Operations Update, Dec. 1, 2005
Wednesday, 30 November 2005
Briefer: Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch
BRIEFING WITH MAJOR GENERAL RICK LYNCH, SPOKESMAN, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ LOCATION: COMBINED PRESS INFORMATION CENTER, BAGHDAD, IRAQ TIME: 9:00 A.M. EST DATE: THURSDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2005
GEN. LYNCH: Hey, folks. How's everyone today?
Got a lot to talk about. I want to talk about current operations. I want to talk about the momentum to allow the Iraqis to reestablish control of their borders. I want to talk about the impact we're having on Zarqawi. And then I want to talk about whatever you want to talk about. So allow me to work through some slides here.
First graphic, please.
Operations continue across Iraq. Specifically, let's talk more about Al Anbar operations and Operation Sayyid, Operation Hunter. A reminder what the task and purpose of the operation was from the beginning, on the 28th of September: to defeat Zarqawi, terrorists and foreign fighters; to disrupt the insurgency, deny them safe havens, deny them freedom of movement, deny them access to munitions; to reestablish Iraqi control of the border; and to create conditions so that the people of Al Anbar can participate in the democratic process, -- specifically, to vote in the elections in 15 days. And the operations have been very successful. And I made it a point in every press conference to give you an update, and allow me to give you one now.
This past Sunday in Ramadi, we started Operation Tigers -- 150 members of the Iraqi security force combined with 400 members of the coalition force conducting detailed operations in Ramadi, cordon and search operations. And as a result of those operations, they found numerous caches of weapons. Today I received some spurious reports about current operations in Ramadi, and allow me to correct the record. As of 14:00 today, in Ramadi, there'd only been one insurgent attack, and that attack was an RPG, rocket-propelled grenade, that was launched with no effect against a combined Iraqi security force and a coalition force checkpoint. So the idea that there's this massive uprising and insurgence in Ramadi who have retaken control of the town is incorrect.
Remember, Operation Tigers is the fourth of a series of named operations in that town designed to ensure the people of Ramadi can participate in the democratic process and vote on the 15th of December. And we see great progress in our operations.
In addition to that, the leadership of Ramadi -- local, provincial and national -- have now reached out to the people of Ramadi to ensure that if they have a propensity to conduct insurgent acts of violence that they stop that and become part of the solution as opposed to part of the problem. And we're seeing great progress in Ramadi. Operation Tigers continues.
In addition to that, this past week we started Operation Iron Hammer -- vicinity of Hit on the eastern side of the Euphrates River. Our operations and our intelligence led us to believe that potentially Zarqawi and his network were using the eastern side of the river as a potential safe haven, a place where they could store weapons and munitions and plan operations. So yesterday, 500 members of the Iraqi security force, combined with 2,000 coalition force members, started Operation Iron Hammer, a detailed operation to disrupt any kind of insurgent activity east of the Euphrates River.
In addition to that, Operation National Unity continues here in Baghdad. Remember, that started on the 28th of September. Right now, 14,000 members of the Iraqi security force are involved in that operation. Operations continue -- disrupt the insurgency, deny him freedom of movement, take out weapons caches. End of last week they found multiple weapons caches vicinity of Baghdad. Just recently they found on an island in the Euphrates River a large weapons cache that had 11 500-pound bombs and numerous explosives. Since Operation National Unity started on the 28th of September, they have found 90 weapons caches inside of Baghdad.
Another important point about the effectiveness of this operation -- remember: We believe that Zarqawi and the terrorists and foreign fighters are using the Euphrates River valley as his line of operation into Baghdad to conduct his horrific acts of violence. One of the munitions that he uses is VBIEDs, car bombs. In the month of November, there's only been 68 car bombs. Last February there were 130 car bombs. We had 11 car bombs this past week, 24 the week before. So as you look at trend lines, you see a significant reduction in car bombs directly related to the operations we've conducted against terrorists and foreign fighters in Al Anbar.
Next graphic, please.
