BRYAN WHITMAN (deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Public Affairs): Well, good morning, and welcome. General Nash, this is Bryan Whitman. Can you hear me okay?
GEN. NASH: Bryan, I can hear you very well.
MR. WHITMAN: Thank you for joining us again, General. I think it was back in August when you last gave us an update. This is, for those of you who might have missed the earlier one, Major General Richard Nash, who is the commander of Multinational Division-South. And he is in Basra today, where he is briefing you from. And he's going to give you a brief update and overview of what his forces are doing down there and then take some of your questions.
So General, again, thank you for joining us, and let me turn it over to you.
GEN. NASH: Bryan, again, thanks. Good morning from Basra, Iraq.
I am Major General Rick Nash, and I command Multinational Division-South and the 34th Infantry Division, also known as the Red Bull. The Red Bulls are a National Guard division based in St. Paul, which is a suburb -- where we're located -- by the name of Rosemont, Minnesota. I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you today about our operations here in southern Iraq.
The 34th Infantry Division is responsible for the command and control of the Multinational Division-South, with division headquarters located just outside the city of Basra. We have three brigade sectors throughout the nine southern provinces, in addition to an aviation brigade that provides support throughout our area of responsibility.
Our mission here in Iraq is to build civil capacity and train and support our Iraqi partners in their mission to provide security for the Iraqi people.
Since we spoke last month, the Iraqi security forces have had tremendous success in establishing security throughout the nine provinces of southern Iraq. I'd like to highlight a good-news story in the Dhi Qar and Maysan provinces, and a productive mission that resulted in a significant capture of weapons and ammunition.
During recent operations, the 10th Iraqi Army Division captured dozens of explosively formed penetrator plates, magnetic car sticky bombs, rocket-propelled grenades, hundreds of machine guns, assault rifles, and thousands of small-arms rounds. Additionally, over a hundred rockets, artillery rounds and mortar shells were collected from cache sites between the arid dunes of northern Maysan and the marshes in the south of the province. Among the recently confiscated items were rocket rails, radios and gas masks.
The Iraqi army is cementing its reputation with the citizens of southern Iraq as a catalyst for peace and adding to their security.
Most of these caches were exposed by tips from the concerned citizens, who refuse to let criminals and terrorists erode security and economic opportunity in their country.
As we move forward together, the ongoing success of the Iraqi police, the Iraqi army and the department of border enforcement are indicative of the positive outcomes we have achieved together. And they are also a testament to the professionalism of the Iraqi security forces.
So Bryan, thanks for the opportunity to share these successes with you. And at this time, I look forward to your questions.
MR. WHITMAN: Very good. Well, I'm sure we have a few here. Looks like Joe would like to start us off.
Go ahead, Joe. And then we'll go over to Barbara.
Good morning, general. This is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. I don't know if you could give us more details about the captured munitions that the Iraqi divisions have found lately in the south. Do you know, what's the source of these weapons, these rockets?
GEN. NASH: Joe, thanks.
Again I'd like to expand a little bit about the great effort by the 10th Iraqi division. I must also mention in my opening comments that there was great participation from the adjoining division, the 14th division, headquartered here in Basra, commanded by Major General Aziz (sp). The 10th division command is commanded by Major General Habib (sp).
And those two major generals, both division commanders, worked very closely in an operation that was well-planned, well-coordinated and supported by our U.S. forces, the 4-1AD, Colonel Pete Newell. This operation was named Southern Triangle. And it started approximately six weeks ago with an effort to intercept trafficking of lethal ammunition, lethal weapons, mechanisms that would provide terrorists and criminals means to do harm to the Iraqis.
This effort is still ongoing. They're deliberately going through the arid area, as I mentioned, the swamp area; very difficult operations obviously during the hottest part of the year here in Iraq, late August, early September.
These soldiers have done a great job. I'm speaking now directly about the Iraqi division, the 10th and the 14th.
