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Defense Department Regular Briefing

Presenters: Larry Di Rita, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs and Lieutenant General James T. Conway, United States Marine Corps
July 26, 2005 1:05 PM EDT
Defense Department Regular Briefing

            MR. DI RITA:  Good afternoon.  Just a -- first, a quick statement of condolence with respect to the tragic incident that occurred out at Fort AP Hill involving the Boy Scouts.  I think the Boy Scouts have had a press conference with some details; I'm not in a position to expand on that, but we obviously send our condolences to the families involved.  It's obviously a terrible tragedy, and as I understand, the Boy Scouts and the Army will do a safety stand-down today, and then continue with the Jamboree.  And I think that's a wonderful decision on their part.  But it's obviously a very sad day for the Boy Scouts, and we extend our condolences. 

 

            General Conway, I don't know if you have an opening statement?   

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Nothing. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  If not, we can just get into some Q and A as we'd like. 

 

            Q     General Conway, al Qaeda has released a tape of two Algerian -- kidnapped Algerians -- at least, they claim two kidnapped Algerian diplomats from Dubai.  They say they're going to kill them. The rest of the Algerian diplomatic corps left the embassy yesterday. Are U.S. troops now going to start protecting diplomats in Baghdad? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Well, there is a level of protection that takes place right now, Charlie, with regard to patrols and the routine types of efforts that both the Iraqis and the U.S. forces are providing as they work the streets of Baghdad.  Those that are inside the Green Zone are further protected.  But no, I do not expect at all that there would be U.S. forces detailed to protect foreign diplomats. 

 

            Sir? 

 

            Q     General Conway, General Jack Keane, the former vice chief of the Army has apparently just come back from Iraq.  And he has said at a luncheon yesterday that U.S. forces had either captured or killed some 50,000 insurgents so far this year.  Is that number accurate? Can you tell us how many were captured or how many were killed?  And whether or not -- you know, what that says about the size of the insurgency? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  I just saw the article this morning, and I accept the fact that General Keane has been in-country certainly since I have.  I can't speak to his source of the figures.  I can tell you that we don't keep that metric here.  So I'm afraid I can't confirm or deny the accuracy of those figures. 

 

            Q     Well, I mean -- U.S. forces are constantly rolling up -- and Iraqi forces are rolling up suspected insurgents.  Some are held, some are released.  Do you not -- can either one of you give us any idea of how many are being held now, and does the numbers seem reasonable?  And setting the number aside for a moment, what does it say about the size of the insurgency if there have been numbers in that range? 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Well, you know, it's something that commanders have been asked on many occasions.  I think the secretary has certainly been asked it.  It's an interesting thing to understand, you know, what's the size of the adversary that we're facing.  And the estimates have ranged from a few thousand on the low end to many tens of thousands on the high end -- this now -- this comment that General Keane has made.  It's not a number that we do track.  It's -- there is -- we are capturing or killing a large number of bad guys in Iraq.  We are detaining a large number of people who are under investigation either as criminal elements or potential insurgents from whom we can gather additional information.   

 

            But, you know, we don't tend to count.  Nobody's maintaining a count of the size of the insurgency or the numbers that we're capturing because, as we've discussed from here and elsewhere -- before Congress -- it's not a -- first of all, it's not a metric that has a lot of meaning by itself.  And secondly, it's a difficult thing to do, and for the effort that would be expended, one would have to wonder what we'd have at the end of the day if we were able to count it with precision. 

 

            What we're trying to do is understand the nature of it. Ultimately, we believe and are fairly confident that the nature of it is one that will be overtaken by the continued progress in Iraq and by the Iraqi people themselves, but the numbers themselves are -- they're -- they can be misleading.  I mean, we see large numbers of Iraqi civilians being killed by the insurgents; we don't track those numbers either, but it leaves an impression that the progress in Iraq is less than it is because it's misleading by itself, and it's just not something that we're tracking. 

