Operations Update for Arabic Media, Oct. 6, 2005
Wednesday, 05 October 2005
Briefer: Brig. Gen. Donald Alston
BRIEFING WITH MAJOR GENERAL RICK LYNCH, SPOKESMAN, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ LOCATION: COMBINED PRESS INFORMATION CENTER, BAGHDAD, IRAQ TIME: 8:00 A.M. EDT DATE: THURSDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2005GEN. LYNCH: Hey, folks. As always, thanks for making time today. There's a lot that I'd like to talk to you about in terms of our ongoing operations here in Iraq.
Reminder of the end state we're trying to achieve -- an Iraq that's at peace with its neighbors, an ally in the war on terror, a representative government that respects the human rights of all Iraqis, a security force that can maintain domestic order, and deny Iraq as a safe haven for terrorists. And we think we're making great progress with the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government towards that end state.
And what I'd like to do is spend some time and talk to you about current operations and our assessment of the effectiveness of those operations. I want to talk specifically about the Euphrates River valley, operations that are ongoing. I want to talk about Operation National Unity, which is Baghdad security. And then I'll be glad, as always, to take your questions. First chart, please.
We talk continuously about the nature of the insurgency. And we believe the insurgency is broken into three groups: terrorists and foreign fighters, Iraqi rejectionists and Saddamists. And our operations are focused now on all aspects of the insurgency, but specifically the terrorists and foreign fighters. And as we've talked about before, we believe that the entry point into Iraq is down the Euphrates River valley into western Baghdad. So our operations are aimed at denying the insurgency, specifically the terrorists and foreign fighters, their freedom of movement along that route into western Baghdad.
We've got to study the insurgency. We always study our enemy. We study his capabilities, his vulnerabilities and his intentions. So let's zoom in on the vulnerabilities of the insurgency, specifically the terrorists and foreign fighters.
Now, we believe those vulnerabilities -- in the areas of command and control, in support bases and in freedom of movement, and our operations are designed to attack those vulnerabilities.
So let's talk about command and control. Routinely I review with you operations that are aimed at decapitating the leadership of the terrorists and foreign fighters. I thought it might be useful to do a 30-day recap of the operations. And that's what this graphic shows you. And just like last week, and in all future press conferences, we'll give you copies of these graphics so you can refer to them as you study the operations in greater detail.
The names that you see and the dates that are listed are leaders and the terrorists and foreign fighters that we have either killed or captured. So let me highlight some significant pieces of those operations.
In the area of Karabilah-Husaybah, on the 30th of August, we killed the al Qaeda in Iraq leader using information that was provided by a local citizen. You will see a recurring theme. As we've talked about before, counterinsurgency operations average nine years; the people that are going to win this counterinsurgency operation are the people of Iraq. And we are seeing routinely indications where the people of Iraq are uniting against the terrorists and foreign fighters. In this particular case, the amir of Husaybah and Karabilah was killed specifically as a result of information provided by a local citizen.
On September the 13th in Hadithah, the cell leader, who was specifically responsible for VBIED production and facilitating the movement of foreign fighters through the Euphrates River valley, through the town of Hadithah was detained. On the 18th of September, the military commander of the insurgency in the western Al Anbar province was killed. This individual had direct ties to Zarqawi, and his loss was a significant loss to the leadership in al Qaeda in Iraq.
Ten days after the al Qaeda leader in Husaybah and Karabilah was killed, his brother assumed the position, and he indeed was killed.
And just recently, on the 30th of September, we were able to kill in a raid the al Qaeda in Iraq leader, the amir of Husaybah, Abu Sahn (ph).
You say, "Okay, I got that; you keep talking about how you have been effective in taking out the leadership of the terrorists and foreign fighters," so what I want to do is concentrate on the impact. What's the impact on operations -- and if I could get the next chart, please.
I think this shows it. You got to study your enemy. And your enemy is focused on command and control of the terrorists and foreign fighters, and when you take out the leadership of the enemy, you see the impacts. So allow me to walk you from the period of time from May of this year to August.