We've got a new crew flipping the placards here; they're doing very well. Isn't that nice? Well done.
Let's talk about weapons caches. See, if you're Zarqawi, if you're an insurgent, you've got to have a variety of things. You've got to have a command and control network. You've got to have leaders that are effective. You've got to have trained operators. And you've got to have munitions. So part of our operations are focused on denying him these munitions. And look what has happened in the month of November: the largest number of caches since 2005 began. We found over 301 weapons caches.
Now the difference between now and then is the large presence of the Iraqi security forces -- today 214,000 trained and equipped members of the Iraqi security forces actively conducting operations. As I've told you before: one division, five brigades, 36 battalions of the Iraqi Army actually own battle space. They are responsible for counterinsurgency operations in their battle space. They are in the lead. And what we're finding is that the people of Iraq, who are tired of the insurgency, are turning to the Iraqi security force members and saying, "Hey, here's where they're storing their munitions," and that's allowing us to have a significant increase in effectiveness in finding weapons caches.
Let me show you a specific example.
Get the picture, please.
Within the past week in Kirkuk we found the mother of all weapons caches. Let me describe to you what happened. A local Iraqi turned to a member of the Iraqi security force on patrol and said, "Hey, I think I know where the insurgents are storing their munitions." So the Iraqi security force patrol moved to that site. And what they saw was, in the open desert, they saw mounds all around. And they started going to the first mound, and they covered -- they removed the dirt and sand. And under that they saw layers of concrete, and they removed the layers of concrete. They started pulling out munitions. They pulled out on that first day 800 mortar rounds. As you can see, over the course of time, they've uncovered over 8,000 mortar rounds in this site. There are so many mounds of munitions that they're still working the deliberate clearing process to get those munitions and to destroy those munitions. Again, it's because the Iraqi security forces are on patrol, and the people of Iraq are saying, "I've had enough; get this stuff out of my neighborhood."
Next graphic, please.
I hope some of you had the opportunity to participate in the ceremony in Husaybah yesterday, where the minister of Defense, in a ceremony that was attended by a platoon from the Department of Border Enforcement and a platoon from the Iraqi Army, declared that the Iraqis have reestablished control of their border and have closed that evil gate in Husaybah -- the gate that we knew that Zarqawi and his forces were using to enter Iraq. Iraqis have reestablished control of their border.
So allow me to talk to the border in general, and not just specifically Husaybah. Back in January, there were only 51 border forts; now 258 border forts. One hundred seventy of them are complete; the rest, the construction will be complete by January. The Department of Border Enforcement personnel are trained in three academies, four-week academies, and then after their training, they mount their operations at their respective border forts -- major improvement. The size of the force continues to grow: 18,000 members of the Department of Border Enforcement are actively involved in patrolling their border and manning these border forts -- 3,000 more than there were in January -- and the ultimate goal is 28,000 members of this Department of Border Enforcement manning these 258 border forts.
Remember the end state: an Iraq that's at peace with its neighbors, that is an ally in the war on terror, that has a representative government that respects the human rights of all Iraqis, that has a security force that can maintain domestic order and deny Iraq as a safe haven for terrorists. Part of that accomplishing the end state is reestablishing Iraqi control of the border.
Allow me to show you some pictures of those border forts.
If you look closely, you can see three border forts in various states of completion, and you can see one of the ports of entry.
Can I get the next graphic, please?
As we know in our own country, control of your borders is done by a variety of mechanisms: one is by human presence and patrols; another way is technological advances. So let's focus on Z Backscatter, a system that is in place across Iraq at all of the major ports of entry to include Byap (ph), and now has 200 personnel trained on how to use the Backscatter system. Essentially, it's an X-ray machine. What you see on this particular chart and this picture is the results of Backscatter. This truck tried to come across the border at the -- (inaudible) -- point of entry. The Backscatter system was used, and this individual, who was hiding amongst all those pieces of equipment, was found.
