Defense Department Briefing, August 7, 2003
U.S. Department of Defense News Transcript
DoD News Briefing - Mr. Di Rita and Lt. Gen. Schwartz
(Participating were Lawrence Di Rita, special assistant to the Secretary of Defense, and Air Force Lt. Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, director of operations, the Joint Staff.)
Di Rita: Good afternoon.
I want to first start by just acknowledging and expressing condolences to not only some Americans who were killed in Iraq recently, but also, obviously, some Iraqis, including some Iraqi police who were apparently among the casualties at the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad. We extend our condolences to all those families involved. It's obviously a -- an obvious reminder that Iraq remains a very dangerous place.
We've said that we'd try and provide regular updates on the nature of the operations as we continue to root out the remaining elements in Iraq. And I think last week General Odierno, maybe on Friday, spoke from Baghdad. General Sanchez was out again yesterday, I believe, to provide some context to some of these operations. And General Schwartz of the Joint Staff has been kind enough to commit some time today to give you a little bit more context. So with that, I'll just turn it over to General Schwartz.
Schwartz: Thank you, Mr. Di Rita.
I also would like to add my condolences to the families of those Americans who lost their lives in Iraq. These Americans surely paid the ultimate sacrifice, and we recognize their service.
Coalition forces are improving the security situation in Iraq and facilitating efforts of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Their task is challenging. It is hot. Conditions are tough. And throughout Iraq, especially in the Ba'athist triangle, there remains threats against coalition forces. However, coalition forces are continuing to track down former regime loyalists and noncompliant forces. Specifically, Operation Victory Bounty is tracking down remaining elements of the Saddam Fedayeen.
Since it began last week, Victory Bounty has netted nearly 70 former Fedayeen fighters, including several general and field grade officers. The daily raids and patrols that our troops conduct every day are steadily and deliberately building a more stable and secure Iraq. On average, coalition forces are conducting almost 2,000 patrols every day, hundreds of night patrols, and many of those are conducted jointly with the Iraqi police.
I think it is also important to note that while our forces are performing these security missions, our civil affairs troops are making great strides throughout the country as well, improving rail service, making hospital repairs, renovating schools and assisting local farmers with agricultural provisions.
In Afghanistan, coalition forces are continuing Operation Warrior Sweep to root out remaining elements of the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists. Since this last action in Afghanistan began, U.S. forces and Afghan counterparts have demolished a large cave complex in the vicinity of Gardez, located over a dozen separate weapons caches and detained several dozen individuals.
And in Liberia, a small team of U.S. Marines arrived in Monrovia yesterday to begin liaison with the multinational interim force. They will be providing the interface in order to assist with logistic support as needed by the ECOWAS forces. The first elements include the Nigerian battalion that began arriving at Roberts International Airport on Monday.
With that, ladies and gentlemen, be happy to take your questions.
Question: General, you spoke of creating a more stable and secure Iraq, and yet this bomb attack killed 11 people overnight. Number one, do you -- both of you, do you fear that this is a change in tactics by the opposition? And how do you defend against this kind of attack against not only American forces, but people who might be supporting the United States and your efforts?
Schwartz: I think it is interesting that this clearly was an action targeted at innocents. And we have, obviously, the presence of terrorists in Iraq, along with the Ba'athists that have resisted us, and foreign fighters and so on.
And so the truth is that this is a complex environment. There are adversaries out there, both of coalition forces and, now it's pretty clear, of Iraqis as well. And we will continue to seek them out.
Q: Well, again, since this was targeted -- obviously targeted against innocents, do you worry that it's a change in tactics? And how do you defend against this kind of bomb that would kill a lot of people?
Schwartz: We will seek out, we will develop the best intelligence that we possibly can, and we will act on that intelligence.
Di Rita: And I would say you really don't defend against it. You stay on offense, and that's -- General Schwartz provided some indications that the offensive operations that we've been conducting for the last several weeks have continued to provide some significant return on that effort.
I think General Sanchez yesterday or the day before talked about his ability to get more precise with the kinds of operations he's conducting, because he's getting better at gathering information from the offensive operations he's conducting. So, that's -- the way you defend is by remaining aggressively on offense.
Q: Have you any intelligence indications that you said -- (Inaudible.) -- indicating that this might be a change in tactics, or that these people might begin to target Iraqis?