The number of casualties across Iraq during that four-month period of time experienced a 40 percent reduction. These are casualties to the coalition forces, to the Iraqi security forces, and to Iraqi civilians. The number of suicide attacks from May to August has reduced from 70 to 40 on that glide path that you see. The number of vehicle-borne explosive devices has decreased from 94 to 45. And the number of VBIED bomb-makers captured or killed has significantly increased from May until August.
So what we believe we see there in those trend lines is an indication of the effectiveness of our operations, specifically our ability to target leadership in the insurgency and either kill or capture them.
Let me give you another indication of progress here. Next slide, please.
The charts that you see -- the chart that you see with the yellow bars show the number of attacks the people of Iraq experienced as they worked their way towards the elections last January, with the 30th of January being the election day. That's a day-by-day trend analysis from the 15th of January, two weeks out, to the conduct of the elections. The green bars that you see reflect the attacks that we've experienced so far as we work our way towards the referendum, on a parallel track. And you can see that the number of attacks that we've experienced per day is less than the number of attacks that were experienced per day as we worked our way to the January elections. I've told you before; I'll say it again, that is predictable over the next nine days that there will be significant acts of violence here inside of Iraq, because that is the modus operandi of the insurgency. Democracy equals failure for the insurgency, specifically for al Qaeda in Iraq. And they're going to do whatever they can do to derail the democratic process. So the spike that we experienced in January is a predictable spike that we'll see again over the course of the next nine days. We wish that it weren't so, but it's predictable that it is. And the kinds of attacks we're going to see are the kinds of attacks that we saw in Hillah yesterday, where a suicide bomber entered a mosque where a group of people, innocent civilians, were attending a funeral of one of their friends and colleagues. And a suicide bomber detonated his bomb, killed 25 innocent people and wounded another 85. We're going to see that again between now and the referendum, and we are indeed prepared. The coalition forces, the Iraqi security forces are prepared, but it's predictable that there will be an increase in violence.
Next slide, please.
Knowing that, it's important to talk about perceptions of security. If, Lynch, you are indeed correct, and there's going to be an act of violence or numerous acts of violence in the next nine days, why should the people of Iraq rest assured that they can participate in the democratic process and indeed be safe after they cast their votes? To me, this is an amazing statistic. The green bars show you the status during the January elections this past January; the blue bar shows where we are now. So let's look at security forces.
Between the Iraqi police force and the Iraqi Army for the January elections, there were about 138,000 trained and equipped members of the Iraqi security force. Now the Iraqi police service and the Iraqi Army is over 195,000 trained and equipped and deployed across Iraq.
Let's look at indicators of perceptions of security. Last January, we only received -- the people of Iraq only received about 110,000 applications to work at the polling booths. This year, in preparation for the referendum, the number of elections (sic) is multiplied by four -- 450,000. And the number of workers who are actually hired as a result of those applications increased from 108,000 to 171,000.
So the people of Iraq are indicating their desire to participate in the process and acknowledgment that they're in a safe enough environment that they can be part of that process. Let's look at the number of polling centers. Last January, in the Al Anbar province, there were only 33 polling centers, and in the Nineveh province, 88. Remember, acts of violence in Iraq center around those four provinces -- Baghdad, Al Anbar, Nineveh and Salahuddin. For the referendum on the 15th of October, there are 171 polling centers in Al Anbar and 330 in Nineveh and over 6,000 across Iraq. And the number of registered voters have increased from 14.3 million to 15.6 million -- perceptions of security.
We have been effective in our operations, and I'll show you some more details specifically in the Euphrates River valley and in Baghdad. And you saw the trend lines on suicide bombers, numbers of casualties and numbers of VBIEDs. They have decreased. We acknowledge that there will be a spike in violence because Zarqawi has declared war on the democratic process. But we are poised and ready for a safe and secure environment for the people of Iraq for the conduct of the referendum. Numbers of security forces, numbers of polling sites and numbers of Iraqis willing to participate in the process are indicators of that security.
