DoD Press Briefing with Col. Townsend via Video Conference from the Pentagon
COLONEL GARY KECK (director, DOD Press Office): Okay, good afternoon again, everyone, and welcome to the Pentagon briefing room, for many of you, two times today.
And it's a privilege to have with us today from Iraq Colonel Steve Townsend, United States Army -- Hoo-ah! -- commander, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Sorry about that. Steve and I go way back. (Chuckles.) His brigade has been deployed to Iraq since August 2006. They are currently conducting operations as part of Multinational Division Baghdad. You may have seen images of these operations recently from B-roll the unit has posted on the DVIDS hub, so they have tried to make stuff available to you to use. And Colonel Townsend is speaking to us from Camp Liberty in Baghdad.
And with that, Steve, I'm going to turn it over to you for any opening comments.
COL. TOWNSEND: Thanks, Gary. Good afternoon, and good evening from Baghdad. As you just heard, I'm Colonel Steve Townsend. I command the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. We're home-based at Fort Lewis, Washington. We're also known as the Arrowhead Brigade.
A few days ago, we completed our most successful clearing operation since Operation Fard al-Qanun began. As a result of this operation, 3,200 roadside bombs have been prevented, 42 terrorists were jailed, and enough weapons and explosives were captured to outfit an enemy infantry battalion.
Now let me give you a little background on how we got to where we are today.
The Arrowhead Brigade presently has about 300 Strykers and 4,000 soldiers fighting here in Iraq. For a bit of historical perspective, the Arrowhead Brigade is the Army's very first Stryker Brigade. We're the first Stryker Brigade deployed in combat, where we served in Samarra, Mosul and Tall Afar in 2003 and 2004.
We're the first Stryker Brigade to return for a second tour in Iraq. Nearly half our soldiers in our formation are veterans of our brigade's first deployment.
Almost 10 months ago, we returned here to Iraq to Mosul and Nineveh province, replacing the 172nd Stryker Brigade there. We operated throughout Nineveh for five months in the key cities of Mosul and Tall Afar, and made great strides in helping the Iraqis stand on their own feet. We've partnered with the Iraqi security forces and helped two full Iraqi army divisions stand up and take the lead in fighting the insurgency. We also helped to maintain the great progress already achieved by the Iraqi police force in Nineveh. At last count, there were over 18,000 Iraqi policemen in Nineveh province, and they were primarily responsible for security in Mosul. While Mosul was still challenged to make progress in the areas of economics and governance, I felt the coalition and the Iraqis were well on their way to achieving lasting stability there.
In December 2006, we received orders to move the brigade south to Baghdad to again replace the 172nd Stryker Brigade, who had moved here after leaving Mosul. Demonstrating the flexibility and operational mobility of the Army's Stryker Brigade concept, we self-deployed over 400 kilometers from Mosul to Baghdad, with our first battalion arriving within 48 hours of notice to move. The remainder of the brigade conducted a daylong reconnaissance in force northwest of Baghdad, near Lake Tharthar, during our move south. No other formation in our Army today could have moved like this.
Here in Baghdad we have two missions.
First, we're a Multinational Division Baghdad strike force. In this role, we do not own battlespace, but we are a mobile and offensively oriented force that disrupts insurgent activity and clears areas of Baghdad where the insurgents are operating in strength. We also deal with time-sensitive targets and other rapidly emerging threats here in Baghdad.
Second, we're Multinational Corps-Iraq's operational reserve. We respond to threats anywhere in Iraq. Since our arrival in December, we have completed eight brigade-level operations, 13 battalion-level operations and 46 company-level operations to either disrupt enemy activity, clear sections of Baghdad or respond to battlefield emergencies.
We've responded to recover four downed aircraft. And I've sent battalions to operate outside of Baghdad seven times, to include engagements in Najaf, Diwaniyah and Baqubah, where one of our Stryker battalions is still operating.
Since you all know military operations, you will know that this tempo of activity is remarkable in a span of five months. And my opinion is that this kind of role that the Stryker brigade is ideally suited for. We provide, at relatively small cost in terms of troop numbers, a very mobile and capable offensive force that General Fil or General Odierno can call on when needed.
