regard to recognizing militia. That was something that we had said we wouldn't do.  And in retrospect, it's something that we think is still the right call for the country.

 

            Q:  And has the -- I think it's called the Mehdi Army.  Have they cleared out of the streets at this point?

 

            Conway:  What we have done -- because the problem is real -- is said to the various clerics, "If you want to increase the size of your protection detail, you can do that."  To the extent that -- in the case you're describing -- Sadr wants to have a somewhat larger detail, and that would be some of his Mehdi Army people, we would probably let that happen.  But only in his exact location would we allow those people to serve as a protective detail.

 

            Okay. I'm just working my way back here, folks.  Please?

 

            Q:  General, there has been some talk of Marines being used in more peacekeeping operations.  Can you say if any I MEF units would go back to Iraq to perhaps relieve Army troops there?

 

            Conway:  Probably too early to say.  I will tell you that when we put the preponderance of our force out of Iraq, the guidance that we were given was to recock.  Now, to me that meant get back into what had been our deployment routine; in the case of I MEF, for most units, about six months deployed, about 18 months home.  I have since seen the projected requirements in the out years.  And what is being said, I think, essentially by the people who are doing the planning is it will be a brigade or a division, service not given.  And I think that at this point we probably shouldn't say it will or will not be Marines.  I think the JCS will have to evaluate that, and I think we'll have to be prepared to field that requirement if, in fact, it's headed our way.

 

            You're right in that Marines don't normally do this type of thing, but I think we all recognize that the Army is being fairly well stretched now with all the other requirements that it has, so it would not be an inordinate request, I would not think.

 

            Yes, sir?

 

            Q:  General, can you give us an idea of the composition of the quick-reaction forces that have been developed over the course of the post-combat operations: you know, what kind of structure they are, is it helicopters, is it LAVs?  Can you give any idea of the structure?

 

            Conway:  It's some of all; it depends upon the situation. The -- my reaction force -- I don't hold a reserve, but I do have a squadron of Cobras that can be employed in virtually any situation; troops that can be heli-lifted based on the medium helicopters that we have left back.

 

            At the division level, General Mattis' reserve is a light armored reconnaissance battalion, quick on the ground with a good bit of firepower.  At the battalion level, and that's where we have seen them deployed in virtually every instance, it's a platoon or a company -- based upon a scenario, could be as much as two companies, or the entire battalion, if the battalion commander thinks it necessary.  We have not seen that at all.  We have seen, in one instance, the deployment of a two-company QRF, with a number of demonstrators in the city of Najaf some weeks back now.

 

            Q:  Do you find that the MAGTF [Marine Air Ground Task Force] structure allows for more flexibility than other coalition forces in the region?

 

            Conway:  I can't speak to that.  I can say that it gives us great flexibility.  We have ground transportation for those folks. Again, the other methods I mentioned to you, the LAR, the helicopters, are all very quick response, especially based on our ability to put detachments in -- in what we say "the dirt" at various locations around south-central Iraq.

 

            Okay.  Yes, ma'am?

 

            Q:  You said in your earlier comments that the Marines Corps does not have a nation-building consolidated doctrine.  Is that something that the Marine Corps is looking to address (word inaudible) -- permanently, versus doing it ad hoc -- on an ad hoc basis?

 

            Conway:  We think we've got to do that.  We -- what we used were essentially two documents.  One is a small wars manual that goes back to Marine Corps intervention in Nicaragua in the '20s and '30s. You'd be interested on how many of the lessons are still applicable, really.  And that document has maintained its application over the decades.  The other is a concept that was developed by one of our former commandants, General Krulak, that talked about the three-block war.  And in that, he said in the first block, Marines will be feeding hungry people; in the second block, you're keeping warring tribes apart for whatever combination of reasons; and in the third block, you're in full-scale combat; all of those things on the same day in the same locale.  And that captures what we've seen there from time to time, quite frankly.  It's pretty close.

