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Interview with DoD Traveling Press Corps

Presenters: Lieutenant General Thomas F. Metz, Commander Multi-National Forces-Corp Iraq
June 16, 2004

GEN. METZ:  I will try very hard to be on the record.  So far, my history in this military business and the media has been try to be as transparent as possible, help out as much as I can and we’ll go with that.


Q:  Well, thank you for taking the time.


            GEN. METZ:  OK.


            Q:  We really appreciate it. 


            GEN. METZ:  Whatever is on your mind. 


            Q:  Well, we’ve been told you’re basically in charge of running the war.  From the U.S., it doesn’t look like it’s going that well.  Give us a little, you know, over the last three months how you see the enemy’s tactics evolving and what we’re doing to deal with that? 


          GEN. METZ:  If we go back three months, of course, that’s…


          Q:  Well, you know, whatever you think is right.


          GEN. METZ:  Well, I arrived here in January.  I brought the 3rd U.S.  Corps over to relieve the 4th Corps.  And General Sanchez was to stay for awhile and I would be his deputy and we got all the staff turned out and 5th Corps goes back to Germany and the 3 Corps is here.  And reconstituted the CORE part of CJTF-7.  January was – whatever the rate was – and I don’t know exactly – I just remember February, it was getting even less attacks.  And I thought to myself, we’re headed in the right direction.


          We were training the Iraqi Security Forces.  We knew sovereignty was coming.  We were beginning to think our way and do those kind of things.  But I recall in March, we keep lots of data.  But we were keeping a 7-day running average of attacks and they began to climb in March.  And I don’t remember the day, but I do recall the day they went over 40 for a 7-day average.  I knew that was something different and I guessed and I was right.  That was about the Ramadan – November 11th.  And I knew that was significant because we were headed in a upward direction. And I think – hindsight’s 20-20 but that was probably a warning that we were headed to what happened in April.


          And what happened in April was a big fight which was triggered by a series of events that you know well.  We closed the newspaper, the Blackwater, the murders occurred in Fallujah, the desecration of their bodies.  We picked up on Moqtada al-Sadr’s lieutentant al-Rubaie   who had a warrant out for him and all that.  And those things caused a lot of fighting to occur.


          And we knew we wanted to do something about the murders and the desecration of those bodies in Fallujah and so the Marines began to focus there.  That, to me, was the point of the strategic spirit because the world was watching that, what we were going to do.  And I think all along, there are different people we’re going to make a run at gaining power before sovereignty and I think Moqtada al-Sadr chose that’s when he was going to do it.  So he rises his militia up and they begin to attack us, mainly in Sadr City, across Baghdad and in the Shia parts of Karbala and Najaf and Kufa.


          So we found ourselves by the first week in April in a tough fight and we lost a lot of soldiers here in Baghdad, the 1st Cavalry Division was during a [Inaudible] place with the 1st Armored Division and we saw kids that were in their first in-country and kids that they that they were in their last week in-country, were fighting side by side and dying together.  It was tough.


          So I’m the eternal optimist.  How can I find the silver lining in a dark, dark cloud.  And the silver lining that I find is we did not get -- a popular uprising did not take root.  That’s good because that’s one of the things we’re worried about constantly, will that be a popular uprising against the coalition.  That did not occur.  If it was going to occur, I think that would have been the time it could have occurred.  Zarqawi was unable during this time to get the Shia and Sunni civil war going.  That could have been one of the times he could have done that.  So that didn’t occur.


          Regretfully, we learned that we had not trained some of the Iraqi Security Forces to the level that they could handle Moqtada militia or foreign fighters and terrorists in Fallujah.  So everybody was down on the fact that the ICDC and some of the police abandoned the post.  Well, I suspect – pick a precinct in the United States anywhere, if you are outgunned, you might decide to do a tactical, you know, retreat for a little while so – and that’s exactly what happened.  Some of these forces are just outgunned.  But the good part about that is we learn that fact in April and we didn’t learn that in June or July.


