CENTCOM Briefing


Tuesday  March 25, 2003  0604PST

Briefers: Major General Victor E. "Gene" Renuart, Centcom; Brigadier General Vincent Brooks
Doha, Qatar
9:04 A.M. EST

Gen. Renuart: Well, good afternoon, everybody, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Major General Gene Renuart, and I'm the director of operations at U.S. Central Command.

We continue to progress with our operations in support of Iraqi Freedom. Coalition forces are on plan to achieve our objectives, and we're doing so on our planned time line.

As you all know, we've suffered some casualties in enemy action over the last 24 hours. And I just want to say that our hearts and prayers and thoughts go out to the families of each of those fallen heroes.

We also send our thoughts and prayers to the families of those held captive by the Iraqis. And we repeat our demand we repeat our demand, that the Iraqis follow all the provisions of the Geneva Convention with respect to safe treatment of these individuals. And we will honor each of those warriors by pressing the fight.

As many of your embedded correspondents have noted out in the field, it's a little bit ugly out there today. Weather has had an impact on the battlefield, with high winds, with some rain, with some thunderstorms. And that's occurred really throughout the country, and so it's been not a terribly comfortable day on the battlefield.

However, that hasn't stopped us. Our precision all-weather weapon systems and an aggressive integrated operations plan by our air and land components have allowed coalition forces to maintain and increase pressure on the regime on all fronts, even in the bad weather.

This effective combination of air operations, direct land-based attack and precision special operations creates a synergy that is key to the coalition strategy.

The air component will fly over 1400 combat and combat support missions over Iraq today, paying particular attention to the Iraqi Republican Guards, while attacking surface-to-surface missiles in a time-sensitive fashion, these missile systems that affect and threaten Kuwait and other neighbors in the region. And they will also focus on key regime command-and-control facilities.

Let me make a point again today that we've made a number of times, but it is important. We continue to work very carefully to ensure that the most precise targeting possible is used. Later, Brigadier General Vince Brooks will show you some of the evidence on a few video clips.

But I want to stress that the message that we continue to pass by leaflet, by radio, by broadcast and by word of mouth every day is that the Iraqi people should stay at home, should remain calm, should avoid being in or close to any military formations, any military equipment or headquarters, or any building associated with the regime leadership, its command and control or communications, and maybe equally as importantly, to stay off the roads; don't get out in their vehicles and drive around.

The battlefield is a very hazardous location, as many of your reporters have mentioned, and we must continue to ask all civilians in Iraq to remain in their towns and homes, because it's very difficult to guarantee their safety on this battlefield.

Our land forces continue to progress northward. We've had a few engagements over the last 24 hours in the vicinity of An Nasiriyah and Basra, and as you know, have suffered some casualties. But we've also inflicted more on the enemy and destroyed a number of their tanks, artillery pieces and troop formations.

The bottom line is we're on track, and we'll deal with these regular and irregular forces wherever we find them.

I want to make note of the UK forces today for their rapid progress in establishing security in the town of Umm Qasr and the southern oil fields. And I'd especially like to commend our coalition forces that have done such great work clearing the port side of Umm Qasr.

The oil fields and the ports are real jewels of the Iraqi future, and we want to ensure that the rapid economic growth for millions of families occurs and is protected as we improve these facilities.

On that note, we're making very good progress extinguishing fires set by the regime's forces as they withdrew from the oil fields, and we believe we will continue to make very good progress at re-establishing the operational capability of those fields.

We also believe that we'll be able to flow humanitarian aid into that port in a very short time. And, in fact, we have ships already loading with humanitarian supplies donated by a number of different countries. And we hope to have them up the channels into the port within a very short number of days.

I'd like to go back to a mention of prisoners for just a minute and just say that we are constructing camps for the enemy prisoners of war that we've detained and have, in fact, been in discussions with the International Committee of the Red Cross to ensure that they will have full access to those facilities.

Our maritime forces are hard at work supporting air operations, maintaining security of the Arabian Gulf for all shipping, and completing the difficult task of demining Iraqi waters. They're even using some unique techniques. We have some specially-trained dolphins that are helping us to determine where mines may be in the channels.

Finally, our special operating forces from each of our coalition partners conduct missions throughout the country. These missions vary from reconnaissance to direct action to facilitation of humanitarian operations.

I want to close my statement by just saying to everyone, reminding all that we remain completely focused, that we have the finest forces in the world formed into the best team I've seen in 32 years. But that should not lead anyone to believe that this will not be a hard fight that is not without significant risk on the battlefield.

Prime Minister Howard of Australia a day or two ago said that difficult days and battles could lie ahead on the ground and in the air. I echo those comments. But I'm confident that the forces we have, the training they've received and the team we've built will ultimately take us to the liberation of the people of Iraq.

