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Videoteleconference from Iraq with Col. Linnington

Presenters: Col. Michael S. Linnington, commander of the U.S. Army's 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division
August 08, 2003

Staff: Okay. We're about ready to get started. It's 10:00 here. So, thanks for joining us this morning.

We'd like to introduce you to Colonel Michael S. Linnington. He is the commander of the 3rd Brigade, the Army's 101st Airborne Division, and he joins us live from downtown Mosul. Colonel Linnington will discuss his unit's operation in northern Iraq, and then when he's finished with a brief opening statement, I'll facilitate questions and answers.

Colonel Linnington?

Linnington: Thank you. And thank you very much for your introduction.

Let me start by saying good morning to the Washington press corps and the audience listening back at Fort Campbell and the surrounding communities of Clarksville, Hopkinsville and Elk Grove, home of the world's only air assault division and 20,000 soldiers we affectionately call Screaming Eagles. Before I answer your questions, I'd like to say a few things about ongoing missions and give you a short update on some of the initiatives we are currently involved.

But first, I've got to start by saying I'm privileged to lead some of the greatest soldiers in the world, America's finest sons and daughters that are indeed our nation's most precious resource. Our soldiers are doing great. In fact, they're doing better than great in tough, sometimes dangerous and complex conditions that most of us would never have imagined just a few short months ago. They do everything we ask them to do, willingly, without complaint and to a high standard, despite extremes in conditions that would paralyze the average human being. Today's 120 days here in Mosul, Iraq -- I guess just an ordinary day for this region, but not an ordinary day for our extraordinary soldiers.

Now, on the Screaming Eagles area of operations. The Screaming Eagles have been operating in northern Iraq since mid-April. We crossed the border with Kuwait on 21 March and covered 1,200 kilometers, fighting in five major cities, and we now reside in the rich farmland of the Tigris River, centered on the northern city of Mosul. As commander of 3rd Brigade, our forces are operating in the far western portion of the zone, covering 220 kilometers of the Syrian border and encompassing 15,000 square kilometers, mostly farmland and often called the breadbasket of Iraq.

Though our area is recognized as some of the safest and most secure in all of Iraq, there are still remnants of individuals who are not committed to our cause and are committed to harming our soldiers whenever the opportunity permits. In fact, over the past couple of weeks, the 101st has lost six soldiers to enemy activity; two in our unit from an RPG attack west of Mosul and east of the large city of Tall Afar.

In that regard, we will continue to remain vigilant, keep force protection foremost in our minds, and always keep the initiative in disrupting enemy forces that want to disrupt the stability of northern Iraq or threaten the lives and welfare of American soldiers. Security is our number one priority.

Strategically, we control two border crossing points, one with Syria and one with Turkey, and also control access to one of the region's most important assets, Freedom Dam on the Tigris River and northwest of Mosul. The water from the Tigris and the lake the dam forms provides most of the irrigation and drinking water in our region and is vitally important to the livelihood of the farmers in our area.

Finally, our area here in northern Iraq is ethnically diverse and contains a mosaic of Arab, Kurd, Turkoman, Yazidi, Christian and tribal influences that is not unlike what we have in many large cities across America.

We've had many successes in our area over the past couple of months: an effective and efficient working government in Mosul; district elections complete in many of the larger subdistricts, and many more scheduled to take place over the coming weeks; newly trained inter-ethnic police and security forces. In our area, out west, we are training a new border force that will help create a safe and secure environment of this vast desert terrain.

Over the past couple months, we have opened trade between Syria and Iraq at the border crossing point of Rabiya, and soldiers today are working side by side with customs officials ensuring hundreds of trucks cross without incident each and every day.

Stability and support operations have flourished in the 101st area as a result of the secure environment we are providing, and Foreign investments are beginning to occur. In the past two days, the division brought together state and private institutions in a $14 million deal to renovate the Nineveh Hotel in an effort to boost Mosul tourism and the regional economy. The division has poured over $11 million into repairs of infrastructure, banks, schools, police stations, hospitals, medical clinics, and all-important irrigation and water projects, not to mention courthouses and telecommunications sites.

In all, we're working hard across the board to improve the quality of life of the average Iraqi citizen. And it's encouraging to see our newly elected officials not only endorsing our efforts but helping us identify the areas of need where our programs can be best targeted.

The final area I'd like to address before I open it up to questions is an area that I know is of interest to many of you, and that is the morale of our soldiers. In essence, morale is high. Just about a year ago, our brigade returned from a six-month deployment in Afghanistan, and today we find ourselves on point for the nation here in Iraq.

Despite these progressive deployments, our soldiers remain motivated, I believe, because they understand the importance of this mission and are driven by the knowledge that if we don't win here, we could relive the horrors of September 11th. We can't allow that to happen. It is our responsibility as soldiers, but more importantly, it is what we do.

Our soldiers and families are making tremendous sacrifices and do so with the knowledge we will be successful in this fight, just as the veterans before us in similar fights throughout history and in many places around the world. We won't let up, and we will remain relentless in pursuit of victory and in pursuit of the enemies that try to derail our efforts.

Thank you very much. That concludes my opening comment, and I'd be -- I'm ready for any question you have for me at this time.

Staff: Okay. As we move into questions, I'd just ask you to please identify yourself and your news organization. So -- Will?

Q: Colonel, this is Will Dunham with Reuters. Do you sense that the Iraqi resistance, in whatever form it's taking, is mounting an escalating campaign against soft targets? What targets do you consider at risk? And why is there -- if there is such a new concentration, why are they focusing on soft targets?

Linnington: Yes, sir. I believe all of the threats we have against us now are targeted against what we would call soft targets. In the six -- well, in the numerous attacks we've had in the 101st zone over the past couple weeks, all of those attacks have come from either distances, away from our fixed sites, or have come against small convoys that are operating in and around the division area.

