(Note: General Mayall appears via digital video image distribution system from Iraq.)
BRYAN WHITMAN (deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Public Affairs): Well, we have a good picture. Let me just see if we have good sound. General Mayall, can you hear me?
GEN. MAYALL: Yeah, I can, Bryan, loud and clear.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, general, welcome. And welcome to the press corps this morning here in the Pentagon.
It is my pleasure this morning to bring to you our briefer, which is Major General Simon Mayall of the British Army, who is also the deputy commanding general for the Multinational Corps in Iraq. He has been there for some time, was deployed to Iraq since September of 2006. As deputy to Lieutenant General Chiarelli and now General Odierno, he assists in directing the operations of some 150,000 joint and coalition forces in all sectors of Iraq. And he's been kind enough to give us some time this morning to give us his perspective on the operations there and the operations that come under the purview of the corps. So I'm sure you can appreciate that questions beyond that, he'll probably defer.
But with that, I think I'll turn it over to the general, who can tell you a little bit about his responsibilities there and what he's been doing, and then give you a brief overview before we get into some questions.
So, general, with that, over to you.
GEN. MAYALL: Well, thanks so much indeed, Bryan.
And a very good morning to you, ladies and gentlemen. I'm very sorry not to be able to actually see you from where I'm standing. I've got a collections of hoods from the corps and a camera in front of me.
It's a great privilege, as a British officer, but very much a member of a firm coalition, staunch coalition partner of the United States, to have a chance to answer your questions and give you my perspective.
As Bryan said, I'm Major General Simon Mayall. I'm a cavalryman from the British Army. I've been in Iraq for about four and a half months now, as the deputy commanding general for two very fine U.S. officers, General Chiarelli and General Odierno, and a terrific staff.
I have as my sort of portfolio general oversight of operations and intelligence.
I have a direct responsibility for the development of the Iraqi Ground Force Command and a large element of the Iraqi army and a secondary responsibility to the national police. And I've had responsibility under the Baghdad security plan for the reconstruction efforts in Baghdad, so it's a wide-ranging portfolio.
I've spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East. Previously, I was -- I was almost born in South Yemen. I spent three years commanding an Arab tank squadron in Oman. I was in the first Gulf War as a division operations officer for the U.K., and I've written and sort of read fairly extensively on Middle East and Arab issues.
I've also, for those of you who've read the bio, will have seen -- served in Germany in the rather steadier Cold War days; Northern Ireland, pounding the streets of their sort of sectarian interfaces in Belfast; Cyprus to the United Nations and the Balkans. And if there's anything more I need to say, I'm a left- handed Piscean and a born optimist and a committed transatlantisist.
I'm absolutely delighted on that basis to take your questions. I would, however, take Bryan's initial caveat that if we were having dinner in Georgetown, I'd be delighted for free-flowing conversation. But I'm keen probably to stay in addressing issues that are in my competence as a corps level operational level coalition officer, and I think on that nature, over to you, please.
MR. WHITMAN: All right, well, thank you. And we'll get started here and start with Pam Hess.
Q General, this is Pam Hess with United Press International. I fear this is the question you don't want to answer, but I'd like to take it from just you as a professional military officer. Obviously, the big talk here is a potential for a surge or an addition of a number of U.S. troops. What we're hearing from a lot of people back in the United States is more troops would make no difference. You'd have to send in so many thousands of troops to actually quell the situation; we don't have that many, so therefore, why send any at all? I'm not asking you to comment on what the president will or won't say but rather from a professional military man's perspective, what difference could additional troops make there if that decision gets made?
GEN. MAYALL: Well, I could give you a sort of a really generic answer as a commander.
I will say -- the first thing -- we are to an extent bringing more troops in anyway. As we stand up the Iraqi army, nearly 130,000 of them, as we retrain the national police, that alone in terms of what they bring to the operation is in fact giving us a lot more capability from our existing troop levels.
Now, no commander can have enough troops. And if somebody wishes -- and I know the options to an extent as well as you do and the advice to hand them in -- then every commander with additional troops has the capacity then to prioritize instead of sequencing operations. He has the capacity then to cover-down on certain other areas while surging in other areas.