Let me now have Brigadier General Vince Brooks come up and run through a few notes and add some visuals.

Gen. Brooks: Thank you, General Renuart.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm going to give you an update again, as I have for the last several days, on how the operation is proceeding. And I'll use a number of graphic images to help illustrate what it is we're referring to.

I'll follow a similar pattern to what I've done in the last few days, where we talk about the different things we're focused on in the operation, many of them reiterating what General Renuart said with some more detail, and then carrying you down to some conclusions toward the end.

I'll begin with again our efforts being focused on attacking the regime directly and aggressively, and doing so with precision. The first images we'll bring up today are attacks against equipment and command locations. These are weapon-systems videos.

The first one you see is a communications facility out in western Iraq, and there are actually going to be two bombs that come in. The first is at the cross hairs. The second occurs almost simultaneously as the building to its right. Roll the tape, please. (Image is shown.)

The next one is an armored personnel carrier in eastern Iraq -- (image is shown) -- an artillery piece in a (revetted?) position in eastern Iraq -- (image is shown) -- a tank in a defensive position in central Iraq -- (image is shown) -- a multiple rocket-launcher system in southeast Iraq. And the explosion in this case occurs when the video goes black. (Image is shown.)

Equally effective are our strikes against regime targets in the key command-control, communications and information nodes. As I've done before, I'll show you some before-and-after images. Again, I focus on the precision that we use. We only destroy or damage the things we need to in order to achieve the desired effect.

The first image is a military headquarters building. This is in the northeast of Baghdad. The targeted structures are just above the T intersection at the bottom, and they're highlighted with the blue arrows. (Image is shown.) And the post-strike, please. (Image is shown.)

After the strike, if you look closely again at the blue arrows just above the road, you'll find that there are four destruction points. The center of the longest building is completely destroyed. (Image is shown.) And then the two of them side by side. (Image is shown.)

The second set of images shows a water treatment plant in northwest Iraq. Now, I might say in this case, the regime deliberately put the plant and the residents of the surrounding area at risk by constructing a building to hide short-range ballistic missiles near the plant. The blue arrow shows the location of this building. (Image is shown.) In the post-strike image, only the (hide?) side is destroyed. (Image is shown.) And the side-by-side comparison, please. (Image is shown.)

Our coalition special operations forces do indeed continue to conduct a full array of missions, including last night's parachute assault, in the hours of darkness, to seize a desert landing strip. And this short video shows the jump. I'll describe some of the action and what you're seeing.

This is being filmed by an escort aircraft that was part of the package.

Exiting the aircraft. We had a combat camera team inside the aircraft to give you an insight into what happens on a jump out at the back ramp and then the completion of operation. They continue their mission.

Our land forces continued their advance north of al-Nasiriyah, and defeated an enemy attack north of al-Basra.

Let's bring up the map, please. You see them highlighted here, and the zoom map shows a closer image of the areas we're referring to.

Let me highlight the attack that occurred north of al-Basra. There are some things that are worthy of note. The attack began with the arrival of several tanks, which were repelled. Shortly after the battle was joined, a bus, a civilian bus, with people in civilian clothes, and several civilian vehicles joined the battle. Out of those vehicles came Fedayeen Saddam in civilian clothes, with weapons. The attack was repelled.

We're beginning to see trenches filled with oil being ignited in the city of Baghdad. These two images will show you -- I'll show you the one first and describe it. At the blue arrows at the bottom, along the road and in several places ringing all of Baghdad, also up in the North and some in southern areas as well, trenches have been dug, filled with oil and prepared to be ignited. We're not certain what the purpose would be, but certainly you see here that the ignition has begun already. Unfortunately, this shows that the regime is very willing to destroy Iraq's resources to protect itself.

Our coalition maritime forces continued clearing the Khor Abdullah, and that will open the way for the very important humanitarian supplies to flow in here very, very soon.

They also continue to counter ongoing regime efforts to mine the North Arabian Gulf waters clandestinely. I would highlight that yesterday an Iraqi dhow, a civilian vessel, was intercepted in the North Arabian Gulf. Upon closer inspection, it was found to be a mine layer -- mines on board. It was subsequently destroyed.

Our efforts to communicate with the Iraqi people and the Iraqi military continue. We're currently broadcasting on five different radio frequencies 24 hours a day and have been doing so since the 17th of February. This is life-saving information that's being broadcast, as it has been the whole time. Additionally, I'd mention to you our leaflet efforts, the effort yesterday. Last night alone, 120,000 more leaflets were dropped.

I'll show you an example of two leaflets that have been dropped that express the importance of not using weapons of mass destruction nor supporting the use of weapons of mass destruction. The first one -- and these are actual leaflets -- the first one says basically that we can see any movements and any attempts to use the weapons of mass destruction and that should be avoided because there will be accountability. The second one is a reminder that no one benefits from the use of weapons of mass destruction.

