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U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Transcript

Presenter: Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Lawrence Di Rita and Director, Operations Directorate, Joint Chiefs of Staff Lt. Gen. James T. Conway December 22, 2005
1:05 p.m. EST

News Briefing with PDASD for Public Affairs Lawrence Di Rita and Lt. Gen. James Conway


            MR. DIRITA:  Good afternoon, everyone.  We thought it would be helpful to come down, I think one last time in the year 2005, to just catch up on some loose ends before everybody gets what I hope you will be able to get, which is a well-deserved break for the holidays.  And we wish you happy holidays as -- coming forward.


            I don't have any specific comments.  And I don't know -- General, do you have any?


            GEN. CONWAY:  Nor do I.


            MR. DIRITA:  Otherwise, we'll just be happy to -- I'll just acknowledge that the secretary has arrived inBaghdad.  I think there's been some reporting on that already.  He's on a trip that has taken him thus far to Pakistan, where he was able to observe U.S. and other country relief efforts in the earthquake; as well as a visit to Afghanistan, which was reported yesterday, to meet with President Karzai and other Afghan leaders, U.S. force/coalition commanders; and has now arrived in Baghdad, where he'll be for the short period of time ahead.


            And with that, I'd be happy to take some questions.


            Q:  Larry, any progress -- and General, any progress -- on drawdowns beyond the baseline 138,000?


            MR. DIRITA:  We don't have anything to announce.


            Q:  (Off mike) -- considering --


            MR. DIRITA:  Yeah --


            Q:  -- I mean, I think you pretty openly have conceded that you're considering possibly canceling the deployment of up to two brigades, but have any decisions been made on that? 


            MR. DIRITA:  We don't have anything to announce.  I've seen a wire story moving around, but we don't have anything to announce.  And the secretary's obviously meeting with General Casey, Ambassador Khalilzad, and we'll withhold until --


            Q:  You don't have anything to announce.  Are you suggesting the decision might have been made, and you're just not ready to announce it, or has no decision been made yet?


            MR. DIRITA:  I'll think I'll hold with what I had.  I mean, you know, it's -- I know the strong desire to want to get in between assessments and recommendations and decisions and announcements, but we are where we are, which is there's nothing to announce.  There is -- it is true that we had previously acknowledged that -- when we did the '06 to '08 rotation that some of these -- a couple of brigades -- we had some potential decisions pending on those.  And so we're working through all of that.  And as we do that and we've been able to -- and we're able to make firm conclusions, we will announce those conclusions.


            I don't know, General, if you have anything to add --


            Q:  Not to flog a dead horse, do you expect that you might make an announcement before the end of the year or possibly --


            MR. DIRITA:  Well, we certainly owe those units a little more information before the end of the year.  That's accurate.  I don't know, General, if you have any --


            GEN. CONWAY:  Yes.  No, it's accurate.  That's what we told them when we put them on delay -- was that sometime very shortly after Christmas, there would be further instructions forwarded.


            Q:  So you expect an announcement before the end of the year, would you say?


            GEN. CONWAY:  We owe 1st of the 1st Infantry Division another order, if you will, to somehow change their status, and that will happen sometime, I think, before the end of the year.


            MR. DIRITA:  Yes?


            Q:  Larry, the Army Field Manual -- Congress's bill clearly lays it out that that is going to be sort of the law of the land here. Can you give us at least an update on the progress?  And I know you've said all along that it's being vetted out to the combatant commanders, but can you at least expand a little bit on what maybe some of the key discussion or debate surrounding that is, and whether or not some of the McCain language is coming into play?


            MR. DIRITA:  It's not.  The last part is not a factor.  In other words, this will -- we understand that the Congress will pass legislation that does what you've described and which has been widely reported on.


            The debate, if you will -- it's not a debate as much as a desire for there to be a clear understanding of what is the -- what is expected out of this field manual and ultimately what is expected out of interrogators in the course of collecting intelligence for the purposes of the global war on terror.


            So everybody wants to be sure that it's -- that this manual will be something that interrogators can understand, that commanders can understand and implement, and that there isn't any uncertainty as to what categories of individuals are covered by it in terms of the types of detainees that we may have in the world.


            So it's -- there's -- I wouldn't say it's a debate as much as a desire that there be as extensive understanding as possible across the department.  While it's an Army Field Manual per se, the Army's the executive agent for something that applies to the entire Department of Defense.  So that includes combatant commanders and it includes interrogation commands and training commands.  And so everybody that is responsible either for the input or the output of this production deserves the opportunity to comment on it.  And that's the stage that we're in right now.