So I'll simply say, as a commander, we have additional troops in broad capability terms as the Iraqi army’s there, sir, and of course any commander would be very grateful for anything else.
But I think it is useful at this stage, since you've used the word "surge," that what we need in a counterinsurgency operation is surge across every element of the campaign, every line of operation. We need a surge in government approach to this issue, and by that I mean the Iraqi government. We need surge in ministerial capacity to carry out their responsibilities as a -- within a sovereign nation. We need a surge, probably, in economic activity here.
So this is a complex issue, so I don't wish, when we talk "surge," to simply think in bald terms of more American soldiers.
Q General, it's Nick Simeone at Fox News. Having said that, though, what level of troops -- coalition, American -- do you think are needed if you do, in fact, need more?
GEN. MAYALL: I think you know that would take me into very dangerous territory, and I would hate to step out in front of your president. He's got an awful lot of military advice, as you know, and he's had access to the best brains you've got in America on this. So if you don't mind, I will sidestep that and just say any commander -- (audio break) -- more troops. It allows him to do more things. It allows him to sequence things in a different way, reprioritize his efforts and take on other tasks.
MR. WHITMAN: Artfully done, General.
Courtney, did you have one?
Q I actually didn't.
MR. WHITMAN: We'll go over to Al and then come back to you.
Q Yes. General, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. When you say that every commander wants more troops, it would enable you to do more things, it sounds like in general you are in favor of some increase in the level of U.S. troops. And I know that was it General -- I'm trying to remember, I think it was General Casey who said just a few weeks ago that he wants more troops but he wants them to be Iraqi troops. And you seem to be saying that at least in the interim, more American troops would be a good idea until the Iraqis are ready.
GEN. MAYALL: Well, I'd say in many cases the Iraqis are ready. You'll be aware of some of the other issues on transition, on enhanced MiTT teams. It's that sort of discussion that you'll be aware is going 'round the bazaars at the moment.
We're getting a lot more, I'd say, capability out of the Iraqi army now than we did. Like, we keep having to remind ourselves just how new this army is, but it's filled out to its objective force of about 120,000 to 130,000, increasingly well-equipped, increasingly getting better exposed, increasingly taking the battlespace (inaudible).
So as I say, if you're a commander, you're never going to turn down additional troops, and that, as I say, just allows in straight estimate terms, to reprioritize, change the sequence you do things under. As I say, I would not wish to be drawn on specific numbers or the like. You're closer to that where you are than we are in terms of how that might pan out.
Q Can I follow up, Bryan?
MR. WHITMAN: Certainly.
Q General, just to follow up, I just want to bounce one of the counterarguments off of you, which is that -- well, two of them really -- sending more American troops would remove pressure from the Iraqi military and the government, pressure that they may now be feeling to take more responsibility and enhance their own capability, and also that having more American troops there might very well in the current environment result in more American casualties. How do you respond on those two points?
GEN. MAYALL: I do accept that, and I take it back, as I say, straying slightly into political grounds here, that the security line of operations is absolutely critical to mission success out here. There's no doubt about it. But in any counterinsurgency operation, particularly the type of complexity of operation we're in at the moment, the security line of operations cannot and was never designed to deliver the end state -- the desired end state. And therefore, around any application of military force we must assume that the government of Iraq is also stepping up to the plate, and therefore, there are certain elements of -- I have no doubt, of the political -- (audio break) -- conditions based that actually underpin, sir, the president's continued commitment or even increased commitment to the situation in Iraq.
Q But can you respond on the two specific points about more troops removing incentive from the Iraqis to do more and also the potential for more casualties with more troops?
GEN. MAYALL: Well, I don't think you're taking the pressure off because I think you've got to set the conditions first to say that we would bring -- you would be bringing more U.S. troops and in a manner that was -- really did contribute to giving the government of Iraq time, the ministerial capacity, time to develop the Iraqi army, to continue to develop.
As I say, however good it is, it is suffering, like any army that's new, that's been raised in very short order. It's experience, getting junior commanders up, developing that experience and its commanders. It gives the time for the economic development to take place. So I'd say you can cover all that. There's no doubt about it; if you're going to put soldiers in harm's way, then you're going to take the risk that goes with that.