So the border of Iraq is established by the Department of Border -- DBE, and they're doing extremely well -- 258 border forts, 18,000 personnel, and well equipped.
Next graphic, please.
Let's talk about Zarqawi. Operations are designed to defeat Zarqawi, terrorists and foreign fighters -- disrupt the insurgency but defeat Zarqawi. Operations are designed to disrupt his ability to command and control and take out his leadership.
Routinely, I update you on the effectiveness of those operations. Since the 1st of this year, we have taken out now 117 members of the leadership of the Zarqawi network -- tier one, tier two, and tier three. And just this past week we got confirmation that we took out another tier-one individual, and that is Abu Ubeda (ph), killed in Ramadi mid-October. Rather than do a premature announcement of his demise, we wait till we got confirmation, and we got confirmation this past week. Abu Ubeda (ph) was indeed the executive secretary for Zarqawi. He was stationed in Ramadi. He was the gatekeeper. He was the one who denied or allowed access to Zarqawi. He's the one that controlled his movements. And he had significant impact himself on Zarqawi and terrorists' and foreign fighters' operations across Iraq. So taking him out was indeed a blow for freedom and took out Zarqawi's executive secretary and one of his most trusted agents and most important advisers.
We talk about the impact we're having on Zarqawi's operations. Remember, his weapon of choice is suicide bombers, precision-guided munitions. And he doesn't care where he employs that suicide bomber. He doesn't care if he's killing innocent women and children as part of his targeting. In the month of November, only 23 suicide attacks, the lowest we've seen in the last seven months -- a direct result of the effectiveness of our operations against the Zarqawi network. And we will continue that.
Now a point of concern: He's still out there, and his mission is still clear: derail the democratic process. He has 15 days to conduct horrific acts of violence that could potentially disrupt the democratic process. That ain't going to happen. We're going to continue our decisive operations against him and his network to ensure he doesn't have the ability to accomplish his objective. But there will be over the next 15 days spikes of activity, peaks of violence, because he's still out there and still has his mission. Now, he's struggling. He's struggling because we've taken away a lot of his leadership. He's struggling because we've taken away a lot of his munitions. He's struggling because we've denied him safe havens across Iraq. He's struggling because we've taken away his freedom of movement. But he's still out there with the same stated objectives. He's making some strategic blunders. The bombing in Amman, where he blew up that wedding party: clearly a strategic blunder. And the people of Jordan have now massed against him -- 100,000 people demonstrated against Zarqawi. His own clan has disowned Zarqawi -- a strategic blunder on his part.
So we continue our operations against terrorists and foreign fighters. We will defeat Zarqawi, and we will disrupt the insurgency.
And with that, I'm happy to answer any questions you might have today.
Take this down, please.
Q (Off mike) -- Abu Ubeda (ph) was killed -- (off mike).
GEN. LYNCH: I'll have to get back to you with that. I don't know. It was mid-October. It was one of our operations. But we can get you the details as how that happened.
Q And the gentleman -- the person that was found in the X-ray machine, do they -- (off mike) -- who that turned out to be?
GEN. LYNCH: No, that's another good question I don't have the answer to, but I will get that for you. He didn't look real comfortable in that truck, and I think that he was surrounded by eggs, which is appropriate for that chicken. Now the chicken's out. But I can get you the details of who he was and how he's doing.
Any other questions? Please.
Q Can you provide us with some of the details surrounding the Belgian woman who came to Iraq to do the suicide bombing a couple of weeks ago?
GEN. LYNCH: I'm sorry, Scott, I don't have any details now, but we'll chase down whatever details we do have.
Any other questions?
Q General, would you make any comment about this scandal within the Interior Ministry, this bunker? That was an area that was controlled, I understand -- not controlled but it was patrolled by 3rd ID at the time. I mean, what are your soldiers under order to do if they see abuses by Iraqi Army or Iraqi police? And can you tell us that the U.S. Army does not know about any more of these bunkers like that? GEN. LYNCH: Yeah, okay. If you'll recall, a couple of weeks ago at this podium I talked about what happened at the bunker. The 3rd Infantry Division, specifically General Horst, had information that maybe people were being detained in the bunker. He went to the Ministry of Interior. He said I'm looking for this 15-year-old individual, and we have reason to believe he may be down in this bunker facility. The minister of Interior granted him access into the facility.
