(Participating was Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Lawrence Di Rita and Director for Operations, the Joint Staff, Air Force Lt. Gen. Norton A. Schwartz. Photos of today’s briefing are available at: http://www.defenselink.mil/photos/Aug2003/0308013-F-2828D-047.html, http://www.defenselink.mil/photos/Aug2003/0308013-F-2828D-025.html, and http://www.defenselink.mil/photos/Aug2003/0308013-F-2828D-021.html.)
Di Rita: Good afternoon. I don't have anything as an opening statement. I would just like to join those who have already offered their condolences with respect to some U.S./coalition military forces who have been killed and wounded in Iraq over the past several days. It's a situation where the security circumstances are uneven; we know that. But in certain areas of Iraq, it remains quite dangerous for our forces. They're doing very good work across a broad front. But of course we mourn the loss of those who have given their lives for this cause.
I don't have a prepared statement, and I'd just like to ask General Schwartz, who's been kind enough, again, to offer some insights into some other military activities in Iraq and elsewhere, to come down today and maybe take some of your questions. And with that, I'll ask General Schwartz to take over.
Schwartz: Thank you, Mr. DiRita.
I too would like to add my condolences to the families of those who lost loved ones.
While we are making great strides in Iraq, we will continue to see our enemies attempt to disrupt the coalition support that we are providing to the American people. We remain steadfast in our commitment to the freedom of the American -- of the Iraqi people.
Operations throughout Iraq continue to focus on capture of hostile forces, providing a secure environment for the Iraqi people, and providing essential services necessary for their quality of life.
And in Liberia, Joint Task Force Liberia planners are meeting with the Nigerian force commander and have met today to work out details on how to facilitate the ECOMIL (Economic Community military) force movement to certain key locations in Monrovia. Joint Task Force Liberia is in place to assist ECOMIL forces to achieve a stable environment, so that humanitarian assistance can be provided to the people of Liberia, and also to facilitate the transition to a U.N.-led international peacekeeping operation.
With that, ladies and gentlemen, I'll be happy to take your questions.
Di Rita: Sir?
Q: Larry, have you got anything firm on the Marine -- small Marine teams that will be sent in, in the coming days -- engineers, communicators, perhaps medical people? Can you give us anything firm?
Schwartz: We have a liaison element currently on the ground at the airport with the ECOMIL command echelon.
Q: That's the previous one?
Schwartz: That's the previous one that you were aware of. And that we anticipate that the LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) forces will withdraw from the port area in Bushrod Island, based on negotiations between the ECOMIL force commander and the LURD leadership. And on that basis, if the ECOMIL force commander elects to move some of his forces to the port, then Marines will be embedded with those elements moving to the port as liaison. In addition, there will be a port assessment conducted by engineers, as well as Seals surveilling the waterway for obstacles and so on. And in addition, there will be a land-based quick reaction force to support the ECOMIL forces both at the airport and at the port.
Q: How many troops is this likely to include -- about?
Schwartz: About 200 or so, not all of whom would remain overnight.
Di Rita: Yeah, I mean, if you talk about, for example, people doing engineering assessments and that sort of thing, it's a situation where the numbers could fluctuate, and they'd go in and come out, and you might have some follow-on technical capability provided. I think you should expect to see that kind of fluctuation going on.
Q: And our military would go in during the day, go back to the ships and go back --
Di Rita: Yeah, or might just go back and not come back in. It's just the kind of thing based on what they find, based on what we think we might be able to help. Again, the objective is to let the Nigerian forces continue with stabilizing key areas of the city that are needed for the continued flow of -- or, for the restatement of humanitarian operations.
Q: But in a nutshell, you expect to utilize about 200 troops in the coming days, and the -- perhaps, as you say, engineering, communications, that kind of thing.
Schwartz: That's a good guesstimate.
Q: What about the land-based quick reaction forces? Has that been decided?
Di Rita: I would say -- (inaudible).
Q: That's definite? And how large would that be?
Schwartz: Again, that is part of that 200 number that we mentioned.
Q: But how big? A hundred; 150?
Schwartz: It's a company-size unit -- you know, 150 or a little bit larger.
Q: With helicopters, or just --
Schwartz: Helicopters are part of the larger joint task force, as you're aware, and they certainly are available. But they will remain aboard ship.