As I mentioned, the caches that they were able to find, the munitions that I mentioned, certainly have markings on them. And they come from a variety of places. And I'll be quite frank with you; some of the rockets have "made in Iran" on those rockets, but -- as well as some other countries that -- munitions. And they certainly can be munitions that are left over from the previous war, the Iranian-Iraq war in the '80s. Some of them are rather new. But again, they're marked with certain country markings. And those are the things that we try to exploit, look at, find out how new those weapons are, how new those munitions are, as we continue to exploit the networks that are doing harm here in southern Iraq.
Q Just to follow up, General -- again, Joe Tabet -- do you know what -- who was behind this -- who was controlling this -- these munitions? Is there any specific Shi'ite group you know, you could name?
GEN. NASH: I think, Joe, I would be safely -- in saying just, you know, they are extremist groups. These were located in very remote areas, in vacant buildings, in the marsh area themselves. Some of them were already buried. So to tie it back to a particular group would be very difficult, again.
But again, through the HUMINT intel that both the 10th Iraqi Division and the 14th Iraqi Division are able to do, they do a great job of exploiting information that they gather when they go out to the villages and the cities and dealing with the sheikhs in the tribal areas. And they do a tremendous job in getting to the source of those.
And again, we have developed a good network, a good network of intelligence, and we share that with our Iraqi partners on a continuous basis. They have full knowledge of how we bring that information together.
We share it with them, who we believe -- individuals, groups, cells -- are working those issues. And we allow them then to be in the lead, as they have been. And we partner with them, but they are in the lead and they are prosecuting. They get warrants for their arrest; they go in front of a judge. And the rule of law is well in place and embedded. And they're really doing a great job, and I've seen just magnificent improvement since we've been here taking over this area in May.
Q Can I follow up a little bit, please?
MR. WHITMAN: (Off mike.)
Q General, Bill McMichael, Military Times. You said the other munitions, aside from the rockets that were stamped "made in Iran," have come from a variety of places. Could you please be more specific, or tell us why you can't be?
GEN. NASH: Bill, again, you know, if I talked about names that were on there, I'd be pointing fingers. And again, we really don't have information or intelligence that would directly pinpoint it back to a particular supplier. So needless to say, the bulk of what we see would have a stamp on a particular munition that would say "Iran."
Q Thank you.
Q Barbara Starr, from CNN. Well, now I have to follow up and then ask my other -- my real question. On the Iranian weapons, you have seen this for many years now, and you understand the date stamps on the Iranian weapons. So what is the most recent-manufacture Iranian weapons you have seen? And then I would like to just ask a question I need to ask.
GEN. NASH: Follow-up on that, I believe I'll be able to answer it. I believe probably "07" was the latest stamping of a date on a munition that I personally saw and have heard about.
Q What I really wanted to ask you about was the case against the four soldiers in Maysan province for alleged mistreatment of fellow soldiers, and specifically the link you believe there is to the suicide of Private First Class Wilhelm. In -- (audio break) -- reading the charge sheets, you -- or the military seems to make a direct link between the alleged maltreatment and the private's suicide death.
What can you tell us about what it is that you believe these soldiers did to their fellow soldiers? And what happened to the private in the hours before he committed suicide?
GEN. NASH: First of all, I'd like to express my deepest thoughts, prayers to the Wilhelm family during this very difficult time. All of our soldiers have Private Wilhelm in our thoughts.
To follow up on your question, we immediately started an investigation, first of all, into the death of Private Wilhelm. That investigation is still going on. It should conclude probably before we speak again next month to determine the actual cause of death of Private Wilhelm.
In the conduct of that investigation, I think it became clear that there was other issues that we needed to take a look at, and they revolved around the cruelty and maltreatment that was discovered during that investigation of Private Wilhelm's death. We take these allegations extremely seriously, very seriously. And we're investigating that. If the cruelty and maltreatment charges are true, the accused will be brought to justice.