We continue our efforts, as well, to preserve and ensure Iraqis' future. There's a video clip that I would like to show you of the movement of some humanitarian daily rations to a forward location. This is away from this area and has been moved to a forward location. A C-130 flew in carrying a plane load of humanitarian daily rations to be used as soon as we can get them moved in, load them up and move them out. So, they'll be ready to go as soon as we have the requirement.

We also continue to find other indications of the regime's intentions. I mentioned yesterday that we find equipment located at places that we think they should not be located and we wonder why they would be. The next image I'll show you is a MiG-23 fighter jet that's been towed into a cemetery near Balad (sp) Airfield, north of Baghdad. Inside of the yellow dotted line to the left, you see the ends of the runway and places where aircraft would normally be stored inside of bunkers. About 4,000 feet to the right, as is indicated on this image, in a small box you see "cemetery." In the blow up, you see the MiG-23 in the corner of the cemetery. The arrow points to the tail end of the aircraft and the nose is to the right.

Finally, I'd like to give an update on the operations in the Rumaila oil field. Of course, the assessment team did go in yesterday and took a close look. One of the things it found was the image you're about to see. This is one of the well heads in the southern Rumaila oil field. It was rigged for demolition, it was detonated and it did not ignite. As we arrived, we noticed plenty of evidence of what the intentions were. First, you can see the charred wellhead right in the center, blasting wire is still inside of the position, and the good news is it did not catch on fire. So this is one that we don't have to put out. We're continuing to work on the seven that remain.


Gen. Renuart: (Aside.) Tall people.

Okay, I'd like to go ahead and take questions.

Yes, ma'am?

Q: (Off mike) -- from Associated Press. I'd like an update, please, on the situation in an-Nasiriyah. You mentioned there were casualties in that region. The Iraqi information minister said eight in an area south of an-Nasiriyah. Is that what you were referring to, like specific numbers?

Also, you speak a lot about the precision of the weapons. I'm wondering if you have noticed any jamming efforts by the Iraqis to jam any of your satellite-guided missiles. The White House yesterday mentioned the sale of some GPS-jamming equipment. Have you experienced any of that so far?

Gen. Renuart: Let me go to your second question first, maybe, and then I'll come back to the first question.

We have noticed some attempts by the Iraqis to use a GPS-jamming system that they have procured from another nation. Actually, we've been able to identify the location of each of those jammers, and I'm happy to report that we have destroyed all six of those jammers in the last two nights' airstrikes.

As to have they had an effect on us, I'm also pleased to say they had no effect on us. In fact, we destroyed one of the GPS jammers with a GPS weapon. (Laughter.) Ironic.

Let me go back to your first question real quick. We did have the Marines involved in combat operations in the an-Nasiriyah area. They were involved in a firefight with a combination of regular and irregular forces. We did suffer some casualties there. And I'd like to not confirm numbers because we are still ensuring that proper notifications have been done. We have had some casualties, and we'll confirm those as soon as we know that that's been complete.

Q: Neil Carlinski (sp) with ABC News. Our embeds are telling us that there is now a new procedure for dealing with Iraqis who appear to be surrendering. Can you talk a little bit about that, if there is a new procedure for dealing with these people?

Gen. Renuart: Well, I think the procedures that we have for all of our forces have remained consistent. The intent is to not cause harm to any civilians. I think that as a result of some of the really terroristic use of people dressed in civilian clothes who threaten our forces, that all the commanders in the field are exercising extreme caution any time they come upon a force that is -- or a group of people that appear to be civilians, until they are able to verify the identities. And I think it's just really more caution than it is really changed procedures. I think they've briefed each of the commanders to ensure that they're careful how they react.

Yes, sir?

Q: General, Geoff Meade (sp) of Sky News. Are you declaring Iraq a no-drive zone? And what does that say about your reluctance to incur civilian casualties?

Gen. Renuart: Well, I didn't -- I didn't make a statement that said it's a no-drive zone. What I did was actually continue to remind the same message -- the people of Iraq with the same message we have used, that the battlefield extends across the country now, we have forces in all parts of the country, and that it's really not safe for the Iraqi people to try to leave the cities and drive away to avoid danger. We feel it's much better for them to remain in their homes, remain in their towns, remain in their villages.

I'd also just add that because of the behavior of these paramilitary organizations that we've seen, it certainly causes us great concern when we see buses and pickup trucks driving in an area where there's no reason for civilians to be driving. And we have not taken any step to declare a no-drive zone, but really, for the safety of the Iraqi people, we would encourage them not to be out on the roads at all.

Q: General?

Gen. Renuart: Yes, sir?