And in fact, when he got down there and the guards at the gate stopped him, he picked up his phone, called the minister of Interior and said hey, they won't let me in. The minister of Interior ordered them to let General Horst in. And when General Horst went in, he found almost 170 individuals that had been detained, and some of those looked like they had been abused -- malnourished, mistreated and abused. He immediately reported that to the minister of Interior. We as a coalition, with the Iraqi government, took control of those detainees and moved them to Abu Ghraib for medical treatment and for the beginning of the investigation.
Remember, the prime minister, now two weeks ago, announced a six- point plan. He says, we're not going to tolerate detainee abuse in this government by our armed forces. And he's directed a detailed investigation, and he's appointed his deputy prime minister, (Chalabi ?), to lead that investigation. There are two investigations: one focused on the bunker complex and one an investigation looking at every detention facility across Iraq -- MOD, MOI and MOJ. Both those investigations are facilitated by us. We provide technical assistance. We're involved at each of those investigations, and they continue apace. The first one didn't get completed in the timeline that the prime minister identified, but it still is continuing.
The coalition force soldiers are under orders to not tolerate any abuse of detainees, and if they see abuse, they'll stop the abuse and report it. Every time we get an allegation of abuse of detainees, we report it to the Iraqi authorities and ensure they're properly investigating it and taking appropriate action. And that continues.
So with the bunker complex, that investigation continues. The deputy prime minister is in charge. We are providing technical assistance. In addition to that, there'll be an inspection of every detention facility around Iraq -- Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior -- and we'll be part of that investigation. And as the investigation completes, the Iraqi government and then us will announce the results of the investigation.
Any facility that we have any idea might exist, we make sure the Iraqi authorities know about it, and then we inspect that facility; we become part of that inspection team.
Please. Q General, Richard Boudreaux from Los Angeles Times.
GEN. LYNCH: Hi, Richard.
Q Hi. These 23 suicide bombings in November, do you believe that the majority of these now are being carried out by foreign fighters or by Iraqis?
GEN. LYNCH: Yeah, thank you for that. We study each and every event. It doesn't matter if it's a car bomb, a suicide bomb, an IED. And we determine who we think were the individuals that were behind it, what munitions they used, what technology they used. We are convinced that at least 96 percent of the suicide bombers are foreigners. They are recruited by the Zarqawi network. They are trained. They are brought into Iraq with the express purpose to blow themselves up and, at the same time, blow up innocent women, children, civilians, coalition force members and Iraqi security force members. So the reduction that I talked about -- 23 in the month of November -- is a direct result of our ability to stop Zarqawi's ability to flow in these foreign fighters and suicide bombers.
Same with the VBIED trend I talked about. Those VBIEDs are rigged to be, potentially, suicide car bombs, and with the impact we've had in our operations, there have been a significant reduction in VBIEDs as well.
Q I was just wondering if it's possible that the trend is just away from suicide attacks right now and towards things like IEDs. Do you have any numbers on how the IED attacks in November compare to previous months?
GEN. LYNCH: Yeah, I do. And we'll get you the details. Let me give you general terms. As we've talked about before, as we study the insurgency, Zarqawi, terrorists and foreign fighters -- suicide bombs. The Iraqi rejectionists, the group in the middle who don't want a democratic society here in Iraq, tend to use IEDs. And in the month of October, we saw a marked increase in the use of IEDs and a resulting increase in the number of casualties -- coalition casualties, Iraqi security force casualties and civilian casualties, directly attributable to our increase of operations out in Al Anbar. So October was a high month for casualties, a lot directly related to IEDs. The month of November: We saw a 34 percent reduction in the number of casualties, and a significant reduction in the number of IEDs as well. So we watch those trend lines too.