 

            Now, we feel like that we will have to, in the wake of this experience, provide some much more detail how-to to those young commanders that follow, and that will be, in great part, the responsibility of my MEF to be the advocate for that.

 

            Q:  Any civil affairs roles that you foresee expanding -- (inaudible)?

 

            Conway:  Well, I think -- I mentioned earlier numbers of troops.  I think that we need to make sure we send in the right kinds of troops.  And among those would be greater numbers of MPs, a greater representation by Civil Affairs, Psychological Operations, Information Operations types of folks.  I just think that this, what we call Phase 4-type environment is a much better place to use those types of forces, perhaps, and your grunt, you know, that will do as he's told and do a great job at it but doesn't have the necessary background or training to be that expert.

 

            Yeah.

 

            Q:  General, two questions.  One, the rotation of the troops out.  What unit is still up in Najaf, and will they be coming out to Kuwait, or be -- will they be going home?  And then a forward-looking thing.  The Marine Corps now has fought two wars in the last 12 years where you basically are a mechanized force.  And you're -- you know, the Marines prides itself on being light infantry.  Do you need to reorganize at all, you know, creating some kind of permanent mech force, or can you -- the way you've done it in the last two times is ad hoc-ing it.  So, is that really the way to go?

 

            Conway:  First of all, 1st battalion, 7th Marines is the battalion that's located at An Najaf.  The commanding officer up there is Lieutenant Colonel Chris Woodbridge.  They will pull out of there as directed by CGTF 7, but they will move back through Kuwait to base camps that we had established there before we crossed the line of departure.  And then it takes anywhere from a week to two weeks to line up aircraft tail numbers to get them home.  So that would be the sequence of their withdrawal.

 

            Now, we don't just have a battalion there, I think it's important to say.  In this MAGTF structure that someone pointed out earlier, we have a support detachment, and slice of Marines from our 1st FSSG that are in Najaf with them.  There's a headquarters element, if you will, that still oversees their efforts.  The -- and the wing has a Marine air group, comprising CH-53s, C-130s, CH-46s and Cobras, that provide them, again, that variation on support.   So it's not just a thousand Marines or so that are in the battalion; it takes a larger chunk than that to keep those folks there and doing the job.

 

            Q:  They'll all be coming out?

 

            Conway:  They will be coming out, that's correct.

 

            Q:  (Off mike)?

 

            Conway:  Well, when I left we had a couple of pretty good flights out.  But I would suspect there's still probably 8,000 Marines in Iraq and Kuwait at this point.

 

            To answer your second question, my advice to my commandant has been that we look at, certainly, this most recent experience as an anomaly, and not that we look at re-organizing the Marine Corps to give it that heavier capability:  more HETs -- heavy equipment transporters -- more tankers, those types of things that would support a heavy mechanized force.  You call it ad hoc; I call it task organization.  I think it means the same thing.  But we are probably the best in the world at doing that.  It just -- it tends to confuse most other people.  But we feel we can throw together a force very quickly with those elements of a Marine air-ground task force that are necessary, very well supported by Navy shipping, to get us where we have to go.

 

            And so I would advocate that that balance that we've got is something that makes us ready to go anywhere on short notice and do what the nation asked.  So I would not advocate that, in effect, we become a second army, if you will, with their task organization and some of the same equipment that they use.

 

            Q:  Well, we don't have the long -- the heavy transporters.  A lot of them you've had -- in most cases, you've had to borrow or rent the long-haul trucks, things like that.  And you've made it work, you know, two times now.

 

            Conway:  And we think we can make it work a third time if we have to.  So we'll not reorganize in the face of that.

 

            Yes, sir?  Here.

 

            Q:  General, in your estimation, what more still remains?  What do you think still needs to be done before Iraqis will be fully capable of taking over security in the areas of the country where you are working?

