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DoD News Briefing

Presenters: Lawrence Di Rita, Department Spokesman; James T. Conway, Lt. Gen, USMC, Director for Operations Joint Staff
June 30, 2005 2:05 PM EDT
DoD News Briefing

            MR. DI RITA:  Good afternoon.  A couple of just quick comments first, and General Conway has a few remarks. 

 

            First, I think tomorrow we're hoping to be able to have one of our commanders from Iraq give you an update as we did, I think two weeks ago with General Vines.  It may be our good friend Dave Rodriguez, Major General Rodriguez, who's out there.  And we're hoping that's the case.  It's often schedule-determined, and often his schedule is a difficult thing to project.  But we're hoping for that. Just an announcement. 

 

            The second thing is, and I think most of you know Colonel Gary Keck, who we earlier today gave an award to.  He'll be departing.  And I wanted to just acknowledge for you -- you've all worked with him. He's a terrific officer, a very good public affairs officer.  He had the, what I think, best praise heaped on him for somebody who's in our business, and that's somebody who worked for him said that they found him to be a very fair individual.  And I think that's, for the business that we're all in, pretty high praise.  We're going to miss him.  He works in the press operations, as you know.  And I wanted to just acknowledge to you that if you see him in the hall, wish him the best.  He's off to the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. 

 

            General Conway. 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Thank you, Larry. 

 

            Good afternoon, folks.  U.S. and Afghan national army forces are currently engaged in operations in the Kunar province in Afghanistan. The terrain there is difficult, and the weather has been marginal. But our forces are determined to accomplish their mission, which is to deny sanctuary and defeat Taliban and extremist forces. 

 

            At this point we have recovered all 16 bodies of those servicemen who were on board the MH-47 helicopter that crashed on Tuesday.  Positive identification and family notification are underway, and expected to be completed soon.  In that the operation is ongoing, we'll have nothing else for you on the details of the action. 

 

            We do extent our sincere condolences to the families and friends of those service members involved in this incident, and to all involved in the fight against violent extremists. 

 

            With that, we'll be happy to take your questions. 

 

            Q     General, can I ask just a couple of questions on that? There have been reports that SEALs and special operations troops were among those.  Could you give us any details at all on that?  And how about reports from the Taliban that they might have, quote, "executed other U.S. troops before the helicopter arrived on the scene"?  Have you anything on that? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  We do know that there were special operations forces aboard the helicopter.  I would defer until after notification is complete, Charlie, before we announce anything more in terms of the make-up of those forces.  And I think I'll have to defer back to my original comment on not talking about the nature of the ongoing operation in terms of anybody else that might be on the ground. 

 

            Q     Well -- well -- but, I mean, you've said you've lost these 16.  Have you lost any others in the operation, do you know? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  No.  At this point, not that we're aware of. 

 

            Q     General, could I do one follow-up?  General Pace yesterday at his confirmation hearing said he believed the helicopter was downed by an RPG.  Can you confirm that?  

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  That is what we believe.  We had a dash-two that was moving with the helicopter, and that's the initial reports coming from the scene from those pilots. 

 

            Q     And that -- the dash-two? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  A second aircraft. 

 

            Q     You've -- you've been talking about a force structure in- theater.  And I -- are you beginning planning for another rotation for replacement in Iraq, and if so, the makeup of Marines and the Guard and Reserve components? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Sure.  We have iteration -- what we call 4-6, which is on deck at this point -- 0406.  The next iteration will be 0507; that connotes to when the forces go in and when they come out, after the yearlong rotation -- in the case of the Army.  In the case of the makeup, it's anticipated that you'll see a couple of Marine regiments associated with the force rotation flow.  At current, we have six National Guard or Reserve brigades as a part of 0406; there will be two National Guard or Reserve brigades as a part of 0608. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  And let me clear about a couple of things.  First of all, as is always the case when these rotations -- units are identified, we'll make all the announcements.  And we're not doing that today.  Secondly, don't anybody be misled by the titles of these rotations as to indicating that we know how long or at what levels we're going to have anybody in Iraq.  There's no change to our policy, and we have to have a title for these things, and that's the title they come up with.  So the general is not announcing the duration of U.S. forces in Iraq, because that's not -- and it's not something he knows or anybody else. 

 

            Q     General Conway.  I understand you cannot talk about ongoing operations in Afghanistan.  But I would like to ask you a detail about what did happen in the helicopter crash.  It has been announced that they were coming in to reinforce troops on the ground in a ground fight.  That has been said publicly many times.  What can you tell us about the accounting for the troops that were on the ground in that ground fight at the time?  Is everyone accounted for? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Well, I can only say that it is an ongoing operation in that context, and we don't have full accountability, nor will we until such time as the operation is complete. 

