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DoD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Thurman from Iraq

Presenters: Commander, Multi-National Division-Baghdad, Maj. Gen. James Thurman
September 22, 2006 12:00 PM EDT
            MR. TURNER: General Thurman, this is Jim Turner in the Pentagon Press Office -- press room. Can you hear me? 
 
            GEN. THURMAN: Yeah, Jim. Good morning. I got you loud and clear. 
 
            MR. TURNER: Okay. Our briefer today is Major General James Thurman, commanding general of the Multi-National Division-Baghdad. He assumed command in January of this year and last spoke to us in June. The general is speaking to us from Camp Liberty in Baghdad and will provide an operational update on the security operations in Baghdad and the surrounding areas and then answer your questions. 
 
            And with that, General Thurman, I'll turn it over to you. 
 
            GEN. THURMAN: Bryan (sic/Jim), thank you for that introduction. Good morning to everyone. It's my pleasure to be with you here today. 
 
            When I last spoke to you in June, I discussed a new Baghdad security plan, Operation Together Forward. I said then that this is a critical period for the Iraqi government, where our mutual commitment and support are required. Three months later, we're still heavily engaged with that effort side by side with our Iraqi partners to secure Baghdad. I remain optimistic about the positive trends that I see. 
 
            Before I take questions, I would like to briefly describe Operation Together Forward Two and discuss some of the challenges and talk about Iraqis in the lead. 
 
            Together Forward was planned with and as an Iraqi-led operation and designed to reduce the sectarian violence in focused areas identified by the Iraqi government. We also knew that we had to stop the terrorist cells and death squads. After a detailed assessment in August by the Iraqi government, we made significant adjustments. I specifically requested and received more Iraqi and coalition forces to come to Baghdad to help us secure the city. The 1st Brigade of the 9th Iraqi Army Division from Taji, with the division headquarters, the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Armored Division and the 177nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team joined Multi-National Division-Baghdad in order to give us the right mix of combat power. 
 
            Our strategy has three parts: clear, hold and build. First, we secure an area by clearing it block by block and building by building with a combined Iraqi and coalition force.  
 
            We search for contraband, illegal weapons and evidence of terrorist activity. 
 
            Second, once the focus area has been secured, Iraqi security forces hold it to create conditions for the local government to provide the immediate, basic needs and services to the people.  
 
            The building phase is ongoing in partnership with the Iraqi government, and it consists of the short-, mid- and long-term restoration of the utility infrastructure in order to reverse 30 years of neglect. We've committed more than $8 million to immediate civic action projects in these focus areas. The projects include those that create a local employment environment and opportunities, economic opportunities throughout these areas. 
 
            So how are we doing? Thus far, we've successfully conducted clearing operations in our holding and focused areas within the beladiyas, including more than 50 mahalas. Our operations recently moved to East Baghdad. Over the past couple of months, we're seeing a reduction in sectarian violence in Baghdad. As we clear a focus area, the murders and attacks are significantly reduced. However, we have seen an increase in attacks this past week, but mostly against coalition and Iraqi security forces. 
 
            Why are we seeing an increase in attacks? Well, we have twice as many forces operating throughout the city now. We're challenging the anti-Iraqi forces where they live and operate. We anticipated the enemy would push back as we moved into their sanctuaries, but we are disrupting and defeating them by forcing them to fight on our terms. 
 
            The feedback we get from interacting with the people of Baghdad shows increased feelings of security, and a majority of the folks are serious. Citizens are slowly gaining more trust and confidence in their military and police forces. I visit these neighborhoods often. Each time I return, I find more people trying to get on with their lives. I see more shops opening and more people in the streets. I talk to the people to find out their needs. As we clean up the streets, we find a city capable of starting to function proper. 
 
            As the Iraqi civilian leadership has stated, unity and security are required in order to achieve long-term prosperity. Therefore, governmental involvement in the hold and build phases are paramount in order to maintain security and create functioning neighborhoods. 
 
            Baghdad security hinges on the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces. They are fighting and dying for their country every day, and have made great strides. And our great American soldiers have stood shoulder to shoulder with their Iraqi counterparts, assisting them every step of the way. 
 