That has clearly got to be balanced, though, at the political level and the commanders' level.
MR. WHITMAN: Courtney?
Q Hi, general. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. I guess what I'm just trying to understand is, you know, you have a responsibility for the Iraqi army ground forces, as you mentioned in your opening statement. Why is it that as we continue to stand more and more -- stand up more and more Iraqi army forces, we're still hearing more debate here at home about sending in additional forces -- U.S. forces?
GEN. MAYALL: Well, I think I've described -- and here I step on this above sort of political into sort of philosophical -- we -- I think 2007 is going to be a battle of wills here. We have a desired end state we believe shared by the vast majority of Iraqis, for a democratic, secular, representative society that responds to the rule of law.
There are people out there, both inside Iraq and outside Iraq, who don't want some of that and, in many cases, all of that.
Now, this is a question of commitment. And it is a question of coalition troops, of the United States, of the Iraqis themselves, to match that end state and move forward on that. The reason is that the stakes are very high. The violence is high because everybody has a stake in this, be it benign, on the coalition side, or fundamentally nihilistic, on the enemies of the new Iraqi government and the Iraqi people (inaudible).
And so it's a question of how much we believe we wish to commit to this fight.
Q In your opinion, General, do you think that in the year 2007 the battle will -- this year -- do you think the Iraqi army will be able to stand up to a point that the U.S. and the coalition will stand down?
GEN. MAYALL: I would -- this is very conditions-based, and you'll have heard that many times from Bill Caldwell and the like. The important thing is to continue to keep them in the fight, develop their capacity, give them the reachback to those elements of military capability they currently lack. They clearly -- as you well know, they are short of air support. They are short of aviation. They are short of precision fires. They've got some weaknesses in their logistics.
But I will say I was at Rustamiyah the other day, where I saw 200 very bright young Iraqi officers pass out after a year commitment there. They -- all the parents were there, leaders from their clans and their family areas to see them get their lieutenants' bars.
And when I go out with the U.S. Army alongside the Iraqi army or visiting the Iraqi army, they are firmly in the fight alongside U.S. forces and coalition forces. And that partnership, I think, as we hand that over, is going to get stronger and stronger through 2007. And those people are absolutely relying on us in the coalition to continue to stand by them, to give them the confidence to continue to defend the security of the Iraqi people, to develop their competence to do it and to take forward this shared mission to deliver a new future to Iraq.
MR. WHITMAN: Carl?
Q General, I'm Carl Osgood with Executive Intelligence Review. There's been a number of reports that I've seen over the last few weeks that describe what seems to me to be a process of sectarian cleansing going on in Baghdad and perhaps in other parts of the country as well. What I'm wondering is what you think are the implications of the -- how serious is this, you know, of entire neighborhoods being cleaned out of -- you know, that were mixed neighborhoods -- being cleaned out of one sect or the other? How serious is this? And what are the implications of this for the goal of a future peaceful, democratic Iraq?
GEN. MAYALL: (Audio break) -- bad indicator; that we've had really, as you well know, since the Samarra bombings in February and the rise in intersectarian violence.
My Northern Ireland experience tells me how fast this can development [sic], how damaging it is for the future capacity of peoples to live alongside each other.
We would still, having been in the Balkans, talk about, I would imagine, more displacing than "cleansing." We haven't, I'm delighted to say, had the horrific images we had in Croatia, Bosnia and the like. But undoubtedly we have pressure by militias on one side. We have actions by AQIZ to foment this sectarian division. And we have very strong action by the coalition, alongside the Iraqi security forces, to provide that security.
And I think in 2007 we have really got to, A, remove the accelerators that have acted (inaudible) continue to fuel sectarian divisions, and bring security in a manner that allows the Iraqi people from -- be it ethnic or sectarian divide, to live alongside each other.
That, of course, does require some very firm leadership from the Iraqi government in certain elements that will underpin the security line of operations and, as I say, which will increasingly be in the hands of the Iraqi security forces.