However, in my opinion, our clearing operations are only supporting or shaping efforts that contribute to the success of the battlespace-owning brigades here and their Iraqi security force partners. In my view it is the battlespace owners who do all the heavy lifting here in Baghdad. They are living among the people, patrolling the toughest places in Baghdad day in and day out, and are working on supporting the Iraqis' efforts in all four of our mainlines of operation -- security, transition, economics and governance.
As I've already mentioned, we've just completed a 36-day brigade- level mission called Operation Arrowhead Strike 9. It was a clearing operation in West Central Baghdad’s Mansour Security District. I'll point it out here on the map.
Here in the corner of the map is a map of Baghdad, and this red box here is West Central Baghdad, the Mansour Security District. Here on the chart you see the Mansour District, bounded on the west by Baghdad International Airport, to the north by Kadhimiya, to the east by Muthanna Airfield and Karkh and the international zone, south by Route Irish, which many of you are familiar with. The first phase of the operation was conducted here in Western Mansour, and the second phase of the operation was conducted here in Eastern Mansour.
The red icons represent enemy caches discovered and captured.
Working alongside the coalition battlespace owner, the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, as well as the Iraqi Karkh Area Command, we cleared Mansour to significantly reduce insurgent activity and to help the Dagger Brigade to establish coalition outposts and joint security stations with their Iraqi partners.
During Arrowhead Strike 9, we killed at least three confirmed terrorists in close combat. Between coalition and Iraqi forces, we briefly detained 161 people for questioning. Forty-two of these suspected terrorists have since been placed in long-term detention, and a majority of the rest have been released.
We rescued two kidnap victims who we found chained in empty houses. They both had been tortured and would surely have been executed eventually. We discovered some 92 caches during the 36 days of operations. We captured or confiscated 356 small arms, mortars or rocket-propelled grenades.
We captured and destroyed 147 explosive munitions. We discovered and reduced three car bombs and two suicide vests. We found and destroyed over 143 completed or partial roadside bombs. We captured a roadside bomb electronics factory that held components for up to 3,200 other bombs. And we destroyed three homemade explosives factories found in abandoned homes.
All of this success enabled the Dagger Brigade and the Iraqi Karkh Area Command to make progress in more meaningful ways. They made progress with safe markets and safe neighborhoods projects. The Iraqis cleaned a great deal of trash and sewage from the streets. The extrajudicial killings have dropped off significantly. Mortar attacks from Mansour have dropped off significantly. We saw markets reopen even during our operations. There were more people out moving on the streets. More Iraqis are providing information now through phone and e-mail tips lines.
This success, however, did not come without a cost. The Arrowhead Brigade lost two great American soldiers killed in action. An Iraqi army soldier was also killed. We also lost one Stryker vehicle to a roadside bomb.
Okay. With that brief overview of Operation Arrowhead Strike 9, just concluded in Mansour district, I'll entertain your questions.
COL. KECK: Okay, thank you, Steve.
Let me remind you that he cannot see you, so please tell him who you are and your news organization. Bob?
Q Colonel, this is Bob Burns from AP. In your description of this operation, Arrowhead Strike, did you come across any definitive evidence of significant numbers of foreign fighters among the folks you dealt with? And also, what about arms or munitions coming from outside of Iraq? Any evidence of that?
COL. TOWNSEND: Okay. Thanks for the question. I didn't quite hear the first part, but I think what you asked me is: Did we encounter foreign fighters? My forces did not encounter any foreign fighters during this operation. The Iraqis who were operating alongside of us one day reported capturing an Afghan national. I don't know if they did or not. I'm not sure that person was ever positively identified as an Afghan, but we did not encounter any foreign fighters during this operation.
And reference materials coming in from outside of Iraq, we did find munitions from Iran. We found munitions from the former Warsaw Pact, and we found munitions from China. Couldn't tell how long those munitions had been here in Iraq.
Q Sir, it's Kristin Roberts with Reuters. A follow-up on that, can you give us more information on the types of weapons you're seeing from China and Iran? Are we talking about current generation weapons or how old are these things?