          So by knowing it in April, we then continue to push the equipment, revamp our training programs.  You know, a lot of guys that didn’t show up, so when they come back to work, we can say, “Well, I’m sorry, you didn’t stick with us during the fight.  We probably shouldn’t pay you for the month that you were absent.”  And so we’re able to revert and re rebuilt some battalions. Some battalions did well.  So now we know we’ve got on and we can keep training it.  So there is a downside.  We didn’t have the Iraqi security forces that we thought we had, but we learned what I think was a good time to learn – a better time than June or July.  So once we were – and we proved that we could take on a pretty large-scale militia fight in Moqtada’s militia because that fight occurred across Baghdad.  It occurred in Kabala and Najaf, out in Al Kut, some significant fighting down in the Brit sector in the southeast.


          So our soldiers – we told them to go do things tactically and they are well-trained, well-disciplined and they went out and did what needed to be done tactically.  And we found ourselves in some tough strategic positions because you get to a point in Fallujah that you don’t want to have the collateral damage and the innocent people get crossways in a fight.  And so you – we did prudent things.  I think we did show that we could surgically attack at the same time, try to get give the government and the Iraqis some flexibility to do the things that they wanted to do.


          And then the Fallujah Brigade was born.  It has at least maintained some status quo for awhile.  And we are not certainly moving as fast as we would like to, but they have gotten some heavy weapons turned in.  They have told us some of the people they think caused those murders.  We’ve run some convoys in and out of Fallujah, but we’re not where we would like to be and I think that’s going to continue to mature.


          We have taken a tremendous amount of the combat capability away from Mustafa el-Sadr.  His militia is in my opinion, militarily has been defeated in places like Karbala and Najaf and Kufa.  And although Sadr City is still a tough place, in district in Baghdad, we have continued to patrol in there and haven’t lost a soldier in many days.  And we’ve had to do some fighting in there, but he doesn’t have the militia he had in first week in April.  And they weren’t trained well then and they are certainly many of them missing now.  And I don’t think they’ve had much of a training program.  So I think that militia has been taken care of tactically.  So that’s kind of how I describe, you know, kind of what we went through and where we are right now.


          Q:  What about what you’re going through now, with assassinations and car bombs and another today, I guess [Inaudible].


          GEN. METZ:  It just shows how ruthless and brutal this enemy is.  And he’s willing to slaughter people in order to discredit either the coalition or the new government as it begins to try to form itself.  And as long as he can – and he will employ these suicide bombers, it is very hard to defend against Vehicle-Borne IED’s especially.  But again, our soldiers in many cases, have stopped them short of where they wanted to do the attack.


          And we had one the other day that when the soldiers turned it around at the gate, the explosion went off, it was probably poorly made and it actually spread the artillery rounds out and then that particular VBIED.  They were trying to get it on the base and it could have been a much – a devastating attack inside the [Inaudible].  But again, they don’t care about who they kill.  They just want to discredit the Iraqi Security Services, whether they’re police or ICDC or the coalition and they don’t care who they kill in that whole effort.


          Q:  General, then are they succeeding to the degree that [Inaudible]?  I mean, there is this sense that – I mean, to some of the folks at this table, you know, have heroes that are having [Inaudible]…


          GEN. METZ:  Yeah.


          Q:  … and closing down.  And we all know the reporters [Inaudible] some scary places in this world who say that this moment, this place is scarier than Yugoslavia was [Inaudible].  And are maybe just a few people who don’t always succeed, are they nearing a point where they’re succeeding spectacularly enough where it might be?


          GEN. METZ:  I think only the history is going to be able to tell us the answer to this.  But it could be that there are at a very desperate stage and they have to do these attacks in order to regain some momentum.  That is a way to look at it.  I think soldiers look at – what I always do is look at problems across the range span from one limit to the other.  So one of those limits would be he is desperate, he has got to do these horrible, brutal attacks to try to regain a position.  And on the other hand, he could be so confident that he now thinks that he can enter this particular warfare and run us, the coalition, out break the coalition up, cause members of the home front of the coalition, whether it’s the United States or Britain or Italy, problems in the support of the war.  The truth has…


          Q:  [Inaudible] which it is or…


          GEN. METZ:  No, and that’s what makes this fight so hard.  This enemy, this – when you fight an insurgency, the intelligence effort is so dominated by the human intelligence that comes up from the bottom. And so you just have to work really hard to find out what the enemy is thinking and what they’re doing and it is enhanced by all the great technology we have, but the foundation is a human intelligence effort and it’s hard.


