BRYAN WHITMAN (deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Public Affairs): (In progress) -- pleasure to be able to introduce you to the Pentagon press corps here today.
General Charles Jacoby, Junior, is the commanding general of Multinational Corps-Iraq. He assumed those duties in Iraq in April of 2009. And while this is his first briefing with us as the corps commander, he is familiar with this format, and he's going to give you an overview, a brief update, and then take some of your questions. He's speaking to us today from Camp Victory in Iraq.
General, welcome, and thank you for your time this afternoon.
GEN. JACOBY: Good morning, everyone. Thank you, Bryan, for the introduction. And thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for allowing me to join you today. It's a privilege.
Our operations in Iraq are progressing, but our enemies here continue to challenge and test the Iraqi security forces. Many areas in Iraq remain dangerous, and that was made apparent again on Tuesday when four of our servicemembers were killed while executing their mission here. And I would like to just take a minute -- a minute to offer my heartfelt condolences to their families.
Currently, our enemies are resorting to a campaign of sensationalism through suffering, by directing attacks against Iraq's most vulnerable targets in an attempt to discredit the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces. We are seeing determined extremists, insurgents and terrorists employ IEDs against markets, shrines and other places where families gather and civilians go about their daily lives.
Even so, we are witnessing the Iraqi security forces address these challenges head-on. They are not backing down and are making steady progress towards taking full responsibility for the security of Iraq's people.
Our partnership with the Iraqi security forces is very strong, so much so that I believe it is much better now than it was before 30 June. We continue to provide our advisers and trainers to support the Iraqi security forces who are securing Iraq's cities. Our combat forces that are outside Iraq's cities are employing a full spectrum of operations, partnered with Iraqi security forces, in order to deny safe havens for criminals and violent extremist groups, preventing their ability to move freely to and from Iraq's populated areas and helping to secure its borders.
Sons of Iraq is another critical area that has seen success. The government of Iraq, which took over the responsibility of paying the Sons of Iraq in May, is now current on pay in all provinces. In addition, more than 5,500 Sons of Iraq have now been transferred into ministerial jobs, with more scheduled to come.
On the horizon, we are working towards one of the decisive points in the recent history of Iraq. Iraq is moving forward toward national elections. The Iraqi people have embraced this chance they have for continued democracy. They are actively registering to vote right now in large numbers, and Iraq's lively political activities and debates are a constant sign that Iraqis have rejected sectarian-based violence and are choosing political discourse to resolve differences.
There is a real chance for success here in Iraq, but it's very important to remember our mission is not complete. Our enemies will continue to attack our progress, and they will do it by killing and injuring innocent Iraqis. They will test Iraqi security forces as we move toward the elections and as the new government is seated. But I am confident that Iraqi security forces will pass this test. And now, I'm happy to take your questions.
MR. WHITMAN: Okay, we'll get started right here. And Daphne, why don't you lead us off?
Q Good afternoon, sir. This is Daphne Benoit with Agence France-Presse. According to your intel, is al Qaeda-Iraq behind most of the spectacular attacks we've seen lately, and if you have a percentage in mind of the attacks perpetrated by al Qaeda? And how big are its -- their network today in Iraq? And are there many foreign fighters, or Iraqis?
GEN. JACOBY: Yeah, thank you for that question. We think al Qaeda in Iraq remains a big problem, and they are greatly diminished since the days of just a few years ago. But they are still able to generate these high-profile attacks that we're concerned about. The frequency of attacks, the scale of the attacks -- not like we've seen in the past -- but the ability to generate a high-profile attack now is causing concern, and I would say it's the targeting of the attacks which causes us the most concern.
And as I said in my opening statement, clearly they're going after targets like civilian population centers, where civilians are meeting, where they're conducting their daily lives. They're doing that to discredit the Iraqi security forces. They're doing that to try to incite sectarian violence.
I believe the Iraqi people have rejected that. We have not seen resort to sectarian violence because of these attacks. But it remains a concern. I also believe that al Qaeda is still supported to some extent, much less than in the past, from outside of Iraq. It is mostly a homegrown version of al Qaeda in Iraq. But it remains a challenge.