Di Rita: But there may be some ferrying in and out of people or equipment, so it wouldn't be at all surprising to see helicopters flying back and forth. And it's --
Schwartz: And for that matter as well, to facilitate the movement of the ECOMIL force from the airport to the port, there will be aerial escort as well. And so it could well occur that there would be either Harrier or helicopter kinds of escort occurring during that period.
Q: Do you anticipate that the rapid reaction force would be at the airport or the embassy or -- (inaudible)?
Schwartz: I prefer not to specify the exact location, if you don't mind.
Q: Could you just spell out again, though, on the rapid reaction force -- that sounds like it could evolve into -- I mean, it sounds like it has the potential danger of combat. And it's larger, 150 or so, significantly larger than was initially said of about 20. So could you just spell this out? It sounds like a much larger operation than initially was talked about.
Schwartz: The purpose of the mission for Joint Task Force Liberia still is in four major areas. The first was to assess the readiness of ECOMIL forces from the various contributing countries. To provide training if required was the second. The third was to assist ECOMIL in order to achieve their objective of obtaining security and stability in the Monrovia area. And the fourth one was to provide a reaction capability in the event that the ECOMIL forces get in trouble. Now, this will be a narrow mission, in the sense that the objective will be to stabilize a situation that -- where ECOMIL feels that is not within their control, and once stabilized, then the ECOMIL forces will continue with their mission.
Q: So there possibly would be combat. And also, spell out that aerial protection force you were mentioning.
Schwartz: The aerial protection -- that's not the correct term. The aerial escort. And aerial escort would provide over-watch of the movement of the ECOMIL forces from the airport to the port, and could include fixed-wing aircraft like Harriers or rotary-wing aircraft; for example, Hueys or Cobra helicopters.
Q: And how much force would that be? That could easily be an air force that's not just off the ship. In other words, it sounds like a --
Schwartz: No, ma'am, all organic to the expeditionary strike group.
Di Rita: And also the thing to keep in mind is that over time, it remains the intention that ECOMIL forces will continue to be augmented. The Nigerian battalion that's there now is some several hundred. I think it's probably 700 or 800.
Schwartz: It's seven hundred and -- 746 is the current number of the Nigerian forces on the ground. There will be a second Nigerian battalion, which will begin to deploy at the end of this week. And at the time that the second battalion arrives, at that point, the reaction force will depart. The ground reaction force will relocate to a sea-based circumstance.
Di Rita: The Nigerians are doing their very best and a very good job at it, as well, to secure the areas that need to be secured for the purposes of the mission that they've signed up to. And in order to get going faster, as their own forces flow in, the commanders on the ground have decided: Maybe we can kind of make more extended use out of the forces already there -- the Nigerian forces already there. So, that's -- and General Turner, who's been in discussions with the Nigerian commanders, the ECOMIL commanders, is just trying to provide what he can so that they, the Nigerians, can indeed get to their places more quickly, and as their forces flow in, have a more robust capability.
Q: What did General Turner bring away from those discussions yesterday that made him decide to ramp up from less than 100 we were told yesterday to now over 200?
Di Rita: Well -- go ahead.
Schwartz: I was just -- the point, sir, is that that was the first conversation between Brigadier General Okonkwo of the Nigerian army and Major General Turner. And the key point was that the -- there was an agreement that it was wise to move some portion of the ECOMIL force to the port so that, and consistent with the ECOMIL mission, that one could secure the port to allow humanitarian assistance to flow in a much more robust way. And on that basis, they had conversations. They talked about mutual support; how we could assist them in achieving their mission. And that's how it evolved.
Q: So, there's no specific threat involved in ramping up the numbers? It's primarily to secure the port?
Schwartz: That's correct.
Di Rita: No. No, no, no, no. The numbers that we're talking about for these Marines that will go to help on the quick reaction -- they are not involved in securing the port. They are going to be there as the Nigerian commander uses his forces to secure his areas as a quick reaction force to assist as may be needed. But they're not taking responsibility for any particular security areas.
Q: So, the more than 200 includes this rapid reaction force?
Di Rita: Mm-hmm. That's right.
Q: General, you said that the first battalion -- 746 of Nigerian forces are on the ground; second battalion at the end of this week. At that point, when the second battalion comes in, the land-based quick reaction force then pulls out and goes sea-based?
Schwartz: The current plan, the current concept, is that it would relocate -- correct -- back to a sea-based posture.
Q: So it's only there for a couple of days?