Schwartz: I regret that I can't address intelligence matters --
Di Rita: But I would -- let me say -- and let me put that into context, too, for you, Charlie. There are terrorists in Iraq. We know that, and we've talked about the kinds of activities that we see. Terrorists use a variety of tactics, including this kind of tactic, so I'm not sure what's -- what some might see as different, but we've seen this kind of activity from terrorists before. So --
Q: Do you believe that these are foreign terrorists, or do you believe that they are Fedayeen who have carried out this latest bomb attack?
Schwartz: We don't know as yet. And an investigation is underway.
Di Rita: Yeah?
Q: But is there any change in the footprint on the ground? Will coalition or American forces now offer to guard the foreign embassies in Baghdad? Any other changes in those kinds of deployments?
Schwartz: It is far more likely that Iraqis will guard embassies of other nations in Baghdad. And in fact, as you know, we have roughly 33,000 Iraqi police on duty in Iraq, and roughly -- several thousand, anyway, in Baghdad. And that is the way to address the problem, and that is internal security provided in Iraq by Iraqis.
Di Rita: And that's a balance that countries will make as they determine whether or not they want to have a presence in Baghdad. Some countries have made that determination, and they've made it because they see a lot of normalcy returning to the country, and they -- that they want to have a diplomatic presence. And they'll make that decision, and in making that decision, will decide how best to provide their own security.
Q: General Schwartz, today, Major General Odierno said on the search for Saddam, and we hear it again, that he's clearly moving three to four times every day. He said that several recent raids have indications that somebody extremely important was there. And it's General Odierno's guess that Saddam's in disguise or he's moving around in undisclosed -- unassuming vehicles. Without getting into the question of how close are we, can you characterize, perhaps, the challenge that troops have hunting for one man, as a military operation?
Schwartz: The key thing is such an activity depends on intelligence. And as I indicated earlier, we are aggressively working to develop intelligence. That in part is done by conducting operations. That in part is done by cultivating sources. All of that is occurring, and that will contribute to not only -- and we shouldn't overemphasize our focus on Saddam. He is clearly an important target, but there are many appropriate targets for us to engage, whether those be mid-level Ba'athists, whether it be foreign fighters or whether it be high-value targets.
Q: Have tactics changed in the hunt for Saddam?
Schwartz: I wouldn't characterize it as a change. We are becoming more sophisticated and more focused given the information that is available to us, and that's clearly why he -- if, as you suggest, he is moving four times a day, it's probably needed in his case.
Q: One of the things that has been stated several times is that the addition of Iraqi police and military forces would enable the U.S. to begin to do fewer things in Iraq. By guarding embassies and other soft targets, is that going to make it more difficult to get fewer U.S. troops there or have U.S. troops replaced by Iraqis?
Schwartz: I guess I would push back against the premise. I would not accept that we necessarily are going to guard foreign embassies, as I indicated earlier. The notion here is to have Iraqis defend those installations that they are capable of doing: for example, water plants, power plants and so on. That's the facility protection cadre which we are developing at this time. And when it comes to protection of other facilities in Baghdad, that is clearly a police task and one that the police we --
Q: Won't that draw them down from replacing U.S. troops that are protecting things like the hospitals and things like that if they have to protect additional civilian installations?
Schwartz: I think the key point is here we will -- the folks on the ground will do the smart things about where people should be protecting facilities, and we'll do that on a basis of an appropriate order of priorities.
Di Rita: But also let me, if I can just -- the context is important. Iraqis are now, in large numbers, doing a lot of security functions in Iraq. And I guess you could look at it in a rather zero- sum fashion, the way you have, that, "Well, geez, then that means they can't be doing something else." Well, but the point is, they're doing an awful lot now. And I think -- I've seen numbers recently that indicate that there are probably 40,000 or more Iraqis in arms on behalf of the coalition and on behalf of Iraqis, protecting things in a variety of different ways, whether it's fixed facilities or whether it's infrastructure facilities, the civil defense corps that's beginning to develop. It's all moving in the right direction. And it's going to take time to get to the really robust numbers that a large country like Iraq needs, but it's going in the right direction.
Q: When you've talked before about going on the offense with patrols, can you shed any light on what General Sanchez has been talking about in Baghdad, about an evolving approach on patrols, perhaps less aggressive, less hostile in certain circumstances? Is that because sort of you've gotten as much as you can out of the current strategy? What's the evolving --
Schwartz: I think the notion is that we're actually becoming more sophisticated. The notion is that in those cases where we have to conduct a more traditional raid, we will do so. In those cases where it is possible to act in a more sophisticated fashion, we will do that as well, either because we have better intelligence or because we understand the environment better.
