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DoD News Briefing with Lt. Gen. Dempsey from Iraq

Presenters: Commander,, Multinational Security Transition Command-Iraq, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey
December 19, 2006 9:00 AM EDT
            (Note: General Dempsey appears via video teleconference from Iraq.) 
 
            BRYAN WHITMAN (deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Public Affairs): Good morning, and welcome. I see we have good audio. Let me just check -- or good video. Let me check our audio with General Dempsey. 
 
            General Dempsey, this is Bryan Whitman at the Pentagon. Can you hear me okay? 
 
            GEN. DEMPSEY: I can hear you fairly. I -- it's breaking up a bit. But good morning to you.   
 
            MR. WHITMAN: (Off mike) -- and see if we can't get that to be a little bit better. 
 
            I think most of you know who our briefer is here. It's Lieutenant General Marty -- Martin Dempsey. He last spoke to us -- it's been about six months, and a lot's happened in six months. And so we're very appreciative that, as the Multinational Security Transition commander in Iraq, he's responsible for assisting the Iraqi government in development, organization, training, equipping and sustaining Iraqi security forces. And I know that you've all been interested in meeting again with him, and so, general, we're very happy to have you in this format. 
 
            Let me just go ahead and get it turned over to you, then, and let you make some opening remarks. And then we'll take some questions. 
 
            GEN. DEMPSEY: Okay. Well, thank you for that. And good morning and happy holidays to you all.   
 
            It's been a while since I've met with you, so I would like to give you a few thoughts on where we are in the development of the Iraqi security forces. A little more than two years ago, we reached an agreement with our Iraqi counterparts to build military and police forces to achieve an objective of 325,000, and this month we will reach that objective. 
 
            Two thousand seven will be a year in which we help our Iraqi counterparts make that which we've built more capable. In particular, we will focus on intelligence, logistics and leaders.   
 
            Iraq's prime minister also intends to grow the army by three division headquarters, five brigade headquarters and 20 battalions, for a total of about 19,000 soldiers, to give him additional forces for the most heavily contested parts of -- in his provinces and so that over time he can begin to pull units off line from time to time to rearm, refit and retrain. 
 
            It's worth noting that this is his program. Funding -- and he's funding it, and we'll assist him. 
 
            He also wants his army to become more responsive and deployable, and we've helped the minister of defense develop a plan to form an operational reserve that will be functional and deployable throughout Iraq in early 2007. 
 
            Regarding the police forces of Iraq, we're working with Minister Bolani on several reform programs, one internal to his own ministry, another working on transforming the national police, and another focusing on reform of selected local police stations beginning in Baghdad. These reform programs are intended to improve the capabilities of these organizations and also to address the problem of militia influence.   
 
            During 2007, we will also focus additional effort on helping the Ministry of Interior improve Iraq's 14 ground ports of entry and will assist the minister consolidate the Facilities Protective Service under his control.   
 
            Last week the government of Iraq invested more than $1.5 billion into a foreign military sales agreement with the United States to fund many of these initiatives. The significance of this is that the security ministers are beginning to take financial responsibility for equipping their own security forces. We will leverage our 40 years of experience with over 120 nations around the world in assisting them. 
 
            My message to you is that Iraq is reaching out to take control of its own security. Transitions from our control to theirs are occurring almost every day, in things as visible to you as control of battlespace and as invisible, but just as important, as financial responsibility for life-support contracts, management of the training base and distribution of fuel and ammunition. 
 
            Now, transitions are always challenging, and these transitions are especially challenging. But it's vital that we continue to acknowledge and encourage the desire of Iraq's civilian, military and police leaders to take charge. Daily we witness acts of courage and commitment by Iraq's military and police leaders, but this is sometimes overshadowed by the conduct of others working against a unified Iraq.   
 
            Both security ministers are acutely aware that they have to assess and address the loyalty of their forces. Nevertheless, despite the terrible violence focused in and around Baghdad, I think it important to note that Iraq has not given up on itself. There are still more forces trying to unite Iraq than are there trying to pull it apart. So long as they don't give up on themselves, we won't give up on them. 
 
            And now I'll take your questions. 
 
            MR. WHITMAN: All right, let's go ahead and get started. And we'll start with Pam today. 
 
            Q     General Dempsey, this is Pam Hess with UPI. Yesterday we got the quarterly assessment from the Pentagon on how things are going in Iraq, measuring progress -- stability and security there. And throughout the report are references to the sectarian violence and the sectarian parts within the Ministry of Interior, to an extent the Ministry of Defense. We know anecdotally some occasions where this has happened, but do you have a sense of how compromised each of those departments are, what portion of the forces that you're concerned about? And could you talk to us about the process that the Iraqi government is going through to rid itself of these elements, if at all? 
 
            GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. It was a little tough to understand the full question, Pam, but I'm pretty sure it has to do in general with the depth of sectarian influences in the two security ministries.   
 
            And I'll tell you that there's really two kinds of sectarian or -- more imprecisely, probably, phrased -- militia influence. There's a passive influence that's at work out there, and then there's an active influence. And the passive influence really has to do with a degree of mistrust that has grown up and been exacerbated since about the February time frame, when the Samarra bombing occurred. And by passive influence, I mean security forces that might turn a blind eye to a particular act or allow something to pass through a checkpoint that shouldn't pass through a checkpoint.   
 
            The answer to get at that is actually training discipline and leadership. And the ministers are acutely aware of that, and in a minute I'll mention what they're doing. Each of them is embarking on a reform program. 
 
            The other one, the more insidious one, of course, is active militia or sectarian conduct. And that's essentially criminal, and that has to be weeded out, and those individuals have to be brought to trial or imprisoned in a way you would any other common criminal. They're also actively involved in working that side of it as well. In fact, inside the Ministry of Interior, our best department in terms of its progress is the Internal Affairs Directorate. And I don't have the numbers committed to memory, but they've brought thousands of cases to the minister. He's passed most of them off to the central criminal court of Iraq, and many of them have been acted upon.   
 
            The long-term answer, of course, is these reform programs, which are a combination of reorganizations to, in most cases, flatten the organization and limit the number of directors in there that can influence things, as well as -- leader assessments is the best way to describe them. And I have seen in both ministries the moral courage for those men to act when they have sufficient evidence to do so. But it's a work in progress, and I think it will take most of 2007 to get this right.   
 
            Now you know there's a political component of this as well. I mean, the political process and reconciliation is also a precondition for limiting sectarian influence.   
 
            Q     Can you quantify at all the sectarian influence in the ministries? Is it 5 percent of the forces are compromised or 25 percent?   
 
            GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, if you -- yeah, okay. If you're talking about the forces, I mean, what we've got is -- you've said it yourself. You know, there's reams, really, of anecdotal evidence, and then there are some specific cases where we have actually either caught individuals in the act or groups in the act. And the number of those instances is rather low. Now -- except for one particular group, and that's the national police. We believe that -- and I've said in previous engagements -- about 20 to 25 percent of them probably needed to be weeded out.   
 
            And the minister's got -- Minister of Interior Bolani's got a program of national police transformation, where we're pulling them off line a brigade at a time, taking them to Numaniyah, which is southeast of Baghdad, taking them through a four-week police training program, re-vetting the leaders to include all kinds of background checks and polygraph checks. And now we've graduated -- to this point, two of the nine brigades have been through the process. And we're actually -- we've actually seen some pretty significant change in those units that go through that process and a fairly whole-scale change of leaders in those units. 
 
            The army's hanging a little bit tighter, meaning it's remaining stronger in the face of sectarian influences, although we have had a couple of brigade commanders that we've had to remove and a couple of battalion commanders as well. 
 
            So you know, I can't give you percentages, because to do so would be to become involved myself in the anecdotal evidence. 
 
            And one other point about that: make no mistake about it; there is a level of mistrust in this country that has accrued over the last six months or so that we've really -- that's just as insidious as the literal acts of violence. In fact, for the long-term welfare of Iraq, the culture of mistrust may be the more dangerous threat to us. 
 
            MR. WHITMAN: Julian. 
 
            Q     Given the increase in violence, do you think the skills and the power of the militia and insurgents are increasing faster than the skills and power of the Iraq security forces? And if so, what needs to be done to step up the development of the security forces? 
 
            GEN. DEMPSEY: I do not think that's the case. In fact, the -- I think the progress you'll see among the legitimate Iraqi security forces here in the next six months will be dramatic. And that's because, you know, we embark -- we did an in-stride assessment in March of last year. We called it an in-stride assessment. Essentially, we projected ourselves forward to December of '06 and said -- and looked backwards and said, you know, where have we left some gaps in the development of these security forces? And then we set about the business of closing the gaps. 
 
            But there are lead times in procurements and things and even in training, and those things will come to fruition here in the first six months of this next year. And by about the June time frame all 10 Iraqi divisions will be under the control of the Iraqi Ground Forces Command, and they will have -- they will be in receipt of additional armored protected mobility. They'll be in receipt of about 16 helicopters, so for the first time they can start flying it on MEDEVAC and transport missions. They'll be in receipt of some route clearance capabilities so that they can clear their roads of roadside bombs, IEDs as we call them, and many other things like that that will make them increasingly more capable. 
 