Q Well, sir, let me follow up there. The chart sheets that have been released indicate excessive physical exercise was ordered, corrective action was ordered, someone was forced to carry rocks in their backpack. Can you give us any better indication of what these allegations are? And since you said you're still trying to determine the cause -- the specific cause of Private Wilhelm's death -- and his family's been told it's suicide -- do you have reason to believe it's other than suicide?
GEN. NASH: Again, I'm waiting for the CID report, the final report from the CID, regarding Private Wilhelm's death for that final determination. That will be the concluding determination of his death.
With regards to the charges, the charges of the four individuals that you speak about that have been made public, they range anywhere from nine down to four charges per individual. And they evolve around cruelty and maltreatment, making false official statements and a charge of reckless endangerment. And those are the types of charges that four of the individuals are currently facing.
Again, that is going to be under total investigation. There will be a -- a full investigation that will be an Article 32 hearing, if you will, that will determine if there is enough evidence there to formally bring them to justice.
MR. WHITMAN: Courtney, way in the back, and then we'll get the front row clear down here.
Q I just have one more follow-up on this same issue, General. It's Courtney Kube from NBC News. Where are the four soldiers right now, and where is their court-martial? Presumably, if any of them is court-martialed, where would that be held, in Iraq, or in Kuwait? And are there any plans to bring Wilhelm's family over, his parents over, to be there for the trial -- any trial?
GEN. NASH: Good -- those are good follow-up questions. First of all, the soldiers in question, immediately after the preliminary investigation was conducted at that particular base, were removed from that site and they were -- by the brigade commander -- and they were redirected for further assignment back to his headquarters at COB Adder. And so that's where those individuals are currently performing duties.
We are in contact with the family, and will keep them informed about the total process that we're going through, the investigation. We will facilitate their wishes to the best of our capabilities -- again, keeping in mind this is a combat zone, a war zone, and someone will have to decide about the availability of them coming to Iraq if this does become an issue that goes to a court.
My expectations are, until I'm told differently, I'm expecting that the trial, if it becomes a trial for an individual or individuals, would be held here in Iraq.
Q Sir, this is Jim Garamone with American Forces Press Service.
If we could, go back to that Operation Southern Triangle. I'd just like to ask you, you know, you worked with the 14th and 10th divisions. What sort of support did you provide them? And could they have done the job even maybe taking longer without that support?
GEN. NASH: Jim, I think, I can answer that by the fact that we are continuing to partner. And it becomes not only just an operation, Operation Southern Triangle, as a operation to get at the lethal aid. It continues to build the confidence with us as partners, the U.S. forces, the Iraqis. (Audio break.)
This is a major effort. Two divisions coming together, to do an operation like that -- (audio break) -- around the areas that we have, is pretty monumental. And in the -- at this stage in the development of the Iraqi security forces, this is something to be pretty proud of, for the Iraqis and for the U.S. forces that have spent time training and working with and mentoring and providing resources to the Iraqis.
And so it not only was an operational issue. It was one that, we went with them, we partnered with them. I say with them. We still have military training teams that train and advise and assist, as they go through this, whether it's the conduct of the operations, the development of the operation order.
I was personally present when Major General Habib (sp), Major General Aziz (sp) and, in fact, the governor of Maysan; he briefed us on his operation that he was planning to do, laid out the maps, what he intended to do each and every day of the operation, what his soldiers were going to do.
We also provide them ISR capabilities. We also provide for them medevac capabilities. Again as I mentioned earlier, intelligence sharing information, what we know about networks, to make sure that we were covering the area that we feel that were probably rat lines coming in across the border illegally.
And so those are the types of things we continue to do each and every day. But again this was such a large operation, with a lot of forces, across two divisional boundaries, two provincial boundaries. It was well planned and well executed. And there will be a phase two following on to this.
Q (Off mike) -- just do a quick follow-up, how about logistical support -- food, fuel, things like that? Did you provide that for the Iraqis?
GEN. NASH: No, we did not. They in their fledgling logistical capabilities have had the ability to, you know, refuel themselves, provide fuel for themselves, maintenance, transportation. So that was not an issue in terms of the successful conduct of Southern Triangle.