            In conclusion, murders have declined across the city due to Together Forward. Protecting the cleared areas requires the commitment of Iraqi soldiers, policemen and the Iraqi people. The Iraqi security forces have pledged their oath to the Iraqi government and are moving forward. 
 
            But military means alone cannot neutralize the insurgency and stop the sectarian violence. Political and economic interests are also critical to this effort. With the Council of Representatives back in session, we're optimistic that the government will move forward to deal with the militias, and provide the unified support that the Iraqi security forces require, and set those conditions for economic improvement. 
 
            Our professional soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines assigned to Multi-National Division Baghdad are committed in their support to the Iraqi people during this transition period. 
 
            With that, I'll take your questions. 
 
            MR. TURNER: Okay, Will. 
 
            Q     General, this is Will Dunham with Reuters. Could you please quantify what you meant by the increase in the number of attacks in the past week? And could you also quantify the number of violent deaths you're seeing in Baghdad as compared to where you were earlier in the summer? 
 
            GEN. THURMAN: Well, first off, what I would tell you in terms of murders. In the focused areas for Together Forward II, we went into those specific hotspots because those were the Shi'a-Sunni fault lines where we were having the sectarian violence occur. And we've decreased murders in there by about 50 percent. And as you go around these areas right now, we've significantly dropped the murders along those Shi'a-Sunni fault lines. 
 
            Now, what that's caused is for the enemy to move and push them to the outskirts of Baghdad Province. And so we're adjusting out security plan to go stop the violence in those areas. 
 
            The decrease of deaths on civilians have been by about 16 percent across Baghdad. Now, what I've seen over the past week has been an average of about 42 attacks a day against us, and we average about six that are effective attacks against us. An effective attack is where we get a soldier wounded or we get a piece of equipment damaged. And so we are seeing that as we -- as we are conducting roughly around 10 operations over and above the clear, hold and build plan of Operation Together Forward. 
 
            Q     Can I follow up, please? The 16 percent -- could you -- what's the -- what are you comparing that against? What time period?  
 
            And also, with the 42 attacks, could you give us a comparison to where it had been? 
 
            GEN. THURMAN: Yes. First off, on the latter, the 42-attack average-- and oh, by the way, that's 22 percent effectiveness this past week, from a seven-day period. 
 
            We've seen that increase over roughly about five to six attacks. So we were generally running around 38, 36 attacks a day against coalition inside of Baghdad. 
 
            Q     (Off mike.) 
 
            GEN. THURMAN: Together Forward, phase two, began from Operation Together Forward I. And what I attribute the success to of that is our ability to get in these hot areas and get them -- and clear those terrorists out of there. And I do think we have a lot of movement of terrorist activity trying to disrupt what we're doing. Hence it's got a rise in attacks against us. 
 
            MR. TURNER: Lolita? 
 
            Q     General Thurman, it's Lolita Baldor with the Associated Press. I've seen some comments that you've made about wanting some additional Iraqi security forces and that they are not complete -- the ones that you've gotten are not completely filled. Can you tell us whether or not the Iraqis have met the commitment that they initially said for the troops that they would provide for the Baghdad operation? And can you also tell us how many Iraqi troops you have versus how many American troops? 
 
            GEN. THURMAN: Well, first off, I would -- when we worked this plan with the Iraqis, we asked for two additional Iraqi army brigades. And they're still trying to fill that requirement. To date, they've moved approximately two battalions in our battlespace, and they're still trying to meet that requirement. 
 
            Some of these battalions, when they were formed, were formed regionally. And some of the soldiers, due to the distance, did not want to travel into Baghdad. And the minister of Defense is working with that. 
 
            I'm confident that they're going to go in to meet that requirement here within the next few weeks. But it's going to take a little time is what I would tell you. 
 
            Q     Follow-up. Do you -- as a result of this, do you need more U.S.to troops fill the void? 
 