The reason for those attacks, I believe, are that the enemy's ability to attack us in large numbers is reduced. And he's picking primarily on soft targets because, you know, that's really his last resort.

Q: Jim Mannion from Agence France-Presse. You said that you control both the border crossings to Turkey and to Syria. There have been some concerns expressed that foreign fighters may be becoming more of a problem. Are you seeing movements of those kinds of elements across those borders and, I suppose, particularly the Syrian border?

Linnington: Sir, can you repeat the question? We broke up a little bit.

Q: The question is whether you're seeing movements of foreign fighters across the borders that you control, particularly the Syrian border.

Linnington: Yes, sir -- (audio break) -- any indications of foreign fighters in our -- (audio break). We have disrupted many arms dealers, and we are concerned with several of the illegal trade that may be occurring. (Audio break) -- we've not -- (audio break) -- or targeted any Syrian or outside Iraqi forces -- (audio break).

Staff: Yeah, Colonel, you are breaking up here. Could you please repeat that answer?

Linnington: Sure. We are on the very western portion of Iraq, and our area of operations does include about 220 kilometers of the Syrian border. To date, we've not seen any indications of any foreign fighters, Syrians specifically, that have come across the border in any organized resistance, or even as individuals, that are attacking our forces. It is a concern of ours, and it is why we are training up Iraqi border security forces to man the 44 border checkpoints that are located in our area of operations.

Q: Yes, Colonel, this is Vince Crawley with the Army Times Newspapers. In your response which broke up, I thought I heard you say that you had disrupted some arms dealers. If you could elaborate on that, that would help.

And also, a second question, have you seen an escalation of violence in recent weeks, a decrease of violence, about the same? And is it, as in other sectors, appear to be growing a little bit more sophisticated as far as remote explosives?

Linnington: Sure. Arms dealers are a relative term in the area that we control. It's largely a farming and agriculture area; several sheep herders and goat herders and things like that. So weapons are a way of life for most of the Iraqi people out here.

We have seen some very small numbers of individuals that are selling weapons in the markets. That's, of course, illegal, and where we see that, we break that up. We've not seen any organized selling of larger caliber weapons or RPGs or things like that. So in that regard, we don't have a problem with arms dealers per se.

Increase or decrease? We saw an increase in attacks in our area about the third week in April. We had gone several weeks, in fact, about two months, with no attacks at all in the area west of Mosul, and then we took several attacks in the period of about the 19th of April until the 25th of April. Since then -- (correcting himself) -- April. I mean July, 19th to the 25th of July. Since then, we've had no armed attacks against us, due in large part, I think, because we're very vigilant and we remain with force protection foremost in our mind.

Throughout the division -- (audio break) -- in the improvised explosive devices that are used to target our convoys and some of our checkpoints and entry control points. We have disrupted several of them over the past days, everything from rigged 155 rounds to 107mm rounds that are rigged for detonation and things like that. So in terms of sophistication, we believe the enemy is getting more sophisticated.

Q: Colonel, this is James Cullum from the Talk Radio News Service. The press has been briefed on the 55 soldiers killed since May 1st, but what about the wounded? Does the 101st Airborne have, and can you release records of wounded soldiers sent to medical facilities? And in these records, can information be released on the numbers of wounded soldiers returning to duty?

Linnington: Yes, sir, I don't have the numbers for the Division at my fingertips. I will tell you in my Brigade area, we lost two great soldiers that were killed in an ambush, and in that ambush one other soldier was wounded. We've had about three or four other soldiers injured in the past three or four weeks due to attacks against some of our fixed sites, our command and control sites, but very small numbers of soldiers wounded in actions against the enemy. All of the information on the wounded soldiers, of course, is available for you under the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act.

Q: Colonel, good morning. It's Carl Rochelle with NBC News. I wonder, since you are up on the Syrian border, what role, if any, you are playing in the search for Saddam, and if you are seeing any high-ranking Iraqis still trying to escape from Iraq across the Syrian border?

Linnington: Sir, we have not, in my zone, had any targeted sightings or actionable intel of Saddam Hussein. Not to say that we don't think it's not possible he could come out west and attempt to cross the Syrian border. We have forces in position throughout my zone, and if that occurs and we get that intelligence, we'll act on it very quickly.

And frankly, it's a very open area and difficult to cross, in large measure due to the tough terrain in that area and the fact that our forces kind of blanket the key avenues of approach in that area.

So I'm confident, if Saddam Hussein's in our area, we'll eventually find him and capture him.

Q: Colonel, good morning. Sandra Erwin with National Defense Magazine. We have heard from senior Army officials recently about the Army being overstretched and understaffed and so forth. I was wondering if you can tell us anything about what areas you may see some shortages -- in people, combat, support, MPs. Give us some examples of areas that you see some undermanning.

Linnington: Yes, ma'am. The beauty of being out here at the tip of the spear is, we are so well-resourced by the Army. It's just an absolute wonderful feeling. And we are at 100 percent plus in all of our personnel and logistics system.

I have been -- I do know the Army is involved in a comprehensive study of what MOSs we need to increase and decrease and things like that in the future.

Being an infantryman, I of course feel that we need more infantrymen. But I'd be dishonest if I didn't say we need more MPs as well.

You brought up MPs. They are a critical asset who are absolutely vital in the mission we performed in Afghanistan and are doing yeoman's work here in Iraq as well.

Staff: Okay. Any other questions? Okay. I think that's it. Colonel Linnington, I appreciate your time and the information that you've provided us, and we wish you well on your endeavors there.

Linnington: Thank you very much.

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