 

            Conway:  Yeah, that's a great question.  I think one of the things that we need to focus on heavily is getting the infrastructure up and keeping it up.  And in turn, that will have a very positive effect on security.

 

            Right now the factories of Iraq are not working, and they're not working because there's no dependable electricity to give them anything akin to a 24-hour steady energy base.  If we can do that, I think it'll take a population of Iraqis, young Iraqis, off the streets, that I think some of the former regime leadership are using for the ambushing and the mortar attacks and those types of things. Right now the young 22-year-old Iraqi has very little means to make a living and earn an income.  If we can get them into the factories, get them into the militia, get them into the new Iraqi army and so forth, I think we'll be helping ourselves in the process.  So that's the first thing.  That, I think, really has to happen pretty quickly.

 

            Beyond that, again, the formulation of these various groups that will put an Iraqi face on it, I think, will give us additional intelligence that will allow us to respond to that diminishing number of people that are there that would disrupt the process and do our people harm.

 

            So it all is related.  I think it's an integrated effort that needs to occur.  And when we get the country back on its feet from an economic perspective, I think it will, again, help greatly with the security.

 

            Q:  Do you have any sort of notion as to how long you think this might take?

 

            Conway:  It will take a while.  I don't -- I can't put it in terms of months or years.  I had an Army Corps of Engineer colonel tell me that even once we get the electrical grid back in place, it's not going to be very dependable.  And the reason for that is that it's had 30 years of neglect; that there are parts in these power stations from 15 different countries, so when you go in with a problem, you never know quite what you're going to face.  There's no constancy to the parts requirement, for instance.

 

            So how long?  I can't say.  But as I mentioned, the Iraqis are very impatient people.  They're holding us to the "man on the Moon" standard.  In their mind, it should have happened yesterday.  And so we probably can't do it too soon.

 

            I missed you here.  Go ahead.

 

            Q:  From my understanding, Central Command now has the findings of the friendly fire incident back on March 21st, I think, in An-Najaf, where I think it's between six to 12 Marines might have been killed by an A-10.  Do you have any detail on that report at all, or what may have happened in that incident?

 

            Conway:  It was March 23rd.  And I have seen a draft of the investigation.  It's my understanding that it has been sent back for some rework.  I'm not purposely being vague, I just don't know.  But I think that CENTCOM has sent it back to the Air Force, and it will be CENTCOM's responsibility to publish it, of course, as soon as it's approved by the commander in chief -- or by the commander of Central Command.

 

            Q:  There's no other details you can --

 

            Conway:  Not at this point.  I think we should wait for the investigation to come out.

 

            Q:  Thank you, General.  Over here.  The Blue Force Tracking was supposed to be a step ahead in avoiding fratricide this time.  Did you all have Blue Force Tracking equipment in your system?  And do we need -- is that the answer, I mean --

 

            Conway:  No.  No, it's not.  We had over 400 sets, some given to us by the Army, some that we procured ourselves.  But Blue Force Tracker, ladies and gentlemen, creates situational awareness on the battlefield.  When my counterpart, General Wallace, in V Corps looked at his screens, it showed the same as my screens in terms of where units were.

 

            Fratricide is caused by our inability for the Air Force A-10 pilot to look at a vehicle and have an immediate recognition, friend or foe.  The same is true with tanks.  If a tanker, on a dusty, dark night, lines up his main gun and he can't query a target, then we aren't where we need to be with regard to the avoidance of fratricide.

 

            Blue Force Tracker helps tell you where units are in general design; it does not solve the problem of blue on blue, or fratricide.

 

            Q:  General, there have been a number of news reports speculating about a possible civil war developing between the Shi'a in the south, and that maybe some moderate factions and some extremist factions would be butting heads.  Just on your experience, what's your assessment of that possibility?