 

            Q     General Keane also said that the U.S. has a pretty good idea of the leadership of the insurgency.  He mentioned that eight to 10 leaders occasionally meet and that that was something that was known.  Can you comment on that, and whether that's accurate?  Is there a -- do you know if there's a core of eight to 10 leaders?  Have they met? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  I think those statements are accurate.  We're starting to get into some classified type of material at this point.   But we have an index, we think, on who the leadership is, and we do know that they occasionally meet.  That doesn't portend, I think, other views that it is a very well commanded or controlled insurgency, but we do know that they meet from time to time to talk organization and tactics. 

 

            Q     General Conway, Sally Donnelly from Time.  Mr. DiRita just said those numbers -- the 50,000 -- don't really have meaning, but they also don't have maybe some understanding.  I don't know whether that's a real number.  Is that an accurate number?  And it's -- I guess it's hard for people outside the military to understand how they could have 50,000 captured or killed and the insurgency still seems to have a good amount of strength. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Well, in my own -- on my own behalf, let me clarify -- 

 

            Q     (Laughs, off-mike remark.) 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Yeah, I know you did.  I've been doing this for a little while now.  I'm -- there's a lot to go, but the -- 

 

            What we're saying is we don't know if that number has any validity, not that it's a number that we aren't interested in.  We just don't know if it's valid.  And to draw a conclusion from a number that we don't think is even valid would itself be an invalid conclusion.  So if it's 50,000, that leads you to one thing.  If it's 2,000 -- and we've seen estimates on the very low end -- then that leads you to other conclusions.  And it -- yet it still -- the question is, how much have you learned about the insurgency?  You learn a thing by knowing the size of it, but it by itself is not definitive.  But to be very clear, we're not saying 50,000, we don't care, we're saying we don't know.  There's a difference. 

 

            Q     Can you say -- 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  General Conway would like to add to embellish even further what you've said -- 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Well, there is one more factor that they're starting to crank in.  You're going to see it even increasingly, I think, have impact as the Iraqi both police and military forces come on line.  That is, when they operate independently, we don't get their reports necessarily.  So, numbers of their injured or killed when they're on operation, the numbers that they roll up we don't have as a direct feed through the multinational corps, or MNF, at that point. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Somebody asked if I could take the question.  The question I'll be happy to take is I'll try and get a little bit better clarity from General Keane what it was he was -- he believed he was referring to. 

 

            Q     Well, something else.  Maybe if you could just take the question of how many Iraqis are now in custody?  That should be a number that you --  

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Yeah.  I'll tell you, I can -- I can -- full stop. Put aside 50,000, put aside any other assumptions or questions.  I   will try and find out from General Keane, or maybe General Conway will, what he was referring to. 

 

            Now, lay all that aside.  We're probably detaining inside of Iraq, without knowing the mix between bad guys, criminals, car thieves, people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time -- and it's going to take time to sort all that out -- probably somewhere between -- and you can check me on this, General, but I think we're on the order of 12(,000) to 16(,000), 17,000.  And that number fluctuates a lot.  Sometimes there'll be large numbers released.  But that number, it would be wrong to equate in the sentence following -- here's what they said about Keane's number, that number, and say this is the better number, because that's a very different number.  It's who we're holding onto, it's a mix of people that includes criminals and people that may not even need to be detained, but it's going to take time to sort that out because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time -- 

 

            Q     Well, for that 50,000 number, couldn't that refer to people who were rolled up, detained, and then subsequently released?   

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I -- I -- 

 

            Q     Weren't a large percentage of people released at some point? 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Yeah, I -- he said "killed or captured."  So I don't -- that's the words that were attributed to him, anyway.  So we'll try and get a better understanding.  And we did, in fact, try and discuss it with General Keane this morning.  He was unavailable.  We'll try and get a better sense of what he was referring to.  But what I am distinctly not referring to in that 12,(000) to 15,000 number is something along the lines of what he was saying.  So, I'll --  

 

            Q     Larry, General Myers mentioned some of his comments and his thoughts about the word "terrorism" last night.  Vice President Cheney is talking about a global war on terror.  It seems that for over a year now, we've been hearing -- depending on who you're talking to you hear extremism, terrorism.  What is the thinking in the administration now?  Is this a war on terrorism?  Is terrorism a tactic?  Is terrorism actually what you're fighting against?  What -- 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  It's an interesting question.  First of all, I don't speak for the administration.  But in the department, the secretary has often spoken about this struggle against global extremism from the following perspective.  As General Myers said, when one considers a war, that has certain connotations.  There is, in fact, a war on terrorism going on.  But that should be understood in a much broader context than military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq which, for understandable reasons, has become the focus for the general public. And those are important aspects to the global war on terror. 

