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DoD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Sherlock from the Pentagon

Presenters: Director of Operational Planning, Joint Chiefs of Staff Maj. Gen. Richard Sherlock
October 24, 2007 1:00 PM EDT
            GEN. SHERLOCK:   Good afternoon. Thanks for having me here today. I have just a couple of opening points, and then I'll be happy to take your questions. 
 
            First, our thoughts and prayers go out to all the people in the state of California as they continue to deal with the unprecedented situation presented by the wildfires out there.   
 
            As part of the ongoing interagency effort to assist the state of California, we are continuing to work with U.S. Northern Command to have the appropriate capabilities postured to respond if they're requested 
 
            In Iraq, since the final surge forces arrived in June, our operations against terrorists and extremist groups have had a sustained positive effect. Overall violence is down in many areas of Iraq. For example, in and around Baghdad, terrorist operations are down by 59 percent; operations targeting Iraqi security forces are down over 60 percent; car bombs are down by 65 percent; fatalities due to car combs have decreased by 81 percent; casualties due to enemy attacks are down by 77 percent; and the violence during this last Ramadan period was the lowest in three years. 
 
            Another example: in Al Anbar province, last week we had no casualties, killed or wounded in action. And that's the first time in recent memory that I can be able to say that. 
 
            Overall casualties in Iraq have continued to decrease, even though coalition forces have conducted a variety of operations throughout the country.   
 
            While this is indeed encouraging, al Qaeda in Iraq, other extremist groups and criminal elements in Iraq continue to be major threats. The likelihood that those groups will attempt spectacular attacks, especially in places like northern Iraq and in and around different areas of Baghdad, remains significant. 
 
            The continuing rise of concerned local citizens groups and the increasing capacity of the Iraqi security forces is very encouraging, and we believe we'll continue to see positive effects. 
 
            And with that, I'll be happy to take your questions. Yes? 
 
            Q     Just so we're up to date on the wildfires, everything that we were told yesterday -- assets available, things that have already been sent -- that's pretty much the same, or have there been any major changes, any major new requests?   
 
            GEN. SHERLOCK:   Well, right now we have six of the Modular Air Fire Fighting Systems that are being deployed to Southern California. Five are in place, and one is still en route. 
 
            There were 172 federal, state and other ground crews used yesterday and last night in Southern California. There were 1,239 engines used yesterday and last night, along with 22 federal helicopters, in Southern California. In addition, the U.S. Northern Command has put the Region 10 Defense coordinating officer and the Defense coordinating element at the National Interagency Firefighting Center. And we've also posted a defense coordinating officer in Pasadena. U.S. Northern Command and the different services are leaning forward to be able to provide the capabilities that the local, state and other federal agencies identify that they may need when they ask for it. 
 
            Q     And the situation with the Marines, they still are on alert but haven't been asked for yet, or what is it? 
 
            GEN. SHERLOCK: There's a battalion of Marines that have been placed on alert at Camp Pendleton. It's about 550 Marines. They are going through some of their initial checks, if you will, equipment and some initial training. But before they will deployed to actually fight a fire on the fire line, the NIFC [National Interagency Fire Center] would have to provide them with some additional mission training, as that is very dangerous business, and certify that they would be ready. So as NIFC and as other agencies get to a point where they would ask for that capability, they would continue other mission training and then be able to deploy after that. 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- haven't been asked and they're not ready anyway.   
 
            GEN. SHERLOCK: They are ready and they are preparing. They would have to go through some additional training from the National Interagency Firefighting Center before they could actually go to the fire line.   
 
            Barbara.   
 
            Q     I just wanted to clarify: They haven't been requested yet.  
 
            GEN. SHERLOCK: That's correct.   
 
            Q     Congressman Hunter from the area was on TV making two points. He said that as far as those military C-130s -- I believe I'm quoting him accurately -- go, they haven't made any flights yet, because their flame-retardant chemicals haven't arrived on scene. Wondering if you can confirm that they haven't been able to fly yet, because they don't have the stuff they need, and that in terms of helicopters flying water-drop missions out of Pendleton, they've been slowed up because they don't have -- each of those has to have a state person onboard as a spotter for them essentially, and they're trying to work out that. Do you know if these two things are sort of wrinkles in all of this at the moment?   
 
            GEN. SHERLOCK: On the C-130, on the fixed-wing aircraft, I don't know if they have flown missions yet or not. I'll have to get back with you on that answer.   
 