Q: Craig Gordon (sp) from Newsday. I'd like to ask you to comment on two aspects of the campaign that got a lot of attention before it started. The first, "shock and awe." I think there's a little bit of a sense that some of these paramilitary forces are not particularly shocked or awed at this point and are still pretty aggressive. What do you think has been the status of the bombing campaign and the value of that on those folks?

And the second being the northern front. As best we can tell, there really isn't a northern front. Except for some bombing going on around Mosul and Kirkuk, there doesn't seem to be any significant ground forces up there. Is that allowing Saddam to focus all of his attention to the south and perhaps make things a little tougher?

Gen. Renuart: I'd say first, on the aspect of how the enemy forces view our campaign, I think for those people that have been subjected to the attacks that we've been launching over the past number of nights, that there is a fair amount of awe there. Being at the receiving end of that is significant. On the other hand, we did not underestimate that the Iraqis would have a force that's capable of fighting on the battlefield. And so we believe that we are moving on the plan, on our timeline, and we feel comfortable that we'll continue to move rapidly along the time that General Franks has set in his strategy.

With respect to the northern front, I'd say that one of the real gauges of how we're doing is the fact that the Kurds remain in relative stability. We continue to work with those folks. I think you may have seen a press conference yesterday where we have a U.S. officer in, dealing directly in coordination with the Kurdish population, as well as the Turks, in order to fuse together a secure environment there. And we continue to focus military power where it's required in the northern areas.

Let me come over here. Yes, sir?

Q: General, Paul Adams from the BBC. You said at the beginning that despite the weather, you were able to maintain and increase pressure on those Republic Guard divisions around Baghdad. Does it -- does the fact that you have these ferocious sandstorms make it more difficult for you to fly the Apaches, which are a key part of that softening-up process? And does the fact that those divisions appear to be scattered about, rather than classically arrayed -- scattered about, perhaps close to civilian areas -- mean that this is a very laborious process? How long do you think it'll take to achieve your objectives?

Gen. Renuart: Well, I'm not really going to talk about how long I think it'll take. But I will tell you that certainly the weather, the blowing sand and dust and winds do affect the Apaches. But as I mentioned earlier in my comments, that this is an integrated, synergistic approach, and we are -- have the flexibility to be able to refocus additional air power, who can use the kinds of precision weapons that aren't hampered by the weather, in order to continue to strike these targets.

In terms of forces being spread, certainly they are displayed in a wide area. On the other hand, we have the most sophisticated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in the world, and it is working well to give us those locations and allowing us to continue to target. So while we may not have helicopter pressure or ground pressure at a particular point on the battlefield, we continue to balance special operating force and air operations on that force.

Yes, ma'am?

Q: Hello, General. You've in the last couple of days been telling us a lot about irregular forces and Fedayeen, and throughout we've been hearing a lot about the psychological operations. Can you tell us if there are any messages being tailored specifically to them? And since you've told us to encourage civilians to stay in their homes, how do you give them reassurance when they see dangers around them, including the infiltration of these Fedayeen and other very mercenary groups that are getting close to civilians?

Gen. Renuart: Well, I think it's important to -- and you make a great point -- that these irregular forces are terrorizing their own people. An anecdotal point in an event a day or two ago, where we were able to strike a headquarters location for some of these forces -- it was a noticeable change in the local community, almost immediately, because these people who had been really threatening families and terrorizing them had been eliminated. So, pocket by pocket, piece by piece, we will continue to address those units as we move along.

As to messages, really our messages are focused on the people of Iraq, to try to preserve their safety and security as best we can and to reassure them that we are coming and they just need to stay safe and we'll get to them.

Yes, ma'am? Way in the back here.

Q: (Name and affiliation off mike.) Every day, we see Iraqi civilians and children die under the attack of our planes and these homes destroyed. And here you demonstrate to us pictures about -- showed that you attacked a specific position of the Iraqi army. What do you say about this?

Gen. Renuart: Well, I think it's important for all of us to continue to remember that warfare, even its most precise fashion, is not absolute; there are errors that occur. There are human errors, there are mechanical problems that occur with weapons. And so, some percentage of the weapons we use will err from their target. There's no doubt about that. And that's part of the reason I mention the message that we passed before is to try to keep people in their homes so that we can reduce the possibility of injuring anyone. It is a tragedy to see the children that are injured, and we continue to try to minimize that. But I can't tell you that no -- nothing bad will happen. That's why we continue to help -- ask folks to stay at home.

Yes, ma'am? The lady right behind you has a question.

Q: Yes, General, Laura Cohn with Business Week Magazine. It sounds like you've made some good progress on the oil fields in the south but that you might have a problem once you get to Baghdad. Could you tell us what your plan is to secure the oil fields?

Gen. Renuart: I don't think there's any oil fields in Baghdad.

