American Forces Press Service

Officials Report on Troop Rotation, Problems Identifying Terrorists>

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2004 - The rotation of troops into and out of Iraq is in full swing, DoD officials said today.

More than 40,000 troops scheduled to deploy to Iraq have moved into theater, and 35,000 of those set to come home already have departed, said Army Brig. Gen. David Rodriguez, a Joint Staff spokesman. The general and Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita fielded questions during a press conference.

Pentagon officials said the rotation is the largest troop movement since World War II. A logistics official in Kuwait said it was like the Normandy invasion "in both directions."

More than 60 commercial ships are carrying more than 350,000 short tons of equipment to and from the theater, Rodriguez said. "More than 90 military aircraft and 20 commercial aircraft are involved daily in the transfer of personnel and equipment," he said.

At the same time, military operations in Iraq continue with no let-up. In the past week, coalition forces conducted 10,700 patrols, 110 raids and 50 cordon- and-search operations, Rodriguez said. The operations resulted in the capture of 640 individuals.

DiRita addressed questions on the al Qaeda presence in Iraq. Some officials in Baghdad had said that seven men picked up in Baqubah were al Qaeda members. Coalition administrator Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III said it was his understanding that they were not. DiRita noted that it is difficult to pin this down. Al Qaeda members do not carry membership cards, he explained.

Other Pentagon officials said the connections are hard to make, due to the shadowy nature of terrorist organizations. Members of one group could also be members of another. Or they could be affiliated with other groups, or they could just work with other terrorist organizations. "Terrorists have many aliases, carry multiple sets of documents and strive to confuse the situation," said a Pentagon official. "Many organizations change their names - multiple times. It's not a cut-and-dried situation."

DiRita and Rodriguez said foreign fighters have been picked up or killed. Further, the infamous Abu Musab al-Zarqawi letter indicates al Qaeda's interest in operations in Iraq, they said.

Pentagon officials said the Ansar al-Islam is a group affiliated with al Qaeda. There is definitely a terrorist presence in Iraq, officials said. "No matter what group they go by, they are still dangerous," said the official.

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