DoD News Briefing with Col. Martin From Iraq
(Note: Col. Martin appears via satellite from Iraq.)
JIM TURNER (spokesman, Pentagon Press Office): Good morning, everybody.
Q Good morning.
MR. TURNER: How are you?
Colonel Martin, it's Jim Turner in the Pentagon Briefing Room. Can you hear me?
COL. MARTIN: Jim, I can hear you loud and clear.
MR. TURNER: Okay. Good morning. We're privileged to have with us today Colonel Joseph Martin. He is commander, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. Colonel Martin assumed his current duties in Iraq during September of 2008. He last briefed us in this format in February of this year. He joins us today from Camp Liberty in Iraq. Colonel Martin has a few comments, and then he will take your questions.
Colonel Martin, thank you very much for joining us today, and over to you.
COL. MARTIN: Well, good morning. I appreciate the interest from each of you on behalf of the Dagger Brigade and the soldiers of this great team here deployed here. It's an honor to be given the opportunity to tell folks stateside how we're doing in Baghdad, northwest Baghdad, in the Abu Ghraib qadha.
Dagger soldiers are serving as part of Multinational Division-Baghdad under the leadership of 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, and we're assigned to northwest Baghdad and areas to the west of Baghdad, totaling a square mileage of about 352 miles, just larger than the city of Dallas, Texas.
Our soldiers are working in concert with our Iraqi security force partners in pursuit of a mutual goal, which is to bring security and continued stability to the local citizens.
We've implemented numerous improvement projects as well. As a result of our combined efforts, we are refurbishing an area to better than prewar conditions while dealing with small pockets of criminal and terrorist activity.
Since November 2008, we've been focused in the areas of security, reconciliation, partnership and civil capacity improvement. Some remarkable changes and achievements have taken place in our area of operation.
First, in the area of security improvements, which is the cornerstone, of course, of all the brigade missions that ours is based upon, and it's better than ever in our particular section of Iraq.
There was a terrible attack just over a week ago in Baghdad, and on the behalf of the Dagger soldiers, I want to express our condolences to the victims and the families and all those affected by the attack. This event demonstrates that security is not only an ongoing process but really is a never-ending commitment.
The fact remains, though, that since 2004 violence is at all-time low. Since our arrival last October, attacks have decreased by almost 40 percent, with an average per-day attack of less than two, and that's in an area that used to experience 30 attacks per day just two years ago. This achievement is due to the hard work of the soldiers and the partners at the company level and below who relentlessly attacked the enemy, then stood watch to protect the people they came here to protect.
I also want to praise the people of Baghdad, who stand together rejecting violence each day. For example, when an RKG-3 attack threatens our main supply arteries, our partners pounce on that threat, eliminating it. When EFPs and IEDs threaten our daily movements, we've established watch positions and dismounted together to clear the areas on foot. This unleashes a persistent vigilance that's forced the enemy off the roads and highways.
We've captured more than 250 insurgents to date. Many of those captured were significant losses to the enemy.
Secondly, in the area of partnership, the brigade has attained new levels of confidence with our Iraqi security partners, who are the 6th Division of the Iraqi army and the 6th Brigade of the Iraqi federal police, and of course the local police districts. They are prepared to carry forward, you know, the gains in the security that we've combined to achieve. Dagger units and leaders weren't just satisfied with normal types of partnerships -- patrols, raids, cordons, searches, training. So we took it upon ourselves to develop counter-IED capabilities and tackled the difficult task of assisting to improve the Iraqi army's logistics capabilities and other areas.
We've embedded our command posts with our partners, to ensure that we remain unified in our actions, with the Iraqi security forces, and improve the Iraqi security force capabilities while doing so.
In essence, we believe our efforts will establish an environment of excellence, for Iraqi security forces to flourish and sustain the much-needed mantle of security.
In the area of reconciliation, the Dagger Brigade and our embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team-West led by Mark Powell has assisted in the return of over 23,000 families, who were forcibly displaced from their homes previously, which caused tensions within the northwest Baghdad area and frankly beyond.