 

            But our understanding is, as the president discussed this right after 9/11, a broader range of national influence that will be needed to prevail in this struggle against what essentially is radical Islamic fundamentalism that is, at the moment, using terrorism as a tactic.  And the 9/11 commission report talked about that as well.  In fact, the 9/11 commission report has a very good discussion about this. 

 

            So we are indeed in a global war on terror.  Iraq, as the president has pointed out, is in fact, at the moment, the central front in that war on terror.  But the range of activities that are -- that this country is focused on to defeat this extremist element in the world goes well beyond -- and needs to go well beyond, and is (sic) (it ?) indeed goes well beyond just military activity. 

 

            Q     Can I follow that up?  You know, recently, a general said that calling it a global war on terrorism is like calling World War II the War on Submarines -- that it's a tactic, it's something that insurgents are using.  Does it somehow confuse the public, does it somehow confuse the world to call it a war on terrorism?  Do you have a thought on that, sir? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  No, I agree with what both you and Larry have said, that it is a tactic and it's not a tangible with which you engage. Global, I think, is appropriate, both in terms of the nature of the threat and in terms of the nature of the number of countries that are engaged.  So I think that part of it certainly needs to stand.   

 

            MR. DI RITA:  But to take on the thought behind that.  We're facing an enemy with an ideology.  It has a world view.  General Abizaid and others have spoken about it, the State Department -- various State Department leaders, diplomats have spoken about it. This is an ideology.  There's a belief in a return to the Caliphate; a sort of fundamentalist Islamic rule in the world under a single leadership.  They believe in something.  And it would be -- it's important to remind people that we're facing an enemy that believes in something, and it's ultimately -- as Prime Minister Blair said very eloquently recently -- that this is an evil ideology that's going to be defeated through the full range of influence that goes with self- government and freedom.  And those are going to be the intangibles that -- in effect, what we're talking about in Iraq; that the Iraqi people, through their own expression of self-government and their own expression of freedom, will defeat this insurgency much more permanently and effectively than, you know, 17 U.S. brigades or however many coalition brigades. 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  I would add, it is a discussion that has been had philosophically with our allies.   And we've been told, actually, that "global war on terrorism" translates pretty well into the various languages.  So I think that continues to make it a part of the discussion.     

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Yes, sir?  And then we'll come back. 

 

            Q     Guy Taylor from the Washington Times.  Larry, just to finish up on the Keane remarks.  He is a retired general, is that right? 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I believe that's how one might describe the former vice chief of staff the United States Army. 

 

            Q     Is there some frustration about retired brass making sweeping and potentially -- remarks about potentially inaccurate or confidential things to the media that is a frustration here? 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Are you asking me if I have any frustration with General Keane?  The answer is absolutely and affirmatively no.  So -- (laughter). 

 

            Q     How about the sort of broad spectrum of -- 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I told you I've been doing this a while! (Laughter.)  

 

            Come on, you guys! 

 

            Q     -- of retired brass that speak on television? 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  They're all entitled to their views.  They've served their country well.  They're retired -- a lot of these retired general officers are indeed employed in the service of the people who are paying them for their views.  But they're entitled to have their views, and we take those as they come.     

 

            General Keane has made his comments, but General Keane's comments are based on travel to the region.  He's a member of the Defense Policy Board.  This is not by means of trying to give any validity to his statement, because I just don't know what he said and what it was based on, but he is a -- he is someone whose views and judgments are worthy of the respect that they get. 

 

            Tom? 

 

            Q     Was he over there on some kind of official Pentagon mission to find out this?  Or -- I mean --  

 

            MR. DI RITA:  He has been in the past.  I don't know if in this particular -- we've not spoken with him.  So when we -- when I -- as I've taken this point, this question, I'll get a better sense of what his most recent visit was and what he was off doing, and that sort of thing.  He has in the past gone over there. 

 

            Yeah? 

