DoD News Briefing with Brig. Gen. Wiggins from the Pentagon
GEN. WIGGINS: Good afternoon. It's a pleasure to be here once again and provide you the operational update for this week as well as answer your questions.
As I stated last week, the fifth and final surge brigade has closed in on Baghdad, and I did state that they were going to be operational about mid-June. With that, as we have seen with our forces in the past, there's an additional time frame that's associated with these forces in order to fully be established themselves in sector. Part of that is involved with getting -- in working with their Iraqi security force counterparts as well as getting to know the leadership in their respective areas of operation, as well as the citizens. And that's important to note.
As you already know, the Baghdad security plan not only encompasses Baghdad but encompasses areas to the north and south, areas like Diyala province and Baqubah. And I know you've heard several folks speak on why we do that. It's to get at those areas that can influence Baghdad with the levels of violence.
As well, we build toward the total effect or the full effect of the surge, we'll start to see or expect to see the operational pace pick up as more of these forces become fully operational capable.
Only after we begin operations and after we have the full contingent of the surge forces on the ground will we begin to see and start to assess the full operational impact of the surge capabilities on the ground.
It's a hard fight. We continue to move into places and challenge the enemy in areas where we haven't had a presence or a continued presence. We expect it to be a continued hard fight as we continue to move into areas where the enemy has had safe haven. So we just expect that and we understand that. So, you know, it's going to get harder before we make it -- or it gets any easier.
As well, the search continues for our two soldiers -- or our missing soldiers, as well as British nationals. We continue to act on tips that are provided -- and we get numerous tips -- and we continue with a full-court press with regards to patrolling throughout, and we'll continue to do so until those soldiers are found.
And as far as Afghanistan, I think, as I said, we have nullified their offensive, their spring offensive, thus far. And I will tell you, I think in fact the offensive is not theirs but ours. We have taken the fight. Activity has been very high in both the Eastern and Southern sectors of Afghanistan. And the Taliban, as I said, took serious losses to its leadership, as well as to its fighting forces. We're continuing to look at indicators in Afghanistan, those indicators being, as I stated last week, the poppy harvest, and our additional forces starting to join in the fight, as well as we're talking a look at a move toward a more asymmetric type of targeting or attacks through the use of IEDs, and a particular concern with the IEDs is the technology associated with these IEDs. We have seen some technology that tends us to believe that it's coming in from Iran. But I will tell you that we have not determined exactly how that technology is getting into Afghanistan, and we have not determined at what level the involvement, as far as the Iranians are concerned. We're also concerned with asymmetric attacks, suicide bombs, because that seems to follow fairly close relation to IEDs, suicide vehicle, and then suicide bombers themselves.
So, with that, I'll take any questions that you might have.
Q There was a military strike against a suspected al Qaeda target in Somalia last Friday. Can you tell us whether you hit the target, what was gleaned from that, or what the post op was on that?
GEN. WIGGINS: What I can tell you is with regards to our global war on terrorism, is that the war on terrorism is global, and that's why we call it that. We tend to be centric and associated on Iraq.
But with that being said, the commanders on the ground in the particular areas of operation have the capability to reach out and touch someone. And so with those capabilities, there's also an operational sensitivity associated with these because the success associated with a lot of our operations makes it where we need to maintain an operational security associated with it. And so with that said, we don't like to talk a whole lot about operations throughout the globe because that decreases the amount of success that we have in targeting these individuals out there.
I will tell you that we continually hunt those that are a threat to the United States and our very freedoms. They can run, but they'll only die tired.
Yes, next question?
Q But can you say whether the target was hit?
Q General, can you tell us -- or offer any clarity on what may or may not have happened today on the Turkish border? First, if any number of Turkish troops have been observed crossing the border today. They have been known to come across in counterinsurgent operations in the past.
And can you tell us what, if any, action U.S. troops would be authorized to take under any such circumstances if there might be a clash on the border?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, to answer the first part of your question, we have no indications or no reports that the Turks have conducted a cross-border operation into Iraq. I know, you're all aware that they're a partner with us on the global war on terrorism, and that they continue to fight the Kurdish terrorists that have targeted a number of their citizens in their country. They are conducting aggressive operations in Southeast Turkey, counterinsurgency operations, and they continue to do so.
With regards to your second question, I can tell you that I know the secretary has said that we'll continue to work with the Turkish government in regards to their terrorist issues and prosecuting the global war on terrorism, and that it would not be helpful if we had a destabilizing situation in Northern Iraq. And that's about all I'll comment on.
Q Have you seen any movements, troop movements, along the Turkish border, on the Turkish side, over the last week or so that would indicate that preparations for some kind of military operation on the part of the Turkish is actually possible?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, I can tell you, as with all military forces, they move throughout their countries, and when you're prosecuting a counterinsurgency operation. With regards to any indication on whether they're preparing for a cross-border operation, we have no indication.
Q Could you tell us a little bit more about the high-value detainee that was transferred to Guantanamo today, when he was captured and where?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, all I can tell you about Arale -- I think you're talking about Arale. Arale's a bad guy. Arale has operated, in Pakistan as well as in Africa, with arms shipments, smuggling and different types of terrorist activities.