Next slide, please.
You've seen in the news over the course of the last week the progress we're making in our operations in the Euphrates River valley. Remember, that is the avenue of approach for the terrorists and foreign fighters into Baghdad. So we have mounted operations to apply continuous pressure across the entire length of the Euphrates River valley against the insurgency, specifically the terrorists and foreign fighters. And those operations are ongoing and will continue.
Allow me to zoom in on four specific operations.
On the 28th of September in the village of Ahah, we engaged Operation Lightning Strike, a series of cordon and search operations during which we apprehended 20 terrorists.
Operation Iron Fist out on the Syrian border commenced on the 1st of October -- detailed operations, coalition forces and Iraqi security forces.
Allow me to show you a video clip of an impact of one of the pieces of Operation Iron Fist and, additionally, a video clip of an operation in Husaybah.
Out in Iron Fist, there were seven known terrorists that were engaged -- four were killed; three went into that building, joined fellow terrorists. The building was destroyed by F-18s and precision- guided munitions. In Husaybah last night, 23:30, known safe house, 20 terrorists. In fact, there were terrorists and foreign fighters engaging coalition and Iraqi security forces from the building. Precision-guided munitions, F-18, destruction of that safe house -- precision operations to decapitate the leadership and the members of the insurgency.
So Operation Iron Fist -- still ongoing. Note this, that if you look at operations across the entire Euphrates River valley, from the Syrian border to western Baghdad, there are in general terms 4,800 members of the coalition forces engaged in those operations, and over 4,000 members of the Iraqi security forces. We're working side by side to maintain pressure on the insurgency across the length and breadth of the Euphrates River valley.
Next piece of the operation: Operation River Gate, one that, again, is currently ongoing.
Could I get the next slide, please? And keep that one close by.
As I told you, when you study the insurgency, you study his capabilities, vulnerabilities and intentions, and one of his vulnerabilities is freedom of movement. As he comes into Syria, how is he going to get into western Baghdad? There were 12 bridges from the Syrian border to Ramadi -- were is the operative term. There are now four. And those four that remain are under the control of the Iraqi security forces and the coalition forces. But it's important to understand the procedures we use as we deny the insurgency the freedom of movement across those bridges. And it is, indeed, precision strike.
If you look at these specific bridges -- the one over in Dilah (ph), Barwanawah (ph) and Hadithah, you can see what we did. Using our precision-strike capability, we took out a portion of each of those bridges to deny the terrorists and foreign fighters, the insurgency the ability to come from north to south or from south to north across the Euphrates River -- precision strike -- so that when we indeed defeat the insurgency in these areas, and we're on a glide path to do that, we can go back and replace those bridges, those segment of the bridges, so that the people in that area can regain their own freedom of movement.
Put that original chart up, please, the one that I just took down.
Another piece of the operation that is continuing as we speak -- Operation Mountaineers, vicinity Ramadi. One of the things that the insurgency has to have is it has to have support bases and points where it can maintain its supply base -- weapons caches, if you will.
Could I get the picture, please? In Ramadi -- again, based on a tip from one of the local citizens -- we were led to a large weapons cache and IED factory that the insurgency had placed in a public school. When we conducted the raid, we indeed detained three suspected insurgents. We have 12 now in detention. And you can see the magnitude of the amount of weapons and munitions that were picked up on this particular strike. You can see the variety -- demolitions, mortars, small arms -- and you can see the fact that some of those munitions were actually buried underneath the building. But the people of Iraq -- again, uniting against the insurgency -- led us to this weapons cache in Operation Mountaineers.
Next slide, please.
Continual pressure, length and breadth of the Euphrates River valley to disrupt his freedom of movement and to keep the insurgency from conducting operations the way they want to.