 

            Q     Sir, can I ask you to clarify?  When you say you don't have full accountability, I have to ask you what that means in terms of U.S. troops.  Do you not have full accountability, in your words, of U.S. forces on the ground at the moment? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  As in any operation, when the operation is complete, you have your casualty count; the notifications and those types of things.  So I'm just very hesitant to talk about those types of things while we have troops on the ground and in those mountains in Afghanistan. 

 

            Q     General, I do apologize for pressing you, but it's an usual statement when a general says from a podium, "We don't have full accountability."  Is there any way you can further clarify what you mean? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  No. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  And let me try and help.  What he's trying to say is what we're announcing today is that we're able to confirm 16 personnel on the helicopter.  We have acknowledged that the purpose of that helicopter was to go in and reinforce people on the ground.  We just are not able to account for any other personnel yet, not in terms of people involved in rescue or anything like that, that's not what the general's referring to.  He's just simply making a point that there's an ongoing rescue mission, and we just don't have any more to confirm than what we have confirmed. 

 

            Q     But didn't you say that no others were lost?  Earlier, when we asked -- 

 

            Q     None of them were killed --  

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  I said we don't have any information to that effect. 

 

            Q     Okay. 

 

            Q     Sir, do you have accountability for the people in the firefight on the ground? 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Barbara, when we have more to announce, we'll announce it. 

 

            Q     I guess what she said, do you have anybody missing?  When you say "accountability," do you have people missing and not accounted for and you just don't know what happened to them?  Are there people missing who were on the ground? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  We do not have any people classified as missing at this point. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I think people can appreciate that it's a sensitive matter, and we're trying to be precise in how we talk, and trying not to disrupt ongoing operations.  And we're just not going to have any more for you on it. 

 

            Yeah, Brian. 

 

            Q     Yeah, Hey, Larry, the president the other night, for the first that I can remember, made an explicit call to the American people for sacrifice to -- and appealed to people to sign up and become -- you know, sign up for the armed services.  Since then, it seems like I've been hearing that from almost anyone in a uniform who gets in front of a microphone.  Is that just me picking that up or is there a push on your part?  Is there going to be a new drive in the   Department of Defense for all the leaders, civilian and military leaders, to start getting that message out in some different way to -- 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I think we're always going to look for ways.  I think we talked about -- from here, a couple of weeks ago -- that the president had made an appeal to national service when he spoke to educators a month or so ago.  In this context, he was discussing it in the military context.  And we do -- the secretary of Defense and other national leaders do spend time reminding people of the importance of national service in general, military service in particular.  It's something that does bear frequent reminders.  The secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs yesterday, during a town hall meeting here in the Pentagon, spoke about it.  It's part of the general importance that people need to be reminded of, that we're a nation at war, and in a time of war -- at all times national service is a desirable thing, but in a time of war it's particularly important. And it's -- 

 

            Q     But have you -- is there some sort of, you know, concerted effort to get that message out in a more effective way now or is this just people talking about it? 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I think it's people just being more sensitized to it and being reminded that it's important to remind people about it.  The chief -- I think you saw the chief of staff, during his testimony today, talk about it.  We've talked about it in the context of members of Congress, who themselves are national leaders, when they go -- they're going to be leaving for their Fourth of July work period in their districts and states, and they'll all be out and about, and we hope that that's a message that they'll echo as well, and we expect that it is a message they'll echo. 

 

            Q     General Conway, can you talk about Operation Sword, some specifics about what's going on there, the difficulty in western Iraq, in that there aren't really Iraqi police units in place, and perhaps how much it's up to U.S. forces?  

 

            And secondly, can you also talk about the lack of major attacks over the past two days?  We're not through with this day yet, but I'm pretty sure there haven't been any major enemy attacks in two days. Does that say anything to you? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  First of all, in terms of Sword, you're correct, Brett, in that there is no, I would say, effective police organizations in the vicinity of Hit, where Operation Sword is taking place.  There are, however, a couple of Iraqi companies operating with the Marine battalion as a product of this operation. 

 

            Once again, it's an effort to sweep those areas where we think there may be insurgents looking for enclaves or training sites.  The operation has been successful in uncovering -- the last count I saw was 13 caches of arms and ammunition, fairly significant counts in mortars and artillery rounds, some crew serve weapons and those types of things. 