Di Rita: Well, no, no, no. Let's clarify that, for just -- if we can. The second battalion begins deploying. The first one took some period of days. The second one will take some period of days -- the Nigerian battalion. We expect there will be a steady and gradual force flow occurring on behalf of ECOMIL, and that's what the plan is. And with that plan, the idea would be that General Turner has, with the Nigerian general, the assessment that once the forces -- the ECOMIL forces get a little more robust, it's possible that they won't need the quick reaction force right there, so they would move out. But that's subject to change, and as it develops, they'll reassess that.
Q: If I could just follow up, one more, is the assessment of the ECOMIL forces that they are able to be on their own if combat comes around? If the cease-fire doesn't hold, would you see more of a U.S. presence needed?
Schwartz: I think it's clear that thus far the mission has proceeded according to plan; that is, the arrival of the first battalion, the second one, as Mr. DiRita indicated, will deploy over a number of days. There appears to be respect for the ECOMIL force. This has been expressed in the conversations that Okonkwo has had with LURD leaders in Monrovia. So the short answer is, we would expect this to proceed as planned.
Q: Do you plan to add any additional air power to this ECOMIL --say, something that would be more permanent, as opposed to aircraft that are on the ships?
Schwartz: The mission is to assist the movement, and that is the basic assignment. And those assets which are organic to the expeditionary strike group are available to General Turner.
Q: Isn't this kind of -- I mean, you're saying that the Nigerians are doing the job on their own, yet U.S. Marines are providing security, you said, not to the harbor --
Di Rita: I want to be very clear. They're not providing security.
Q: But you've got security teams that are providing security to something.
Di Rita: I don't know. Did we talk about security teams? I don't think so.
Schwartz: I don't think so.
Again, the --
Q: You're providing support, then, to the ECOMIL mission. They're providing security for the Nigerians. Why are there U.S. troops on the ground at all if the Nigerians are getting the job done?
Schwartz: The point is that there is a reaction capability, should something unexpected occur.
Di Rita: It's an additional layer of capability, but at the moment, all of the capability with respect to the points you raised -- security, indigenous force protection -- is being provided by the Nigerians themselves. They're doing their own self-protection, force protection, things like that.
Q: Then why are the U.S. military -- why are there Marines in there to provide what would be another layer of security? You can call it a quick reaction force, but it's still another layer of security, is it not?
Schwartz: It is a reaction capability, again, if something unexpected occurs with regard to an ECOMIL unit and only, again, to stabilize the tactical situation such that they can restart their mission. It is not a security mission.
Di Rita: And just to really clarify one point, too: You said that they were in there; they're not in there. Their thinking is that they will be in there at some point, but they're not in there at the moment.
Q: (Inaudible) -- going to go in there tomorrow.
And if I could follow up just a little bit, the numbers of people that you're counting, you're counting the people on the ground. You're not counting the airwing component. You're not talking about the helicopters lifting people back and forth, plus the Super Cobras, plus the Harriers. So those are additional people involved in the mission that are not on the ground and are not included in this number; is that correct?
Di Rita: Yeah. But what we've said all along is that that capacity out there on the ships is around 2,300.
Q: Right. And --
Di Rita: So, I mean, that's -- use that number if you feel more comfortable, but in terms of the number of people in the country, it's a hundred-plus at the moment, and it will get a little --
Q: And the last point. Larry, if I'm not mistaken, you said that we would look to have the Marines come out as soon as the second battalion -- Nigerian battalion is in there and the situation is stabilized. But you're a little --
Di Rita: That's the thinking at the moment, but this is a situation --
Q: -- but you're a little soft on that.
Di Rita: Well, sure, because this is a situation --
Q: There is no hard exit on that.
Schwartz: The current thinking is that that will be the time when the reaction force can reposition. All of this is planning, and it will remain to be seen how it plays out given weather, given delivery of the second battalion, given the circumstances we confront.
Di Rita: Probably the most important change in the last few days in terms of our ability to continue with the planning with ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) is the fact that we now have good communications between the Nigerian commanders, the U.S. that's there to assist in whatever way we can assist, there appears to be better communications there, at least ongoing communications, with the opposition forces. So the communications are sorting themselves out in a way that it wasn't quite as good over the last couple weeks. So it's difficult to project. We just know that we have better communications, so we'll be able to, perhaps, make better (time ?).