Q (Off mike) -- coming out of CPIC for the last couple of weeks have -- (off mike) -- seems like an increase in the number of deaths from small-arms fire. GEN. LYNCH: Yeah, we watch that very closely as well. And in the month of October, there was indeed an increase in small-arms fire attacks. Remember, we took the fight to the enemy. You know, we made a conscious decision that we were going to provide an environment, with the Iraqi security force, so that the people of Iraq could participate in the democratic process. So we took the fight to the enemy. And as a result of that, he fought back and emplaced more IEDs, set up more complex attacks, used more ambushes, more small-arms fire. So the operations continue, but that's what we saw in October.
Q You mentioned about creating conditions to allow Iraqis to vote. Are there any parts of Al Anbar province where those conditions have now been created that you would say are safe for people to participate in the electoral process when it happens?
GEN. LYNCH: Yeah. The referendum in October -- 40 percent of the registered voters in the Al Anbar province actually voted. And let's focus in on Fallujah. You know, one year ago, major combat operations in Fallujah, and in the referendum, 200,000 folks voted in Fallujah -- great improvement. As we work our operations in Husaybah and in Hit, in the al Qaim region, we are creating the conditions for safe and secure elections. And I'm convinced that when I stand up here after the elections, we'll talk about the significant involvement of the Sunni population in Al Anbar in the conduct of those elections -- direct result of our operations.
More importantly is the fact that 214,000 members of the Iraqi security force are now trained and equipped. Do you realize that just in Ramadi alone, the Ramadi-Fallujah corridor, we've got 11 Iraqi Army battalions, there police order battalions and one special police commando battalion helping secure that area? So we conduct these operations; we rid that area of the insurgents, and the Iraqi security force maintain that persistent presence so the people of that area can indeed participate in the electoral process.
Last week we talked about Husaybah. Remember, the operations in Husaybah -- initially we had about a thousand displaced civilians that we took out to ensure they were safe during the conduct of the operations. They're now back home. And yesterday in the ceremony at Husaybah at a soccer field, at a youth center, a DBE platoon, an Iraqi security force platoon, the MOD out there declaring that that evil gate has been shut -- as they raised the Iraqi flag, you could hear applause from the people of Husaybah that watched the ceremony. They weren't at the soccer field but they were around. They were so proud of what their government had done and so pleased with their environment that they broke out in a round of applause -- powerful story.
Q What's the math on 15 battalions? How many battalions -- how many soldiers per battalion in the Iraqi battalion? GEN. LYNCH: It depends on the type of battalion, but in general terms, there's between 350 and 500 members of an Iraqi battalion, and there are 11 of those battalions currently involved in operations between Ramadi and Fallujah. In general terms, in Al Anbar writ large: 17,000 members of the Iraqi security force out there actively conducting operations on a day-to-day basis. Q So is it secure? Just go back to my original question: Are there parts that you can declare as secure now in the Al Anbar province?
GEN. LYNCH: Yeah, you're never going to get an Iraq any time soon -- absolute security, because you still got an insurgency out there, and that insurgency says hey, I'm going to derail the democratic process and I'm going to discredit the Iraqi government. And he could, at his convenience, blow himself up, emplace an IED, conduct a sniper attack. So none of us military professionals, Iraqi or American alike, would ever lead you to believe -- create an environment that's total security, because you're not, in a counterinsurgency environment in which we are in now. But it will be secure enough for the people of Husaybah, the people of Hadithah, the people of Ramadi to vote on the 15th of December.
Q Could you please give us an assessment of -- (off mike) -- what you said about the earlier reports being false, but with all these Iraqi security forces there, with the Marines who are there, and the Army is also there -- and there just seems to be ongoing violence in Ramadi. There are reports of insurgents from Husaybah and all these other areas where you've been conducting operations being seen in Ramadi and reports of, you know, Zarqawi having a very significant presence in Ramadi. It seems that a lot of the forces that work in Iraq are coming together in that one particular city, and the people there seem to have strong support for the insurgents who are there. So what is the picture in Ramadi at the moment?