 

            It does several things.  It tells the insurgent that there will be none of those types of sanctuary in Al Anbar.  It passes a message to the local civilians that we're going to try to ensure that you are not intimidated by the presence of these forces and that it kills terrorists that are coming in from the Syrian border, we think. 

 

            Q     And about the lack of enemy activity -- 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  I can't speak to that.  Frankly, we'd like to think that all of our efforts help to suppress attacks, but I can't be inside the mind of the enemy commander. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  John? 

 

            Q     I wanted to ask you about the duration of the insurgency.  The Vice President had said it's in its last throes.  The Secretary said these insurgencies can go as long as 12 years.  What is the administration's assessment of, you know, how significant a battle there is against the insurgency yet to go?  Is it an overstatement to say it's in its last throes?   

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Well, I'm -- both the officials you mention, the vice president and the secretary of Defense, have had their say.  The chiefs -- the commander has -- Abizaid gave his assessments of it. General Casey, when here -- when he was here, talked about just the analysis that they've done that these insurgencies tend to -- in the 20th century, insurgencies of this nature in other countries lasted for a period of years.   

 

            And I think the point to make is that -- the point to emphasize is that ultimately a foreign occupying force, even if it's a coalition assisting a local government, is not going to be able to stop an insurgency.  It's got to be something that the leaders of the country itself address.  And I think that the Iraqi leadership understands that, that they -- I think they're actually -- if you hear the comments of the Iraqi commanders -- and there have been a lot in the public press, just talking about their belief that they can stem this thing.  And that's just going to be the way it has to be done.  But I'm not going to sort of handicap.  It's -- there's no value in that.   

 

            Q     It's more a matter of years, as opposed to a shorter time? 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Time will tell. 

 

            Q     Just to clarify, Secretary Rumsfeld wasn't saying that U.S. troops would have to deal with this insurgency for 12 years, was he? 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  No, I think, to the contrary, he was trying to make the point that this is going to last a period of years and it ultimately will be up to Iraqis to resolve it, through political and security means, more than -- I mean, it's not just going to be a military solution, either.  But it certainly will not be U.S. forces that are -- we've been explicit on the point that U.S. forces are not going to be able to stop this insurgency.  It's up to Iraqi forces and the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people, ultimately. 

 

            Q     General, going back to Afghanistan.  Are you seeing any trends, any specific tactics migrating from Iraq into Afghanistan? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  There is one that we see a little bit troubling. And that is the increased presence of IEDs.  I think if you charted it over time, you would see more attacks tied into IEDs than perhaps we had over the last six to 10 months. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  If I could just also go back to the previous question.  The secretary also wasn't saying the Iraqi insurgency will last 12 years.  He was saying insurgencies last two, four, six, eight, 10, 12 years.  That's what he said.  I've noticed there's been more focus on the 12 than the two, but he did say both.  (Laughs.) 

 

            Q     Fair point.

 

            Q     Follow up on Jeanie -- 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Oh, yes.  We're doing follow ups. 

 

            Q     Thank you.  The IEDs, are they -- are they copycats, or do you see that there's some cross-pollination between the people in Iraq and Afghanistan? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Some of both.  If you want to build an IED, you can find out how to do so on a terrorist Web site.  And so we think that it's a combination of both.  They read the papers.  I think they see how effective they are against our troops in some instances, and they're fairly -- 

 

            Q     (Off mike) -- relationship between the two? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  We don't see any of that. 

 

            Q     General, if you could take a step back and provide a little bit of context on Afghanistan.  Do you see the situation deteriorating?  Is it deteriorating, in particular in Kunar Province? Could you give us a little bit of context for this? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  I would actually say the opposite.  You know, our intelligence folks were predicting in January, in the middle of winter, that this heaviest of snowfalls in some time is going to melt and go away; that they will come out of the caves, and there will be a spring resurgence, if you will, leading up to the election that we see now in September.  So all of this is along a very predictable path. 

 

            Happening simultaneously, though, we see greater involvement on the part of the NATO forces.  The International Security Force, just in May, took over sections of Afghanistan in the west.  There are plans and provisions in place for them to further expand into other parts of the country.  So no, I think it is following a predictable pattern.  At the same time, we're building the capacity of the Afghan National Army and police force, just as we are in Iraq.  So I don't think there are much surprises, or much in terms of surprises there that we can point to. 