MR. WHITMAN: Natalie, go ahead.
Q This is Natalie Ahn with the Asahi Shimbun Japanese newspaper. General, you say that if you did have additional forces, you would be able to prioritize where they would go. Understanding that ultimately you want additional capability out of the Iraqi security forces, but that takes time and there is immediate violence, if you did have additional U.S. forces, where would you put them?
Would you have them directly training Iraqi security forces or would you increase the U.S. units that are conducting security operations on the streets of Baghdad?
GEN. MAYALL: I think I'm going to have to slightly side-step that question at the moment because it is still hypothetical whether additional forces come in, and I'd hate to, as I say, step out in front of the debate in Washington or CENTCOM or with the coalition -- fundamentally the U.S. commanders out here.
Undoubtedly, as you know, you'll remember the -- (audio break) -- of its capital city is an important element of a sovereign government, and one can see a focus on that. And increasingly, as I say, I think you'll find additional Iraqi troops being brought into Baghdad in support of that. I think at the same time you will see a move to an extent to enhance the transition elements in terms of the transition teams within the Iraqi armed forces, again, to continue to give them that confidence to take that fight in defense of their own sovereign nation.
MR. WHITMAN: As you noticed, we are experiencing some technical difficulty with the weather affecting the transmission equipment on the general's end. There is some heavy wind that is causing that to cut out a little bit, but we'll keep pushing through.
Nick, go ahead.
Q General, it's Nick Simeone at Fox again. I sense that you're not convinced yet that the Iraqi government is firmly convinced that eliminating sectarianism is the way to go. What are your feelings on how committed the political class in Iraq is to having a broad-based, holistic government or are they sectarians and that's where it stands?
GEN. MAYALL: (Laughs.) Good leading question, Nick. Thank you for that. I'll only say that we've got to give this government the benefit of the doubt at the moment. Without doubt, they are in a difficult situation. We've got to really remind ourselves the brutality of the previous regime; the way that Saddam Hussein destroyed civil society; the depth of sectarian hatreds that Prime Minister Maliki and the governments are trying to wrestle with, trying to convince their own constituencies that they're looking out for their interest, trying to convince other constituencies that they're acting on behalf of Iraq.
And I think that is the key task in the security line, is to give them time to reach that accommodation that allows them then to help underpin our security efforts and the security efforts of the Iraqi security forces to deliver that security to the people of Iraq, but underpinned, as in every counterinsurgency operation -- probably the best description of what we have here -- and deliver the conditions under which we achieve a rule of law, a commitment to representative government, a commitment to a non-sectarian agenda and the like.
So that is the -- that is why I say I think in 2007 we really are in an interesting time, in which we hope to see the government understanding its responsibilities, having the confidence to step up and take those responsibilities, government capacity developing, economic development coming in, and, as I say, the indigenous Iraqi security forces taking that full responsibility for their own security as in any well-functioning sovereign nation.
MR. WHITMAN: Pam.
Q General, could you talk to us a bit about the national police and explain to us what went down in Basra on Christmas Day, and what the situation is particularly in Basra? Because it's quite different there than Baghdad or Anbar.
GEN. MAYALL: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you very much for bringing that one in about Basra, because I'm -- if you'll forgive me a plug for the British contribution or the coalition contribution, I'm sure you are very, very aware of 27 flags on the -- you know, within the multinational force. And I will say -- and I would, wouldn't I, from a British perspective -- we've got 7,000 troops down in the Basra area. We are a small army of 100,000. We've pushed the vast bulk of the army through here and Afghanistan. And my own regiment, the Queen's Dragoon Guards, has been out here three times.
So I simply say that to say that we're utterly aware, both from a coalition perspective, from a British perspective, the heavy lifting the American armed forces are doing. And if I again may use this -- your question as a handle to say as a British officer from a, we think, a top-rate but small professional army, how utterly, utterly impressed I am with the commitment, dedication, good humor and raw courage of your servicemen and women out here. It's an absolute inspiration to me and to all the commanders out here.
If I could turn back to your specific question, which you allowed me to hijack.