            Additionally with that foreign military sales money that I've spoke about invested by the government of Iraq through us into procurement, they're now beginning to engage us with the desire to purchase and procure more modern weaponry, in particular they're immediately interested in U.S. personal weapons -- that's rifles and machine guns and such. And so we're -- you know, they're starting to take a longer-term look at their development. 
 
            As far as the, you know, the -- again, back to this militia thing. The militias -- the way you get at militias is you isolate the extreme ends of it. There's -- you know, there's a big pile of people in the middle here in Iraq who are engaged in essentially a political fight to determine how to take the country forward, and it's underpinned by things like hydrocarbon law and national reconciliation and the other major political movements or muscle movements that you know about. 
 
            But on the flanks of that, on each side, on the Sunni side and on the Shi'a side make no mistake about it there's a core of extremists who have no desire for that political process in the middle to work. That's not a large number, but, you know, it doesn't take much to get three or four suicide bombers to drive into a marketplace and kill 150 people. But that's where we have to apply and where -- and Iraq knows it has to apply its military and police capabilities to get rid of that extremist element because that moderate middle, which is beginning to emerge -- I mean, there's a pulse there -- then has a chance to move forward. 
 
            Q     General, it's Tom Bowman with National Public Radio. When we last saw you in June I think you said you had roughly 4,000 American trainers. Since then, General Abizaid has said there's a need for more trainers. The Iraq Study Group said you should maybe quadruple that number. 
 
            What's your sense now? How many more troops should there be? 
 
            GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, we are right in the middle of that discussion internally here in Iraq, and also, as you say, we've had a -- we did our own in-stride assessment, as I mentioned, CENTCOM sent an assessment over, Joint Forces Command did an assessment, the Iraqi Study Group has done its own assessment, and we're trying to now pick and choose among all those recommendations. But in general, to answer your question more directly, because -- remember now, I'm the only guy in Iraq with the "T" in my job description. I mean, I'm all about transition. We are all about transition at MNSTC-I. And so anything that enables, empowers and enhances the ability of the Iraqi forces to become better sooner, I'm always an advocate of.   
 
            And I think that growing the size of the transition teams makes a great deal of sense, and also changing their composition, because if you think about it, when we started down this path of embedding transition teams, the Iraqi security forces were not very well developed, and so we had kind of a minimal approach to the embedded transition teams and we maximized the approach of having a partner unit with it. Now the Iraqi forces are becoming more capable, and it's my view, and I think it will be our view, that we should probably at this time reverse the paradigm. What I mean by that is now I think we should, given their development, we should enhance the transition teams and minimize our partnership with them so that they get used to standing on their own. And I think that's where we're headed, but it's a little early for me to put a number on it. 
 
            Q     General Dempsey, Jim Miklaszewski, NBC. Can you explain to us exactly how the role of those embedded transition teams might change, might be expanded? Will they be directing Iraqi military operations? Will they be -- just where will they be on the ground, and what exactly new will they be doing? 
 
            GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, again, Jim, we're developing the terms of reference for that right now. But my input to the process is that the sooner we can give Iraqis responsibility for the security of their own country, the better off we're going to be, number one, particularly while we're still here in sufficient numbers to shore them up when they falter; you know, because there's going to be times that they do well and there's going to be times that they do not do well, and we're still here to assist them in finding their way forward. 
 
            Internal to the transition teams, though, the way I would see that evolving is that for those capabilities that we bring unique to us -- for example, the delivery of aerial -- of weapons from aerial platforms, we will, of course, maintain control and authority over any aerial weapons dispense and hold that standard to the standard we hold ourselves. However, for the planning of operations, for the conduct of ground operations, whether it be movements or cordons or raids, that will very much -- and the intelligence that drives it -- that will very much be completely in the control of our Iraqi counterparts.  
 
            But the transition teams are there, and what we've seen evolve over time is that our Iraqi counterparts will ask for advice. I mean, they understand that we're the best at what we do in the world, and so they're not loath to ask us for advice. What we have to be careful of is not taking ownership of the process, because that's something they have to do.   
 
            One other point, though -- I'm an advocate, and again, I think it will play out this way, that we will also have other kinds of individuals with certain skills on the transition teams. For example, we need logisticians so that we have not only the ability of these transition teams to help Iraqis call for indirect fire or call for a helicopter, but call for logistics. You know, how do you make sure the fuel system responds to them? How do they make sure that their ammunition system responds to them? How do they make sure that their medical system responds to them? And that's one of my inputs to the process, is that as we grow these transition teams, let's also then take the opportunity to change the composition and get some of these enabling systems advancing at the same rate that the combat capability advances. 
 