 

            Q     General?  Excuse me.  Do you plan to surge any troops in there?  I know NATO's going to provide additional troops for the election.  Does the United States plan to increase its presence, like it did in the last election?  Perhaps send some airborne troops in there? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  That is a possibility.  The commander is certainly alert to the requirement.  As has happened in the past, I suspect if he comes in with such a request, the secretary will certainly consider it.  But at this point, it's too early to say. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  But I will note -- to just kind of follow on your first question, but it's relevant to yours, too, Charlie, and that is General Abizaid, at the testimony the other day, acknowledged that his anticipation is that they're going to throw everything they can -- meaning the bad guys -- at the election in September.  So it's just -- it's a window on his own thinking, but he has not -- I mean, there will be additional forces available, if he says he needs them. 

 

            Q     Going back to Iraq for a moment, General, if I may.  I believe it was a former Iraqi general talking to a New York Times reporter some months ago who said if you dig in Iraq, you either find oil or you find weapons.  And either Saddam Hussein was like I am in a hardware store and couldn't deny buying weapons, or this stuff is coming in from outside.  Do you have any idea on these caches we find how many are indigenous or there before, and how many are coming in, say, from Iran and Syria? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  You know, I can't speak to contemporary results.  I can tell you in my time there that it all appeared to be old stuff; that there were no new weapons coming in of some other nation's mark that appeared to be freshly oiled or just out of the Cosmoline.  I suspect there are people in country that are doing that kind of analysis because it's extremely important.  But I don't have the figures for you.   

 

            Q     General, on the helicopter again, are you concerned at all that this represents any type of resurgence of the Taliban as a fighting force there?  I mean, does that concern you? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  No.  This is the first helicopter that we've had shot down in Afghanistan.  We've lost other helicopters and other people aboard helicopters due to the terrible nature of the flying conditions there.  But indications are that it was an RPG, which is a pretty lucky shot, honestly, against a moving helicopter.  There's no indication that there are more sophisticated air-to-ground systems -- ground-to-air systems -- excuse me -- that are involved.  So no, I don't see it as an increased level of sophistication. 

 

            Q     General, is there any evidence that any of the 16 people aboard the helicopter survived the crash and were then killed? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  We don't think that, based upon what we know about the crash site, and again, the indications that were coming from the other aircraft that were in the area, that we don't believe so.   

 

            Q     General, there's been some concern expressed recently about the insurgency actually beginning to serve as a training ground for foreign fighters, who will learn these insurgent tactics, particularly in urban warfare, in Iraq, and then will go home or go to other countries to commit acts of violence or participate in other wars in Africa or elsewhere in the Middle East. 

 

            How much concern do you all have about that happening there? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  I think it's a logical conclusion, if you look at the history of Afghanistan and what we saw come out of there.  Our initial concerns, of course, are Afghanistan and Iraq.  We realize that they are battles in the war on terrorism, not the war.  It is a concern, but there's not much we can do about it at this point in time. 

 

            Q     General, you spoke of the possibility of more troops -- U.S. or NATO or both -- for Afghanistan for the elections in September.  Is there similar thought for the constitution in Iraq in August, for the elections later this fall? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  If you recall, during the previous election in Iraq, that is exactly what happened; force structure went from a standard of somewhere in the vicinity of 140,000 up to about 160,000. And those troops then came out of the country.  We're down to about 138,000 or so now.  So it ebbs and flows depending upon on the events and, again, the analysis on the ground that's done by the commander.  I certainly wouldn't rule it out.  There looks to be a natural increase based on turnover at about the time of the elections, so the commanders on the scene will have to make an assessment are these numbers of troops sufficient or do we need more, or different kinds of troops, perhaps, based on what they see will be the need. 

 

            Q     In the range, sir, of 160,000? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  No, I'm not putting a figure on it at all in terms of what that rotation will look like.  It will go above 140,000 for purposes of the turnover that we see in the theater, but I would not put a figure on it at this point. 

 

            Q     Back to the helicopter crash.  Prior to the crash, can you talk at all about what the mission was there?  It sounds like it may have been something significant.  Were there any significant targets or was it just a run of the mill operation? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  If you look at the location of the operation, it's north-northeast of Jalalabad, up against the Pakistani border again, where we know there to be significant numbers of the terrorists and the Taliban.  The mission, as I think I cited in this little preliminary, was to clear and deny.  We had troops in contact, and this was a response force going to the aid of those troops. 

 

            Q     Were they looking at any particular person or high-value target of any sort? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  That was not the nature of this operation. 