Q: No, the oil in the trenches.

Gen. Renuart: Oh, I see. The ones we showed you here today.

Q: Yes.

Gen. Renuart: It brings up a good point. You saw the second picture, the image of -- sort of from the ground in color and all that black smoke that was being burned. I would say that those oil fires burning are more a hazard to the people living in Baghdad than they are an impediment for us to conduct operations. And so, we really are not -- there's not a tactical problem on the battlefield as a result of those trenches.

Let me come back over here. Yes, sir? Right in the -- yes, sir? Go ahead.

Q: General, Tom Fenton, CBS News.

Gen. Renuart: I'll come back.

Q: Oh, I'm sorry.

Gen. Renuart: Go ahead, Tom, and then we'll go right back here.

Q: Okay. Right. General, this campaign seems to have been designed to bring about the collapse of the regime. At this point, day six, what signs, if any, do you have that this is going to happen?

Gen. Renuart: Well, I think our plan from the beginning was not designed to make it in two days; it was designed to be rapid, synergistic, but to follow a timeline. And we had every expectation that the regime would not disappear and crumble. It's not about a particular person, it's about an organization that has for 30-some years ruled in fear and terror in this country. It takes detailed work to get to that problem, and we'll continue that on our timeline. And I think everybody is very comfortable with that.

Yes, sir? Let me come back to you again.

Q: Mohammed -- (off mike) -- News. The Iraq army has announced today there was a suicide bombing in Al Faw. Can you tell us about that? Second part of the question is that some sources are saying that in Basra you have changed the plan; that your forces, which have been gone out of the city, are going back into Basra. Are you planning to fight in Basra street by street? Thanks.

Gen. Renuart: Well, let me go to your second question and just say that I'd like to not talk about how we will specifically fight anywhere on the battlefield. I think Basra has always been a key objective for us in order to return security to the city. As you know, the regime cut off water, has taken away some of the natural resources in the city, and that has become a real humanitarian concern for us. I'm happy to say that the Red Cross has been able to restore about 40 percent of the city to usable water. And we continue to have donations by many countries in the region to begin to move water into there.

As to operations in Basra, our focus is really to return security. There are pockets of these almost terrorist-type forces that -- (audio break from source) -- attempt to root-out those individual pockets so that we can secure the city and allow Basra to return to normal life.

Yes, sir?

Q: A question from Al-Jazeera satellite channel. First of all, sir, are you suffering from any kind of an intelligence failure in underestimating the kind of resistance you are facing?

And can you clarify the issue of Basra being declared a military objective? We should we expect a major assault on the city?

Thank you.

Gen. Renuart: I think first, you have to be clear on your second point, that objectives don't mean necessarily targets; they mean that it's your strategy to gain control of that particular area. And in the case of Basra, there will be some elements in the city that will be military targets, those key resistance areas, these Fedayeen, these Special Republican Guard forces, Ba'ath Party forces that are fighting. But our intent is not to siege the city, for sure; our intent is to attempt to return security to the city as rapidly as we can and root out those forces that would fight in the city and use the residents of the city as shields and try to create targets.

Now when I lost my hair, I lost my memory, so if you could repeat your first question for me, please.

Q: Are you suffering from any kind of military intelligence failure in terms of resistance?

Gen. Renuart: Ah; with respect to how the Iraqi forces would fight.

Q: Yes.

Gen. Renuart: Absolutely not. I think our intelligence estimates have been pretty accurate. We expected the Iraqi regime to fight. We didn't expect that it would be any kind of an easy operation. And so I think we'll just continue with the plan as it stands today.

Yes, ma'am, right here in the middle.

Q: Hi. Denelle Balfour, CTV News. Yesterday General Franks said that the goal was -- that they were going to fight this war -- or you were going to fight this war on your terms. Instead, you're sort of being drawn into facing guerrilla resistance, you're being into the streets of An Nasiriyah and possibly Basra. How is this on your terms?

Gen. Renuart: Well, I'm not sure I would say we're being drawn into fights that are not on our terms. One of the important aspects has been to very rapidly establish a threat to the Republican Guard divisions because they are so key to Saddam's success. And so as we push forward, we have tried to very rapidly position forces in a position that would have that effect.

We understood absolutely from the beginning that we would still have to, in each of the major city areas in the south, reestablish some security, and we understood that there would be forces that would attempt to keep us from doing that. We do not believe that that's the feeling of the people in the cities, and that rather they are being held hostage by these very small elements. And as I said, we'll get to them one at a time and stay on plan.

Let me come over here. I haven't asked (sic) a question on this side.

Q: Hi. Jeff Schaeffer, Associated Press Television News. There's widespread fear in northern Iraq, amongst the Kurds, that they could face a chemical weapons attack eventually by Saddam Hussein. What comfort can you give them? what kind of protection are the coalition forces intending to give them to prevent such an attack?