            Anything --


            GEN. CONWAY:  (Off mike.)


            MR. DIRITA:  Yeah, Brian?


            Q:  Can either of you tell me:  Have any of the assets of the Department of Defense been used to intercept any communications from journalists working inside the United States, maybe communicating with somebody outside the United States?


            MR. DIRITA:  We -- I'll tell you, that's -- the president has discussed this program.  The attorney general has discussed it.  And we're not going to be able to provide any further elucidation on it. The -- as a general matter, this department doesn't discuss intelligence operations.  And as a specific matter, we're not -- this is being -- has been discussed fully by the president, the attorney general, and obviously some members of Congress are starting to discuss it further.  So we're not going to have any additional detail.


            Q:  (Off mike) -- this program say, you know, I know that DIA has an office out at --


            MR. DIRITA:  We don't discuss intelligence operations.  You know that.


            Q:  You can't say whether or not the Department of Defense has been involved in intercepting the communications of journalists working inside the United States?  You can't definitively give an answer to that question?


            MR. DIRITA:  I said we don't discuss intelligence operations.  I didn't say what you just said.




            Q:  With regard to the Lincoln Group contract, is that going to carry over into the new year?  And also --


            MR. DIRITA:  Which Lincoln Group contract are you referring to?


            Q:  With regard to placing the stories in Iraqi media.


            MR. DIRITA:  Oh.  That's under review.  General Casey, I think, spoke about it last week.


            (To the general.)  Do you have any more on it?


            GEN. CONWAY:  No.  The investigation is still under way at this point.  No conclusions that have been announced.


            Q:  General, from your standpoint, does that stuff really help, or do people just see through it?


            GEN. CONWAY:  I think it's helpful.  I think that in Iraq you don't have precisely a free press and that there is a desire to get accurate information to them.


            And so I think that where it's correctly, characterized, where people are able to read in the opinion page what's presented, I think it's helpful that they have the facts that are presented by the group or by MNF.


            MR. DIRITA:  I think that, to expand a little bit on what General Conway said, it's not so much -- I mean, I think the concern and that what MNF-I -- what the coalition forces are trying to ensure is that -- there is so much active disinformation against the coalition and against the Iraqi government generally, that they've concluded that it would be -- it is helpful that there be a venue for what they can validate as accurate, truthful information.  And that's the challenge, is that they're in an environment where there's a lot of active disinformation.  So they feel like at least having some channels of accurate information is worthwhile.


            And we'll let the investigation sort itself out as to whether or not it was -- the program was executed as intended and whether people had -- perhaps there had been transgressions of the policies -- nobody seems to -- there's no reason to believe that, but some allegations have been made, and those -- and they deserve to be reviewed, and they are being reviewed.


            Q:  The secretary talked repeatedly about the fact that, you know, there's a free Iraqi media --

            MR. DIRITA:  Right.


            Q:  -- that is getting to the point where, you know, it's doing its thing in much the same way as we would do our thing.  The fact that this Lincoln Group contract exists -- doesn't that sort of undercut his contention?


            MR. DIRITA:  Well, some have  said that.  I don't know that the folks that are in Iraq who are actually implementing the program and the Iraqi public feels that way.  So -- there is a burgeoning press in Iraq.  I mean, there are multiple outlets for information.  But that means there are multiple outlets for disinformation as well.


            So what we're trying to do is -- the coalition has attached value, and I know that there's -- that there is discussions with other Iraqis about whether or not this is valuable.  They've attached value to -- in determining that it would be nice to have a venue where we're confident that there is some accurate information getting out there.


            But it is accurate also to acknowledge that there are probably over a hundred newspapers in Iraq, and God knows how many television stations and --


            GEN. CONWAY:  Internet.


            MR. DIRITA:  -- and the Internet.  So there's a lot of venues of information, and people -- I think it would be best to understand what the coalition's trying to do in that context, as one channel of information in an environment where there are just literally hundreds of channels of information.


            Q:  One last follow-on.


            MR. DIRITA:  Sure.


            Q:  You mentioned the Internet.  Is the department doing anything in terms of maybe the blogs that are anonymously DOD, to try to counteract misinformation on the Internet as well?