What I don't want to do is get into operational specifics, with regards to how he was capture, primarily because of what I talked about with regards to the operations of the global war on terrorism. Our success in a lot of cases is due to large fact that we keep those quiet. And I know, you'll understand that we want to make sure that we continue the successful operations that we have.
Q Even when, you can't say?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, I can tell you that it happened recently.
Q Can I ask about the recent reports about a number of neighborhoods in Baghdad which are under control? A document suggests that's only about a third of the neighborhoods.
What's your target for getting neighborhoods under control? And how will having just one extra brigade make a big difference in that regard?
GEN. WIGGINS: Right. What I can tell you is there has been no plan to secure every single neighborhood in Baghdad. Similar to how we here in the United States have neighborhoods that have relatively or no crime levels where we don't put a whole lot of effort or police but where we have neighborhoods where we have a significant amount of crime, we tend to focus on those areas.
The Baghdad security plan is similar. There are some areas in Baghdad that have relatively now or low levels of crime or violence. What I can tell you, based on a recent article that I saw, that the assessment in there is inaccurate. The bottom line is that assessment is a snapshot. It's done at a division or below headquarters level. It's not an assessment made by General Odierno nor General Petraeus. And the fact is I don't believe that anybody ever discussed securing every single neighborhood in Baghdad.
Q So you're saying it's inaccurate, the numbers there are wrong?
GEN. WIGGINS: I'm saying that -- to use that assessment in that type of fora is not correct, yes, sir.
Q Can you talk to us at all about your concern about the increased violence in Diyala province? Is the surge taking away any assistance that can be provided up there? We've seen recent reporting, I think today, about the number of Strykers that are being hit up there and the constant drumbeat of how Diyala is getting a lot worse, that some of the violence is squeezed out of Baghdad and moved up there. Can you talk to us about your concerns and --
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, I can tell you that I listened to General Odierno recently, who discussed specifically about Diyala and I believe Baqubah as well and how we're getting additional forces up there because that's one of the areas that we talked about that can influence Baghdad. It's important, and I think that's a part of the Baghdad security plan, is to get at those areas where we have -- and we understand that as we conduct operations in Baghdad, there are still areas to the north and south that we call the north and southern belts -- Diyala province being one of those -- that we need to get at. And as we get in there -- I think he also discussed the fact that we have -- they've been there for a relatively long period of time without a continual coalition presence.
That enables them to conduct operations, build defenses or security zones for U.S. -- in anticipation for coalition forces to move into those areas. We're going to get at them. I think General Odierno discussed there's additional forces that are going to go into those areas. And as far as the surge plan, I think we need to wait, as I said earlier, till we get all the forces on the ground before we make an assessment on how operations are progressing. And that takes the full operational capability of the forces that we have placed in this plan.
Q What can you tell us about the current pace of EFP attacks against U.S. troops over the month of May and now into the first couple of days of June? Are you seeing more EFPs?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, EFPs are a concern. We have seen a slight increase in that type of technology over the past several months. It would be right now in the month of -- in the month of May to get into numbers, to tell you the truth, contrary to popular belief, I don't -- numbers don't originate with me, okay? I get numbers in some cases, but I don't make assessments. That's where commanders on the ground make those assessments based off of trends.
But to answer your question, there is a great concern with regards to the technology that's out there. There's great concern, as I know you heard Secretary Gates talk about the Iranian technology that seems to be flowing into Iraq. And the fact of the matter is, is we need to stem that type of technology.
Q Well, if EFP attacks have been rising over the last couple of months, what does that tell you, or tell commanders about the flow of Iranian-based technology into Iraq?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, first of all, we know there's a flow. Whether it's increased or not, I don't have that -- I don't know if it's been necessarily increasing the flow. But I can tell you that, you know, we're getting at this, and through diplomatic channels as well. When the secretary -- or Ambassador Crocker, specifically, addressed this with the Iranians in dialogue here recently, that was one of the points that he brought up, is we need to thwart the influx of this type of weapon systems coming into Iraq. Because I think we're both -- and the bottom line is, is actions speak louder than words with regards to these particular types of things.
So not to -- right now, as far as is it an increase in the number of them and is that based off of an inflow, don't really know right now.
Q Could you please give us more details about how this technology is coming from Iran? What -- is coming through like Jaish al-Mahdi or the Qods Force? Do you have any idea?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, we know the Qods Force is involved, okay, and that's not something -- that's something that's been previously reported.
As far as anything beyond that, as I stated earlier, we don't really know.
Q General, just to follow up on Andrew's question on the neighborhoods, you talk about commanders tracking trends. Can you say whether the trend in the number of neighborhoods that are secure is going up or down? We only got a little -- part of this one snapshot from General Brooks, but what we don't know is a broader picture. Are the number of neighborhoods that are secure, is it going up, is it going down, say, over the past six months? Are conditions getting better or worse?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, you know, like I said, once again, that that's probably a question to take up with -- or wait until we get from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to get the assessment on how things are going with regards to operations in Iraq.