 

            Q     General, I'd like your comments on one aspect of the implications of deployments to Iraq, using both the fact that you've taken the MEF down range, and now in your joint role.  The Marine Corps, for a couple of years and for the future foreseeably, will be doing heel-to-toe, back-to-back rotations to Iraq.  Doctrinally, that's not really what the Marines do.  It sounds a bit more like a campaign plan, which the Army does.   

 

            I'm just curious whether you think this is just a blip in Marine Corps history, or as the Army tries to get lighter and the Marines are carrying out a campaign, whether the public is served by having two separate ground forces.   

 

            And, Larry, is this something that's in the QDR?  Has the secretary raised a similar question?  Thank you. 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  The Marine Corps does what it needs to do in defense of the nation.  And you're right; typically, this is not something that Marine forces would find doctrinally appropriate.  But the Army has been involved in with this modularization.  The requirement against numbers of brigades have been such that the Army could not man it without some help from the Reserves and the National Guards, and do modularization at the same time.  So there was a need for Marine regiments to step up to the plate, and they did.   

 

            And you know, there's an old expression in the Marine Corps.  "We do windows."  So whatever the nation's requirement is, you're going to find Marines there, participating.  And I think any Marine you talk to will say if there's fighting and dying to be done, they're going to be a part of that.   

 

            MR. DI RITA:  On the second aspect of your question, Tom, the issue is a component of the QDR, in an indirect sense.  How we size and organize the forces for the range of assumptions on how those forces may need to be used is -- was a central result of the last QDR. It's a(n) important question in this QDR.  First, to challenge the decisions that we made in '01 -- in other words, how do we feel about those four years later, with all the experience we've gained?  And then projecting assumptions through the course -- the QDR has us project through the life of the budget, if you will, the five years -- our best attempt to sort of project how those forces would need to be employed in the future and therefore how they would need to be organized and sized.   

 

            So yeah, it's -- it doesn't take the question on precisely the way you framed it, but it's -- the outcome will likely be the same. In other words, are we organized -- the modularity question in the Army is, does that make sense, and if so, at what size?  And the same applies to the other military departments, and how are they arranged in order to maintain what -- we are increasingly getting comfortable with this idea of operational availability.  How quickly can they be brought to the fight, and in what units?  It's an important component of this QDR, and we're learning a lot about that. 

 

            Over here. 

 

            Q     General, on Syria, do you notice -- are you noticing any increased cooperation by the Syrian government to try to stem the   cross-border infiltration?  General Custer from CENTCOM last month said they are doing what they can -- not enough, but they're doing something.   

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  "Some" is the answer to your question, I think.  We would like to see more.  We still consider that Syria is probably the most porous border of those that border Iraq. 

 

              We're encouraged that there's some discussion of moving additional Syrian forces to that border.  Haven't seen it yet, but it would be a welcome addition.  They have done some improvement on the physical berm that exists between the two countries.  So I would say we're encouraged but we would still like to see more. 

 

            Q     You're encouraged in the last month or so, or is this a recent development? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  I would say within the last couple two or three months. 

 

            Q     Larry, can I ask -- China -- the implications from the report that was released last week. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  The China military report? 

 

            Q     The China military report.  Is the Pentagon at all looking at working with the State Department or other countries to tighten exports -- technology exports to China in light of the findings of that report last week? 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I wouldn't focus it on just China.  I mean, we're working closely with the State Department on a number of issues with respect to export sensitivity.  I mean, the Proliferation Security Initiative is the umbrella operation in that perspective.  But we're looking at ways that we can be mindful of a range of countries and how they use technology that they get through various export agreements. And it's an important question.  I wouldn't say that we're focused on China.  In fact, we're not focused on China. 

 

            Q     You're not focused on China. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  No.  We're focused on the capabilities that could arise because countries misuse technology that's been exported to them.  And it's a concern that is not unique to any particular country. 

 

            Q     General Conway, on the global war on terror, how concerned is the Defense Department about increasing signs of extremism taking root in regions of Africa?  And what's being done in the long term to train nations there? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  There's a joint task force called Joint Task Force Horn of Africa that I think is perhaps a good model for us to look  towards, both in terms of its current effectiveness and perhaps even employment in the future.  We call it an "economy of force" function in the vernacular, but essentially what it does is engages something over a thousand troops and officers and headquarters to strengthen the resolve and the capability of nations in the region so they don't become the next harbor site for terrorists.  And again, it seems to us a very effective use of troops, looking at those places where you could see terrorists start to move when they leave Afghanistan, when they leave Iraq, and it precludes that next location, if you will, where we might have to engage. 