Q: But the rebel groups are still in there -- and I apologize to everybody -- but the rebel groups are still in there, so it's still a somewhat hostile environment; otherwise, the Marines wouldn't be going in. Correct?
Schwartz: The current assessment is that actually Monrovia is calm. And we --
Q: On that point, General, are they going to start moving in when the -- the rebels have promised to leave the fort tomorrow. Will the rapid reaction force start moving in and these other units start moving in as the rebels pull out, after the rebels pull out, or even -- or will the rapid reaction force go in before the rebels start pulling out?
Schwartz: I don't want to go into exquisite detail about the plan. But that transfer of the port between -- currently, the LURD occupies that area. Presumably, they will withdraw, the Nigerians will begin the movement to the port, we will provide assistance during that movement from the airport to the port, and that should occur, you know, roughly in a sequential fashion.
Q: General, you said just a minute ago that the situation was calm. But there's been looting at the port. And so, I mean, are you going to have to -- is there a possibility that you would move in more quickly, or, you know, accelerate this to prevent that from getting worse?
Schwartz: This is a decision for the ECOWAS force commander to make. He has determined -- he will determine the appropriate time for the movement to the port to occur, and we will provide the assistance necessary to see that he can accomplish that.
Di Rita: The impression we all have is that the ECOWAS commander understands the importance of getting some units to the port and start calming things down. And so, it's our desire to help him do that. And that's kind of the nature of the kind of planning that's going on right now: How can we help him get there faster?
Q: You said the port's going to be secured for humanitarian aid to flow in. Is there any thought that once it is secure, that one or more of the U.S. ships might pull in to unload some equipment, trucks, whatever, to help the ECOMIL force?
Schwartz: It is far more likely that the World Food Program ship would be the first ship to come to the wharf. And you need to understand that Freeport, as it's called, in Monrovia only has one wharf available. And so, the first one, clearly, to come in will be the World Food Program, who has both fuel aboard and foodstuffs. And I would not anticipate that a U.S. ship -- a U.S. military platform would take space up on a port, you know, on a wharf at anytime.
Q: Sort of an Iraq-related question, if I could. Today in Washington and tomorrow in Fayetteville, the families of military -- of soldiers over in Iraq are having press conferences, complaining about the duration of the stay and using words like "the Bush administration betrayed us" and "our son was killed for no good reason." In fact, one of the speakers was the father of a Marine who was killed on March 27th. The group is called Bring Them Home Now.
I don't know if you've heard about this, but it begs for some kind of Pentagon response here. What do you tell families like that that are so angst and upset that they're going to the length of press conferences -- a national press conference down in Fayetteville, you know, the home of the 18th Airborne Corps?
Di Rita: I'll start, and General Schwartz may have a view on this, but obviously, these are families who are very committed to what their sons and daughters are committed to, which is this important U.S. security objective. So, it's a very difficult thing to put one in a position of having a son or daughter in the military; indeed, to have a son or daughter killed. So, I certainly respect that. And they're going to express their views as they see fit.
And I would say that we are very aware of the importance of providing a sense of regularity to how forces will continue to move through the region -- through Iraq. We've begun to do that to make it very clear that there is a rotation plan; that based on the current assessment of the situation and the current need for security capability, we'll be able to execute over the coming months.
We've seen now, I think, not withstanding some anxiety on this particular point, the 3rd Infantry Division has begun to rotate back. Our intention had been all along to get them back in the early fall. That's going to happen. It appears to be on-track and we've seen some significant number of the 3rd Infantry Division come home.
So, it's going to be the kind of thing where if we can establish some regularity, if the security circumstances permit us to maintain what we've established as the regular plan, people will understand that better and feel better about it. But there's no question that it's a -- as I've said before, Iraq remains a dangerous place. If a parent has a son or a daughter in Iraq, there -- it's perfectly understandable that they would be concerned about that.
Q: Are you surprised, though, that groups are organizing? It's relatively unusual, isn't it, in your experience, General Schwartz -- families would go out publicly and complain?
Schwartz: I think it's -- you know, we feel the same grief that the parents do, clearly. And every commander up and down the line surely does.
But I'd like to focus on the point about the rotation policy. Clearly, there is a need for predictability. That is the objective of the rotation policy. The tours will be up to one year in length. But each individual will know when they will be home, and that is exactly the kind of knowledge which each and every one of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines deserves.
Di Rita: Bill?