Q Thank you.
Q Hi, General. Jeff with Stars and Stripes. Getting back to the investigation of this soldier's death, are investigators looking into whether this could be a homicide?
GEN. NASH: Again, I cannot determine what the CID is looking at. It's an independent operation, investigation, under investigation, and I would expect that that's going to conclude shortly. I cannot predict a timeline. But the CID is doing that independently, and I will have to take a look at the results of that. But they're totally in charge of that investigation.
Q Originally this was -- it was said this was a suicide. Now I understand investigators are looking for a cause of death. Can you rule out that this was a homicide?
GEN. NASH: I will not rule out whether it was a suicide or a homicide. That is not in my purview. Again, the cause of death will be determined through the CID investigation.
Q General, Otto Kreisher, Sea Power magazine -- (inaudible). Your territory down there a year or so ago was fairly lawless -- militias running around, the (colonel ?) gang. We've seen very little news out of there. What's the overall security situation? You've obviously got weapons still coming in, but you know, about security incidents, give us an overall view of what's your security situation.
GEN. NASH: I'll try to answer that the best I can, based on what I think I heard you ask.
You're right; back in the early part of '08, the Basra area was pretty much under control of the militias.
Prime Minister Maliki, as you are all aware, started off with an operation called the Charge of the Knights, here in Basra. And it was pretty violent, taking individuals off the streets. There was pretty heavy fighting here in the city of Basra. It was not in the control of the security forces.
I mentioned an individual earlier, Major General Aziz, who is commanding the 14th Division. He was part of the 11th Division, that came in here with prime minister's forces at the Charge of the Knights, and he currently is here in charge of a portion of security, being in charge of the Iraqi army; along with another great Iraqi army officer by the name of Major General Mohammed, and he's in charge of the Basra Operations Center, who also has control, then, of the Iraqi police.
And so that center, that BAOC center, which I was down to last night, talking with Major General Mohammed, about some future operations, has taken control of Basra. I've spent time with the governor of Basra, Governor Sheltagh, a newly elected official as of January. He's concerned about security. He's concerned about the economy, electricity and water and the citizens and the cleanup of the city.
And I can tell you that the city of Basra has done a 180-degree turn. Recently we had in my headquarters -- I invited over for an iftar dinner in honor of Ramadan last Wednesday a Sunni, a Shi'a, General Mohammed and an individual from the 70th Recon Squadron, Major General Hamid (ph), and all told me how better the city of Basra is now compared to what it was a year ago.
And all these efforts are going on. We're putting together coalitions here in Basra with the leadership, the religious leadership, talking about how to make things better, along with the governor, and we're supporting him. There are over a hundred projects that we're working on here that are all focused on the citizens of Basra and making life better for them.
From the atmospherics that I see, the polling that I see, it's clear that the citizens are not as concerned about security any longer in the city of Basra or in the province itself.
They're concerned about jobs, and they're concerned about the economy, and they're concerned about their families. And so those are the things the governor's working on, and in the support of Iraqi security forces, in the support of the governor, are making great headway in that area.
Q Sir, can I come back to that? This is Gordon Lubold at the Christian Science Monitor. But can you give us kind of a -- some sense of the amount of violence across your area of responsibility -- (audio break) -- and also, just kind of characterize what are your troops doing?
GEN. NASH: Okay, let me answer the -- sort of a two-part thing, what my troops are doing and the level of violence. We average a little over 1.3 attacks per day, and that's throughout all nine provinces. And I mentioned earlier in my opening statement, you know, landwise, it's probably the size of Wisconsin geographically. Primarily all Shi'a.
Now, you have to keep that in mind, and the fact that we probably have close to 10 1/2 million people in those nine provinces. So we're averaging a little over 1.3 attacks per day, and this is less than in Baghdad, less than in Multinational Division-North, in the Mosul area, Tikrit area, but slightly more than in Multinational Force-West in the Anbar province.