Gen. Renuart: Well, I think, first of all, the ability that we've exercised so far to target those units that are capable of delivering chemical munitions has been very important for us -- things like Frog and Ababil and Al-Samoud surface-to-surface missiles, Astros, multiple-launch rocket systems have been key targets for us in the areas occupied by the regular army units and the Republican Guard units in the north. So I think the first point is, we are spending a fair amount of energy up there and trying to attack and destroy those things that will most immediately affect them.

In addition, we have forces that are in and amongst and with the Kurds, and that continues to provide them a degree of security that I think they're comfortable with. And as I mentioned, we have our coordination cell up there actively working to ensure that their security needs, those things that do threaten them, are addressed in our strategic targeting process.

Let me go way back here, the gentleman in the glasses in the back.

Q: (Off mike) -- Irish Times. General, the Basra situation -- Kofi Annan has expressed anxiety about the humanitarian situation there. Can you give us any information about that?

And also before the conflict, we were expecting that the Shi'ites would be, you know, less disposed to fight because of the hostility with the -- alleged hostility with the Sunni elements in Iraq. Do you believe that has failed to materialize?

Thank you.

Gen. Renuart: Well, let me answer your first question, and then I'm going to get clarification on your second because I'm not sure I understood it.

With respect to Basra, as I mentioned earlier, we too believe that it's been a real crisis or humanitarian issue that has been caused by the Iraqi regime. And so as I mentioned I think a minute ago, our intent is to try to reduce that humanitarian situation very rapidly. The most pressing requirement was for water, and we're beginning to see that flow. We have an additional water pipeline that will be run into Umm Qasr port, and then we'll begin trucking water up into Basra as soon as we are able to get it into neighbors and into water plants. So I'm hopeful that we'll get the water flowing in Basra very rapidly.

With respect to humanitarian aid, a number of non-governmental organizations are already gathered together in a humanitarian assistance coordination cell in Kuwait, and they are leaning very far forward to bring that aid into Umm Qasr, Az Zubayr and into Basra just as soon as we possibly can. So that's a very critical focus of our strategy, is to be able to provide that aid at the same time that we fracture and destroy the regime.

Now let me go back to your question about the Shi'a. It sounded like you were asking me that were we surprised that the Shi'a weren't fighting? Is that --

Q: Well, one of the expectations that we heard about before the conflict was that given the historic tension between the Shi'a and the Sunnis, that the Shi'a would not rally to the regime. But given what we are hearing about resistance, has this failed to materialize? Has this prediction failed to materialize?

Gen. Renuart: No, I don't think so. I think, as I mentioned a little bit ago, the vast majority of the Shi'a in the country of Iraq have been oppressed by the regime, and they have been so in that situation for a number of years. I think that there is -- they feel a threat to their security by these Baath party special Republican Guard Feyadeen troops as they are terrorizing their neighborhoods. I think their first concern is for their families and their safety. And as they begin to feel that we begin to neutralize some of these elements of fear in their cities that they will come around very quickly. And in fact we have seen that in a couple locations already -- a noticeable change when we've eliminated one of those.

The gentleman right here.

Q: Hi, Paul Hunter with Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. What lessons have you learned, or what didn't you expect from the kind of street fighting that you've seen so far, and how might that be applied to what lies ahead in Baghdad? And, as a follow up, do human shields work? Will your troops shoot at Iraqi soldiers who are using them?

Gen. Renuart: Well, human shields are a cowardly way to act on a battlefield, and I think that we have trained our forces well enough to understand when and where human shields might be used, and how to respond on the battlefield. So I am comfortable that we will not put our troops in a position where we would disregard the safety of any noncombatants out there. There are times, as you have seen in some of the videos, where the Iraqi regime is placing military equipment -- whether it's an airplane or a surface-to-air missile system, or what have you -- in and around schools, hospitals and facilities that are significant religious importance. And we have very clear guidance to our people not to engage those things, although the Iraqis endanger them by merely placing them with them.

So I believe our troops are trained to deal with those situations on the battlefield; and in the cases where we have seen some of that, have been successful doing that.

Right behind you, sir, with the moustache.

Q: (Off mike) -- from Polish Weekly Press. Can you comment on the presence and combat of Polish unit GROM in southern Iraq, the fact which was hidden to the Polish society by Polish government?

Gen. Renuart: Well, I don't know if it was hidden by the Polish government or not. I am pleased to say that we have had wonderful support from the Polish military, and that has been very welcomed on the battlefield. So I -- each nation in the coalition has its own desires for how much or how little publicity it gets, but I am pleased to say that we have some absolutely superb Polish military participating very actively, and doing it wonderfully.