Here is an interesting fact: As we work operations in Hadithah and Husaybah and Ramadi and Hit, we go against foreign fighters. The technique that they've developed is they run away, that they leave the area before the military operations commence. They run away. But the area that they've just left is now under the control of the Iraqi government. And the people of Hadithah, for example, when that operation is complete, can go back to their homes in a safe environment and participate in the election process. So foreign fighters run away, Iraqi security forces control the area and maintain security of the environment.
Let's talk about Baghdad -- Operation National Unity. As I talked about, it is predictable that there is going to be a major act of violence in some populated area between now and the referendum, just like there was in Hillah yesterday. So we've mounted with the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government Operation National Unity, across Baghdad to create an environment that's secure for the conduct of the referendum and for the area after the referendum prior to the elections.
Now what's amazing is this: Currently, in Operation National Unity, there are more 20,000 members of the Iraqi police service focused on that operation, and there are indeed six brigades from the Iraqi Army participating in that operation. Just yesterday, they did 130 patrols, a cordon and search operation independently. A local citizen who says: "Hey, we're tired of the insurgency. We're tired of the terrorists and foreign fighters. Let us show you where they're keeping their munitions" -- showed us this -- next slide, please -- 175 sticks of dynamite, 109 grenades, 83 mortars, 53 artillery rounds -- significant weapons cache, vicinity of Baghdad, turned over by the people of Baghdad so that the insurgency doesn't have access to those munitions.
Great operation all across Baghdad to secure the environment for the conduct of the referendum in nine days, maintain security throughout the elections -- combined operation, coalition forces, Iraqi security forces -- 20,000 Iraqi police, 6 Iraqi Army brigades. And a significant event happened on the 3rd of October that I want to ensure doesn't go unnoticed.
Next slide, please.
On the 3rd of October, the 6th Iraqi Army Division assumed control of battle space in Baghdad -- significant portions of Baghdad, four districts. That division commander, the 6th Iraqi Army Division commanders, commands and controls two of his own brigades in operations across Baghdad in his area of responsibility. They own battle space; they are responsible for the command and control in that battle space. And they work in conjunction with the coalition forces to conduct effective operations throughout their battle space.
So I'd ask you to think about what I talked about:
Euphrates River valley -- 4,200 members of the Iraqi security forces work with coalition forces to secure that area along that entire stretch from Syria down to western Baghdad.
Operation National Unity -- 20,00 Iraqi policemen, 6 Iraqi Army brigades, the 6th Iraqi Army Division controlling battle space, significant improvement in Iraqi security force capabilities, working in conjunction with the coalition forces in these counterinsurgency operations with great effect.
And with that, I'm happy to answer any of your questions.
Q Sebastian Alison from Reuters. General, you talked in general terms about the operations to secure the Euphrates River valley. Well, I wonder if you could be as specific as possible in telling us the specific aims of both Iron Fist and River Gate and the current status of those operations and when you expect them to end. GEN. LYNCH: Yeah. Put the Euphrates River valley chart back up, please. That's good, right there.
All these operations have to be taken in conjunction with each other. They're not separated, isolated events. Shaping operations started as early as late September. Operations continue across all those -- and operations will continue through the elections, because we will indeed ensure that three things happen: one is that we deny terrorists and foreign fighters the Euphrates River valley as an avenue approach into Iraq, that we deny any safe havens, any bases of operations for the insurgency along the Euphrates River valley, and we, in conjunction with the Iraqi security forces, allow the Iraqi government to reestablish control of their border with Syria.
So the operations will continue. They are specifically focused on allowing the people in Al Anbar to have a safe and secure environment for the conduct of the referendum and the elections. They are specifically focused at denying terrorists and foreign fighters the ability to establish safe havens and operating bases and deny them the ability to flow through the Euphrates River valley into Baghdad to conduct these horrific acts of violence.
Other questions. Please.