            GEN. THURMAN: I would tell you I need more Iraqi security forces. I don't think putting more coalition in here is the right answer. That's my answer, because I think, with the security forces from the Iraqi side that we have, they're committed. I just watched an operation this week in Mansour, which is a very dangerous area, and I watched the 5th Brigade of the 6th Iraqi Army go into that area, no notice -- we didn't tell them till 0400 that morning -- and they want went in there and started conducting operations in there quickly, using Iraqi command and control and Iraqi forces. The only thing we had with them was a U.S. MiTT team. 
 
            Q     You didn't -- I would ask how many Iraqi and how many total U.S. and Iraqi forces you had. 
 
            GEN. THURMAN: Yes, I can tell you that. Currently in Multinational Division Baghdad, there are over 69,000 forces. That's coalition and Iraqi army. Now, in Baghdad proper, which is Baghdad city, we've got 54 battalions, of which they are 15,000 coalition. That's 14 U.S. combat battalions and 15 Iraqi army battalions. So we've roughly got about 15,000 coalition combat forces, 9,000 Iraqi army combat forces, 12,000 national police, and 22,000 local police -- and that's station police, patrol police, and traffic police that's on the streets. 
 
            Q     General Thurman, Barbara Starr from CNN. I'm sorry to follow up on all these statistics and numbers. But when you say you have 9,000 Iraqi army in Baghdad city, essentially, what is -- go back to what you said a minute ago, if you could, that you have a requirement for two brigades, Iraqi brigades, and they've moved in two battalions. So help me understand what the total Iraqi requirement is in Baghdad city compared to the 9,000 you have there right now. And are those 9,000 on station in Baghdad city? 
 
            GEN. THURMAN: Okay, Barbara, let me try to explain this a little further. When we go into an area and clear it, the next step is to hold and build civil capacity. And I've got two areas, specifically, Baya and Dura beladiyas that I would like to put an Iraqi army brigade's worth of combat power in there so they can hold that area, and all those mahalas, and protect the people and bolster that security. And currently what we have in these focused areas, I have a U.S. battalion committed in there that's working side by side with Iraqi army and Iraqi police. So I felt like we needed more Iraqi security forces in those areas, and that's what I've told my superior commanders that I felt like we needed. And so I laid that requirement on the Multinational Forces and to the government to provide those forces, and I think that will get us where we need to be. 
 
            Q     What I was really asking was, rather than speaking of it in brigades and battalions, can you tell us numerically how many -- what is your shortfall of Iraqi forces?   
 
            When you said that you have asked for two brigades, and they've moved in two battalions, numerically, how -- number one, how short -- how many numbers short are you on Iraqi forces in Baghdad? 
 
            And my other question is, when you said that you tell -- for example, you told this Iraqi unit on a no-notice basis -- are you telling Iraqi units to move on a no-notice basis because of your concern about them maintaining operational security, or do you tell them about missions ahead of time? 
 
            GEN. THURMAN: Okay, Barbara, the answer to your last question -- we fight the enemy in here. And the first thing we do is a good assessment of what's going on and to be able to move quickly in these areas. 
 
            There's 534 mahalas inside of Baghdad, and Baghdad is a dense city with 6.8 million people, as you well know. What I still need in here in terms of battalions from the Iraqi army that I would like to see is approximately six battalions, and the government is working to do that. 
 
            And so I think where you find ourselves right now -- since we got in here, we only had two brigades in the lead, roughly six battalions. And now we're up to over 26 battalions across our battlespace in the lead, and I've got the 6th Division in here and the 9th Division, the 6th Division operating on the west side of the Tigris River, what we call Karkh, and the 9th Division operating on the east side, what we call Rusafa. And then in Baya and also in Dura, we have the national police. I got two national police brigades operating down in those areas, and I felt like we needed more Iraqi army in there to work side by side with the police and the national police, because those have been bad areas. And we're clearing the enemy out of there, and we don't want them to come back. 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- Iraqi army battalions -- how many people? 
 
            GEN. THURMAN: Roughly, an Iraqi army battalion is between -- around 500 people. 
 
            MR. TURNER: Courtney. 
 
            GEN. THURMAN: And so I don't want to get into specific numbers of each unit. 
 
            Q     Would we be fair to say in the news media roughly, then -- roughly, approximately 3,000 Iraqi additional troops are needed in Baghdad, in your estimation?   
 