COL. TOWNSEND: Yeah, I think most of those, for example, from former Warsaw Pact nations and China, are pretty old. They've probably been here for years. That's my guess. Small arms, small arms ammunition -- those kinds of things.
About the only thing that I've seen recently that can be directly traced back to Iran is small arms ammunition and mortar rounds that are in condition good enough to lead me to believe that they were recently brought here and not purchased some years ago. However, it is possible to store munitions in good conditions and keep them looking pretty good for some period of time.
Q Colonel, it's Luis Martinez of ABC News. Can you tell us whether you feel that your Stryker vehicles are becoming targets for EFPs in Diyala province, and if so, what the trends indicate?
COL. TOWNSEND: No, I don't think the Strykers are targeted any more or any less than any other U.S. or Iraqi combat vehicle here in Iraq. I don't see any evidence of that in particular. In fact, they may even target us a little less. I just know that my soldiers are very confident in their Stryker combat vehicles, and I, for one, join them in not -- and prefer not to be in any other combat vehicle on the battlefield.
Q This is Nancy Youssef with McClatchy newspapers. You mentioned that two soldiers had been killed during your mission. Can you tell me when those soldiers were killed?
And also, as you know, April's been a particularly deadly month for U.S. troops in Iraq. Do you feel that your soldiers are under increased danger under this new mission as they go out into communities more? And if so, what are you doing to protect them?
COL. TOWNSEND: Yes, the two soldiers that we lost, that information's public knowledge. We lost Staff Sergeant Dale Griffin (sp) from Charlie Company, 2-3 Infantry on the 21st of March, and we lost Sergeant Freeman Garner (sp) from 18th Engineer Company on the 22nd of March during this operation. And then on the last day of the operation, on the 26th, an Iraqi soldier -- I don't know his name -- from 3rd Battalion, 5th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Division was killed in action operating alongside of our soldiers.
You mentioned April being the most dangerous month, I don't know if it is or not. I don't feel like our soldiers are particularly more or less targeted than they ever have been. People state that Baghdad is the most dangerous place in Iraq. I don't know if it is or not. I've got soldiers who've fought in Mosul. We've fought in Najaf, Diwaniyah, Baqubah and Baghdad on this tour, and all those places are pretty dangerous. I don't really feel like there's a special targeting focus on American troops right now.
As far as protecting our soldiers, what are we doing about it, we're sparing no expense or effort or energy to protect our soldiers, and there's a constant ongoing effort to look for better ways to protect our soldiers.
Q Colonel, this is Lisa Burgess with Stars and Stripes. Can you tell us a little bit about the nature of the site as it progressed?
Who are you fighting, and what was the tempo of the fight? Who -- yeah, what was the level of combat? And what were the people who were -- the Iraqis observing a fight? Were they standing back? Were they seeming to help the Americans? Were they encouraging you, or were they sitting back in their houses? Tell us how that waxed and waned through the course of the fight.
COL. TOWNSEND: Okay.
First I'll refer to the map here. In the area of operations, it's primarily Sunni extremists in the Mansour security district, and specifically Sunnis affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq. South Ghazalia is a Sunni stronghold. Amiriyah is a Sunni stronghold. Khadra here is a Sunni stronghold, as is Yarmouk. Only here in the Northeastern portion of Al-Mansour -- the Mansour security district -- did we face Shi'a extremists there, Jaish al-Mahdi or JAM fighters there.
To characterize the level of combat, this is a counterinsurgency, so most days go by relatively slowly and quietly with sudden bursts of action and terror. So, for example, during the first phase of the operation -- the first few days -- we did targeted raids trying the capture selected personalities. That brought our soldiers into a lot of close contact with suspected terrorists.
After the first couple of days go by, most of the terrorists melt into the woodwork and you get sniped at or mortared or a hand grenade thrown over a wall here and there. Most soldiers don't see action every day, but someone in this brigade is in contact with the enemy every day.
Towards the end of the operation, again, contact picked up a little bit, the enemy attack on one of our Strykers. We were very fortunate we only had one soldier wounded in that engagement. We killed three of the attackers and captured the fourth.