            Q     Just a quick follow-up, general. As you embed more U.S. military with the Iraqi forces, does that increase the vulnerability and risk for those soldiers?   
 
            GEN. DEMPSEY: We are keenly aware of that possibility. And in fact, as we've -- the discussions to this point about how do we increase the size of transition teams -- we think that increasing the size of the transition team potentially lowers the vulnerability, even though the partnership unit might be at some greater distance. But that will be part of the training plan and part of the terms of reference that we establish going in.   
 
            But I will say one thing. I've been here now for 30 months. Transition teams have been in place since March of 2005 on the army side and since the spring of 2005 on the police side, and although we've investigated two instances, there has never been a documented instance where an Iraqi unit betrayed its embedded adviser.   
 
            There is a cultural factor at work here where our counterparts -- when I go visit an Iraqi unit -- it doesn't have to be a three-star general -- when an American goes to visit an Iraqi unit, they tend to become very protective of them. It's a hospitality and a generosity and a cultural norm for these people that actually is quite impressive. But the point to take away is, in the time we've been doing transition team work, we've never had one betrayed to become concerned about that. So I think we're going to be okay with this, but we've clearly got our eye on it.   
 
            MR. WHITMAN: Gordon Lubold and then Michael Gordon. 
 
            Q     General, Gordon Lubold at Army Times. You touched on the fielding of gear and other equipment. Sooner or later you'll be talking to the new defense secretary. Will you recommend a significant increase in the amount of equipment and stuff that these guys need to get it done? As you know, folks like General McCaffrey, who was just at the White House the other day, has been pushing for this for some time.   
 
            What's the challenge there? What is the way ahead? 
 
            GEN. DEMPSEY: We are in the process -- when I talked in the opening statement about the agreement we made two years ago with our Iraqi counterparts and have refreshed every time we've changed governments, when I mentioned that, I also would like to point out that the agreement was we would build a force for them capable of providing internal security against a counterinsurgent and terrorist threat. And for that purpose, this force is and will increasingly be even better armed, as I mentioned. Now they've got another challenge on their hands as a sovereign nation, and that is that they have to account at some point for the fact that they have to defend themselves against external threat. 
 
            To this point, we provide that capability to them both in the air and on the ground. They understand that. We're working with them, and in a period that begins roughly in 2008 out to about 2012, we've worked with them on a -- what we call a -- what we would call on our side of the ocean a modernization plan, they're calling it a developmental plan; but the point is it walks them from the capability to provide internal security out to a full capability, which will include the ability to defend themselves against external threats. It's at that point when that question about enhanced capabilities becomes more important in terms of indirect fire, air defense; aviation assets in particular become a far more important part. 
 
            But we're working all of that. None of this is a -- there's no solid line where you go from one to the other. These things kind of transition over time. So we are helping them procure, for example, some multi-role aircraft right now that can provide both transportation, but also can deliver some limited ordnance from the air. And in fact, they just signed a contract yesterday to bring these -- and we're calling them interim ISR or intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance aircraft in, and we've also got on the table with them something we're calling a counterinsurgency aircraft, which is a dual-prop that can deliver limited ordnance from the air. 
 
            But again, there won't be any -- there's not a solid line. We don't get to `08 and stop worrying about the internal security and start worrying about external. This will develop over time. 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- when developmental plan is completed, did you say? 
 
            GEN. DEMPSEY: I didn't hear that last question at all. 
 
            Q     Did you say when the developmental plan kind of comes -- ensue or did you not say that? 
 
            GEN. DEMPSEY: The plan exists today. 
 
            I mean, we are working with our counterparts in the Joint Headquarters and in the Ministry of Defense in that directorate that does acquisition and logistics. And they will begin to modernize -- again, in our terms -- in about '08. But some of those things have long lead times.   
 
            We're already looking, for example, to bridge an air traffic control system. We do all the air traffic control right now in Iraq. At some point, clearly, we want them to do their air traffic control. So we've just got an improved contract with them to put the first of what will be probably seven or eight nodes of air traffic control, and the first one will come in here in the next year or so.   
 
            So, like I said, there's no line at which we say, okay, now that was fun, doing the internal security thing, now let's worry about tanks and artillery pieces. We're going to put together a program with them that kind of bridges it over time. 
 
