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DoD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Thomas B. Turner II from Iraq

Presenters: Commander Multinational-North and 101st Airborne Division Air Assualt Maj. Gen. Thomas B. Turner II
September 08, 2006 12:00 PM EDT
            BRYAN WHITMAN (Pentagon spokesman): Well, good morning. Thank you for joining us today. Let me just see if General Turner can hear us.  
 
            General Turner, Bryan Whitman at the Pentagon. Can you hear me all right?  
 
            GEN. TURNER: I can hear you, Bryan.  
 
            MR. WHITMAN: Very good. Well, thank you for joining us this morning.  
 
            This is Major General Thomas R. Turner, commander of the Multinational Division-North, as well as the 101st Airborne Division   Air Assault. He -- I think you last spoke to us just a few months ago, three months ago, maybe, in early May. And he is speaking today to us from his headquarters at Forward Operation Base Speicher outside of Tikrit, where his command is responsible for ongoing operations in northern Iraq. As is our format here, he's going to give you an overview of what his command has been doing, and then take a few questions from you.  
 
            So, with that, General Turner, let me turn it over to you.  
 
            GEN. TURNER: Okay, thank you.  
 
            Good morning. As you heard, I'm Major General Tom Turner, commander of Multinational Division-North. And September marks our 12th month in Iraq. I would like to take this opportunity to discuss the accomplishment of our soldiers and our Iraqi counterparts.  
 
            Those of you not familiar with our area of operations, MND-North contains six provinces. First, Diyala, just east of Baghdad, that goes out to the Iranian border, contains the key city of Muqdadiyah. Salahuddin province north of Baghdad, which contains the key cities of Samarra, Tikrit, and Baiji. Kirkuk province to the east of Salahuddin, which has the key city of Kirkuk City. Nineveh province, north of Salahuddin; borders Syria, and contains the key cities of Mosul and Fawafra (ph). And then the northern mountainous provinces of Sulimaniyah and Dohuk. The area of operations covers the entire from north of Baghdad to the Syrian, Turkish and Iranian borders.    
 
            Since assuming responsibility of MND-North in November of 2005, the end state of our mission has not changed: an Iraq at peace with her neighbors, an ally in the war on terror, with a representative government that respects the human rights of all Iraqis, and with an Iraqi security force that is capable of providing domestic order and preventing safe haven for terrorists.    
 
            Our primary focus was, and remains, the development of Iraqi security forces capable of providing domestic order and conducting the counterinsurgency fight in Iraq.     
 
            When we assumed control of MND-North, only one Iraqi army battalion was in the lead, and no territory had been transitioned.    
 
            Today, through the efforts of our units partnered with Iraqi units and our military transition teams embedded in Iraqi units, 35 battalions, eight brigades and two divisions of the four divisions we're partnered with have assumed the lead and have been assigned an area of operation. The other two divisions should assume their area of responsibility by the end of this year.  
 
            I'd like to highlight that this partnership and training has raised the Iraqi army's proficiency and advanced their capabilities from being able to participate in combined missions to leading both combined and increasingly independent operations.  
 
            Using one brigade as an example, 3rd Brigade of the 5th Division in Diyala province conducted Iraqi-only operations in their area of operations: 80 percent of the security patrols, 100 percent of the traffic control points and 89 percent of the raids that were conducted during the period May through August. They were accompanied only by the military transition teams.  
 
            Because of the increased capabilities of the Iraqi army, the majority of all operations in our AO are now Iraqi army-led with our forces in support. Logistics and sustainment capabilities are still developing, and this should improve as the national government increases their capabilities. Now that the majority of the IA combat units are in the lead, we will remain focused on building combat support and combat service support units. When these units are fully established, they will provide critical combat enablers such as logistics, transportation, support, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Some of the Iraqi army units are already making great strides in this area, even though they have not received their specialized equipment. In July, 2nd Brigade of 4th Iraqi Army Division conducted a combined cordon and search operation in the Kirkuk province, which was executed over a three-day period. This brigade and its subordinate battalions supported themselves for the duration of the mission without any coalition support, supplying their forces with food, water and fuel, providing medical care with mobile aid stations and fixing their vehicles in the field for the duration of this operation.  
 
            Across MND-North, we've also seen vast improvements in the Iraqi police. Although their development lags behind the Iraqi army in readiness levels, through continued partnership and increased emphasis at the national level, the vast majority of our police forces should have completed formal training and are expected to be completely equipped by the end of 2006. Currently, over 31,000 police have been trained, and we are on a glide-path for over 43,000 to be trained by December.  
 