By assuring security, then meticulously targeting to deter and prevent resettlement violence, then partnering with our Iraqi security forces colleagues, to mentor their participation in the process, we set conditions every day for the return to normalcy that Iraqis so richly deserve and desire.
The echoes of sectarianism have faded. And now we're assisting to introduce nongovernmental entities and humanitarian organization into our area, bringing much-needed relief to the citizens in crisis.
In the end, great security has accelerated our civil capacity endeavors. In this area, we've developed a staggering array of programs and projects. Over 280 CERP-funded projects have been opened, managed and completed here, totaling over $33.6 million worth of funds, bringing relief and assistance to Iraqi civil infrastructure, targeted relief.
Our efforts have extended well beyond CERP, reaching out -- to humanitarian agencies and international relief organizations and Iraqi institutions -- to maximize the effects on northwest Baghdad and the Abu Ghraib qadha.
In essence, we're now seeing local governments become more effective than we've seen them when we arrived last year. Overall conditions are good. Security is improving. Essential services are improving. And I appreciate the opportunity to make an opening statement.
And now I'm prepared to take your questions.
MR. TURNER: Okay. Thank you, Colonel Martin.
Q Colonel Martin, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. I have two questions for you.
Based on the information that you have, do you agree that August was the bloodiest month in Iraq since a year, maybe more than a year?
And second question is, based on the situation, do you think the U.S. forces would be able to leave Iraq whatever is the situation, even if things get worse in the future?
COL. MARTIN: Well, Joe, that's a great question. First thing I'll tell you is, I think that security is continuing to improve. The attacks that occurred before are an example that there is an enemy out there, but it's an enemy that is decreasing in capacity and is rejected by the people. But the enemy still has the ability to act, and that's why we and our security partners continue to focus together to improve conditions here to eliminate the possibility of a like attack to occur again.
And in that regard, we will continue to work with our Iraqi security partners, who we have great confidence in in achieving their mission.
But since we're here, we'll continue to work with them, provide them capability, continue to train them and support them in the aminat and work side by side with them in the qadha to continue to improve conditions in the future.
Q Yeah, and just for follow-up, you didn't answer my question. I was trying to ask you, sir, if you think the U.S. forces would be able to leave Iraq, whatever is the situation, by the end of 2011.
COL. MARTIN: Well, Joe, your question is best asked to probably a headquarters above my level. Who withdraws when is something that we're not actually focused on at the brigade level. I'll tell you, within the brigade and the partners that we have within the 6th Iraqi Division, I've got the utmost confidence in their capabilities. So that's probably something that would be better asked at a headquarters much above -- way above my level.
Q Last follow-up. Just as a commander on the ground, I would like to hear your opinion about that, if you think your brigade would be able to leave your area of operation by 2011 regardless if the situation is getting worse.
COL. MARTIN: Well, Joe, in my professional opinion, the Iraqi army is up to the task of securing the people here. But while we're here we're going to continue to improve conditions to make their job even easier in the future.
We still have work to do here. Whether or not we leave in 2011, once again, is -- that's a decision that's well above my level.
And I will tell you that we're here on a 12-month tour. Our time began last October, so we're looking in the next month to two to transition back. But the work to be done will still be completed, but who leaves when is something that's to be determined at a much higher level than me.
Q Hi, Colonel. You had mentioned an RKG-3 attack. Because RKGs are portable, can you say whether they are more dangerous than EFPs?
COL. MARTIN: Well, any weapon's dangerous. They both -- both of those weapons, the RKG-3 and the EFP, are dangerous weapons. We treat them equally dangerous, and we've worked very hard with our partners to diminish their capability and eliminate the people that are using them in our area of operation.
And we have enjoyed a great deal of success stifling the RKG-3 network that used to exist in the Ghazalia area, Mansour security district and out in the Abu Ghraib qadha. And we haven't seen one of those attacks for quite some time to this point.
Q Colonel, if I could just follow up, when I was in Kirkuk, one soldier told me it was the RKG-3 that scared him the most. What is the ultimate solution to this? Is it TTPs, more armor? Is it something else?
COL. MARTIN: It's training soldiers to understand the threat and being able to address the threat with a combination of the equipment they use to protect themselves; the tactics, techniques and procedures that they use to react to it. And most importantly, it's to get ahead of it and go after the people that are inclined to use that particular weapon system here.