The national police have been problematic. General Dempsey launched a very rigorous retraining program for them down at a place called Numaniyah. We combined it with a very rigorous clearing out of some of the top echelons of the national police.
We then reinforced them with the national police training teams -- very much on the same basis as the military training teams -- transition teams, rather. And all indications as two of them have come through -- the 4th and the 8th brigades -- is that they are beginning to step up to the plate. And our hope is that they will prove to be, like the Iraqi army has proved to be, non-sectarian, operating as a national institution.
Down in Basra, where there isn't a national police -- the vast majority of national police are centered in Baghdad, although there are some out in, up in -- up north in Baiji -- oh, sorry, Taji and Balad. I think what you are referring to is when the Multinational Division Southeast moved in to clear up the Serious Crimes Unit, which was noted for -- the only thing they were good at was committing serious crimes. Part of that was to make a very strong IO statement -- I'd put it as strongly as that -- by actually razing a building called the Jamiat to the ground in a very public manner. It was the "Lubyanka" of Basra used by the Saddam regime, and within it we found 120-odd prisoners who were clearly the subject of a degree of physical abuse. Parallel to that, we issued a lot of arrest warrants for members of the police down there, who had clearly been involved either in militia activity or death squad activity. Many had fled. Many went across to Iran.
But it sent a very strong message but equally, you do get consequences often, not simply results, of these actions in a politically charged environment down in Basra, which again, as you know, a totally different dynamic from Baghdad, Diyala, Anbar.
Q (Off mike.)
MR. WHITMAN: You certainly may, and we'll have to make this our last.
What are those political consequences, as opposed to the results that you just referenced? And in Numaniyah, how many of the top officers have you gotten rid of?
GEN. MAYALL: Political consequences -- I think if you -- I'm sorry, I didn't quite get your question -- in Basra is that you do have people who are under enormous either intimidation or complicity with Shi'a militias down in Basra. And I think we've got to understand that these people -- the militias know where these people live. And a lot of very brave people turn up to work every day, trying to do their best for the future of Iraq, but they have families, they have children, they have wives, et cetera, and they come under a lot of intimidation.
Therefore, you get people say that they're going to support the coalition forces in certain actions; inevitably when an action takes place, some of them come under enormous pressure to say no, no, they hadn't agreed to that, and they weren't consulted by the coalition force. So I'm afraid in some of the more sensitive areas it's part of what we go through.
If I can give you a specific example on the national police, we took the 2nd Battalion of the 4th Brigade of the 1st Division to Numaniyah, we sacked the battalion commander, we removed the top 70 commanders. We moved the bulk of the 2nd Battalion around into the 1st and the 3rd Battalions, and re-raised the 2nd Battalion. Four of the brigades that have gone down have now had their brigade commanders removed.
There's two expressions I'd use. One is that old one from the army: There are no good or bad units, there are just good or bad officers. And the second one is: Fish rots from the head. And we have got to clear out the leadership aspects to allow the potential of the very, very brave young Iraqis who are signing up for the Iraqi security forces to deliver the future for Iraq in line with what we assume -- we hope -- we share their hopes and aspirations, and allow them to act in a manner that they really, time and time step up to the plate to demonstrate they're prepared to do it, properly led.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, general, we have reached the end of our allocated time, and we really do appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. This has been a treat for us to be able to have somebody from the coalition. It's usually U.S. commanders. And we appreciate your insights as part of the Multinational Corps-Iraq there.
Let me just turn it back to you in case you had any closing comments that you wanted to make.
GEN. MAYALL: I'd just like to reiterate, I really, really value the opportunity to engage with the Pentagon press corps. I know what an experienced bunch of observers of certainly this conflict you are. I'm very keen to have the opportunity again as a British officer to express my admiration for your service men and women out here. I appreciate the opportunity to also put in a plug for your very staunch British allies in the global war on terror. And I equally want to say -- and it may be just because my -- as I said at the outset, my optimistic nature -- is that I remain utterly confident with the commitment we have from the Iraqis and ourselves, that we are going to be successful in 2007.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, thank you again, general. And our best wishes. And we hope to talk to you again soon.
GEN. MAYALL: Thank you very much, Bryan.
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