 

            Q     There was a report that the U.S. troops were responding to a distress call from some Afghans who were working with the U.S. forces.  Is there any truth to that report? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  That doesn't match anything I've seen coming out of Central Command. 

 

            Q     Can I ask you about Hit and Hadithah?  By my count, this is at least the third time that forces have gone in there.  There was last October and they dropped a police station in Hit, and then they did a massacre in Hadithah station.  And it's also my understanding that this operation, it's been a cordon and knock,  rather than the more forceful cordon and search.  And I'm looking at all this against the backdrop of are there enough troops there.  And there's been this water balloon metaphor described -- or perhaps it's simile -- described where you sort of step on one part and they squeeze out the side.  And I'm wondering if the fact that there have been no gun battles in Hit with this operation means that they just moved on again, and what that means for the troop numbers out there. 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Well, I would apply somewhat the same disclaimer to Operation Sword as we've talked about in the mountains of Afghanistan, in that the operation is still ongoing.  But I would also make a distinction between just the presence of American troops in the region, Marines who are patrolling the Al Anbar and have the area of responsibility for Hit and Hadithah.  We were there frequently, and they still are; but in terms of major operations sweeping through, I think there are less than you would suggest. 

 

            In terms of the cordon and knock, I think where we have Iraqis with us -- and in this case we do -- that's the preferred method and that's very effective.  We're getting tremendously increasing numbers of tips and intelligence, human intelligence, which is exactly the type of thing that you need in an insurgency.  All of that very much benefits the efforts of the folks in the Al Anbar. 

 

            Q     Is that, then, a change perhaps in tactics in Hit and Hadithah; rather than going in hard, going in soft and trying to win hearts and minds? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Well, I think it depends upon the situation on the ground.  If you recall in a couple of the other operations that did take place out there, the engaging force was taken under fire by a force that then stayed to fight.  This is a little different in this instance, as I read the reports. 

 

            Q      Larry, with regard to the controversy over the use of medical information in interrogations in Guantanamo, can you clarify, is it department policy that information provided by detainees to their medical care givers can be routinely shared with interrogators in devising strategies and tactics for those specific detainees? 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Well, I think we've briefed on this extensively. And there's a transcript available -- you haven't had a chance to look at it.  But we have medical professionals down there that are there for the purposes of treating the detainees.  And, you know, they've described what they do, which is medical care as you would understand it.   

 

            It is not uncommon to use behavioral science specialists, people that are known to have sort of an expertise in -- the kinds of things -- I wouldn't want to use this term to make the direct comparison, but others have -- profiling, so that as you understand what an individual is like, you might be able to affect the approaches that the interrogators would take on him.  It's quite a different thing from saying we're using information out of his medical record.  That's not really what, as I understand it -- and as I said, we've briefed this, so if there's -- we can maybe provide you some additional information. But it's more of a generic use of the specialty than it is specific knowledge of an individual's medical records. 

 

            Q     Actually, it's both.  But the New England Journal article and its author specifically alleged that that sort of normally private medical information is funneled into that process.  And my question was whether that is allowable under DOD policy. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Well, I don't want to speak to it in terms of what DOD policy is.  What it is is a matter of what the medical professionals at Guantanamo assisting the interrogators might determine might be necessary.  Remember, we are talking about people who are known or suspected terrorists.  So, there is a well respected and well regarded -- and it's been observed by a lot of people -- care that's being provided to these terrorists.  And they are terrorists, by our assessment.  On the other hand, there may be information that can be gleaned from the knowledge of who these people are that can help -- or, the knowledge of how these people are behaving that can help the interrogators.  And we're -- and we try and walk that line, and we try and be careful about it.  But we are talking about people like UBL's bodyguards, like somebody who would have been on an airplane on 9/11, and the balance that we strike will be toward getting more intelligence and stopping future attacks on the United States.  And that's the balance that we're challenged -- that we're working on.   

 

            There is no handbook on how to do this.  It's never been done before.  So we're trying to be very careful about it.  I think we've now had over 200 members of Congress who have observed what's going on in Guantanamo.  They're observed interrogations.  They've observed the medical facilities.  We, as a matter of routine, try and provide exposure to the way that the medical treatments are being conducted down in Guantanamo when members of Congress go down there.  There's an awful lot of oversight.  But there is not a textbook on how to do this, and we're being very careful -- with the objective of gaining intelligence to stop Americans from being killed.  And that's the balance we need to strike.  

 

            Q     General Conway, what's the current status of the attempt to -- what is the current status of the attempt to capture Osama bin Laden and the rest of the al Qaeda leadership, and how does that fit into your overall priorities in terms of fighting the war on terrorism? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  It's an ongoing and vital part of it. 