I will tell you what's helping us significantly is the people of Abu Ghraib in Mansour Security District absolutely reject those that use weapons of these types against coalition forces, or Iraqis for that matter. So that's helped us greatly.
Q Hi, Colonel. It's Laura Jakes from Associated Press. A couple of quick questions for you. One, are all of your troops out of combat outposts in your AO? In other words, are they no longer operating in the city? Where exactly are they living, under the SOFA agreement? And how often do your troops go out on patrols with Iraqi security forces?
And then, thirdly, you spoke about the terrible attacks of last week, two weeks ago. I'm wondering, it's been said that the person who -- the people who perpetrated those attacks were former detainees out at Bucca or, I guess, Abu Ghraib. You spoke a little bit about the resettlement process. What are you and your troops doing to make sure that former detainees are integrating or resettling back into the community as they come out of Bucca?
COL. MARTIN: Laura, I'm going to have to take this one question at a time. Could you ask me the first question again, please?
Q I just wanted to know the status of your troops and where they're living, and whether or not they're fully out of combat outposts or other areas inside the city. Where exactly are your troops living at this point?
COL. MARTIN: The lion's share of the soldiers of the Dagger Brigade are right here with me at the Victory Base complex. We do have many soldiers that are also stationed throughout the qadha. And we have some soldiers that remain in the city at the invitation and the request of the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces. They're there to train, advise and support the Iraqis, and that's what they've been doing since the 30th of June.
The rest of the soldiers are out working side by side with the Iraqis throughout the qadha, in the belts of Baghdad, getting after the zones of support and facilitation that exist out there so that we can continue to mitigate the threat to the aminat itself.
Q If I could just follow up on that, what's it like for the soldiers who are still living in -- who are still stationed in the city and living in the combat outpost? What's their daily life like these days, and how has that changed since June 30th? Are they seeing more aggression towards them? Are they ratcheting back what they're doing? Can you just walk us through that?
COL. MARTIN: Absolutely. The life of a soldier walking -- our -- the life of a soldier within the aminat is a very rewarding one and -- at this time. Like I said before, they're spending a great deal of their time training and advising the Iraqis.
We have many soldiers that are in these combined operations posts, joint operations posts -- as we call them, the JOCs -- that literally work side by side with the Iraqis. And the Iraqis are benefiting from watching us use our TTPs that we've used to command and control our forces, and we're learning from the Iraqis as well.
Furthermore, we're providing the Iraqis some technical capabilities that were previously not available to them, and they're seeing the power of utilizing those in concert with the TTPs that they use to go after criminals and terrorists within the aminat itself.
So it's a pretty rewarding lifestyle for the soldiers that work within the aminat, and it's a tribute, I'll tell you, in the end, to how flexible our soldiers are as well.
As you all recall, when we came here in October we were in the lead. In January, we implemented the security agreement and so the Iraqis went into the lead, and that forced us to change the way we did business. It was a simple change for us, because we anticipated it before we came, but all in all the theme throughout the course of the deployment has been change.
We've watched our soldiers live through this change, and they've done a miraculous job adapting with their agile mindset and their flexible way of understanding that the problem set continues to change based on the environment continuing to change.
Q Thanks. And could you speak to my third question, about the detainees who are coming out of detention centers and Bucca and who are coming back into the population and what you're doing to try to mitigate any kind of aggression or insurgent activities they might undertake?
COL. MARTIN: Well, I believe, earlier you stated that -- you asked whether or not these -- the people responsible for that particular attack came out of the Bucca population. I will tell you that that particular attack is still under investigation. And I don't think that they've totally concluded who exactly it was.
But we're making sure, in mitigating any violence or any future violence, by continuing to target those that want to bring violence here, regardless of whether or not they spent time in Camp Bucca, Camp Cropper or any Iraqi detention facility. So we're focusing on the threat holistically. And the potential recidivists out of Bucca are just a part of that problem set.
Q This is Nancy Youssef with McClatchy Newspapers.