            Nearly a hundred police stations were constructed or renovated this year, resulting in a provincial and district headquarters for each province in northern Iraq. In addition to this improvement in police facilities, another 30 stations are currently under construction.  
 
            It was not so long ago that we saw IP either abandoning their post or throwing down their arms when attacked or confronted by the enemy. Today they are much stronger, and we continue to see progress.  
 
            Just last month in Mosul, al Qaeda conducted a coordinated attack against several IP and IA locations. The Iraqi police were attacked, but they held their ground and immediately transitioned to offensive operation and disabled two enemy vehicles.    
 
            The highlight of this operation was the IA defeating the supporting attack while moving to reinforce the Iraq police. Most notably, actions such as these are becoming more frequent as the ISF gain confidence and credibility.  
 
            Progress is also being made on the borders. Today 132 border forts have been built across the north. Additionally, seven points of entry along the east and west Iraqi borders have been upgraded. With the majority of Iraqi army units now in the lead, we are working with both the Iraqi army and the border police to strengthen their partnership and coordination with each other to better secure the vast, porous territory along the Syrian and Iranian borders. This joint security effort will improve the security of Nineveh, Sulimaniyah and Diyala borders, preventing the movement of supplies, munitions and foreign fighters into Iraq.  
 
            While doing this, we've managed to reduce the U.S. footprint in the north. Upon arrival, coalition forces were using 35 different forward operating bases. We will turn over 11 to the 25th Infantry Division as they relieve us. The remainder will either be closed, turned over to the Iraqi army for use as garrisons or turned over to the Iraqi government for use as business centers, vocational training areas or recreational areas.  
 
            All of Saddam Hussein's palaces constructed in northern Iraq have been returned to the Iraqi people. Coalition forces in our area of operation have been reduced by nearly half.  
 
            Another area in which we focused was the development of the Iraqi capability to secure energy infrastructure in northern Iraq. Iraq's economic future lies in its most profitable natural resource, oil. Terrorism, a decaying infrastructure, corruption and criminal activities have been preventing Iraqi citizens from enjoying the wealth which, if secured, could make a big impact on economic growth of the region.  
 
            In February, the 4th Iraqi Army Division, one of our partnered army units, was given the mission to secure the vital oil and power infrastructure in the Kirkuk and Salahuddin Provinces. Since that time, they have stood up two strategic infrastructure brigades to command and control 14 strategic infrastructure battalions. 
 
            As we have Iraqi army battalions assume an area of operation, it allows us to begin partnering with the SIBs, and we are seeing improvements in their ability to secure this vital piece of Iraq's future.  
 
            In addition to our forces partnering with the SIBs improvements have been made over the past year to safeguard critical infrastructure. Key oil facilities are more secure due to the increased physical hardening of these facilities. Walls now protect electrical plants and oil refineries, where before there were either none or inadequate protection. Valves up and down the many pipelines are being hardened, creating a less vulnerable system.  
 
            The Iraqis know this is their future. They have now created repair teams capable of rapidly moving to a site and conducting repairs once a line ruptures. The capabilities continue to improve.  
 
            Iraq recently resumed crude oil exports from the northern fields for the first time since the autumn of 2005. Crude oil production for the second quarter improved 18 percent to 2.2 million barrels per day, and exports improved by 20 percent.  
 
            Coalition and Iraqi army forces joined together to add multiple powers, outposts and headquarters structures, thus increasing the presence of security forces along the Baiji-to-Kirkuk and the Baiji-to-Baghdad power lines. All together, these efforts have doubled the electrical power available to Baghdad from the north and have allowed 7.6 million Iraqis to receive power.  
 
            In an area of responsibility that exceeds 47,000 square miles, we have leveraged the full spectrum of assets in order to engage the population and neutralize the enemy. Iraqi security forces have taken the fight to the terrorists and insurgents throughout MND North. Through their efforts, they are increasingly isolating the population from the enemy. Numerous combined and increasingly Iraqi-only operations continue to disrupt the enemy's decision-making process and disrupt their freedom of movement.  
 
            With the increased capabilities of the ISF, the army and police forces are gaining the trust of the Iraqi populace. This has enabled our efforts to involve the local population through tips to the joint coordination centers. This increased confidence of the population has assisted in the detainment of nearly 500 suspected enemy personnel and in the disruption of over 400 enemy weapons caches.  
 
            I would also like to reflect on the accomplishments that have been achieved across the governance lines of operations over the past year. In support of our Iraqi counterparts, we have ensured the success of a constitutional referendum and national election.  
 