            As far as federal assets, any federal asset can respond under the immediate authorization to prevent loss of life, loss of limb, a catastrophic event. That is something that can cut through the potential red tape. What they do have to do, as I understand it, is also deconflict some of the airspace, and some of the lessons that they learned as a result of the fires in 2003. I think all that has been worked out and all that procedures put in place. I don't know again if they have flown any operational missions, and I'll have to get back with you with that answer.   
 
            Yes.   
 
            Q     Sir, can you update us on the Turkey-PKK tensions in Northern Iraq? Are you planning to take any steps? Any plan to face the PKK threats with the coordination of the Iraqi government?   
 
            GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, we are committed to security in that region. We believe this is an issue between Turkey and Iraq. We are working with both countries, as Turkey is a valued ally for a number of years, and Iraq is an ally in the war on terror. We are working to try to move this issue forward. We're working to try to provide stability in that area. Again this is an issue right now that we're working through diplomatic solutions and looking for a diplomatic answer.   
 
            Yes.   
 
            Q     Can you just elaborate a little bit on what kind of solutions you're looking at, what measures you're taking or considering taking, to try and stabilize the situation there? And can you confirm what Turkish officials have been saying, that there have been some cross-border raids by Turkish forces, and also Turkish air strikes inside Northern Iraq?   
 
            GEN. SHERLOCK: I don't know that there have been any Turkish air strikes or cross-border operations into Iraq. I know that there have been a small number, in the hundreds, of Turkish soldiers that have been stationed in Iraq for a number to observe and to gather information on the PKK. 
 
            Again, we're looking at this as a diplomatic -- towards a diplomatic solution and are working with both countries to arrive at what are acceptable answers to this issue. 
 
            This is an cuts across different countries in that area, from Iran to Iraq to Turkey to Syria and the PKK have been an issue for several decades in that area in that area. And so we're looking for a longer-term solution to be able to provide stability in that region. 
 
            Q     Did you have to get any military assets initially perhaps to help with border security or anything like that -- 
 
            GEN. SHERLOCK: No, we're looking at trying to work this in coordination with both the government of Turkey and the government of Iraq to move this ball forward and to provide a diplomatic solution and a solution that's acceptable to both countries. 
 
            Yes. 
 
            Q     I understand the position of the Department on the PKK but can you talk a little bit more today about the effect of the PKK’s presence on coalition operations? 
 
            GEN. SHERLOCK:  Well, the operation of any terrorist group inside of Iraq or inside that region is potentially destabilizing. We have to look at what the appropriate solution is in each individual case. And in this case, we are working towards a solution with both the government of Turkey and the government of Iraq that's acceptable. 
 
            Q     Can you just clarify one thing -- where are the closest U.S. forces based to where the PKK is known to be? 
 
            GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, there are a number of U.S. forces stationed in the northwest portion of Iraq. As far as where specifically they're stationed or in what strengths, I don't want to go into -- at this point in time, again, this is a bilateral issue that we are working with both nations to try to produce what's an acceptable solution to both. 
 
            Yes. 
 
            Q     Are you saying that there have not been Turkish air strikes in the border area? 
 
            GEN. SHERLOCK: To my knowledge, I don't know of any Turkish air strikes in that area today. 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- I mean, are you aware of Turkish air strikes on -- maybe on the Turkish side of the border? 
 
            GEN. SHERLOCK: You'd have to ask Turkey about that, about operations they conduct inside of Turkey. I know there has been some artillery fire that has gone across the border over the course of the last several weeks. Again, what we are working towards is a diplomatic solution in this case. 
 
            Q     So is it possible that there would be air strikes in northern Iraq and you wouldn't know about it? 
 
            GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, that's a hypothetical. And again, we would have to take a look at what issues arise as we continue to try to work with both the government of Turkey and the government of Iraq. 
 
            Yes. 
 
            Q     Yes. Talking about the diplomatic solutions, have you had any contact with the Kurdish regional government regarding the PKK? What's their position -- the Kurdish government, the local government -- what's their position regarding the PKK? 
 
            GEN. SHERLOCK: The Turkish -- excuse me, the Kurdish regional government, the government of Iraq and the government of Turkey are all in this conversation. They are all working -- the U.S. is working with all of those elements. Again, any terrorist group -- any terrorist group operating in that area is potentially destabilizing. There have been statements made by the Kurdish regional government that say if, you know, you're to conduct operations, if you're going to try to make trouble for us in here, then we may have to take appropriate action. You know, we don't want you in this area if you're going to raise trouble. So they are part of those discussions. But again, we're pursuing solutions that are long term and that are acceptable to all parties in that area. 
 