          That’s why, in my opinion, the terrorists are so concerned about a sovereign and free and potentially prosperous Iraq, because the Iraqis will be able to control an insurgency a whole lot better than we will because they know the people so much better.  Their human intelligence will be a whole lot better than ours and the terrorists know that.


          Q:  The thing that’s hard for an outsider – and believe me, you don’t get much more outsider than I am for the moment – to understand that why aren’t they doing that now?  Why aren’t they more inclined to help us now?


          GEN. METZ:  I think we’re going to see that momentum build very quickly now that the interim government has been chosen and they’re beginning to fill out their staffs and get their plans together and understand where and how they want to go.  Again, I was hired and brought as a tactical guy and a lot of that goes on at the strategic level.  And but my gut tells me that they are going to be very proud to be a sovereign nation and they’re going to want to work very hard to partner with us and to take the insurgency down.


          Q:  [Inaudible]


          GEN. METZ:  Yeah.


          Q:  [Inaudible.]  When did you do that and what did you want to say about that?


          GEN. METZ:  Well, the…


          Q:  Operations [Inaudible]?


          GEN. METZ:  Yeah, we’re looking at – we’re changing the priorities a little bit so that as a partner with the Iraqis, our priorities fit better with what they would want us to do.  And they are protecting them, while they need protection.  They will grow to their personal protection and protective services over time.  We know the enemy is focused on infrastructure, so we need to help with the infrastructure.  We really need to continue to invest lots of time and energy into growing their security force’s capacity, again, whether it’s police, Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.


          The army business has been on a very steady, good plan and will stay on that plan.  It’ll be altered maybe a little bit by the new minister of defense and the police plan may be altered a little bit by the minister of interior, but we’ll stay on those plans.  The borders need probably more and some better training.  The Facilities Protection Service which was dissipated to the ministries, could take a good revamping – a good look at and not…


          Q:  Consolidating…


          GEN. METZ:  Yeah.  In my opinion, it’s pretty inefficient to have security forces for electricity, rail, oil or almost all of those run parallel to each other across most of the country.  There’s probably some efficient ways to do that.


          Q:  Does this mean…


          GEN. METZ:  And so…


          Q:  … fewer combat operations?


          GEN. METZ:  Yeah.  So by the time you put troops to task or those kinds that I’ve just mentioned, the troops available then to do offensive actions are less and so then you work harder to get the intell in order to use that less umber of troops in a more efficient way.  So we’ve…


          Q:  Do the new orders include different procedures for how you detain Iraqis?  Will you be detaining [Inaudible] fewer or you have to have [Inaudible]…


         GEN. METZ:  Do I want to…


          Q:  … goal.  [Inaudible] as part of your goal?


          GEN. METZ:  Yeah.  I think we’ve been into that business for not quite some time, but for just about the entire time I’ve been here.  We were already looking at the prison systems that were available to us were already at a maxed capacity.  And we knew that we had criminals, those that had intelligence value and we had already begun a vetting process of if we did not have enough information, we had panels that began to make recommendations to the command of the releasing them and that process was already ongoing before the Abu Ghraib business all started.  And so, we began to recognize it was better when we captured someone to really think our way through and do the documentation of what they had done wrong or what we thought their threat was much better than before.  And quite frankly, there was a time during the fight that we needed to take on the enemy in a different way.  But by…


          Q:  Where were the [Inaudible]?


          GEN. METZ:  We just have recently put out the – I don’t know what the dates were – the force put out [Inaudible].


          Q:  [Inaudible]


          GEN. METZ:   Within a week now.


          Q:  [Inaudible]


          GEN. METZ:  And take effect June 30th into how we’re going to…


          Q:  And it seems a paradise here and we’re focusing on these other tasks and [Inaudible] have loved to do combat [Inaudible] at a time when you’re experiencing another spike [Inaudible] assassinations, attacks or your car bombings and that sort of thing.  So I look back from combat operations…


          GEN. METZ:  Well, we…


          Q:  [Inaudible]


          GEN. METZ:  It’s not a question…


          Q:  [Inaudible] attacks.