           
 
            Defeating the insurgency will depend on continued Iraqi political progress and political institutions gaining legitimacy.    
 
            Must continue to assist the Iraqi leaders as they mature district and provincial governments, and work to bring security, deliver essential services and prosperity to the people of their province.  
 
            The provincial joint coordination centers have become the central hub for governance in the provinces. They became a place where citizens could voice their concerns and seek assistance from the government and emergency services. Despite attempts by the insurgency to stop this progress, the PJCC has become the linchpin for connection between the government and their people.  
 
            I'd also like to discuss the provincial reconstruction teams that are now fully operational in Kirkuk, Diyala and Nineveh province, and soon to be operational in Salahuddin province. These teams are assisting in developing the core competencies in public administration, finance, budgeting, planning and accountability to enable local governments to deliver public services, exercise the rule of law, develop democratic institutions and to enhance stability and growth within their respective provinces.  
 
            We have worked to rebuild the critical infrastructure, education, health and public works services that the former regime neglected. Within the six provinces, Iraqi leaders have set the priorities for nearly a thousand projects worth more than $130 million. This has also allowed for the development of small businesses centers in places such as Tikrit and Tall Afar, which assist growing entrepreneurs in the development of their businesses.  
 
            The government is also becoming increasingly available to the public through the local media. We've assisted the Iraqis in establishing a more robust satellite television capability that reaches throughout the northern provinces.  
 
            Violence will continue. Al Qaeda and others will continue to attempt to disrupt the political process. Terrorists and those who support them would like nothing more than to provoke a civil war. They will continue to attack innocent Iraqi civilians and Iraqi police, and attack Iraqi army forces in attempts to undermine the legitimacy of this new government.  
 
            There are important challenges that still lay ahead: building bridges of trust across ethnic lines, defeating terrorists who promote sectarian conflict, establishing security and rule of law for all Iraqis, increasing economic growth to provide jobs, delivering essential services, and fighting corruption.  
 
            Key is moving the political process forward, and for the government to set an inclusive course for the Iraqi people.    
 
            The majority of Iraqis are tired of the bloodshed, and this enemy presents no challenge that cannot be overcome. This was most evident after the horrific bombing of the golden mosque in Samarra, where we saw the restraint of the Iraqi people in the face of massive provocation by those who respect nothing except their own destructive agenda for Iraq.  
 
            It was the actions of the provincial leaders, the leaders of Iraq's army and police forces who maintained order in the northern provinces.  
 
            As a number of Iraqi security forces continue to take the lead in security, we will continue to provide assistance as necessary to the provincial governments and Iraqi security forces to maintain domestic order as they chart their own path toward Iraqi self-reliance.  
           
            And with that, I'd be happy to take your questions.  
 
            MR. WHITMAN: Well, thank you, General, for that very comprehensive overview and for highlighting an impressive list of accomplishments that your unit has achieved.  
 
            Let me get started here, and we do have some new faces. So if you identify for the general, since he can't see you, that would be helpful to him -- you and your news organization.  
 
            We'll start with Bob.  
 
            Q      General, this is Bob Burns from AP. In the Pentagon's report to Congress last week on conditions in Iraq, it said that sectarian violence had spread beyond Baghdad, and it mentions specific Diyala and Kirkuk provinces. I was wondering if you could flesh that out for us a bit in terms of what type of sectarian violence you're seeing, and what is the trend line?  
 
            GEN. TURNER: The trend line is good, and we do see that migration. Diyala province, as you know, is really a microcosm of Iraq. It has a sizeable Kurdish population in the north, and then down through the Muqdadiyah-Baqubah corridor, which runs right into Baghdad, you have both Shi'a and Sunni populations. We have seen some evidence of sectarian violence. Much of that -- or not much of it, but some of it we know has come out of Baghdad. Some of the bodies that were discovered in Diyala province in fact were dumped there by these death squads that operate within Baghdad. But we have found two or three torture chambers that we assume were used for sectarian violence.  
 
            I would tell you right now that it's a very complex situation, as you have little Iraq in Diyala. Sometimes it's difficult to figure where the violence is coming from. We do know some of the violence was tribal violence. Some of it was violence for economic or political gain. As you know, there has been an al Qaeda presence in that area, and some of it is al Qaeda and former regime element groups that exist in that area that spurn that violence.  
 