I think that al Qaeda in Iraq will continue to test the Iraqi security forces. But as I said in my opening statement, I believe Iraqi security forces partnered with us is up to the test.
Q (Off mike.) Can you give us an idea of what's the proportion of attacks perpetrated by al Qaeda in Iraq these days? Can you give us an idea of, you know -- (inaudible) -- this wave of violence we're seeing?
GEN. JACOBY: Yes. I will tell you that we believe many of these recent high-profile attacks are signature al Qaeda attacks. And of course, we take each and every one of them and investigate them thoroughly with our Iraqi security force partners. And it's important for us to determine where these attacks are coming from, the intent behind the attacks. But I believe many of the most recent attacks remain al Qaeda attacks and they -- as I said, they have all the signatures of many of the attacks that we've seen in the past.
Q (Off mike) -- majority?
MR. WHITMAN: I'm not sure you got the question. The question was, would you consider these attacks the majority?
GEN. JACOBY: In the period that we're looking at right now, post-30 June, I consider most of the attacks, the high-profile attacks that you are seeing and that are getting the publicity, are al Qaeda attacks.
MR. WHITMAN: Jeffrey?
Q Hi, General. Jeff Schogol with Stars and Stripes. When I was in Baghdad, it appeared that U.S. troops were taking more of a garrison posture. Given those circumstances, is it possible to accelerate the U.S. drawdown from Iraq?
GEN. JACOBY: Thanks. Well, first of all, I wouldn't characterize any of our forces as taking a garrison posture. I think what you're really seeing is a difference between being in counterinsurgency in the cities and doing stability ops in the cities. And when we're doing stability ops, what we're doing are providing advice, assistance; we're enabling Iraqi security forces; and we're training with Iraqi security forces.
So those are the kinds of activities you see in stability ops and, in particular, in the cities. Throughout the rest of Iraq, we're doing full-spectrum ops, to include counterinsurgency ops, and we're doing them partnered with Iraqi security forces. And so, where it's required, we will continue -- our combat forces outside of the cities will continue to do that.
Right now, our strategy is on track. We are confident in the direction we're going. And we are headed in the full execution of our plan in terms of transitioning the force over the next year and a half.
Q Also when I was in Iraq, I heard an Iraqi general officer say in Baghdad they made it clear they don't want to use American forces. So if American forces are essentially on the periphery in Baghdad, does that mean you can withdraw more of them quicker?
GEN. JACOBY: No, we're happy with our current schedule. We think that the strategy is sound. We think our tactics are appropriate. I think the Iraqi security forces are doing their work in the cities. We're enabling and assisting them as they ask. They don't need our combat forces in the cities. The types of things that we help them with when they ask for it are intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, Medevac, some logistics.
But I think in the past we've seen them do a credible job. I would point to some of the high-profile events like the 12th Imam and the 7th Imam pilgrimage, where they were able to provide almost complete security throughout a very, very difficult time where millions of pilgrims had entered very important shrines and -- were throughout the city.
So I think they've demonstrated some great capability. I think we've got a good balance in things we're doing outside of the cities to partner with Iraqi security forces, putting pressure on the networks, helping secure the borders, and then providing those kinds of special assistance that's requested, noncombat assistance requested by Iraqis, in the cities.
MR. WHITMAN: Donna.
Q Sir, it's Donna Miles with the American Forces Press Service. I'm curious about what you see -- the role of these new AABs that will be flowing into Iraq. Where do you plan to concentrate them? And how will what they're doing support what your goals are?
GEN. JACOBY: That -- I think you ask about AABs. Is that correct?
MR. WHITMAN: Yes, it is.
GEN. JACOBY: Okay. Thank you. Yeah, the advisory assistance brigades -- it's a concept we believe in. We think it's the right way to go as we move from counterinsurgency and full-spectrum ops to our strategy of being done with combat operations for U.S. forces in August 2010. And then we'll be reliant on our advisory assistance brigades.
I think that the important part about an advisory assistance brigade is, it's -- that it's a mission and it's a mind-set. And it's a series of tasks that we do, and I ran through them earlier. They're advise, assist, enable, train, those kinds of tasks that are clearly within the stability ops realm. We believe Iraqi security forces will be fully capable of conducting the combat operations and other leads in security operations that will be required at that time.