You spoke earlier about the attacks at the ministries. And you said that it was a sign of their decreasing their capacity. And I'd like to know if you could elaborate on that.
I'm not clear as to why that's a signal of their decreasing capacity, given that they were some of the largest explosions to strike Baghdad, in quite some time, and the closest that these attackers have ever gotten at those ministries or any ministries for that matter.
And also after those attacks, Maliki announced that the blast walls -- there would be a freeze on bringing down blast walls. Is that still happening in your area? And have any Iraqi officials that you work with asked for any blast walls to go up or expressed any concern about further blast walls coming down?
COL. MARTIN: Okay. Nancy, thanks for the multiple questions. I'll try to attack them all one at a time if I could.
What I meant by decreasing capacity is, the number of attacks continue to go down. The terrible attack that occurred on the 19th of August is an example of an enemy that has the ability to continue to strike. But it is in a limited fashion.
And the Iraqi security forces as a result of that have done a great deal of introspective assessing, to make sure that they understand how they can mitigate that from every happening again, number one.
And number two, they continue to assess the overall security situation as a whole, in order to mitigate any attacks, not just vehicle-borne IED attacks but just any attacks that can occur here.
As far as the blast walls go, there are blast walls throughout Baghdad. I will tell you that anytime a blast wall is moved, it is based on a decision at the highest levels within the Iraqi security force command.
And it's based on an assessment of -- or making sure that security remains the same but allowing freedom of maneuver to increase. They balance that each and every day. I sat in many of those meetings, and the Iraqis do an outstanding job of assessing the benefits of allowing people to move around a little more freely with the potential cost of another attack. That's something they take very seriously.
Q Could you speak specifically whether any more blast walls have come down since August 19th, or does there continue to be a freeze, per Maliki's order, on blast walls coming down?
COL. MARTIN: If you wanted to ask a question about what Prime Minister Maliki said, I would ask the government of Iraq that particular question. But I will tell you that I haven't seen a vast array of blast walls coming down. But I know that the Iraqi leadership goes through a very deliberative process before they make the decision to move any blast wall, and it's based on the factors that I've already spoken about.
Q If I could just clarify one point. You talked earlier about that these attacks show that they're limited in what they can do because they're launching fewer attacks. But if the attacks that they are launching are more sensational, does it not perhaps speak to an enemy that's shifted its tactics; that instead of launching smaller attacks, that with the blast walls coming out, coming down, and their ability to move, that they're in fact just launching fewer, more spectacular, attacks?
COL. MARTIN: Well, Nancy, to do that, I'd have to be -- I'd be spculating. What I can tell you is, based on my experience being here for 11 months, I've watched an enemy that was limited in their effectiveness continue to diminish in capability. And it's a function of the population absolutely rejecting not only their ideology but also their methodologies.
The population's tired of violence.
And then the combination of a brigade of 5,000 people along with 19,000 Iraqi security forces, working side by side with the population, has taken away enemy capabilities.
Look, the enemy's going to continue to act, but we, in our assessment, believe that his capability continues to go down.
That doesn't discount the outcome of that particular attack, but I will tell you that I see -- I look very positively at the future when I think about the continued downward trend of enemy attacks here, and the ISF being able to appropriately secure the population.
Q Thank you.
MR. TURNER: Al.
Q Colonel, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. Two questions, but I'll ask them one at a time for you. First of all, do you feel like the Iraqis were overconfident when they first took security responsibility and that that is why they need to do this introspection that you mentioned earlier?
COL. MARTIN: Well, first, I don't think that they were overconfident. I think that they actually took their job very seriously.
Secondly, the introspective piece was done without any prompting whatsoever. THEY decided to sit down and assess where they're at.
Watching General Abboud , General Ali, General Karim sitting down at a table and sincerely talking about where they can improve things, what has happened in the past is very, very, very moving to watch. And it's reflective of, I think, them understanding, based on our discussions, our advising, the importance of being an introspective organization and entity providing security for the people here. It helps everybody improve. You can't help but improve when you do things like that.
Q Thank you. And the other thing: You mentioned EFPs as one of the threats. Can you give us a sense of how many EFPs you are seeing compared to previous months or last year? And do you think the materials are still coming from Iran, or are these locally made or left over from the past, or what?