Q Hi, General. I'm Rahmad Hanni (ph) from Chicago Tribune. I'm sure you've heard in recent days some of the complaints from some Sunni leaders about these operations in Anbar so close to the referendum. Is there any plans to cease as it gets closer to the referendum? And secondly, you pointed out that there are 171 polling stations in Anbar. Are any of these going to be adversely affected by the operations as far as their being able to have balloting in those places on the 15th? Thank you.
GEN. LYNCH: Everything that we do as the coalition is done in conjunction with the Iraqi security forces at the request of the Iraqi government. Everyone's very sensitive to the fact that we're working our way into a detailed political period that gets us to the referendum. But remember what we're trying to do with these operations. We're trying to create an environment where the people of Al Anbar can safely go to the polls and vote. Their choice on how they vote on the constitution, but to be able to safely go to the polls and vote and then know that even after they vote, they're going to be in a safe and secure environment and that there will be no retribution to them because they participated in the electoral process. So we will continue these operations, sensitive to the fact that we're working our way to the referendum, at the request of the Iraqi government to continue to build a safe and secure environment out in Al Anbar.
Q More of a clarification: With the incident in Hillah yesterday, was that a suicide bomb or was it a bomb planted near the entrance?
GEN. LYNCH: The initial report that we received, that potentially it was indeed a bomb that was planted -- upon subsequent investigation, we determined it was indeed a suicide bomber. Terrorists and foreign fighters who have no appreciation for the sanctity of human life took an individual, strapped a bomb to his chest and sent him into this mosque where people were mourning the loss of one of their loved ones, detonated the bomb, killed 25, wounded an additional 85. That is the tactic, technique and procedure that the terrorists and foreign fighters have adopted across Iraq, and that's most unfortunate. But that's what happened in Hillah.
Further questions. Sir?
Q AFP. What's the proportion of foreign fighters among the group terrorists and foreign fighters, you estimate? GEN. LYNCH: Zarqawi, as he mourns the loss of his leaders and replaces those leaders, he normally replaces them with another foreigner, because the foreign fighter element tends to be the most ruthless. They're the ones that are willing to participate in horrendous acts of violence against innocent civilians. So even though the number of foreign fighters may indeed be small, their impact is very, very large.
I've talked about this before. Over the course of our operations, we have detained over 300 foreign fighters and killed probably an additional 400 more. So the number of their element inside the insurgency statistically might be small, but their impact is very, very large. They're the ones that are willing to blow up the people of Iraq to further their cause. And remember, their cause has nothing to do with what's right for the people of Iraq. They're trying to derail the democratic process and discredit the Iraqi government. So they'll continue to do that.
So I think, candidly, it's not important what percentage of the terrorists are foreign fighters, because the people who are involved are indeed the people that want to do horrendous things to the people of Iraq.
Q If I can follow up, if -- (inaudible) -- not important to you -- (your word ?) -- how many foreign fighters have been detained among the total numbers of detainees through the operations of the Euphrates River valley since they started?
GEN. LYNCH: Yeah, I will have to get you that number. I don't know what that is. But we'll chase down that number.
Okay, amazing growth in the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, and I hope you caught that in the presentation. It's not the coalition out doing business in the absence of Iraqi security forces. Everything we do is in conjunction with them. Sometimes we lead, sometimes they lead, and now we're at the point where they are indeed taking control of battle space just like the 6th Iraqi Army Division did in Baghdad on the 3rd of October.
And remember that we're going to fight our way to the referendum, and we're going to fight our way to the elections. There will, unfortunately, be acts of violence that we, in conjunction with the Iraqi security forces, are preparing to combat, but it is predictable. The chart that I showed you as we worked our way to the January elections is probably a predictable trend line as we work our way towards the referendum.
We are prepared. We want to ensure the people of Iraq are prepared. And we want to ensure that they have a perception of security. The very fact that 8 million of them voted in a safe environment in January with 138,000 members of the Iraqi security forces, they ought to take great peace knowing there is over 195,000 now to do the same thing.
Again, thank you for your time.
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