            As you continue northeast through Diyala, you get to Kirkuk province, and there is Jaish al-Mahdi presence in Tuz and Kirkuk. However, in terms of sectarian violence, we have not seen a lot of it in Kirkuk province. We think a lot of that is due to the effectiveness of the police forces that have been operating in the province. 
 
MR. WHITMAN: Kristin, go ahead.  
 
            Q      Kristin Roberts with Reuters. We've heard repeatedly about the Iranian influence in Iraq in supporting the insurgency. What -- can you give us some details of the evidence that you're seeing along the border? How many Iranians are moving in on a regular basis, what the trend line there is, what exactly they're doing in your area of operations?  
 
            GEN. TURNER: I don't think we have any specific proof of Iranians in our area other than reports. We have discovered caches -- or the Iraqi border police have discovered caches of weapons that look like they were abandoned quickly in their area along the border. It has not been a lot. We have seen some evidence of some weapons that were employed against coalition forces that were made in Iraq, where they're coming -- or made in Iran, where they are coming from across the border, we're not sure.  
 
            MR. WHITMAN: Pam?  
 
            Q      Oh, sir, this is Pam Hess with UPI. Could you tell us a little bit more about the torture chambers you discovered? When, where were they? How did you get on to them? And what happens to them now? Who's responsible for them? What else have you been able to find?  
 
            GEN. TURNER: Those were small rooms -- I'd say six by six -- that were found when units in Diyala were conducting operations in what they call the breadbasket. They were along the Diyala River. And what it included were places were shackles were attached to walls, batteries and other evidence of torture. Those buildings were destroyed after they were found and photographed.  
 
            Q      (Off mike) -- they were discovered?  
 
            GEN. TURNER: Oh, when they were discovered -- I believe it was -- I don't have an exact date. May or June.  
 
            MR. WHITMAN: Dave.  
 
            Q      General, Dave Woody (sp) from the Baltimore Sun. Could you describe in some detail, when Iraqi security forces are operating independently, what exactly is the U.S. role with them? And you mentioned the embedded advisers. Is there some kind of enduring U.S. command and control relationship or function?  
 
            GEN. TURNER: Well, there's a command and control relationship. I have tactical control of the Iraqi forces in my area of operation. That will change shortly here as the IGFC, the Iraqi Ground Force Command, assumes command and control of more divisions. That -- as you know, one division was put under their command yesterday, and by the end of this month, one of our divisions will. So those (are) a command relationship. But when they own the battlespace, they are conducting operations as they see fit in that battlespace.  
 
            Enduring responsibilities that we have -- if they ask for it, we are prepared to supply quick reaction forces. If they ask for it, we're prepared to do supporting operations if they so desire. With the MiTT teams, the military transition teams, they are also capable of providing coalition effects, should it be required -- close air support, helicopter support, medevac support. 
 
MR. WHITMAN: Gordon.  
 
            Q      General, Gordon Lubold from Army Times. General Meigs, who leads the counter IED effort here -- was talking yesterday about the increase of the discovery of IEDs and a parallel effort -- discovery or the clearing of those IEDs. I wonder if you can just talk about what's going on in your AOR within that area about IEDs. Are they going up? Are you finding them? Are they hurting people? What's going on?  
 
            GEN. TURNER: Sure. IEDs being the primary weapon of most of these different groups that attack us are of great concern to us and we pay great attention to that fight. And it's really a holistic fight.  
 
            The trends are -- over the past year, IED attacks have continued to increase in our area.  
 
The effectiveness of those IEDs continues to decrease. Effectiveness is defined as the injury to a soldier or injury -- or damage to a vehicle. If you look at injuries, that has decreased even more over time. So get more IEDs, but less -- but they're less effective.  
 
            Why are they less effective? It goes to this holistic approach that we take. First of all, protection. I think we're probably provided the very best protection against IEDs that is possible. Secondly, our ability to go out and find these IEDs, some aided by technology and some just alert soldiers that are paying attention to what they're doing. And third is using engineers to keep routes open and cleared. The more you use a route, the less opportunity an insurgent has to place an IED out to make it effective.  
 
            Here in MND-North, we had a dip for a while. At one time we were discovering close to 45 percent of the IEDs that were in place. We had a two-month dip that went down to about 35 percent, but we're approaching 40 percent again now. Some of that is just the enemy changes his TTP, that’s his tactics, techniques and procedures -- us getting used to that and adapting.  
 
            Q      General, I'm Carl Osgood with Executive Intelligence Review. In addition to the sectarian violence, we've also heard reports that the Iraqi flag does not fly in the Kurdish areas up in the north, that the Kurdish areas are pretty much autonomous from the government in Baghdad. Do you see any danger or any evidence that the country may split along these sectarian lines?  
 