Since June, the attacks, generally, have dropped slightly in our area. The number of IED attacks has gone down dramatically. The highest month was the month we got here, in May. But that was the highest in eight months, and each month since then, the IED attacks have gone down.
Now, have said -- have -- saying that, in direct-fire attacks on bases in COBs and in our FOBs have increased slightly since June 30th, since out of the cities, since we've complied with the security agreement.
But in general the attacks against the coalition forces -- on the roads, doing their missions, partnering with the Iraqi security forces, going out to the training, to advise and assist, to be part of their operations, as I mentioned -- has gone down slightly.
Now, talking about our soldiers, what are they doing? They're engaged each and every day, like they have been. It's sort of like, now we're commuting to work. Whereas before we were out and about, not so much here in the south, because we were really not part of the -- embedded in the major cities that were part of the security agreement.
But we continue to partner with our Iraqi counterparts, whether it's the border enforcement individuals at the border forts, at the ports of entry. We have a large port here, Umm Qasr, large vessels coming in, oil going out. We're engaged down there on a continuous basis.
We've worked with the Iraqi army and continued to train them, to professionalize their NCO corps and their officer corps. And that training is being asked for still by the Iraqis. It isn't as if once we became working the out-of-the-city program that they forgot about us.
They will escort us on the routes to whatever the training site may be, wherever the range may be that we will go out and assist with them. And so we're probably more partnered with them in terms of, they're with us from the time we leave our bases until we return that evening, or if we remain overnight working with them.
And some of our bases are still co-located with the Iraqis. Some are adjoining. Key walls are separating us. Others are within 2-300 meters. of our bases. So the partnership is there from morning until night. And so that relationship has not stopped.
Our soldiers are still totally engaged doing the great work that they have, since at least I've been here in May. And that partnership is getting greater and greater, because the success rate here in the south is getting better and better each and every day.
Q Two quick clarifications. You said attacks, 1.3 per day, down from what when you got there in May? And then you said attacks were up in one category. I just didn't catch it.
GEN. NASH: Sure. I'll clarify that.
The attacks with indirect fire attacks, rocket attacks, if you will -- and that's why we're pretty adamant about interdicting the lethal aid, because indiscriminate rocket firing at our bases has increased slightly since June 30th because, you know, we are a fixed location, and after this amount of time they become -- you know, they change their techniques and tactics and procedures, and they're able to kind of acquire us, if you will, with indiscriminate rocket firing on homemade rails with, if you will, washing machine timers, to set the timer and the ignition on these rockets, and they just let them fly. They aim them toward a base or a COB or a FOB, or Iraqi infrastructure, if you will, and they just shoot them off. And by the time we're able to respond, which is in minutes, because we can track where these rounds started from, those terrorists and criminals have vacated, because they've set a 30-minute timer, if you will.
The Iraqis, both the army and the police, and the border enforcement, are usually there before we are, at a site, because they're out and patrolling. They set these systems up and leave -- that is, the criminals and terrorists -- and -- but once they fire these weapons systems, the Iraqis respond immediately.
And then we look at those sites. We exploit them, find out anything that the criminals or terrorists are doing differently. And we try to always get ahead of their thinking cycle, if you will, and to upset those networks.
We also have seen where those indiscriminate rocket attacks have landed and impacted in residential areas. And certainly we exploit that, and the local citizens are angry, and that's why they're using our tip lines. And that's why they're calling in suspicious activities and are reporting more and more -- more than I've seen since May.
And -- but that has increased, that -- the rocket attacks on our bases.
Q I'm sorry. Just the 1.3 now per day versus when you got there before is -- how can we compare?
GEN. NASH: It's probably at least a third or a fourth less than when we arrived. And that, again -- nothing because -- what we arrived -- it was just on the decline for a period of time before that. You know, the 10th Mountain Division that we replaced and then here in the Basra area -- the British were here before that.
And they all were working on these issues to minimize the attacks, and so it's been on a steady decline, against our forces.