Let me give you an example. The chairman related the other day a visit that he had to Balad, and he met two Iraqi women, apparently from the Dearborn, Michigan, area, and that they are assisting our forces. And when the circumstances permit, these two women bravely precede our forces. When the tactical situation calls for it, they knock on the door, speaking in Arabic, and introduce themselves.
On the other hand, if the tactical situation did not present that sort of scenario, you can be sure that it would be a uniform person who might or might not be knocking on the door.
Di Rita: And we're working in coordination with these Iraqis that I mentioned, these Iraqi securities -- we had a situation in the 4th Infantry Division area where Iraqi police nabbed somebody and turned him over to coalition forces. So it's -- is that a change in tactics? No. It's -- we're getting more robust in our ability to do things in that country in this way.
Q: General Schwartz --
Di Rita: Please, we'll get back to you next.
Q: (Off mike.) -- you and General Schwartz, what would you -- on Liberia, what would you say to people, such as those in the Congressional Black Caucus, who say that the 20 -- even a team of 20 in Liberia is totally inaccurate -- inadequate? And they are still hoping that eventually the U.S. will send in a larger force, if Taylor leaves. What would you say to them?
Di Rita: Let me just say that the president's been clear that we have a role to play in assisting ECOWAS. ECOWAS has a plan. The Economic States of Western Africa have a plan to help restore some stability inside of Liberia, inside Monrovia. And the United States has ways that it can be helpful, and we're being helpful. And at the moment, this is something that the president's made some decisions on, and there's really -- we don't have any more to say. And I guess for any other additional questions, I would simply refer you to either the Congressional Black Caucus or the State Department.
Q: What about their argument that they think that 20 is totally inadequate and really won't be much help?
Schwartz: It's important to emphasize that there's 466 Nigerian infantry on the ground at the moment and there will be more before the end of the day, and that they have vehicles and that they are effectively policing the Roberts International Airport area, and there will be more ECOWAS troops arriving in Liberia as we go down the road. The truth is, is that the ECOWAS plan is unfolding before us.
Di Rita: Mic?
Q: Yes. General, you talked about the terrorist element in Iraq. Can you better identify exactly who they are, what organizations they represent, where they're coming from, where they're getting their money, their weapons, and if there's any state sponsorship behind these terrorists?
Schwartz: I think the one organization that we have confidence that we know is in Iraq and in the Baghdad area is Ansar al-Islam. And it is unknown whether this particular organization was associated with the events of this morning. Perhaps that will become clear as we go down the road, but that is an al Qaeda-related organization and one that we are focusing attention on.
Q: Any idea of numbers?
Schwartz: I don't have a good fix on the numbers for you.
Q: And any clue as to whether there's any state sponsorship of those terrorists operating in Iraq?
Schwartz: I don't know. I don't know.
Q: General, I'd like you step back a second in terms of kind of the big picture here. The U.S. has gone more aggressively on the offensive, 2,000 patrols a day, night patrols. How should the public, the U.S. public and the world who's following this, measure success in this unconventional conflict? Secretary Rumsfeld says we're not facing large armies, navies or air forces. From your perspective on the Joint Staff operationally, what are some of the metrics you're looking for? Two or three weeks of no violence against U.S. troops? No deaths? How should one judge success in this unconventional war that we're involved in now?
Schwartz: I think one of the metrics that we look at, for example, is what weapons do we take off the street? For example, yesterday we conducted 18 raids in Iraq, and among other things, we confiscated 100 120-millimeter mortar rounds. We took also seven or eight surface-to-air missiles. And so one of the things we're looking at is the number of people that we are detaining, those that have affiliation with the Fedayeen or with the Ba'athist organization, and likewise, what kinds of weapons are we taking off the street that can't be used against our forces and, importantly, Iraqis, as well.
Di Rita: And also, let me just -- an important way to evaluate how effective the entire operation will be over time is the degree to which civil society returns. Bremer has made quite a -- Ambassador Bremer has made quite a priority of establishing civil institutions. He's doing that, and he's working closely with Iraqis in doing that. In places where the military presence has -- or, the civil development has lagged the military security environment, it's taken longer to succeed. And to demonstrate that the military presence is no longer as important, in Bosnia, where we're had troops for many years, civil society has taken a little longer to develop. So, the measure of military effectiveness, to some large extent, will depend significantly on how well we can move forward on the civil side.