            Q     Is it policy right now to turn a blind eye -- U.S. policy right now to turn a blind eye if Turkey were to attack PKK positions after PKK had struck inside Turkey, because of the alliance, the NATO alliance? What are your contractual obligations, either as part of the forces inside Iraq, the U.N. mandate there, versus your NATO alliance? What is the policy? 
 
            GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, I'm not a policy guy. I would have to put that to the folks that are the policy. As far as the military goes, we are supporting negotiations that both the government of the United States is conducting with the government of Iraq and the government of Turkey, including the Kurdish regional government, on trying to develop what is a long-term acceptable solution that moves this ball down the field. There are over 45 different organizations on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations, and you can't look at all of them the same way. If you look at all of these as nails, then all of the solutions you have all of a sudden suddenly start to appear like a hammer, and a hammer's not always the right answer. Specifically it's not in this case right now. 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- have orders not to involve any military assets in this particular conflict? 
 
            GEN. SHERLOCK: I can't comment on anything like that. 
 
            Q     If I could change subjects for a second to the B-2 stealth bomber. Can you explain to me why $88 million is being requested in the budget now to modify these B-2 stealth bombers? We understand that there is, quote, "an urgent operational need" from theater commanders -- this is according to the White House -- for these B-2 stealth bombers to be modified to carry 30,000-pound bombs. Can you explain why? 
 
            GEN. SHERLOCK: Again, I'm not the requirements guy. The people that develop the requirements are the combatant command, and so I'd have to refer you on what is developing as far as a requirement goes for a capability like that to Central Command. 
 
            Q     Wouldn't requirements come through the Joint Staff? 
 
            GEN. SHERLOCK: But the requirements are developed by the combatant commanders and then they are all forwarded. So if CENTCOM wants to develop that kind of a capacity, then I'd refer that question to them. They're in a better position to answer it. 
 
            Q     Well, did they request that B-2 bombers be modified through the Joint Staff? And did that go through the JROC? Or I'm not sure how it would work, but did you see requirements pushed forward through the Joint Staff? 
 
            GEN. SHERLOCK: Again, I don't have anything else on that. I'd refer you to CENTCOM on that. 
 
            Yes? 
 
            Q Can you talk about the Iranian’s influence in Afghanistan? 
 
            Of course, there was the incident from September that kind of came to light more recently. Do you see a rising trend there, or is it a steady trend, or how do you characterize it? 
 
            GEN. SHERLOCK: As far as Iranian influence goes in Afghanistan, we have seen weapons come across the border. We have seen a number of indicators that say Iran is attempting to influence and is attempting to push higher technology accelerants into Afghanistan. I have not seen anything that indicates there's been any increase in that. There have been a number of operations that ISAF [International Security Assistance Force], the NATO force, has taken in all four regions in Afghanistan to try to stem that, and I think they would be in a better position to talk specifically to what the levels are in the regions than I am. 
 
            Q     General Wardak was here the other day. Did he indicate to anybody here among the Joint Staff his concerns about it? He talked about it at the podium, but is he seeking help to influence -- you know, help from the U.S. to help stop this tide or -- (inaudible)? 
 
            GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, we have said all along that if we see agents infiltrating or attempting to bring higher technology weapons into Afghanistan inside the Afghanistan border, we will act on that. So we are already taking steps to try to stem that. Whatever additional requests may be made or whatever specifics are that go into that, ISAF and CJTF 82 [Combined Joint Task Force] are in a better position to answer that than I am. 
 
            Anything further? 
 
            Yes? 
 
            Q     A question on Japan. Japan may have to withdraw from the OEF [Operation Enduring Freedom] operations in the Arabian Sea when Japanese anti-terrorism law expires in November. U.S. will collect the oil by itself or U.S. ask some other countries to supply oil? 
 
            GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, first of all, we're grateful to the government of Japan for being able to provide that capacity in support of OEF. They are a very valued ally. We do understand that there's an ongoing debate in the government of Japan with regard to the renewal of that mandate or what may occur. We are conducting some planning to mitigate the loss of that capacity should that occur. Beyond that, we wait to see what argument develops and what develops within the government of Japan. 
 
            Thank you all very much.
 
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