Q: Yeah, General, back on Iraq, could you update us on the hunt for Saddam Hussein? Do you think he's alive? And is he still in the country?
Schwartz: I don't know whether he's alive or dead. But I do know for sure that he ain't coming back.
And we are acting on intelligence that comes our way. In fact, in the last 24 hours, we apprehended two Republican Guard general officers and one Special Security Organization senior member. And so, we are acting on intelligence. We are continuing to detain individuals. And it remains to be seen what will occur in the future.
Q: And just to follow, what are you seeing in terms of the organized resistance? Is that still there, or are you making progress in getting at that resistance?
Schwartz: We are making progress. We are working at this from an offensive mindset. We are attriting the enemy. We are detaining them when we can. We are taking their wherewithal of weapons and so on off the street. This is a tough adversary, however. And so, as Mr. DiRita indicated, Iraq in many areas remains a dangerous place, but we will stay with it. And we will overcome those regime -- those former regime elements, Fedayeen or foreign fighters, as they may be.
Q: Yes --
Q: Look at me.
Q: General, there have been some pretty well publicized incidents recently in which American soldiers have opened fire and killed what turned out to be innocent Iraqis. And one case involved a family. Another involved some Iraqi police. What steps are being taken to try to prevent that from happening in the future?
Schwartz: Our troops operate under a well-understood set of rules of engagement, the first principle of which is individuals may defend themselves when threatened. That is not -- and that is not to suggest that folks can fire indiscriminately. They do not. Our people are disciplined, and they discriminate targets and so on. But on occasion, you have occurrences of -- where innocents are hurt or killed, and we regret that. That is unfortunate. But this is war, sir, and we make sure that our troops are trained, that they understand what their rules of engagement are and exercise the utmost discretion.
Di Rita: We saw, in the case when -- in -- I guess it was Mosul, where the -- Saddam Hussein's sons were captured -- this was a busy street. It's a neighborhood. There are shops right next door. The -- in many cases, regrettably, the people that we're after are working in areas where they know it will be difficult for the United States and for the coalition forces to come and get them. They -- the regime during the war and indeed prior to the war used civilians as cover. It's unfortunately still going on. Our -- it's -- as our intelligence continues to improve, it's important that we try and avoid those kinds of circumstances, but we're facing an enemy that in many ways is using the laws of civility against us.
Q: Well, if I could just follow up, what I'm really asking -- is there anything being done to reinforce those rules of engagement? In the case of the Iraqi police, some of the police -- a policeman who survived in the car claimed that they identified themselves as Iraqi police, but the bullets kept flying. Is anything being done to reinforce the rules of engagement?
Di Rita: I assure you that it is. This is a daily matter of command and oversight. Absolutely. Troop leaders do this. First sergeants do this. Company and -- commanders do this. It is a daily occurrence. Absolutely.
Q: Sir, yeah. For months Defense officials said that the primary resistance to U.S. forces in Iraq and to U.S. efforts in Iraq came from remnants of the Iraqi regime, of the Ba'athist Party. In recent days, U.S. officials and commanders, it seems to me, have increasingly been pointing to their concerns about a changing nature of resistance that they're seeing; more foreign elements; Iraq as a magnet for anti-U.S. forces from some other countries and with other ideas in mind. My question is, given the changing nature of the threat, is the military changing -- thinking about changing the way it responds to that threat, rethinking its approach to the threat?
Schwartz: I think we clearly are adapting as, as you understand, that what began as attacks that were primarily small-arms based evolved into mortars and then rocket-propelled grenades, and now increasingly is through the use of improvised explosive devices. We will adapt to that reality and appropriately provide for force protection for our forces while we engage the perpetrators, both during an event but, more importantly, to engage them prior to an act of violence against our forces.
Q: Is there any way to (off mike) if Iraq continues to be a magnet for those sorts of --
Di Rita: Well, let me just say on that point, you described them as anti-U.S. forces, which is, I would say, a euphemism for terrorists, and in some cases, foreign terrorists. In increasing -- not increasing, but in increasingly apparent circumstances, it's foreign terrorists. So foreign terrorists are attracted to areas where the coalition is on the offense in the global war on terror, and in Iraq we are on the offense in the global war on terror, so they're trying to engage us. They're adapting to techniques that include terrorist techniques, such as, as General Schwartz described, car bombs and other vehicle-borne bombs.