MR. WHITMAN: Sir, we have reached the end of our time, but if I could indulge and just see if you could take one more from ABC News. It's been waiting patiently in the back there to try to ask one. Go ahead.
Q Luis Martinez with ABC News, sir. The 4th Brigade of the 1st AD I think is the first advisory and assistance brigade. How would you compare their operations with the other brigades under your command? Basically, what makes them different? What's different about their operations?
GEN. NASH: Sure. That's a -- I'm glad you asked that. And I think you asked about the advise and the assist brigade, which is 4-1 -- 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division; commanded, again, as I mentioned earlier, by Colonel Pete Newell, who has certainly partnered heavily with the 10th IA Division.
That organization -- it's really a mission change for that BCT. It's still a brigade combat team, but their mission has changed now as they've come in and taken over operations in Muthanna, Dhi Qar and Maysan. And so they look at their missioning in terms of how they deal with the PRTs, the Provincial Reconstruction Teams; and how do we get after governance and economics; how do we deal with the enforcement of the borders, which is not normally a BCT, per se, mission task?
And so we spend time on U.S. borders and training with our border enforcement people back in the United States. And how do we deal with the border force here along our borders? And it's not only necessarily with the border that we share with Iran or Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. They look at how we partner with them. How do we add capabilities out there? How do we train the border-enforcement individuals that are at the ports of entry, both for personnel as well as traffic of goods?
As you know, there's a great deal of trade that goes on between Iraq and Iran, and a lot of goods, agricultural goods, come in from those locations, as well as building materials.
And so how do you look at searching those types of vehicles? How do you process people through? How do you look for terrorists and criminals coming through? Those are the types of things, lessons that they can learn back in the United States, outside of going to a national training center, where they really train on the full spectrum of operations. So an AAB is, you know, really a proof of principle that Colonel Newell is cutting new ground on.
And recently, you may be aware -- if not, it's very interesting -- that he briefed the secretary of Defense on his visit here to Cob Adder with regards to what he has done in the first 100 days. And it's been pretty spectacular the impact that his BCT has done now with the AAB concept, partnering out with, as I said, the governors, look at issues that they can request and ask for that he and his forces can respond to through the economic areas, assistance in governance; again, working very close with our Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
We support them here in the south. All the nine teams that we have is a focus for Pete also as he goes around and discusses issues, rule of law, agricultural issues, other factors and expertise that they come into; adding businesses to provinces to increase, again, the capability for training Iraqis so there is a pool for future investments from foreign investments, opportunities for business; again, all caveated with the fact that we provide that security for those types of things to flourish.
MR. WHITMAN: General, I want to thank you for the good discussion that we've had here and for taking the time to give us you your perspective. And before I bring it to a close, though, let me just throw it back to you in case you have any final thoughts.
GEN. NASH: Well, great. Thanks. I certainly appreciate the opportunity to talk with you again on our ongoing positive relationship that we've had with our Iraqi partners.
Going forward, we will continue to provide training and support for Iraqi security forces that are capable and nonsectarian. We will come -- we'll move forward with continuing our part of this strategy to responsibly remove all American combat forces from Iraq by the end of next August and to fulfill our commitment to remove all American troops from the country, the sovereign nation of Iraq, by the end of 2011.
Every day I'm impressed by the work and the accomplishments of the soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen of Multinational Division-South. They strive daily to help ensure Iraq's security and improve the quality of life for this emergent democracy.
Our deepest gratitude goes out to the families, friends, loved ones and employers of these patriots and professionals. Our thoughts and prayers continue -- (short audio break) -- to be with the families of those who have given the last full measure.
Both Americans and Iraqis can be proud of the fine job their sons and daughters are doing. I have complete confidence that, working together, we can overcome any obstacle as we move forward by, with and through our Iraqi partners.
MR. WHITMAN: General, thank you. And we look forward to having you back in this forum in a few more weeks.
GEN. NASH: We're looking forward to the same opportunity. Thank you very much.
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