Advisory assistance brigades should be fully on line by August 2010. We're having some good work with brigades right now that have been able to transition into stability ops, learning a lot of lessons, sending those kinds of observations back to the field or back to the training base as we continue to develop the advisory assistance brigades. Great exchange of information between theater and back home in the training base.
Q To follow on, where do you plan to concentrate these new brigades?
GEN. JACOBY: Right. We've done a fair amount of work studying where we think the advisory assistance brigades can best serve that mission. We will focus on areas where we can best support provincial reconstruction teams, where we can best continue training, with Iraqi security forces that would like us to do that.
And so they are very well dispersed, throughout Iraq, concentrating on primarily those two factors. Where does training need to get done? And where is support to provincial reconstruction teams a priority?
Q Hi, General. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News.
In response to Jeff's second question, you said that you're happy or content with the schedule. I believe you were referring specifically to Baghdad, to U.S. troops in Baghdad.
But both Secretary Gates and General Odierno have recently said that they are looking into the possibility of accelerating a drawdown, additional forces out of the country before the end of the year.
Where do you stand on that? Where does that decision stand right now? Do you still anticipate being at 100,000 U.S. troops in the country by the end of this year?
GEN. JACOBY: Yeah, thank you.
Really no decisions have been made about accelerating the drawdown. We retain sufficient flexibility that as we study the operational environment, if General Odierno directs us to change the drawdown in any way, we'll study that and we'll make decisions based on changes in the operational environment.
But right now as the corps commander planning the daily nuts and bolts of this operation, we have not been asked to speed up or slow down the withdrawal. We're on track, satisfied with the conditions on the ground, in terms of our ability to get our mission done and remain well resourced to accomplish that mission.
Q Planning the nuts and bolts of the daily operations, do you think that you could do with fewer troops in Iraq, if you were asked, if General Odierno asked you?
GEN. JACOBY: Right now that discussion is not ongoing. Right now as I mentioned, in the opening comments, we are going through a period of time where the Iraqi security forces are going to be tested.
I'm satisfied that we have sufficient forces on the ground right now, to partner with Iraqi security forces outside of the city, to meet the requirements for security.
We also have the capability required to provide assistance, as requested by Iraqi security forces. And so I would say that if asked, we would study that and get back. And it would just be a question of balancing capabilities against any risks that we would see in that. But right now there's no discussion of accelerating or slowing it down. And we are satisfied with the path that we're on.
Q General, Bill McMichael, Military Times newspapers. You talked about your posture in Baghdad, where you're engaged in stability operations, but you indicated that you're engaged in a full spectrum of operations across much of the country outside of the cities, I take it. Could you describe your -- the essence, or specific as you can, the degree to which your troops are engaged in combat operations, and particularly what operations might be taking place up farther north, the more -- (off mike) -- (Mosul ?) area?
GEN. JACOBY: Yeah, sure. Throughout the rest of Iraq, outside of the major urban areas, there's a number of missions that we're engaged in. And I will tell you that all of them are fully partnered with Iraqi security forces. And so there's a number of places where it's still required to clear a support zone, an area, historical area where there may be al Qaeda forces that are training or prepping for attacks, and so we will continue to conduct combat operations in those support zones.
You may, of course, be familiar with the term "the belts," the belts around Baghdad, support zones around Mosul. Partnered with Iraqi security forces, we still conduct operations in those areas to deny those areas as safe havens.
And so it remains a dangerous job, one that our troops are trained and resourced for and one that increasingly we do with the Iraqi security forces in the lead. And we will see that for some time to come, especially as we work hard to set the condition for a stable and secure parliamentary election in January.
But we're having good success. We're working hard on the borders, as well, working to develop Iraqi security force capability, working to interdict anything that might be coming across the border that would facilitate insurgents that still remain here. And so those are the kinds of combat operations that U.S. forces are still engaged in.
Q General, if I could follow up the question about your operations up around the northern area of Iraq, specifically around Mosul? And how are your forces playing, if at all, in the effort to try to integrate Kurdish forces into the ISF?