          GEN. METZ:  Yeah, it’s not a question of pulling back.  It’s a question of establishing a priority of what you got to get done.  But if we have the intelligence to stop a VBIED or to upset a plan that a particular cell has put together, we will certainly take the combat troops off of task, if we needed to, to go do that.  I mean, we’re not going to withdraw away from protecting the Iraqi people when we think we really need to and the Iraqis at that particular stage don’t have the capacity to do it for themselves.  But again, we want to be doing it in a partnership with the Iraqis.


          Q:  So that’s a [Inaudible] defies the formula [Inaudible] a request for more troops.  And you’ve got expanding these other tasks [Inaudible] more troops at the same time, you know, we’ve got a very serious and rising, in some ways, combat problem.  You said they’re not going to have enough troops to address it to do all these other [Inaudible].


GEN. METZ: I don’t think I’ve said that.  If I did, I didn’t…


          Q:  Well, you just said it’s a matter of priorities.  [Inaudible] higher priority.  So you end up with fewer troops to do combat ops.


          GEN. METZ:  But not too few.


          Q:  [Inaudible] not too few.


GEN. METZ:  I mean, I just came from a briefing where we were looking at the troop-to-task ratios.  For example, the 1st Cavalry Division has picked up recently a requirement to help the personal security of the prime minister, the president and the two vice presidents.  So that requires a number of troops.  So the 1st Cav puts those troops against the new task.  And he hasn’t run out of troops yet, so he can still do what’s been given a priority – a task to be done – and so he figures out how to do it.  But it doesn’t mean that he’s not patrolling Sadr City tonight and fully capable of getting in a fight, doing well in that fight.


Q:   [Inaudible] Fallujah, we were talking [Inaudible] defense [Inaudible] was still the sanctuary and that it was the source of some of the or many of the VBIEDs in Baghdad [Inaudible] folks coming into Fallujah getting [Inaudible] and then coming here.  How do you fix that problem and is the Falluja Brigade [Inaudible] part of the solution or it’s not [Inaudible]?   What is the solution?


GEN. METZ:  The Fallujah Brigade could be part of the solution, but I think only time will tell and we’ve got to continue to push the Fallujah Brigade to prove to us that it can be part of the solution.


Q:  So [Inaudible] giving up on this?


GEN. METZ:  I haven’t given up on it, but it’s taking them a long time.  And so, Joe Conway, the 1st MEF commander and General Mattis, the 1st Marine Division Commander, even as recently as today again talking with the leaders in Fallujah, stressing the points that we’ve got to continue to make progress or we’ve got to attack the problem a different way.  And it’s one of these things where you get to your red line and they do a little bit more.  And [Inaudible] and you get to another red line and they’ll do a little bit more.  The jury’s still out, because you’d love for the Iraqis to solve their problems themself.  And I think that’s what we’re going to be stressing in 1 July and forward is that we’re partners with Iraqis and trying to help them solve their problems with them.


Q:   Not as the commander here, but just as an army general, do you worry what this war is going to do to army stop loss being the latest example of stress?


GEN. METZ:  Uh-hm.


Q:   Do you see any sign that the NCOs are coming back [Inaudible]?  What were the strains going to be [Inaudible]?


GEN. METZ:  There is obviously a place downstream, if you put enough pressure, enough deployments, enough fighting, that you could have that.  I don’t think we’re there yet and I personally don’t believe we’re close.  And my example is the 1st Armored Division.  They were literally en route to Kuwait and we needed – we turned them around, we brought them back.  We told them we needed them for 90 more days, and we’d get them out of harm’s way in 90 days, which is the 15th of July.  We will do that and it will take us about 30 days to get them home.  And I didn’t hear very many gripes out of them.  Their wonderful supporting families in Europe, I’m sure they were disappointed, but there wasn’t a groundswell.  And they have fought exceptionally well because in addition to keeping them, we’ve put them in – where the Spanish left out – essentially the Central South where the Mustafa militia wanted to fight and they have accommodated them and they have done a very good.


So to me, that’s an example of when the soldiers that are still committed that believe what their doing is right and they’re doing it very, very well.  But sure, you keep up about however many – it’s 120-some thousand U.S. soldiers in this particular theater.  And you could get to that point, but we’re not there yet.