            Q     General Dempsey, I'm Michael Gordon, New York Times. When Operation Together Forward II began, General Thurman, then the 4th ID commander, requested two brigades of Iraqi army forces be dispatched to Baghdad as reinforcements, and he received just about two battalions, not two brigades. And as a consequence, there are more American soldiers involved in Operation Together Forward than there are Iraqi soldiers. 
 
            Why has it proved so difficult to get these additional Iraqi army reinforcements to Baghdad? What's being done about it to provide incentives? Which units have been identified to go to Baghdad, and when will they show up? 
 
            GEN. DEMPSEY: Our 21st century communication system is killing me here. But I think you just asked a question about why was it in the past difficult to get Iraqi army units to agree to leave one part of the country and come to Baghdad. Is that the right question? 
 
            MR. WHITMAN: Yes. 
 
            Q     The question is, General Thurman asked for two brigades, he got two battalions; why won't the rest of the forces come, and when are they coming? 
 
            GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. Okay. Let me answer the question by talking in terms of deployability. You know, the United States Army has as a core competency the ability to deploy. We consider ourselves a force projection force. If somebody tells us to -- if somebody tells MNSTC-I to leave Baghdad and go to Erbil tomorrow, we could probably get it done in about 15 days. That is not something that has been second nature to the Iraqi army, even before we got here. They had some territorial commands and then they had the Republican Guard. 
 
            So part one or the first part of my answer to your question is that it has not been a core competency.   
 
            Secondly, you well know that the army was grown in -- with two different kinds of forces: one that were grown from the ground up to be national-level forces, recruited nationally, trained, intermingled and so forth; and then there were the forces that were initially called the Iraqi -- the ICDC, the -- and then the Iraqi National Guard, and then they were merged into the regular army. 
 
            It tends to be the case that the even-numbered divisions are former National Guard, and they tend to be -- to see themselves more provincially than they do nationally. Now that's part of the problem. 
 
            The other part of the problem is, when we went back and did the after- -- every time something goes wrong over here, we've tried deliberately and aggressively to find out why it went wrong. And when we researched with our counterparts, our Iraqi counterparts, and with the corps, why did these units refuse to deploy to Baghdad, the result was pretty interesting to me. They didn't come to Baghdad for a number of reasons. Number one, they didn't feel like they'd been trained to do that. So there was a training issue. Nobody had talked to their leaders or local officials, you know, the local tribal leaders, the local politicians, the local religious leaders. It wasn't made clear to them how long they were coming to Baghdad for.   
 
            Now remember, this is the same group of guys that has to go on leave, you know, every three weeks to pay their families. And so -- and at the same time, at this end of it, where the unit was supposed to receive them, there wasn't any training done on what we call RSOI, reception, staging, onward movement and integration. The point is, there has to be somebody at the far end to help you move out, even in our system, and there has to be somebody at this end to catch you when you get here and orient you, and both of those systems failed. But that wasn't an indictment on the Iraqi training. It was an indictment, frankly, on the training program, and I take some responsibility for that. 
 
            Now there were some leadership issues, of course, but what's happened since then is that we, with the minister of defense, in particular, have developed a four-phase training program that now provides the information necessary, the training necessary, so monetary incentives -- an out-of-sector deployability bonus, for example -- and a -- and some predictability to these young men, as well as the requirement for senior Iraqi leaders, when they're going to move units around, to go and engage the local population. 
 
            And I'll let you know if it's going to work here, because we've got two or three brigade headquarters and six additional battalions that are scheduled now over the next couple of months to come to Baghdad. I think you're going to see that they come when you train them to come, give them some incentive and give them some information. But we'll see. 
 
            MR. WHITMAN: General, I'm afraid we've reached the end of our time. It's gone very quickly. But we do appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. It's always very valuable for us back here, particularly the mission that MNSTC-I has.   
 
            But before we close, let me turn it back to you in case you have any closing comments or thoughts that you'd like to pass on to us. 
 
            GEN. DEMPSEY: I do have a very brief closing statement. And that is that the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines serving here in Iraq, with their civilian and coalition partners, are truly our best weapon against the mistrust, hatred and violence in the region. These men and women are serving at great sacrifice, especially at this time of year, and with great dedication, to help Iraq restore stability. I'd like to thank them and their families, some of whom I hope are listening in, who are equally sacrificing on the home front. 
 
            And as I said earlier, Happy Holidays to you all. 
 
            MR. WHITMAN: Well, thank you, general. And hopefully, we can use some of this 21st century technology and have you back before six months. 
 
            GEN. DEMPSEY: Roger that.
 
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