GEN. LYNCH: Zarqawi can run but he can't hide. Every operation we've done in Al Anbar, what we found is he and his thugs will stir up the problem, and then at the point of the operation, they'll run away and leave the locals to conduct the fighting. So we've watched that starting in Tall Afar, working our way through Al Anbar, and we've watched the gravitation for those who are able to escape towards Ramadi. That's why operations right now are focused on Ramadi and Fallujah and that corridor. So between now and in the 15 days between now and the elections, we will conduct detailed operations to ensure in Ramadi the people of Ramadi can vote. So no doubt that Zarqawi tried to gravitate him and his forces towards Ramadi. I know it to be true: Our operations are focused on taking him out in Ramadi.
So when I hear reports about how the insurgents have taken over the town, and then I call the commander on the ground -- he says: "I have no idea what you're talking about. Over the course of the day, we've had one attack; it was an RPG attack and it was ineffective." That shows you the disparity between the perception of security in Ramadi and what is happening on the ground.
Q Do you know the average number of attacks -- (off mike)?
GEN. LYNCH: I'm sorry, I don't. But we'll find out for you.
Q Thank you.
GEN. LYNCH: Any other questions?
Q Are we arriving at a better understanding, at least a better estimate of what percentage of the insurgency is composed of foreign fighters?
GEN. LYNCH: The insurgency is three groups; we talk about it all the time -- terrorists and foreign fighters, Iraqi rejectionists, Saddamists. The largest groups is the group in the middle. We know that 96 percent of the people that are killing themselves are foreigners. You can track that with the suicide attacks that we're having to know that's true. In terms of the percentage of the insurgency that's foreign fighters, we don't know, and I couldn't give that to you. We do know that over the last several months we have detained 300-plus foreign nationals; we have killed 300-plus foreign nationals, and we continue to search them out. The target of our operation are the terrorists and foreign fighters, the Zarqawi network. And the stated objective is defeat of that organization.
Any other questions?
Q Did it strike you as odd, then, that the suicide bombers in Jordan were Iraqis -- considering why Iraqis are going to blow themselves up in Jordan and foreigners are coming to blow themselves up here?
GEN. LYNCH: Some of the suicide bombers in Iraq are Iraqis -- true statement. Zawahiri, Zarqawi's boss, wrote him a letter and said, "Hey, remember: We're supposed to establish an Islamic caliphate in Iraq that can spread across the region." So he's been given the task from his leadership to spread it across the region. So as he did his battle calculus as to who I'm sending across the border to conduct these horrific attacks at this wedding party in Amman, he selected Iraqis to do that, apparently. He has those assets. See, you'll never find any of us stand up and say Zarqawi doesn't have a capability. He has capabilities. And in the next 15 days, there's going to be attacks; there's going to be suicide bombs; there's going to be horrific acts of violence, candidly, at the point in time where he can get the most international media attention so he can indeed try to derail the democratic process. We'll continue to work with the Iraqi security forces to stop that, but he has that capability. But on the 15th of December, there will be peaceful elections in Iraq. The people of Iraq will vote for a new Iraq. They're excited, and we are equally excited.
Q I was just wondering if you had any response to these reports that the U.S. military has been paying Iraqi media organizations to run stories and whether you think a policy like that undermines, you know, both the credibility of the military and of the new Iraqi media.
GEN. LYNCH: Zawahiri to Zarqawi: He says, "Remember, half the battlefield is the battlefield of the media." And what Zarqawi is doing continuously is lying to the Iraqi people, lying to the international community, conducting these kidnappings, these beheadings, these explosions so that he gets international coverage to look like he has more capability than he truly has. He is lying to the Iraqi people. We don't lie. We don't need to lie. We do empower our operational commanders with the ability to inform the Iraqi public, but everything we do is based on fact, not based on fiction.
Okay. Thank you very much.
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