 

            Q     Have there been signs of insurgents from Iraq and Afghanistan going to Africa? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  There is flow, not specifically to the location of the Horn of Africa, and that may be an indication of how well they're doing.  But we track what we think are terrorist movement zones, and Africa is included in that observation. 

 

            Q     Have there been any high-value detainees in that region within the last six months, year or so? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Not in the recent past. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  It's also an area more broadly that we're -- you know, the Department of Defense has not traditionally had the mission of train and equip of foreign militaries, and it's one we're working closely with the State Department and the Congress to expand our authorities in those areas.  We feel it's a very important aspect of being able to enable other countries -- with pretty modest investments up front and some interaction with our forces -- to become a lot more capable quickly across a range -- a minimum range of activity.  So it's an area that's very important to this department and to the government generally, and we're working closely to review authorities and see that we have the authorities that may be desirable in a very different world from the world that existed when the original authorities more restricted on our ability to do those kinds of things. 

 

            Q     General, there have been some fairly significant clashes in Afghanistan in recent weeks; one yesterday left a U.S. soldier killed. Do you have any details about that one northwest of Kandahar?  And can you speak more broadly about the enemy in Afghanistan as you move towards this parliamentary election? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  The one yesterday, Bret, we call southwest of a place called Deh Rawood, same location, I think, you're talking about. We lost a soldier; we had two wounded.  The Afghan National Army lost one and had a soldier wounded.  The size of the force not known.  There have been open-source reports today that talk about as many 50 being killed.  We can't verify that.  What we did do after we swept through the position -- having brought in attack helicopters and artillery, a couple pieces of artillery -- was to find numbers of weapons, ammunition, binoculars, GPS devices -- some of those types of things that represented that a force had been there. 

 

            My observation tracking this day in and day out is that virtually every time the Taliban come up against our regular forces or those of the Afghan National Army, they're losing pretty badly.  And what we suspect over time is that they're going to be driven to the standoff tactics that we see being employed in Iraq because they can't sustain those kinds of losses -- our view -- and continue to remain viable. We're hearing reports now that they're attempting to recruit 14-   through 16-year-olds to their cause because older and wiser Afghanis are simply not buying into their rhetoric. 

 

            Q     But the attacks are not based solely along the border anymore, they're more inside the country, as you head towards the election?  I mean, is it more widespread than just the border area? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  The border is still -- if you populated a map, it would still be predominately along the border.  That's where the refuge is to be found.  That's where perhaps they can escape across the border and find some opportunity to get away from our forces.  If you further the plot, it would go a short ways inland, but not very far into the rest of the country.  The north and the northwest portions of the country are relatively peaceful.  They're getting on with life and -- life in a democracy. 

 

            Q     I wanted to ask you about an issue that was raised by a press release put out by Task Force Baghdad in which they quoted at the end of the release an anonymous Iraqi calling the insurgents "enemies of humanity."  It turned out that the colorful quote was identical to one that was in a press release issued about a week earlier.  Have you -- have you figured out what happened here, and are the press people using stock quotes, say, in their press releases? 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Well, we're getting close to understanding it better.  And I think we've -- the folks that are involved in-theater have tried to understand it very carefully. 

 

            First of all, I think the -- the quote may have been modestly modified.  But the basic point is accurate, that they appear to have used the second quote in another statement.  It's -- it's --  

 

            First of all, the use of anonymous quotes in Department of Defense statements is unacceptable, and -- 

 

            Q     (Off mike.) 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Yeah.  It's completely unacceptable.  It was done for reasons that I'm not -- I don't understand very well yet, but I intend to understand better.  It's -- it probably reflects a certain rush to get something out on an important activity that occurred that may have benefited from a little better rigor than it got as the statement was being developed.  We're developing a little bit better understanding of what exactly happened.  But if there's a need to tighten up our procedures, we certainly will.  I mean, it's -- it's troubling, and we're trying to understand it a little bit better. 