Sir, right here with the my kind of haircut there in the middle. (Laughter.)

Q: Michael Wolf (sp), New York Magazine. I wonder if you can give a sense, even a critique, about the ways in which you see the media at this point misreporting the progress of the war, or, on the other hand, if you see that the media is generally giving an accurate picture, that would be interesting to know too.

Gen. Renuart: I think that was a set-up question. (Laughter.)

Q: I promise it wasn't.

Gen. Renuart: Now, I think the media is reality. I mean, I don't say that in that it is necessarily the true picture, because the media is a snapshot of what it sees at that point. But it is in each of our societies, free societies, we have the media, and we allow it to report. We may not always agree with what the report is. I think that's the case in any nation.

In terms of bringing the media onto the battlefield, I think this has been really an historic event. Certainly during World War II we had some great media reporters, Ernie Pyle and those kinds of folks who did wonderful work out on the battlefield describing the fight. But it took six months for their stories to get back in press. The challenge we have is the immediacy that the media has with -- to report. And because of that capability, sometimes the report is taken just in the various narrow frames that it is seen, and so we have to understand that. But I don't think that the media has had an adverse effect. I think most of the commanders who have embedded correspondents out there with them are very comfortable with them. I think they have been supportive of them. So I think this has been a -- it's something we've had to adapt to, but I think we have adapted pretty well, and we'll continue to have the media with us.

Way back in the back here in the corner, sir.

Q: (Off mike) -- Finnish Television. Could I ask your estimate of the Iraqi military casualties until now?

Gen. Renuart: Boy, you know, I really could not tell you. Obviously a lot of our -- a lot of our airstrikes are in places where we do not have military forces to actually do that kind of accounting work. So it would be unfair of me to make any assessment, really, of Iraqi casualties.

Sir, right up here.

Q: Sir, Jeff Franks (ph) from Reuters. You mentioned the bombing of the Republican Guard. Is there any sign that the bombing is having any of the desired effect on the Guard? And I'm just curious, what would determine when you might launch a full-scale attack on them? Would that be determined by casualty rates that you see on their part, for example, or something like that?

Gen. Renuart: First, I think we are having a substantial effect. There are a number of pieces, as you saw here, tanks and artillery pieces and those sorts of things being destroyed. That's happening in hundreds of sorties every day. Do we hit every target? Like I said, there's a few number of those bombs that don't go where they are. Are they well defended or well hidden? Sometimes they are, and it's harder to be exact -- you may hit 20 feet away, and it may not fully destroy that target. On the other hand, the repetitive nature of our air operations allows us to continue to revisit targets that we believe we have not killed. And I think what you'll see in the end is that many of those tank revetments are filled with junk right now, because of the precision and the ability of the air power.

And to go to your second point, when will we decide that it's enough, it's time? The land component commander has a series of discussions with his corps commanders in the field. He briefs General Franks on his plan. And as a command element they'll make a decision that a force is depleted to a point or it's vulnerable at a point that would allow that attack to commence. And that's done repeatedly at the squad level, all the way up to the corps level on the battlefield.

Q: Yes, sir. Tommy Terrell (ph). I'll try to limit myself to one question. You talk about and you show humanitarian meals ready to be distributed. How concerned are you? I know that there were some POWs taken from a maintenance unit, which is a rear echelon unit, about moving humanitarian workers in to distribute these meals. What kind of time frame do you have for putting these humanitarian meals out of a warehouse, off of an airplane, and into someone's hand who needs them?

Gen. Renuart: Well, I think you make a great point, Tom, and that is making sure that it's -- we have reasonably good security to get those rations out. But we also have put a certain number of those kinds of rations with our field units. So if a unit comes upon immediate need, they can help if that's required. And certainly as we establish more and more security moving up from Umm Qasr to Az Zubayr to Basra, we will begin to flow that stuff forward as the local commander on the battlefield in coordination with our humanitarian assistance formation cell has established or has met the parameters, if you will, that seem to be a safe environment.

Q: You talked about those in Kuwait ready to offer humanitarian assistance.

Gen. Renuart: Yes.

Q: When will you allow them to come out of Kuwait into southern Iraq?

Gen. Renuart: I think as much of it is their decision when they feel that the area is secure enough. But we will continue very rapidly to try to make the area as secure as we think it needs to be to get them there.

Sir, right here with the glasses, young gentleman.

Q: (Off mike) -- ABC News. Brigadier General Brooks said moments ago that the coalition is attacking and will continue to attack the Iraqi regime directly and aggressively. Why is therefore that the Iraqi regime is still allowed or is still broadcasting what some might call its propaganda? Why haven't you attacked those facilities and taken them out? And, sir, is it true that the Ministry of Defense building in Baghdad has yet to be taken out? Thank you.