            GEN. TURNER: That's -- I don't see them splitting, and Mr. Barzani, the same time the flag dispute was going on, was talking about how it was in the best interest of the Kurdish people to maintain united Iraq. So I do not see that as an issue right now.  
 
            Q      Hi, General. I'm Leigh Ann Caldwell with Free Speech Radio News, Pacifica Radio. The new military manual on torture came out this week. I was wondering if you've received a copy of it. And if so, are there any plans on how to train your soldiers or to inform them of the new standards?  
 
            MR. WHITMAN: Just for the record, the manual I think you're referring to is not entitled "Manual on Torture." It's a manual on interrogation. (Light laughter.) Okay.  
 
            GEN. TURNER: Yes, I have access to a copy of it now. We all received those yesterday and a synopsis of what it entails. We will train to the standards in that manual. The great thing about that manual is it codifies or co-locates many of the policies that have come out in the last few years, and in fact, that manual will -- is policy. We will train to the standards in that manual, and it's great to have all of the references in one place. So I'm looking forward to reading the manual.  
 
            MR. WHITMAN: Pam, we're going to let you finish up. Go ahead.  
 
            Q      General, I've been told that with regard to the PJCCs, there are at least three in your sector that the Iraqi government hasn't funded. It's my understanding that the U.S. stopped funding them, I think at the end of May or June, and the Iraqi government was supposed to pick that up. And there were some, at least three, that they weren't funded for several months. I was wondering how many that those were, and has that funding been started? And are people walking off the job?  
 
            GEN. TURNER: Yeah, the PJCCs are a fantastic facility and organization that allow all the emergency responders, all the security folks, and in some cases, like Kirkuk, some of the northern oil company folks, to sit in one place and monitor what is going on.    
 
            I don't know who invented the PJCCs, but they have really taken off here and serve a great, great purpose. But as they grew, each region was really separate and distinct, so some of them were much larger than others. I don't know of any that the Iraqi government is not getting any funding to. What they did, when we told them that we were going to turn them over to them was they established a table of organization and equipment; the Iraqi government decided what could be in these PJCCs. So some that had grown to close to 300 people, when they saw an authorization of 20 in there to do tasks, felt like they weren't getting funded. Others were living on 20, 30, 40 people. So I think that's the disparity.  
 
            Provinces that choose to man those I think have money in their budget that they can allocate to keep those open at the same levels of sourcing that they were used to before. I have not heard any that are not getting any pay.  
 
            MR. WHITMAN: General, before we bring this to a close, I just want to give you one last opportunity, if you had something you'd like to say.  
 
            GEN. TURNER: Sure. Thank you. I'd like to end this conference by once again saying to the American people how proud I am of your sons and daughters who serve in this task force. Over the past year, the Screaming Eagles and Task Force Band of Brothers have performed magnificently, and I could not be more proud of the great accomplishments that our soldiers have made. Their level of dedication and devotion to our mission has been both inspiring and humbling. I cannot fully describe the valor, sacrifice and dedication of the great young Americans who have remained steadfast to advance the cause of freedom in Iraq and defend our great nation. While the accomplishments have been numerous, it's not come without a price. Soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice. Our soldiers have given their lives beside one another and beside their Iraqi partners. They gave their all that the Iraqi people might have the opportunity to experience the freedoms we enjoy, and they gave their lives in order to keep the terrorists off the shores of America. Their sacrifices, and those of their families, will not be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, and our thoughts and prayers are with our wounded that have been unable to return to duty.  
 
            To the people of Iraq, we share your dreams of peace and freedom for Iraq. Some of the most rewarding moments we've had here have been defined by the courage and enthusiasm we've seen in the Iraqi people as they serve their country. There is no shortage of brave men and women who are willing to serve Iraq in the Iraqi army, police, border enforcement, and local government to move this country forward, sometimes at great risk not only to themselves, but to their families as well.    
 
            To those that are working so hard for the free and democratic future of their country, they have our profound respect and admiration. You are making an Iraq that your children truly deserve.  
 
            Thank you.  
 
            MR. WHITMAN: General, as your unit tour comes to an end, we'd just like to thank you for making yourself available from time to time over the past year to talk to us about what you've been doing there. And we wish you a safe and speedy redeployment, and offer you the opportunity, when you're back in the United States and in Washington, to come see us all in person.  
 
            GEN. TURNER: Well, thank you very much. I'll do that.
 
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