GEN. JACOBY: Yeah, I think you're referring to the initiative that Prime Minister Maliki and President Barzani asked the U.S. to assist with in terms of looking at what types of security mechanisms might be developed with the KRG and with the GOI, principally to ensure that we do not allow distance between those two security forces becoming an area where terrorists could operate freely.
Right now, it's -- we've been asked to assist in thinking our way through that. Recommendations have been worked on. There are no hard proposals that have gone forward and no decisions.
As you know, we play a role, a important security role, in the so-called disputed internal boundaries. And what we do is, with Iraqi security forces, create an environment, security environment, where the political process can continue that helps the KRG and the GOI resolve any differences politically. That's the solution to any tension that might exist between the KRG and the GOI.
As far as the mechanisms and the structures that are put in place in the future, we're just pleased that the initiative was started, that we were asked to help. And I hope that it turns into something concrete, but right now, we're not -- we haven't reached anything more than the first tentative ideas.
Q General, it's Mike Mount with CNN. If I could approach the drawdown -- the troop drawdown question again. Both Secretary Gates and General Odierno have said that bringing out an extra brigade by the end of the year would be based on security levels. At the beginning of this briefing, you kind of gave a mixed-bag approach on security. Do you think security is going to be stable enough by the end of the year to bring out an extra brigade?
GEN. JACOBY: I think we're headed in a good direction. We are seeing Iraqi security forces, as I said in my opening statement, meet some testing, and some really tough testing, head on. It's too early, really, to say right now whether the operational environment is going to support accelerated troop withdrawals. We'll be ready to do that if we're asked to and if we think that the security environment has improved.
One of the questions is how much longer al Qaeda can continue these types of high-profile attacks. They're -- they are not frequent. The -- al Qaeda and other insurgent forces such as JRTN and a few others cannot sustain this kind of an operational tempo, and we will see if they punch themselves out.
I will tell you, Iraqi security forces are taking the initiative and working hard to sustain security. And so I'm optimistic in the sense that they are going after the problem and they're not backing down. And so we'll see how the environment improves as we head toward the election.
But I will tell you that it's a volatile time period, and I think the testing will continue. And I think we should expect it to. If the environment is looking at the end of the year like we can accelerate, then I'm sure my superiors will have us take a look at that, and we'll figure out whether we can get it done as the year closes out.
Q (Off mike) -- with Reuters. Just to follow up on the north, we thought that there was a pretty firm proposal for joint patrols between the Kurdish, Iraqi forces and U.S. forces. Are you saying that that's something that isn't at the top of list of things you're looking at doing up there?
GEN. JACOBY: Well, that's a good question. As you know, based on a couple of really successful elections, they have -- the Iraqi security forces and KRG security forces have done joint checkpoints together. And I would point to Glad Tidings of Benevolence, an operation that was in Diyala during the month of May, where KRG security forces and government of Iraq security forces did extensive operations together in northern Diyala very successfully, without conflict, and had a good effect against the enemy there.
So on the list of things that we will look for in terms of structures and mechanisms for joint security, that'll be among them. But it is a complicated issue, and it's an issue that requires high-level discussions. And we're just -- as I said, we're pleased that the prime minister and the president have asked us to assist in this initiative. And we think the prospects are good for success, and we'll continue to work on it.
Q (Off mike) -- timeline for how soon you'd like to have these ironed out? I mean, when do you expect this to be put in place?
GEN. JACOBY: I have no expectation for when we think it could get put in place. As you could imagine, my business is security. I don't like it when Iraqi civilians are at risk. I don't like it when Iraqi security forces are specifically targeted. Al Qaeda, JRTN and other extremist groups take advantage of the distance and any tension that might exist between KRG security forces and Iraqi security forces. So I'm very interested in this getting done from my seat as the general responsible for security. And so whatever I can do to help, I'll assist, but this is a very high-level discussion right now.
MR. WHITMAN: We'll get two more in -- (off mike).
Q General, Gordon Lubold from the Christian Science Monitor. Just a quick question. To the extent that you're seeing violence against and directed at U.S. forces, how have the tactics of the insurgents changed since the June 30 change?
GEN. JACOBY: Well, of course since 30 June we don't have U.S. forces out conducting combat operations within the cities. And really, in counterinsurgency, as you all saw over the last few years, a lot of that consisted of just U.S. forces increasingly partnered with Iraqi security forces, moving through neighborhoods, talking to civilians, working with local governance, and just being in and amongst the people. In fact that's one of the important tenets of the counterinsurgency model.