 

            Q     If a journalist were to make up a quote or copy a quote or misuse a quote like that, he could lose his job.  In fact, some have. Has anyone been disciplined -- 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Well, what -- we're going to gather the facts first and then determine what the actions are.  I want to make sure that we have processes in place to avoid this from happening, first and foremost, and then we'll -- and we'll get a better sense of exactly   individual accountability that may need to be established.  I just don't know enough about the facts yet. 

 

            Q     Do you know, if, for instance, even the original quote was accurate, or is it something -- something you -- 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I don't know that.  I don't know that.  It's one of the obvious questions we're trying to understand.  But I will emphasize that you should, because I do, question a Department of Defense press statement that would have an anonymous source in it. It's not acceptable.  And it's -- I understand the desire to put out as expansive a press statement as is determined to be needed because an important activity occurred and the folks on the ground want to make sure that that activity is understood in all its range of complexity.  But it -- there's ways to do that, and it doesn't appear that they followed all the ways to do that here. 

 

            Q     Well, should I conclude from that, since you have the position that you have, that that guidance has been sent down, and that we won't be seeing any more anonymous quotes in press releases? 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Well, we're going to reaffirm the guidance.  Whether or not it's followed is always an exciting question, but -- 

 

            Q     Can I check on the status of a couple of major issues.  One -- do we know -- does the U.S. know definitively what shut down the Chinook on June 29th? 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  We think -- 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Rocket-propelled grenade. 

 

            Q     That's been definitively established.  Okay.  Second.  I've asked this before, but the Mosul suicide bombing back in December -- we still haven't got a final word on what happened.  Can you give us a sense of where the investigation is and why's it taking so (darn ?) long? 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  (Inaudible.) 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  I do not.  I'm sorry. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  We'll take that one.  These things are complicated; they take time.  I agree that it would be desirable to get these things wrapped up, but at the moment I don't have anything for you. 

 

            Q     Could you check on it? 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  We'll check on it. 

 

            Q     Nine months -- 

 

            Q     You know, Larry, the BRAC commission seems to be leaning in the direction of making major -- at least, substantial changes to the tentative DOD recommendations, particularly in the Air National Guard, maybe some other areas as well.  How much change would the secretary be willing to accept before he would recommend to the president to reject (to look at ?) the BRAC commission report? 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Well, first of all, I wouldn't want to prejudge, even based on what the BRAC commission has asked for additional information, what the commission will end up doing.  The commission has an important role in the process that was established by Congress. So we've acknowledged from the beginning that we anticipate the commission would review our recommendations carefully, and may indeed make changes.  I think the past there's been a 10 to 15 percent change   rate in recommendations that go from the Department of Defense to the BRAC commission.  So one shouldn't be surprised to see that number higher or lower. 

 

            I won't handicap what the secretary's response would be to, you know, any individual changes.  The one point we've made consistently, and I think that the BRAC commission certainly understand this, is that we've made decisions and -- we made recommendations that were based on a fairly matrixed set of considerations.  And it's difficult to reach into one recommendation and pull out something that is based on quite a range of considerations.  But we've made that well understood to the commission. 

 

            The commission has a role to play, though, and they deserve the opportunity to play that role.  And I don't want to be in a position to prejudge what our response would be to decisions that they haven't even made yet.  So, we'll give it time. 

 

            To Mike. 

 

            Q     General, there were some reports earlier this week that the head of Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines may have been captured in a raid or an attack or something along those lines.  You know, anything about that?  And B, is Abu Sayyaf increasing in power again in the Philippines? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  I haven't heard anything about Janjalani being captured.  I would dare say that's probably not accurate, or we would have heard it.  I do know that the Philippine army is increasing in its professionalism.  We have forces that work with them.  And that they are in the field, consistently, operating against the ASG, the Abu Sayyaf Group.  That's probably as much as I can say at this point.   

 

            MR. DI RITA:  The Philippine army is in the field.  That's right. 