Q:   [Inaudible] the national forces together in the south, relative [Inaudible] through [Inaudible] that, by doing that, you kind of gave [Inaudible]?


GEN. METZ:  In hindsight, you probably could have come up with a better construct for the way the forces laid down right now.  At the time, though, I think it made sense and it was -- the way I understand it, it was pretty much the Marines where we pulled out of the Central South, right out of the area, and that’s when the coalition was coming together and it came together in such a way as it looked like a place that the coalition could handle.  And unfortunately, the enemy knows where our seams are, either geographically or functionally.  And it’s a thinking enemy and he’s against us and he is trying to work those things.  And he found one and they had to lose some troops to the 1st Armored Division to clean it up.


Q:  [Inaudible] talking about a lot more than intern as part of…


GEN. METZ:  Uh-hm.


Q:   Can you – from your point of view, what’s that going to mean in terms of how you assign people and…


GEN. METZ: Well, I think we’ll have an exchange of liaison officers will be probably the first step to this effort.  So General Sanchez’s headquarters and General Casey’s to be will have some liaison and [Inaudible] will have some liaison and we will exchange that.  But we have already been doing some of that mentoring, especially with the ICDC and police at the lower levels.


The next stage will be those brigade division commanders and then the minister of defense and the joint service headquarters will also have mentors or will work counterparts.  There’d be a counterpart relationship.  But you see what’s so different and it’s one of the things I’ve learned over the almost five months I’ve been here, is I spent a whole career fighting coalition warfare.  In other words, service in Germany or Korea, we were taught and we existed in a coalition environment.  And so it’s going to be hard.  The Iraqis have never experienced that, so we need to mentor in a partnership because they don’t under – it’s a different paradigm for them.  When we say we want them to be in our coalition, they look at – they don’t really understand what that doctrinal term means.  And so we will need to come up with partnership and ways that they’ll understand the relationships.


[Inaudible] for a group that hasn’t slept in awhile, you all are doing pretty good.




Q:  The 1st Cav briefing, they mentioned some [Inaudible] network of the satellite, microwave cameras to look at [Inaudible].  Can you talk about what that is at all?


GEN. METZ: Well, there’s – I don’t know the acronym or the name, but I know that there’s an example of --the Baltimore police put in a very robust camera system, from what I understand and really drove the crime rate down in the inner city of Baltimore.  Those are the kind of technology tools that we can employ here.  Just like this big balloon we got out here and aerostat (sp) with the J-lens camera on it, it’s like having a UAV at 1,000 feet, 24 hours a day, the great camera system on it.


Q:   What [Inaudible]?


GEN. METZ: Well, it can do a lot of things.  It is looking for IEDs, but it can be an intelligence tool just like a UAV is.  You can use it for force protection.  They can look right down at the wall and make sure that the enemy isn’t trying to come over the wall and it can be an operation tool.  It can – instead of running a Humvee for reconnaissance, it’s actually going down the street.  Now it’ll have some blind spots with trees or buildings, but you can take that camera and sweep a whole lot more road, a whole lot quicker than you an even drive it.  And then what I’ve done is I’ve taken a [Inaudible] here, the degrader of victory camp and buyout and optimized where they would be and [Inaudible] their own towers of about 120 feet.  And I got one real high, so I have got really good visibility over this area.  And so it…


Q:   But can they do some of those alerts robotically or you have to have somebody watching?


GEN. METZ:  We have soldiers watching a screen that the camera is downloaded to, but it’s a tremendous addition – a technology tool that’s really helpful.


Q:   Right.


GEN. METZ: What I’m working to do now is to take that digital information that’s available because it’s got a laser rangefinder and an [Inaudible] so it can get an exact location of what it’s looking at and move that information into other systems like an artillery firing system so I can shoot even faster.  But the cameras that you were talking about could be put on – again, we take our technology and we do analysis on where the enemy likes to put those rascals and then you just put a camera on it and watch it and take ha away from them.


Q:   So there’s any number of those kind of things?


GEN. METZ: Thank you very kindly.


Q:  Thank you very kindly.


GEN. METZ:  Well, I hope…


Q:  Thank you.


GEN. METZ:  …I hope I was helpful.


Q:  You were.


Q: Thank you.


GEN. METZ:  We thank you.  Thank you for what you all do for the country.

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