So that's kind of how the enemy is arrayed in Mansour security district and could try to characterize the fighting a little bit day in day out.
Q Colonel, this is Al Pessin with Voice of America.
It sounds like you've been involved in one of the first clear operations of this new phase that were in now with the surge and the new security plan.
Can you characterize how it went compared to what you expected, tell us what's happening now with those other units that are responsible for holding and building, and what's next for your unit.
COL. TOWNSEND: Okay. I think the operation unfolded about as I expected, probably a little bit more successful, quite frankly, than I expected it to be. The numbers of the Arrowhead Strikes tell you about how many of these we have done to date, and some of them were clearance and disruption operations that we executed before Fard al- Qanun or "Enforcing the Law" actually got started. So this is not the first one, but it's probably the most successful example.
As far as what the battlespace owners and the landowning brigades are doing, they were an integral part of this operation; in fact, my clearing operations supported their efforts. I provided them some additional troop power, manpower to do some of these tasks that they find it difficult to do in large scale. So they have the forces they need to control the area, so my job is to help reduce the enemy activity in the area so they can then control it with their Iraqi security partners, and that's what they're doing.
But while we were doing our operations, the Dagger Brigade was doing things like clearing adjacent sectors and manning their checkpoints, running routine patrols, talking with the people, instituting civic action projects, building safe neighborhoods and markets, cleaning the streets, those kind of things, and working with their Iraqi partners doing all of those. So that's what they're doing, and they're doing that now. And what I hope we've done for them is reduce the level of enemy activity and violence in Mansour to help them get at their work better.
Q And I'd asked what was next for you, but I also wanted to follow up on what you said, that this was maybe the most successful -- why is that? I mean, what did you do or what was your approach that was more successful than others, and where have others run into problems?
COL. TOWNSEND: Okay.
I do think it was the most successful we've done, and there's a couple reasons for that.
One is we've learned a bit as we've been doing this. This is the ninth one like this that we've done. So we've learned a lot and gotten better at this ourselves.
Two, it was successful primarily because of the superb integration with the -- our sister brigade, the Dagger Brigade. They were veterans in their area of operations. Previously, on some of these operations, we did clearance operations that were designed to introduce new forces into their zone -- arriving forces that are part of the surge, both Iraqi and U.S. So they are -- were less able to assist us because they were new to the area themselves. The Dagger Brigade are a bunch of veteran soldiers that have been operating in Mansour for a while, so they were very familiar with the ground. They helped us about as much as we helped them. This synergy, I think, helped make it much more successful.
Additionally, the Iraqi security forces are much more prepared for this. They've got adequate forces in this sector now, and they were commanded by a very capable Iraqi army general named Major General Abdul Amir. He is the Karkh Area Command deputy commanding general, and he was the tactical commander for this operation. Both the Dagger Brigade commander and myself worked for General Abdul Amir, and he ran the operation, and we supported him throughout with his forces as well operating alongside of us. So I think the combination of all these things is what made it so successful.
Now, you ask about what we're doing next, I don't want to go into that in great detail. Suffice it to say, we'll be doing more of what I briefed you about in my opening statement.
Q Sir, it's Donna Miles from the American Forces Press Service. Would you talk to me a little bit, please, about the interaction your unit has with the Iraqi people and how you've seen that change during your time in Baghdad?
COL. TOWNSEND: Yeah, sure. Our interaction with the Iraqi people is variable based on the area that we're at. However, my experience is -- I can sum it up with a couple of phrases. One is the Iraqi neighborhoods are more mixed than we think they are. Even the neighborhoods that I pointed out here on the map that I said were predominantly Sunni are predominantly Sunni, but they are still mixed. And the areas that are predominantly Shi'a are also still mixed. So that was a bit of a surprise to me.
As we've operated with the people, what the people seem to want more than anything is, first of all, security. They're tired of the violence. They want to have a normal life. Secondly, they want their government to function and they want essential services, things that we kind of take for granted back home, the trash to get picked up, clean water to come out of the tap, the sewage to flow away, these kind of services, electricity.
And so they're looking for their government to provide these kind of things.