 

            Conway:  I don't see that in the south.  There are a lot of accusations, a lot of uncertainties associated with that, I believe, that are flying about in terms of who's doing the bombing and who would stand to gain most from it; who would like to see destabilization, be it in a religious context or in a governmental context or whatever.  But I don't see factionalism being brought about as a result of that.  So -- I have read some things like that.  I just don't think that the Shi'as -- the wise Shi'as, who see a future Iraq with a heavy Shi'a imprint on it, allowing that to happen.

 

            Q:  Is the overall perception in that community a welcoming one or a skeptical one about U.S. presence?

 

            Conway:  Oh.  I wish I could take every one of you here on a trip from Najaf to Karbala back to Hillah in military vehicles. Little kids run a quarter-mile on a hot pavement with bare feet to wave.  And the adults do the same thing.  You drive by, I mean, it's like you're constantly on parade.  And I won't say you tire of it, because it's a very gratifying feeling.  But it's there in spades. They welcome us.  They're still welcoming us because, any number have said, "We fear, when you go, that the people who wanted to see you go will come in and we won't have our democracy."

 

            So it's just a tremendous experience.  I'm delighted every one of my young Marines has been able to be close up and a part of it and see it.  And it's a good-news story that, in my mind, is not really reaching the American people, and I think that's unfortunate.

 

            Q:  General?

 

            Conway:  Yes, sir?

 

            Q:  On phase four operations, it's proven difficult for us here to sort out who was meant to be doing what and which and whom.  Could you tell us what tasking did I MEF get for phase four; and were you quietly doing planning for it?  Tell us what you expected or what you did and then what happened.

 

            Conway:  We were told about halfway to Baghdad what our sector would be, first of all.  And it turned out to be the nine governates in the southern half of the country, two of which belong to the British.  And after 15 June when the British went national, those two governates were exclusively theirs.

 

            Our mission, to paraphrase, was to create a safe and secure environment in order to turn Iraq back over to the Iraqis.  And that's been our drive and motivation ever since, is to, again, incorporate as many Iraqis into the reconstruction efforts, have them tell us what it was that they wanted to see built back first -- be it schools, hospitals, sewage, all those types of things, and as soon as we could, to get Iraqis making decisions.  And I do.  I think we're having some great success there.

 

            If you use what happened in Najaf, as regrettable as the bombing was with the loss of life, the response on the part of the City Council, the mayor, the Najaf Police Department with regard to controlling the scene, getting emergency help in right away, calling the FBI, arresting some who they think are perpetrators very quickly on the heels of that, followed by the control that they exercised during the processional that resulted in the burial of Hakim, we were very much on the sidelines watching that take place, but very happy that we had seen the community grow to the degree that they could do that without real difficulty.

 

            Q:  And the -- just to be sure, the biggest unexpected in your experience of phase four turned out to be what?

 

            (Pause.)

 

            Conway:  Hm.  I guess it has to do with the infrastructure and just how brutal we found it to be.  We call it sort of the basic needs, the hierarchy of needs that the population has.  You know, I would say food, water, power and fuel are the things that a community has to have before it's going to grow and prosper and do other things. And it's just been very difficult to get that back up on plane and keep it there with any level of consistency.

 

            So I -- you know, when you fly over the country, where you see all these power lines headed all the different directions -- it's a nation with the second-largest resources in the world in terms of raw fuels, so it was a little bit incredulous to me after a time that we continue to struggle with that and just try to bring it up on line.

 

            Q:  General, what about the absence of WMD?  You said previously that -- when we talked to you some weeks ago, that you were surprised that none were found.  What's the latest on that, and what's your overall assessment?

 

            Conway:  We continue to receive leads from time to time, from well-intended Iraqis that saw this happen or saw that happen in the dark of night.  We put teams to go and investigate and research, to see if there's actually something there.  I will tell you, to date, that we have not had any of those leads turn into anything tangible.

 

            If you have patterned it, the high-value targets that have been rolled up have almost entirely come from the northern part of the country.  So we don't have immediate access to the interrogations.