So you know, that created vulnerabilities, and of course U.S. forces were at risk. And they placed themselves that way in order to get the mission done, and we got the mission done.
Now we withdrawn -- we have withdrawn from the major urban areas, and so insurgents do not have the large number of U.S. soldiers moving through the urban areas to engage, and they have -- you have seen a decrease in U.S. casualties.
They are, you know, continuing to pose a threat. The loss of life two days ago, both of them were IEDs on convoys. That remains a significant threat to us. We have great capabilities against those, but that still remains a dangerous threat and we have to treat it very, very carefully.
So the way that the enemy gets at us, some of the tactics, techniques and procedures have not changed all that much, but the presence of U.S. forces out in the countryside, working with Iraqi security forces, there's less of a vulnerability than there was when we were working in and amongst the people.
I think one of the important things it shows you, though, is a little bit about our enemies, our enemies that said it was all about attacking coalition or U.S. forces. And so there's still 130,000 U.S. forces here, and yet the attacks on U.S. forces are significantly down, but attacks against Iraqi security forces and Iraqi civilians has been very large and casualties have been high.
And so I think since 30 June you see this targeting shift that really tells you a lot about the remaining insurgents and their intent and purpose of their attacks, both to discredit the government of Iraq seeking to return to sectarian violence, and as I said earlier, we've seen the Iraqi people reject the return to sectarian violence and we've seen the government of Iraq take the problems head-on.
Q Real quick, but are you seeing more attacks against U.S. bases?
GEN. JACOBY: No, we've not seen a significant trend in attacks against U.S. bases.
MR. WHITMAN: (Off mike) -- we will take this as the last one.
Q General, JJ Sutherland from National Public Radio. You mentioned IEDs. And I was just wondering if you could say how effective Task Force ODIN has been in countering some of that threat.
GEN. JACOBY: Yeah, that's a great question. Task Force ODIN is very effective, and it's particularly effective because it brings multiple sensors into play against the target set of improvised explosive devices.
And it's adaptable, and we can task it directly against a threat. Task Force ODIN is a great capability for us. And we've learned a lot from it as a force over the months that we've been able to use it, and we're still getting a lot of value out of it.
MR. WHITMAN: (Off mike.)
Q (Off mike) -- quick clarification.
MR. WHITMAN: Really quick clarification, General, then we'll let you go.
Q General, can you just -- can you just clarify what you meant in the answer to Gordon's question about the attacks against ISF and Iraqi civilians being very large? Can you quantify that at all, or explain what you mean by that?
GEN. JACOBY: Yeah. That wasn't as well put as it could have been. I'm speaking specifically about the high-profile attacks that are directed specifically against Iraqi security force and Iraqi civilian targets. What we've seen is not necessarily a statistical increase. In fact, since 30 June, statistically, the attack numbers are down in most categories, and even in most of the others. And it's really the effectiveness of those attacks, because they're going after very vulnerable targets, that concerns us.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, General, we do want to bring this to an end and be respectful of your time, but before we close it, let me just toss it back to you in case there's any final thoughts that you might have first.
GEN. JACOBY: Yeah, thanks a lot. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you all. I wanted you to know that I believe our partnership with Iraqi security forces is strong. It's stronger now than it was prior to 30 June.
I wanted you to know that there's testing going on and there's testing that's going to continue of Iraqi security forces. There are elements -- insurgents and extremists that have a stake in trying to prevent a free, strong, democratic Iraq and to divide the great partnership that exists between Iraqi security forces, the government of Iraq, the United States and U.S. forces. And we're going to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Iraqi security forces as they meet that test.
And I also want to comment that the mission's getting done because of great soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians that make up Multinational Corps Iraq, and tell you how proud I am of them and to thank their families for the support that they give them every day.
MR. WHITMAN: General, thanks again for your time, and we hope that we can do this with you again very soon. And I've just been handed a note here that says, "Feel free to invite your boss, General Odierno, to join us in this format too."
GEN. JACOBY: Okay. (Chuckles.) I will. Thank you.
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