            GEN. THURMAN: I'd say it's roughly six battalions' worth. And if you took each battalion -- around 500 or so -- you'd be close at that. 
 
            Q     General Thurman, this is Courtney Kube from NBC News. By my calculations, there are a little bit more than 30,000 Iraqi security forces in Baghdad right now, operating as part of Operation Together Forward. Is that correct? 
 
            GEN. THURMAN: If you count the 9,000 Iraqi army, 12,000 national police and 22,000 Iraqi army, you're pretty close. 
 
            Q     So I guess I'm just little confused. We keep hearing here that there's more than 300,000 Iraqi security forces that are trained and equipped, and then we continue to hear that Baghdad is the central focus, the main mission right now, in Iraq. So why is it that about -- only about 10 percent of the entire Iraqi security forces are in the area of Baghdad when it's supposed to be the central focus right now, the major part -- the major campaign?   
 
            GEN. THURMAN: Yeah. Well, first off, the 300,000 is all across Iraq. And those are allocated -- the forces are allocated by General Chiarelli and General Casey, depending upon the other provinces that are out there, inside of Iraq. 
 
            So the forces that I have allocated to me -- I've actually got 10 Iraqi army brigades, of which three of the Iraqi army brigades are serving in the Babil, Karbala and Najaf provinces. Two Iraqi division headquarters, which are all in Baghdad, and I've got the three additional brigades that worked with the 8th Division, which is in Karbala, Babil and Najaf.   
 
            But what I've asked for is those additional Iraqi army units to come in to bolster the security inside of Baghdad City. 
 
            MR. TURNER: Okay, Julian. 
 
            Q     Julian Barnes with the LA Times, General. Are you disappointed that the Ministry of Defense seemed to be unable to bring these additional forces into Baghdad if you're still lacking six battalions that you've requested? And how are you or the Ministry of Defense moving to try to get those forces into Baghdad? 
 
            GEN. THURMAN: Well, first off, I'm never disappointed. I think you got to look at where the new government's at. You know, this government just got started here back in -- seated in May and June, and started operating. It's now September. 
 
            You know, we started, with security forces, with nothing. And three years later, I think we've done a pretty good job here of building the force that we got.   
 
            He has other issues that he's trying to deal with across the country, and so there's competing security demands and needs across Iraq. 
 
            And I just know, after working with these guys for over nine months throughout the government, and the new minister of Defense, I believe he's very much committed to what we need and he's working hard to meet those requirements. 
 
            Q     Will the Iraqi army be able to take over if it's not able to order its units to move around Iraq? If its units are all stationary, how can it take control of the security situation? 
 
            GEN. THURMAN: Well, I think first off, we're working with them to make them more mobile. I know General Dempsey is working on that with what he does. And, you know, we moved the 9th Division in here in about 72 hours and got them operating in here. That's not too bad. But there's other units that are at varying levels of training, and, you know, we're still training and developing these units in contact with the enemy.   
 
            So I wouldn't say it's not going well. What I would tell you is I think the government is trying to come to grips with the security needs, and we have a determined enemy out there that's trying to disrupt this government, a democratic form of government. And we're here assisting them to work through these tough security issues. 
 
            Q     General, it's Nick Simeone at Fox News. Does the military plan to move into Sadr City, or maybe you already have, and disarm militias there? 
 
            GEN. THURMAN: Well, first off, I'm in Sadr City all the time. It's a misnomer to say we don't go into Sadr City. I myself walk in the streets of Sadr City. And, you know, we don't need to paint an enemy that's 15 feet tall here. I'm not going to discuss future operations with you, but we conduct combined patrolling in there with Iraqi security forces -- with police and army units -- in Sadr City every day. And I'd invite you to come over here and go with me and we'll go in there. 
 
            Q     There's also a report that two of Muqtada al-Sadr's aides have been arrested and detained. Can you confirm that? 
 
            GEN. THURMAN: What I would tell you is we're going to arrest anybody that's operating outside the rule of law, that's conducting violence against people, the Iraqi people and civilians. If they're responsible for death group activity, if they're responsible for vehicle-borne IEDs and they're responsible for killing Iraqi citizens or coalition, we're going to arrest them. 
 