 

            But I still am optimistic that we will find the existence of a program.  I don't think -- and in fact, I can tell you, from our operational experience, that weapons were not at the operational level, as much as we thought we would find to be the case.  But I --

 

            Q:  (Off mike.)

 

            Conway:  We have not found any.  We had reports, but they did not bear fruit.

 

            But I still think that somewhere out there barrels are buried in the desert.  We recently found MiGs buried that we didn't know about. So if you contrast that with the difficulty of burying 55-gallon drums, I think it's certainly within the art of the possible.  So I still remain optimistic that we will find out, in the long term, based upon the people we are rolling up, the interrogations and so forth, that elements of a program existed.

 

            Q:  Sir, General Amos mentioned that a large portion of Cobras had received damage in combat.  Can you say if there are any efforts right now to reevaluate doctrine of helicopter combat?

 

            Conway:  You know, I will tell you that during the fighting, we continually reevaluated the doctrine on the use of Cobras.  The first night we crossed the line of departure, I said to General Amos, you know:  I don't want to be imminently successful on the ground only to turn to you and find out that we had six Cobras shot down.  So initially, I want you to be conservative with your tactics as it relates to your shooters, until such time as we determine the density of the area of defense threat, and then we'll go from there.

 

            Was good but not great in terms of that level of anti-air that the Iraqi army demonstrated.  So, our pilots became more and more bold as we went up towards Baghdad.

 

            After a time, the Iraqis patterned us, and they realized that we would have aircraft on the flanks of the troops, running up and then turning off the nose of the lead elements.  And we found, up around Azezia (sp), that they had actually dug rifle pits well off to the flank but parallel to our line of movement, which gave them some great shots against our helicopters.

 

            So then, we had to change that pattern to come back over the heads of troops, one aircraft shooting, another one, an (over-watch).  And when we got into Baghdad per se, we consciously did not over fly the city unless we had troops in extremis and we had to get in and get the support that they needed.

 

            So, it was a cat-and-mouse game of sorts.  We had a number of aircraft damaged.  We had six that were downed by enemy fire, but fortunately, all six landed inside friendly lines.  We lost two pilots, unfortunately, who crashed into a tower when they were providing air support one night to troops up in the vicinity of the Tigris.

 

            But I would say that outside of that continual evaluation of your methods and tactics, that the Cobra was a tremendous airframe for what we needed to do.  We're going to make continued improvements, putting four blades on it to make it faster and even more deadly.  And I think it's going to be a very viable aircraft for us for a number of years to come.

 

            Whitman:  One more, I think.

 

            Conway:  Okay?

 

            Q:  General, this is another helicopter question, but it relates to the Apache Longbow.  Last week, General Hagee said that when V Corps gave I MEF a layout of the tactics, and that the TTP for the Apache Longbow usage, that the Marines found out that they couldn't support those Apache Longbows if they got in trouble.  Can you expand on what kind of, you know, conundrum you ran into when the Apache Longbow TTPs were delivered to I MEF, and what kind of problems you had supporting those helicopters?

 

            Conway:  Well, the essence of it is that for the Longbow, I think, to be successful, and I would -- General Wallace would say this, I feel fairly certain -- that you need close air support that is also helping to prep the area where they're operating.  And it was simply a matter of boundaries and passing our fixed wing air, had they asked for it, over into the Army area of operations with the right -- forward air controllers working our air.  That was the essence, I suspect, of General Hagee's comments.  I have not had that conversation with him.  But if you asked me what would be the difficulty in providing that close air support, that would be it.

 

            The Air Force, for the most part, provides it for the Army.  The Navy augments that with their forces at sea.  We gave them some of our air in a couple of situations in extremis.  We were not asked to support it the night that they had their Longbows damaged.  But that would have been, I think, the issue he'd had to work through in order to make that happen.

 

            Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.  I appreciate it.

 

            Q:  Thank you, General.

 

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