COL. MARTIN: Well, I will tell you that I haven't seen any spike in EFP activity within the area of operations.
The source of the EFPs is something that you've heard my boss and my boss's boss talk about, where they're coming from. I will tell you that I think some are -- some are being made locally and others are being made elsewhere.
But the threat of the EFP has remained about the same, and because of the potential outcome -- it's a very effective weapon -- we take it very seriously and we target it. And we want to target it before it goes off -- in other words, find it before it goes off and, more important than that, target the people that use it so that we can take them off the streets and take that particular weapon system out of the problem set.
Q Do you have any statistics, how many you see or what percentage of -- or let's say how many IED attacks, and then what percentage of those would be EFPs?
COL. MARTIN: I don't have those in front of me right now, Al. But I'll tell you that I can have my public affairs officer provide that information for you if you so desire.
Q Thank you, yes, I would, thanks.
MR. TURNER: Courtney.
Q Hi, Colonel. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. You said it was moving to see General Abboud and others sit down and talk about the lessons that they were learning, how they could improve security after the attacks in Baghdad recently. Can you fill us in on some of the things that they discussed? Did they talk about any corruption within the security forces? Or what kind of conclusions did they come to that you can share with us?
COL. MARTIN: Well, Courtney, without getting into too many specifics, I'll just tell you that they very maturely assessed where they're at with the security and how they could improve.
And General Abboud listened to all the people in the room, and then they made some conclusions, and then he published a directive to make some changes to improve things. It's everything from checkpoint security to locations of checkpoints, inspection procedures, the whole gamut when it comes to securing the people here. And it's a sign of a very mature chain of command that can take a look at themselves and their operations and improve -- improve their overall capability.
Q Did they discuss whether there was any corruption, whether this is an inside job by someone in the Iraqi security forces? And then, did they go into any concern about this stoking any kind of new sectarian tensions at all?
COL. MARTIN: No, they did not, Courtney.
MR. TURNER: We have time for one more question. Jeff.
Q Hi, Colonel. Jeff with Stars and Stripes again. How often do your troops based at Camp Victory go on patrols with the ISF?
COL. MARTIN: Well, most of their patrols are with the ISF. How often, it just depends on the organization; it depends on the unit and the area which they're responsible for. The units that partner with the ISF within the aminat don't go on patrol with them very often, because they're there to train, advise and support, and the Iraqis at this juncture have not asked for us to go patrol with them there. Out in the qadha, each and every day the units that are responsible to partner with the security forces out there have gone out and patrolled every day. Now, that doesn't mean every soldier's out there patrolling every day, but those units responsible for partnering with those Iraqi security force units go out every day and patrolled them every day.
Q Can you give us a ballpark of how the number of patrols has changed since June 30th?
COL. MARTIN: That particular number, I think, would be something that I would rather not share, because it could relate to operational security and protecting future operations.
Q How has that -- the number OpSec?
COL. MARTIN: Well, specifically talking about how things have changed in terms of the number of patrols, I'll -- I'll tell you what.
Probably the best answer I can give you on that is, if you want a change in the number of patrols, that's another thing that my Public Affairs officers could probably get to you.
Q Colonel, could you make sure that all of the things that you've promised, to Al and to Jeff, are distributed throughout the Pentagon Press Corps who are attending this briefing?
COL. MARTIN: Certainly.
MR. TURNER: Okay. With that, Colonel Martin, I want to turn it back to you, for any closing remarks that you might have.
COL. MARTIN: Well, I thank you all once again for coming out today and listening to this brigade and our story.
This is the third time that I've been to combat as a commander -- once during Desert Storm, the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom and now at this juncture in Operation Iraqi Freedom. And I am absolutely amazed at the progress that has occurred here.
I'm equally amazed at how much progress the United States Army and the Department of Defense has made, in preparing our soldiers for this type of operation, supporting our soldiers with the best equipment available, on the face of the earth, and giving us the best infrastructure back home, to prepare for this particular mission.
It's been an honor talking to you this evening. And I wish you all farewell and good night.
MR. TURNER: Thank you, Colonel Martin.
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