Q Six months ago or six weeks ago -- I mean, obviously, there's -- those assessments have already been made. How does that compare to the one that was released the other day?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, to be honest with you, like I told you, I don't track that. I'm an operator. As far as -- I don't collect statistics. I don't make the assessments. I basically -- I leave that up to operational commanders on the ground to make those assessments.
Q (Off mike) -- operations again specifically. You suggested, I think, that the fifth brigade really might not be fully operational in mid-June now because they have to get familiar with their Iraqi counterparts. When will the surge be in full effect? And you said there would be an increase in the operational tempo, how will that manifest itself? What kind of things should we expect to see?
GEN. WIGGINS: Yeah, and I understand what you're getting at with your question, but I think that's probably a question better served to ask the tactical commanders down range as opposed to me.
Q Going back to Diyala, is the diversion of forces up into Diyala province kind of slowed the push into the Baghdad neighborhoods, and going back to this neighborhood question, whether you had expected to possibly have those -- use those forces that you ended up diverting to Diyala, if that would have sped up the control of those Baghdad neighborhoods.
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, you know -- and like I told you, I know you guys have read and listened to General Odierno's comments as well. I think his comments were it didn't slow it down. That's part of the operational plan.
But once again, this is -- questions that I think are best served for a tactical commander who has his fingers on the pulse there.
I do know that the southern belts and the northern belts have been -- we're getting at those, and that's a part of that, and it's a part of the plan, it's a part of the Baghdad security plan itself.
Q Sir, commanders continue to say, as you have, that it's too early to assess whether the surge is making progress. But is it also too early to assess whether the political component of it is making progress?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, you know, once again, I'm going to refer back to -- Ambassador Crocker as well as General Petraeus are going to make the assessment. It is -- those two gentlemen -- there I think we ought to wait for the assessment before we make --
Q Sir, do you have any figures for May for Baghdad, the number of -- inaudible word) -- the number of attacks there? I believe you said last week it was down 40 percent in Anbar, but there was some question about from what to what -- (off mike). Do you have any figures for Baghdad, sir?
GEN. WIGGINS: You know, right now I do not have figures for Baghdad other than what I gave you last week, that it was down 40 percent and it was down 20 percent throughout the rest of Iraq, I believe is what I reported from last week. I don't have an update to that at this time.
Q From what to what? It was down 20 percent from what?
GEN. WIGGINS: Like I said, I'm reporting the pieces. I'm not the -- I don't necessarily originate these statistics. But at the same time, I know that at that point in time, I'm reporting what I have.
Q (Off mike) -- against civilians?
GEN. WIGGINS: Overall attacks against civilians, yes, sir.
Q On Guantanamo, can you say what the way ahead is going to be with the decision on Monday throw out the charges? Is there going to be a new round of CSRTs to declare them unlawful enemy combatants, or unlawful illegal, or only an unlawful enemy combatant?
GEN. WIGGINS: No, I don't have any information on that. But that's probably something better served to ask the folks with detainee affairs.
Q (Off mike) -- Iraqi forces, that was another component of that report about the neighborhoods, is suggesting that one of the reasons that progress has been difficult is that U.S. forces are having to go back into the neighborhoods or to hold them for longer. What's your latest assessment of how the Iraqi forces are performing? What are their manning levels like? And how much are they able to take on at this stage?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, you know, the Iraqi security forces' capabilities are improving. We'd like to see them continue to improve. And the leadership -- in some cases, it's based on the leadership and who's in charge of those respective units.
We continue to work with Iraqi security force members in order to build confidence and credibility in their capabilities.
I can tell you that we'll continue to do that, and as their capabilities increase and the credibility increases, we expect that to happen over the course of these operations.
Q How are they doing on the manning levels, though, because I think at first they came in pretty high. But are they managing to sustain those high levels --
GEN. WIGGINS: The Iraqi security forces' manning levels that I have seen, their percentages are improving. And to -- I'll just say they are improving.
Q Have you determined on that attack on FOB War Horse, I believe, up in Diyala, in Baqubah, whether that was -- you know, what kind of gas that was that was used?
GEN. WIGGINS: Are you talking about the chlorine attack?
GEN. WIGGINS: Yeah. That was chlorine. It's not something that's new. They continue to use chlorine types of attacks in order to terrorize the civilians as well. They're not effective as far as producing casualties. I mean, those that normally are affected are returned -- are released the same day. But they do create a -- I guess a terror type of sense among the civilian population. So they continue to use those.
Q On the recent terror tape related to -- purportedly related to the missing soldiers, have you been able to glean anything as to the veracity of that, whether it leads the military to believe anything about the fate of the soldiers?
GEN. WIGGINS: We do not -- we have not confirmed the veracity of that particular tape. We have not. We've seen it. As I said earlier, we continue to march on with follow up of tips with regards to our soldiers. We'll continue to look for them. And we'll continue to patrol until our soldiers are found.
But with regards to that tape, we have not confirmed the validity of that tape.
Q Thank you.
GEN. WIGGINS: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
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