Gen. Renuart: Well, I -- first of all, I am not going to talk about what we target and when. I'd just say that our targeting plan is just about exactly where General Franks wanted it to be, and we will continue to work through those elements that we require in order to affect the regime command and control and communication, while minimizing the damage to the people.

Q: Right, but the propaganda that they're issuing -- you know, yesterday the Iraqi soldiers on the ground shooting in the water. Doesn't that hurt your, you know, push towards freedom in Iraq?

Gen. Renuart: I don't believe it affects us in a negative way. I think -- I think people around the world understand that it is in fact what you describe it as, and not necessarily reality. I think that certainly there are some who would believe everything that they see on the television, but I think we -- as we talk to leaders around the region, as we talk to leaders around the world, it is -- it doesn't seem to be a message that is taking as much as some might think.

Way back in the back, sir.

Q: (Off mike) -- Channel 9, Australia. Australia has a relatively small contingent here taking part in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Have you been impressed by their capability? (Laughter.)

Gen. Renuart: Absolutely! (Laughter.) No, actually it -- my good friend General Maurie McNairn, their senior commander here, is -- we chat daily. And I have said to him on a number of occasions how absolutely impressed -- and that really, truly, honestly I mentioned the Polish, I mentioned the U.K., and certainly the Australians and other nations who are contributing in many ways. No nation has given us a second team. We have the first team of every nation in the coalition participating and aggressively accomplishing their missions, the Australians contributing both in the air, on the ground and at sea. And I think one of the great coalition stories as we conducted operations in the gulf oil platforms in the Al Faw Peninsula was a task force that began commanded by an Australian officer afloat, transitioned to U.S. and Australian divers ashore, transitioned to U.S. military on the ground, transitioned to U.K. forces as they float in. So each nation in a fashion was involved in a very well integrated coalition effort. It's seamless. It truly is.

Yes, ma'am, over here.

Q: (Off mike) -- Norwegian Television. Can you report of any findings, any evidence of weapons of mass destruction?

Gen. Renuart: This is a question that's asked every day. Do you ask it everyday?

Q: Yes.

Gen. Renuart: Okay. I can't give you confirmation of any reports at this point. I will say that we continue to cite exploitations of a number of sites. As you know, as we move forward we uncover a number of sites that we may have been concerned about in the past. I think as we move closer into the Baghdad area -- Baghdad is really the heart of the regime, and I would expect that they would hold their most valuable treasures close to their heart. And I think as we get closer to Baghdad we will see more of those sites that we will continue to exploit. But we have been doing that as the forces move forward. We have continued to develop information that we found, and to interview key leaders that we've detained on the battlefield, and are developing that information to lead us to more sites.

Let's see, somebody I haven't called on. Right back here, sir, with the -- that's you, gray hairdo and --

Q: (Off mike) -- with Mexican weekly Processo. How do you expect to make a distinction between military operations and humanitarian aid operations? And I ask you this question because organizations like OXFAM have said it's not wise to move in humanitarian aid in one hand and while carrying a gun in the other.

Gen. Renuart: You know, for quite some time in Afghanistan we have integrated military operations and humanitarian aid extremely successfully. I would point out that in the first about 70 days of operations in Afghanistan we allowed the international organizations to deliver more humanitarian aid than they had in the previous six years. So there is a way to integrate the two. Clearly there is a security concern, and we continue to work very actively with each of the organizations through this fusion cell that I've described -- and we have one forming in Turkey and one in Jordan -- to help fuse and feed the humanitarian assistance into the country.

I think we have become well trained as military forces in the ability to integrate that humanitarian assistance, but allowing them to continue to keep a line between aid and the military.

I think I have time for one more question. Yes, ma'am, here with the warm-up.

Q: Kathy Chin (ph) from Phoenix Satellite TV in Hong Kong. Yesterday the Iraqi information minister vowed for more dark days to come for the British and U.S. troops. So I wonder how -- has the coalition force encountered the so-called dark days yet? And what is the hardest battle that the coalition has fought so far in the past six days in terms of your approach to the designated time line? Thank you.

Gen. Renuart: That's a great question. I think the dark days are probably coming for the dark side, and Saddam's regime has more dark days ahead than we do. Certainly there will be days when we had casualties, and we have seen that in a number of cases over the last couple days. No battle is without casualties. But that does not change the resolve of our forces, of our commander, of our national leaders. And we have to ensure that we keep our focus on those objectives.

And I've had the opportunity to talk to many of our young soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines out deployed in the field over the last week to 10 days. I can assure you that their -- the morale is absolutely sky high. They know it's a hard job. They know it's difficult. And -- but I think they have so far displayed great courage, great enthusiasm, great focus, and they will continue to serve us proudly, to get to that final objective. And in the end, to quote General Franks, "we will win." Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.


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