Their interactions with us generally are pretty positive. There are some that are hostile, but I don't see that many. There are some that are very friendly. I probably see a few bit more of those. And most are just a little bit ambivalent. I don't really think many Iraqi folks -- people want us here, but they think we're necessary. And that's generally the feel I get as I talk to the Iraqi people during these operations.
I know this, that the longer we operate in their neighborhoods -- when we first get there, they're very hesitant to come out and engage with us and speak with us. The longer we're in their neighborhoods, the more they come out. And pretty soon they're walking the streets, they're going to the market, the kids are playing around our vehicles and our soldiers; and they're talking to us and they're providing us information. When they see that we're there and we mean business and we're going to stay, they provide us information.
Q Sir, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. Do you think the idea of building fences and walls could be helpful in reducing the level of violence in your area?
COL. TOWNSEND: I think I heard your name was Joe. I didn't really hear that question very well. Could you or maybe Gary Keck please repeat the question for me?
Q Okay. I was asking you, sir, in the Al Karkh area, do you think building fences or walls between the Sunnis in the west and the Shi'a in the east could be helpful in reducing the level of violence?
COL. TOWNSEND: Okay, I think I heard most of the question, but I missed the key word. I got something about the Sunnis in the west, the Shi'as in the east, and would something be helpful in reducing the violence. Please tell me again what's the word you're looking for there; what would be helpful.
Q Do you think the idea of building walls and fences is helpful?
COL. KECK: Steve? Can you hear me, Steve?
COL. TOWNSEND: Yes, I hear you great.
COL. KECK: Okay. Yeah, Joe's trying to ask you, the building of walls or fences amongst these neighborhoods would be beneficial in your area.
COL. TOWNSEND: Okay. Yeah, I understand the question now. Thank you for your patience.
Walls and fences -- okay. I think what you're probably referring to is the Safe Neighborhoods Initiative. We're not experts in any one place in Baghdad. The guys who live on the ground constantly are. However, in our job, we get around all of Baghdad and see a lot of it, and these safe neighborhoods are springing up all over Baghdad. Usually, in my experience, they're done in close coordination with the coalition forces, the Iraqi security forces and the local leaders. In some cases, I have seen the local neighborhood leaders come out and actually point out on the ground where they want barriers.
Now, these barriers are temporary in nature. They're not intended to enclose anyone, or they're not intended to separate Shi'a from Sunni. What they're intended to do is make neighborhoods safe, and so we engage the neighborhood leaders, the battlespace owning brigades go out there and they emplace barriers and entry points where the people want them and the local leaders want them. Usually, there are foot entries and there are also vehicle entries. They're not designed to keep folks out except terrorists. You have to pass through an entryway, and there's an Iraqi security force, or in some cases, a local neighborhood watch person who stands there and identifies the people coming in and out of the neighborhood.
This same initiative is being applied to markets throughout Baghdad as well, and that has been successful in reducing the violence, particularly from large car bombs in the marketplaces. So I don't advocate a wall between the Shi'a in the east and the Sunni in the west, but I am, I think, a supporter of the notion of safe neighborhoods and putting some temporary barriers around these neighborhoods to make it more difficult for bad people to get in.
COL. KECK: So, Steve, we've come to the end of our time. We appreciate you giving us an update on your brigade's operations, and we'd like to offer you the opportunity to give some closing remarks.
COL. TOWNSEND: Okay, thank you.
I appreciate your attention today, and I thank you for your questions. And I'd like to say in closing that, along with all the U.S. military forces here in Iraq, Arrowhead Brigade would like to thank the American people for their continued support.
We know there are a lot of questions back there about this war, and we just want you to keep supporting our soldiers over here and in the work we're doing. That's very important to us.
And I'd like to especially thank our family members back at Fort Lewis, Washington, and the folks at Fort Lewis, Washington there, the military folks there, who are taking care of our families, our rear detachment soldiers and our wounded soldiers. And I really appreciate that continued support. Keep us in your thoughts and prayers. Thanks.
COL. KECK: Will do, and hopefully we'll talk to you again down the road, and see how things are going. Thank you much, folks.
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