 

            Q     Can you provide any additional context to the report that was released yesterday by both State and the Pentagon about the training of the Iraqi police forces?  It seemed to have some pretty critical language about the vetting process and the quality of recruits. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Yeah.  The -- we've said all along that the vetting -- the best vetting is that when you hire one of these guys, everybody comes out and says, "That's a bad guy."  And we've had lots of people identified in that very way.  We've unfortunately had people identified because they have become targets of military activity. 

 

            The report that was done by the -- it was a joint Department of State/Department of Defense inspector general analysis of police training.  Police training is conducted under the auspices of the Ministry of Interior inside of Iraq.   It highlighted a number of kind of fairly specific recommendations to get the Iraqis more involved in the vetting process.  I think General Petraeus took the recommendations for what they were, which was a good, quick look, a snapshot of some very thoughtful people that went out there and made a number of recommendations.  

 

            So it's a bit dated.  I think they did this back in the spring. And the report coming out in July reflects, I think, knowledge as of April, if I'm not mistaken.   

 

            But the general conclusions are that there's progress but that, you know, it's an uneven circumstance when you're trying to vet these people.  And I think that's something that we've known for quite some time.   

 

            But I'm not trying to dismiss the report.  It offered quite a number of specific recommendations on ways to improve that.  And I think General Petraeus has taken those aboard. 

 

            Q     But a lay person just reading that report would get the impression that the police training is not going very well; in fact, that it's sort of off track; and that it's not producing a large number of recruits that can actually project themselves, much less the Iraqi people.  Would -- what is your interpretation of what the report shows.  

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Do you want to -- 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  In the -- I haven't read the report.  I've read just a synopsis of it.  And I'd have to understand more of the period of observation.   

 

            In the early going, standing up the Iraqi police force was essentially a jobs program.  There was not the vetting that needed to take place, for a whole host of reasons.  But it's gotten infinitely better. 

 

            And I think we all realize that in an insurgency, that the police are going to play, if not the dominant role, certainly a critically important role to it.  So it's in everybody's best interest that they be as good as we can possibly help to make them, in conjunction with the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior.   

 

            I think probably the best people to vet will be the Iraqi leadership and the established Iraqi police force cadre that helps with the training.  The training takes place in a number of locations. It's fairly professional.  It's getting better all the time.  So I'd have to see the report to comment more, but I'm skeptical that it's as poor as perhaps the synopsis would -- 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Yeah.  Nick, I'm more than skeptical.  It didn't say it's off track.  And I've been briefed on the report and have scanned it pretty carefully.  It said the following things.  That the Iraqi police performed well during the January elections.  There is increased visibility of police on the streets.  Polls indicate a growing public respect for and confidence in the police force. Training is high quality, involving international trainers both in Jordan and Iraq, and Iraqi instructors are playing an increasing role in training.   

 

            But it also pointed out a lot of things that could be improved, and I'll stipulate there's a lot of things that could be improved. But I don't think -- it didn't leave me the impression that it was off track; it left me the impression that those things are going on but also some things that could be done better, including vetting, which is an important concern across the range of security forces, not just police. 

 

            How about one or two more and then we'll -- or maybe no more. 

 

            Q     Anything on these demonstrations at Bagram in Afghanistan? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  All I read -- it wasn't through official means, again, it was open source -- was that some people from a local village weren't happy that eight of their tribesmen had been rounded up.  Yet the operation was a joint U.S.-Afghan National Army operation.  They found these people with improvised explosive devices and other materials in their building.  So it looks like the arrest was a good one.  I have only heard, again, that there was some overhead fire, that it broke up the demonstration.  And I've heard nothing on it since. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Okay, we'll make this the last one. 

 

            Q     (Edwardson ?) with The Washington Times.  Given the heat index in Washington, how do the soldiers in Iraq deal with it?  Do they get any relief from the heat or anything of that sort?  What are the efforts to do that? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Absolutely.  We have been concerned about that region of the country.  It's a brutal region, especially this time of   year, have been concerned about it from the outset.  And there are air conditioners that are brought in, put into the barracks, put into the offices, that type of thing.  So although you're out on patrol and it's hot and it's miserable, when you get back in, there is relief. There are some very superb mess halls that are also air conditioned that allow the troops a chance to regenerate before they go back out again. 

 

            Thank you. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Thanks, folks. 

 

            Q     Thank you.

 

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