And I must say that most people tend to be optimistic on how well we're doing on the civil side -- most people in Iraq, I should say, who see that there's a Governing Council, think they have a town council they didn't use to have. There are clearly problems, and we know that, and we're not trying to minimize those problems. But the close coordination between Ambassador Bremer and General Sanchez and General Abizaid is almost indivisible. You can't separate and say, "What are the military metrics?" because it's really developing this civil structure that will allow the military side to --
Q: But that's assuming most citizens in the U.S. have that kind of sophisticated assessment. I think a lot of it's based on how many troops are being killed or sniped at each day. Is that a fair metric, too, that over the course of two or three weeks, there's a diminishing number of attacks against U.S. troops?
Schwartz: My take is that what we want to see -- the metric is security and stability. And the effect that that has on civil society, on provision of essential services -- what we want to have is measures of output, if you will.
It is a tragic thing -- please don't misunderstand me -- that we are losing troops. But it is not because we are not on the offensive. We are engaging the enemy and we are reducing his opportunities to wreak havoc.
Q: Can I follow up on that?
Di Rita: Okay.
Q: On the question of the numbers of attacks, in fact, commanders on the ground are saying that the attacks of the last few months against Americans do appear to be subsiding some. Is that correct? And do you have any numbers?
Schwartz: They have declined some.
Q: Are you just talking about the lull of the last five days? Or is there a period over --
Schwartz: Over the last three to four weeks, they have declined some. And whether that is symptomatic of a major shift -- my personal read is that this is a result of offensive operations; of our commanders in the field -- General Odierno, as was mentioned earlier -- who are engaging both the mid-level Ba'athists and the Fedayeen and others actively. My read is that's the underlying cause.
Q: And at one time, they were saying it was up to, like, 40 attacks a day. Is there any number to be used now that --
Schwartz: We are below that level.
Di Rita: I would just caution, because that's going to be something that moves; it's going to ebb; it's going to flow.
Schwartz: That's right.
Di Rita: We're -- we believe we're having an effect, and the generals on the ground believe they're having an effect. And oh, by the way, the Governing Council and the people on whom we rely for different kinds of insights inside of Iraq believe they're having an effect.
But that's going to ebb and flow. And we're going to -- we've seen this car bomb today, perhaps, against the Jordanian embassy. It didn't kill Americans, but it was tragic, nonetheless. It was clearly an indication that there are still some dangerous elements inside of Iraq, and we wouldn't want to minimize that.
Q: May I follow that one up? Just in that -- the flow of that thing is that the attack today against the embassy is an attack on a new type of soft target. Terrorism experts would say that that suggests that the opposition forces, the Fedayeen, whoever, is getting more and more desperate in the type of attacks they're carrying out. Other elements seem to be in play about of money they're paying to attack Americans has risen, and stuff like that. Is there an increasing -- do you all see a type of increasing desperation among some of the elements that are opposing the U.S. and coalition forces?
Schwartz: I can't measure desperation. There is an element of sophistication to what the enemy is doing. They have adapted over time, and as a result, so are we. And that is exactly why we are pursuing our more sophisticated tack as well.
Q: General, the car bomb suggests, in the past anyway, an increased -- or a level of coordination that is beyond the sort of mid-level Ba'athists -- you know, these small groups of 10 and 20, in the past. What does the latest intelligence say about the coordination of these attacks?
Schwartz: First of all, 10 or 20 people is more than adequate to accomplish what occurred this morning with the Jordanian embassy.
Q: But in the past, these kinds of attacks have been coordinated by groups like al Qaeda, which have got a more sophisticated pattern.
Schwartz: I think the thing to take away from this is that car bombing in Baghdad can be accomplished by relatively few people. The point is, is that if it was something done by residual Ba'athists, what we are doing is targeting those mid-level individuals. And the reason for this is, is because they are the recruiters, they are the tactical leadership, and they are the ones who provide the logistical wherewithal.
Q: Is there still no evidence that there's any contact or coordination by Saddam Hussein himself?
Schwartz: There's no evidence of such contact.
Q: Are you seeing any indication that the armed resistance is moving beyond the Fedayeen and the Ba'athists to sort of a broader population of Iraqis, possibly because of overly aggressive patrolling in some places, and that that might account for these softer tactics?
Schwartz: I see no indication of that.
Di Rita: And there's been -- I'll tell you, there's been an awful lot of indication to the contrary.
Di Rita: There's an awful lot of general public sentiment that while there is a lot of difficulty, there's been -- things are getting better. Bremer talked a lot about that when he was here before. We had a couple of stories recently. Some -- a woman in Halabja, which is of course where Saddam used chemical weapons against his own people, said, "Saddam wanted to kill us all, but now he's gone, and the Americans have come to bring us law and democracy." That's something we hear daily, wherever we go.