            Nobody's above the rule of law over here. 
 
            Q     General, does that threat include Muqtada al-Sadr himself? 
 
            GEN. THURMAN: I'm not going to comment on Muqtada al-Sadr. He is a political figure over here, and I am not targeting Muqtada al- Sadr, if that's your question. And I'm not going to comment on future operations that we're planning. 
 
            MR. TURNER: Time for one more question. 
 
            Q     General, it's Kay Maddox from Voice of America. You described Operation Together Forward in its second phase as very successful, but all last week and then again just this morning, there were reports that 10 dead bodies were found as part of this sectarian violence that continues. And I wonder if you can answer for me, you do mention that you go into hotspots and move other people -- move the enemy into other areas. 
 
            How well are you doing if dead bodies continue to be discovered throughout Baghdad? 
 
            GEN. THURMAN: Well, that is a major concern of mine. If there's one thing that I want to lower is the amount of murders and senseless killings and the kidnappings. I attribute that to sectarian problems, and I attribute it back to death groups. I think one of the sources of death groups are militias because I believe that militias are operating outside the rule of law, and they're holding the rule of law in contempt. And I consider that issue a problem that the government must deal with immediately. 
 
            And that's the source of this. 
 
            Q     (Inaudible.) 
 
            GEN. THURMAN: We have been able to drop the murder rate. In Masafi, we -- it was 6.8 murders a day, and it's down -- now down to 1.1 murders. And we're talking 6.8 million people across Baghdad here. 
 
            Q     Just a quick follow-up, General. Can you be specific about the areas in Baghdad where this operation is occurring that you've had a lot of success? We lost some audio there. You may have said that already, but can you give us sort of a list of the areas in which you're doing well? 
 
            GEN. THURMAN: Yeah. On 7 August, we started in Dura, specifically Masafi (sp). Masafi (sp) is the haya (sp) - neighborhood, if you will, with a series of mulhallas (sp) of where we were -- had finding a lot of dead bodies mainly due to sectarian killings, death groups. 
 
            Amariyah (sp). We went into Amariyah (sp). We have cleared that area. We have already started building the electrical network back in those mulhallas (sp). We're reestablishing a police station in there. 
 
            Ghaziliyah (sp), another area. And Shula (sp) And then, we shifted over into Adamiyah (sp) and we've cleared that. We're now operating in Shab Ur (sp). And also we are looking at other areas inside of Baghdad right now, and so if you go look at these areas and look what's happening on an average day of how we're holding and building civil capacity by putting more police in there and having the Iraqi security forces and police interact more with the people, it's building more trust and confidence.   
 
            And we're into areas -- Sunni areas that never allowed people in there, and they did not like what the government was doing. And we're seeing some positive changes here over since we started this. We're about a month into this, a little over a month, as we're working this plan. But decisive to this operation is our ability to build the civil capacity, providing the basic essential services and security for the Iraqi people. And that's what we're trying to help the government do. 
 
            MR. TURNER: General Thurman, do you have any closing remarks for us? 
 
            GEN. THURMAN: Yes, I'd like to thank you for this opportunity to provide my assessment of the situation here in Baghdad and the courageous effort being put forth by coalition and Iraqi forces. The citizens of Baghdad are seeing a difference, specifically in the areas we have cleared. The homes, the schools, the hospitals are receiving increases in supplies and electricity. The local councils are leading the effort to clean up their neighborhoods and identify their needs. It's important to understand that we are working to restore 30 years of neglect. The whole point is to keep the people looking forward to a better future. It will take time, and it requires more than just a military solution to stop violence. The Iraqis have to want unity and security more than we do. And I believe we're beginning to see that. 
 
            I'd like to close by thanking the American people for their continued support of both our soldiers and their families. We would like to especially send our thoughts and prayers to those families of those soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and those that have been wounded protecting freedom and our great nation. God bless all of you. And thanks for allowing me the opportunity to talk to you today. 
 
            MR. TURNER: Thank you, sir.
    
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