 

            Q     Can you give us any new information on where it stands? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  No. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  When we've got him, we'll let you know. 

 

            Q     Larry, a big picture question on Guantanamo.  For either of you, actually.  Given the public relations problems you have in Muslim countries with the perception of Guantanamo, has there been any thought to utilize Muslim members of the military, who have either been down in Guantanamo or have served in the U.S. military, to outreach to some Muslim communities in different nations, or even here in the U.S.? 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I don't know.  It's a -- 

 

            Q     We've talked to a number of members -- 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Yeah. 

 

            Q     -- who say they are under-utilized. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  It's a fair question and I don't know the answer.  I know that we have tried to do -- we have, through normal public diplomacy channels and regular diplomatic channels -- tried to make sure that our coalition partners from Islamic countries as well as Islamic countries generally understand what's happening at Guantanamo, understand the great care that we take down there.  We've invited -- there have been representatives of governments from Islamic countries in Guantanamo, so they can see for themselves what's going on. Representatives of countries who have nationals in Guantanamo have gone down there. 

 

            So we are -- it's an interesting question.  I don't know if we're doing that precise thing, and it's worth evaluating whether we are. But we are looking for ways to make sure that Islamic countries who have a particular concern about Guantanamo understand that we have Islamic media, or I should say, media from Arab countries that have gone down to Guantanamo.  We may well right now have Al-Jazeera down there.  I'm not sure.  But they're doing a special on Guantanamo, and we're cooperating with that.  We want very much for them to have the opportunity to observe operations down there.  So we do look for ways to do that. 

 

            Q     Would that be a problem, to tap into the Muslim members of the military, somehow singling them out to be outreach to Muslim communities?  

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I don't know.  You've posed the question, and now you're challenging your own question.  I don't know.  It's an interesting one. 

 

            Q     No, I'm asking the general whether it would be like, racism to tap someone who is a Muslim and a member of the military to -- 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  It's a matter of priorities.  Where they're most needed and best used.  I will say that we have undertaken a program of bringing in more Muslim-Americans as interpreters.  We've asked ourselves a question:  do people who are operating with an Army squad in Mosul need to have a top-secret clearance, or can we operate with something less?  And so we've opened up the opportunities there, I think, more.  And we think that's going be an effective program.  What will transcend from that, I'm not sure. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  But as a general matter, we're very open to other ways that what's going on in Guantanamo can get more visibility.  And we already believe it's quite transparent. 

 

            We maybe have time for one or two more.  Yeah, Matt? 

 

            Q     General, Larry, is the evolving nature of the insurgency in Iraq -- is their learning curve making it more difficult to fight the insurgents, or are the insurgents getting more dangerous in terms of adapting their tactics and techniques to the U.S. response? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  It's kind of an interesting dynamic.  The -- we see increased use of suicide and VBIEDs -- the thing that gives you the big blast and possibly causes more casualties, seems to be more media newsworthy -- and believe me, they're very sensitive to that.  We see that in everything that they're doing.  At the same time, those types of blasts are having less effect on our troops.   

 

            There's a great figure out there that shows that our return-to- duty rate -- for every 10 soldiers or Marines that are hit, seven-and- a-half are returning to duty.  So that tells me that our systems are working across the board, not the least of which is the protective armor that they're riding under these days. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Well, thanks very much, folks.  I hope you all have a good --  

 

            Q     Can I -- 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Oh, no.  I was just going to wish you a happy Fourth of July.  But maybe I'll hold my applause till the end. 

 

            Q      Well, you can do that afterwards.   

 

            Just one more about the Afghan helicopter.  Would you describe this as a routine support mission, or were there American troops on the ground under heavy fire at the time who had called for reinforcements to come in and help them? 

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Charlie, it's routine to the extent that when troops are in contact and need assistance, we're there.  That's why we have our QRFs established such as they are; that's why we have the close air loitering, and those types of things.  So, routine to the extent that we responded rapidly to their aid, I would say.  And I hope that answers your question. 

 

            Q     They were called in?  They were sought and you responded rapidly?  

 

            GEN. CONWAY:  Yes, sir.  That's right. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  And I think the vice chairman spoke a little about that at his hearing yesterday, the nature of the operation. 

 

            Thank you very much, folks.  Have a great Fourth of July. 

 

            Q     You too. 

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Thank you.   

 

            Q     And, General Conway, same to you.

 

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