Garner -- when he was here, General Garner talked about meetings that he had, dozens and dozens of meetings, and at the end of which every one of the groups would say, "Notwithstanding all the difficulties we have, we're glad that you're here."
And again, that's not scientific. We're not measuring it. But there's a sense -- and you said, "Is there any indication" -- and I would say there are plenty of indications to the contrary.
Q: (Inaudible.) --
Q: The 3rd ID troops who --
Schwartz: Hold on. We'll get you.
Q: I'm sorry. General Schwartz, I just want to follow up very quickly on something you were talking about before, about the terrorists and the attacks. And you specifically talked about Ansar al-Islam being in Iraq, being in Baghdad, being an al Qaeda-related group, and you said we are focusing our attention on Ansar al-Islam. When the U.S. military focuses its attention on a particular terrorist group, there might be an indication that you're -- now may I ask you: Do you have a sense of their organization? Do they have a headquarters? Do they have a leadership? Are they dispersed? Are you -- what are you focusing on where these people are concerned?
Schwartz: Let me just say that we are focusing on terrorists generally. Ansar al-Islam is a good example of that. And they had before the war infrastructure in Iraq, and some of that remains. And our effort is focused on eliminating that.
Q: (Off mike.) -- now believe that Ansar al-Islam is behind some of the attacks, either possibly the Jordanian embassy -- I know you addressed that -- or the attacks on American troops?
Schwartz: It is possible, but we have no distinct -- no definitive information on that.
Q: The 3rd ID troops who were critical of Mr. Rumsfeld, the ones referred to by General Abizaid, oh, about two weeks ago -- has anything been decided on whether or not they will be disciplined, or are you going to drop that?
Schwartz: Let me just say that I think the chairman related this the other day, and all indications that I get are that, you know, our troops are confident. They understand the gravity of the mission that they're performing. And they -- and you need to know -- you need to know that they are serving America well.
Q: But will they be disciplined?
Di Rita: General Abizaid was pretty clear when he was here that even he, as the central combatant commander, is too far from the problem. That's a good order and discipline issue that military commanders deal with every single day. So that's going to be a decision made by military commanders.
Q: So this is something that's going to be decided by 3rd ID?
Di Rita: I just really don't have much more to say about it than that.
Q: We keep focusing on the troubled areas around Baghdad, that sort of thing. Could you give us a snapshot of some of the other areas where troops are stationed, like al Kut over in the East, some of the southern areas, that sort of thing?
Schwartz: Sure. The fact is is that security and stability is quite evident in the North, everything from troops establishing soccer leagues in Mosul to the fact that public services are readily available. In the South, it's not quite that advanced, but it is certainly more stable and more secure than is the central and the Baghdad sectors. What I would say is, again, that it is not uniform across Iraq, but we are being effective in all locations. But the results are most evident in the North and the South.
Di Rita: I think we have time for one more if somebody has one. The general's got to get back to work.
Q: One of the things that's been kind of conspicuously absent since May 1st is reporting on enemy casualties. Getting reports practically every day of U.S. casualties; you hear about every civilian casualty. Have there been any Iraqi casualties during the course of operations since May 1st? And is there any way of characterizing what we're talking about here?
Schwartz: Well, there's at least two, and that's Uday and Qusay. (Laughter.)
Q: So, we have two. That's it?
Di Rita: But we've talked a lot about -- and General Sanchez has, as well, and Odierno, about the numbers that we've arrested, the numbers that we've detained. As far as killed and wounded, I don't know that we have those.
Schwartz: And to be candid, you know, we don't pay a lot of attention to that particular statistic.
Q: But have there been combatant casualties during the course of these many ambushes? I mean, the American people get a lot of reports about U.S. troops being killed every day. Are there any enemy combatants that are being killed in these clashes, during raids --
Schwartz: Let me just say yes.
Di Rita: Without question.
Q: And there's no way of characterizing it beyond that, beyond "yes"?
Di Rita: We just don't have much more on that. There's a lot of -- the same reporters that are reporting on American casualties are free to report on the enemy casualties. We have reporters embedded in a lot of the units out there. There's a lot of aggressive, offensive operations, and the generals have talked to some significant degree to the success they think they're having in that regard.
Q: Larry, since your duties are now kind of divided between upstairs and downstairs, are there any -- any progress being made towards getting department spokesman over there?
Di Rita: I sure hope so. (Laughter.)
I don't have anything else to say. Thank you very much.
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