So it's -- we know that, as we've seen in Afghanistan and in other countries around the world, where the governing circumstance is uncertain, there's a potential for terrorists to take root. It's our intention that terrorists will not take root in Iraq. We don't believe they've taken root, but there's clearly an indication that foreign terrorists are involved in the kind of violence that we see here. And we're going to use all the means at our disposal, all of the national means of power, to counter foreign terrorists.
Q: A domestic question, if I could? How soon will the secretary be making a recommendation to the president on filling the vacant secretary spots in the Army -- in the Navy -- excuse me -- and the Air Force? Those jobs have been open for some time or you've known they were going to be open.
Di Rita: Well, I think it's safe to acknowledge that we had a fairly unfortunate circumstance with respect to the Navy position, so that's something that, you know, we've obviously had to reconsider, and that the secretary's gone about doing that. And I guess when it comes to timing, that's a matter between the secretary and the president, and I don't have any need to comment on that.
Q: What can you tell us about congressional restrictions on Special Forces and requiring presidential finding?
Di Rita: I suppose you may be referring to the article in the paper.
Di Rita: Okay. It's a complicated issue. It's one that has a history to it. It's an issue that has had a lot of -- there are overlapping jurisdictions within the Congress with respect to various titles in law and how they apply to the military and other special activities of the United States government. It's complicated.
I think that it's safe to say that it's unlikely. It would clearly not be helpful for additional -- any kind of additional restrictions to be placed on the ability to engage in the global war on terrorism, using the kinds of capability that the United States has across the board.
But I also think it's safe to say that this is an issue in which, as I said, there's several committees of Congress that are engaged in it, that understand it, that are working on it. As I understand it from the story, there's -- the story refers to a particular committee and a particular body. That may be that committee's view. But more broadly speaking, we would just wait to see how the full Congress might speak to the issue.
But as I said, we -- this is not a new issue. It's a complicated issue. It's one that deserves scrutiny, and it gets it a lot. We clearly need the kinds of flexibilities that we've seen in use in Afghanistan, in Iraq, to be able to be agile and quick and capable of sort of short-notice targeting of enemy activities. And we wouldn't be seeking any undue restrictions on our ability to do that.
But I think it's early to say what the Congress might do with respect to this particular issue this year, because, as I said, there's several committees involved. And we've tried our best to remain in front of all the committees and make sure that our needs are understood. And I think there is a good understanding of what we need. So, it's a bit early.
Q: But it would make life very difficult if they did --
Di Rita: It's speculation, because it's just way too early to say what the Congress will do in this particular matter.
Q: Has the Pentagon given a nod to it in any way? (Inaudible) --
Di Rita: I think the article probably -- or, not the article; the -- what may or may not have been interpreted as what Steve -- Dr. Cambone, who understands this issue very well and who has been very helpful with respect to helping the Special Operations Command and the special operators in the department think about the way -- the future of warfare within their particular area -- Cambone has been very involved in that, is one of the real original thinkers in that area and, I think, has the respect of the special operations community from that standpoint -- I think to interpret whatever he may have been up to the committee talking about in the way that it appears to have been interpreted in the report language is probably a stretch.
Q: So he feels that maybe he was misinterpreted or by --
Di Rita: I just would refer you to him on how he feels, but I can say that he wouldn't knowingly have agreed to something that's been interpreted the way that it's being interpreted. And we're engaged with the committees to make sure that that's clearly understood.
Q: But the Pentagon will oppose any movement in that direction.
Di Rita: The Pentagon will remain engaged on the issue with the committees involved, and I think we have been. So.
Q: Larry? General, can you give us an assessment of what you think you're up against in Afghanistan right now by way of Taliban and al Qaeda? Numbers, the tenor of what they're doing? Can you give us any update?
Schwartz: We see small elements of adversary units -- in fact, "unit" is too big -- small groups of people that operate in the border area, for example. And we are continuing. Warrior Sweep was a activity recently concluded, and there are others underway which continue to focus on these small elements, Taliban and/or al Qaeda. And we will eliminate those elements and while we continue to enable the Afghan government and the Afghan National Army to assume that role on their own behalf.
Q: In total do you have a sense, though, of how many Taliban and al Qaeda fighters are still wandering around --
Schwartz: I really don't have a good estimate, but I can tell you, though, it is not a substantial number.
Di Rita: Maybe a couple more, and then we're going to have to go. Over here, please.
Q: General, when was the last time -- back on Saddam -- when was the last time you received reliable intelligence suggesting Saddam Hussein could still be alive?
Schwartz: I -- again, I don't speak about such intelligence matters from this platform. But it's important for you to know that when we do get information, we, obviously, act on it. And we continue to run operations in various locations throughout Iraq, both in response to information on Saddam and others. And as I indicated earlier, there were three individuals detained just in the last 24 hours.
Q: Larry, a point of --
Di Rita: Down here, and then I think we have to --
Q: Just a point of clarification on your initial or earlier remarks about the Liberian activity. You mentioned the SEALs, I believe. Could you say what they're doing and what the duration and size of their operation is?
Schwartz: Sure. It's a platoon-size element; you know, 10 to 12. And their purpose is to survey the waterways that approach the wharf in the port area, to look for obstacles and things of that nature. It's a hydrographic survey. That is their function.
Q: Just a day or two or three, or what's the duration?
Schwartz: That -- it's a short-term sort of mission, can be accomplished in a, you know, number of hours.
Q: Is it already under way?
Schwartz: A survey -- preliminary survey began this morning, conducted by the SEALs, and a more complete and final one would occur coincidental with the movement of the ECOMIL forces to the port.
Q: Is there any concern the port might have been mined?
Schwartz: No suggestion of that. What -- the concern has more to do with obstacles.
Q: But the issue of terrorism in Iraq -- what, if anything, is being done to better secure Iraq's long, porous borders, given the threat of foreign fighters seeping back in? Anything being done? Or don't we have enough troops to actually do a better job of that?
Schwartz: A -- that is a key function which will be performed by the Iraqi civil defense force, of which we are fielding upwards of 8,000 as we speak. That's another function for the new Iraqi army. Four hundred individuals are currently in training in Kirkuk, with another 400 being recruited. That, in the end, is a mission for the Iraqis to perform themselves.
Q: But it would be weeks, not -- and even months.
Schwartz: In the interim, we certainly maintain our own -- that is, the coalition does -- appropriate surveillance of the border areas. And that no doubt will continue.
Q: Larry, can I have a point of -- numbers clarification?
Di Rita: (Off mike) -- yeah.
Q: We were talking that less than a hundred U.S. personnel were in Liberia as of two days ago, and now --
Di Rita: One hundred, plus or minus. I think it actually -- may have actually been a little over.
Q: We're talking 200 now. Is that a hundred plus 200, or a hundred plus another hundred? Could you clarify that?
Schwartz: One hundred plus 200.
Q: So from 100, roughly 300 --
Schwartz: Three hundred, plus or minus --
Di Rita: Give or take, and some of that's going to change. These port assessments will come out, and some might go back. But it's hard to pin a number down, so it's -- but it's -- that's the universe. I mean, that's the basic --
Q: But Larry, could you --
Q: Okay, that's the universe --
Q: Larry, could explain, though, why the change? In other words, before everybody was saying no, we didn't want to do anything that might get involved in combat. We wanted to have very -- why the change now? Why this larger force going in? Why now?
Schwartz: It has to do with assisting the movement of the ECOMIL forces to the port.
Di Rita: But then the objective has not changed, and it's important to understand it. And as we get better communications, as I talked about, with the ECOMIL, as they get into the country and we get a better sense of, now that they're in the country, what is it that we can do to help them what they're doing, particularly in this transition phase -- they've got a large but not particularly robust group in there now, 740 or something, that General Schwartz referred to -- their numbers will get bigger. So they're in a little bit of a transition, and it takes time to always get things started. So we want to see what we can do to help them get that started.
So, we've got communications. We're talking to them. There's been a sense, over the last couple days, that this might be -- this additional, still relatively modest capability that is available might help them move things along, and we want to help them do that.
Q: Perhaps --
Di Rita: The mission hasn't changed. The mission remains to get the humanitarian operations going, which we're going to do. To help them get them going, the Nigerians have asked for a little bit of assistance, so we're going to do that, and let the ECOWAS military capability get in there, get robust, help them get in and get robust.
Q: Perhaps you made this clear, General, but will you all -- are you all going to supply helicopters to get -- to help the Nigerians get support?? from the airport? Is that -- we're talking about -- will some of that be U.S. helicopters that they'll move in?
Schwartz: It could be, if ECOMIL asked for transportation assistance.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
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