            MR. DIRITA:  If it were anonymous, we wouldn't be talking about it, would we?


            Q:  Well, you could try, right?


            MR. DIRITA:  (Laughs.)  We do have -- and I've acknowledged this; we've discussed this elsewhere -- some programs that began, oh, in the time frame of the Balkan conflicts, where combatant commanders have Internet websites where people can go to -- that are very -- quite analogous -- and we've asked that those be reviewed as well -- this is over -- almost a year ago now -- to just be sure that we're comfortable.  There is transparency with these websites.  The degree of transparency's an important question.


            So yeah, we've acknowledged that in the past.  I'm not aware that there are any in the Central Command AOR, Area of Responsibility. There may be.  I just -- I'm not aware.  We've asked, as a general policy matter, that we review how those websites are managed.  But again, they began, as I said, I think, in the Balkans conflict with Bosnia, maybe Kosovo.




            Q:  A follow-up on Charlie's dead horse.  Knowing that nothing's been decided, can you give us a ballpark figure of how many troops these brigades would involve?  There's been some confusion.  I mean, just a sort of ballpark estimate --


            GEN. CONWAY:  Well, a brigade traditionally consists of about 3,500 troops.  Sometimes they're as large as 4,000, but that's the range -- three battalions and a headquarters.


            MR. DIRITA:  But I think -- and again, when we've got something to announce, we'll do our best to explain the full context of the decisions.  But as we begin to -- what we -- as what the -- General Casey has discussed -- shift more emphasis toward assisting the Iraqis, doing these training teams, assisting them on service -- combat support and combat service support, you may see shifts from combat units toward other types of units.  And so relying on a given number for a given unit is a recipe for uncertainty on your part. We'll try and be very clear, once decisions are ready to be discussed and announced, as to exactly what all the puts and takes are.


            Q:  And also, if -- correct me if I'm wrong, but if you cancel a brigade of 3,500 to 4,000 people, you're also talking about at least  an extra thousand -- certainly hundreds of support people that might also be needed.


            GEN. CONWAY:  Well, not necessarily, Charlie.  Now, there are -- inside the brigade, there are organic logistics personnel.  But in terms of the logistics structure in Iraq, certainly it supports our troops, but it also supports the increasing numbers of Iraqi troops.


            And we are in the process of developing their combat support/combat service support mechanisms.  It may be that we have to bridge that for a while.  And so I would say to you that there's not an automatic parallel in terms of any down sloping between combat units and combat service support units.


            Q:  So if you cancel -- in other words, if you cancel the movement of a large combat unit, that wouldn't necessarily mean canceling movements of combat support units.


            GEN. CONWAY:  That's right, that are not organic --


            Q:  (Off mike.)


            GEN. CONWAY:  That's right, that are not organic to that unit.


            MR. DIRITA:  The desire for understanding on this is -- we get, we really do.  We'll have something to announce soon enough.  And when we do, we'll do our very best to make sure that nobody gets too wrapped up around a given number that has been out there that people want to focus on, because you'll need to understand any decisions in the full context of puts and takes, and we'll do our best to understand that.


            Q:  (Off mike) -- how many you're going below the 138(,000), at least with this order, with a new order.


            MR. DIRITA:  You'll have something to talk about soon enough.




            Q:  A slight multi-part question.  General Conway --


            MR. DIRITA:  How surprising from you, Barbara.  (Laughter.)


            Q:  Well, you're clearly taking --


            MR. DIRITA:  I'm not taking multi-part questions.  We're just taking lots of questions.


            Q:  For General Conway, two different subjects entirely, sir. Does the U.S. military have any comment or view or thought about the German release of Mohammed Ali Hammadi, the man convicted of killing the Navy diver, Robert Stethem, back in 1985 during the hijacking of TWA Flight 847?


            And then I just wanted to ask you a quick follow-up on Iraq.


            GEN. CONWAY:  Barbara, I think probably the closest thing to an official statement comes from the chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Mullen, who commented to the effect that I think we all remember the day, those of us who have been in uniform for some time, remember the day that the sailor died; that his death was a cowardly and terrorist act, but that in our minds, he died a hero.  We have named a ship after him.  And we very much regret the incident.


            Q:  The other thing I wanted to ask you is just to, on Iraq, to follow up a little bit on what Larry was saying.


            The military strategy for 2006 of maybe shifting the types of units, shifting not the mission in Iraq but the kinds of tactical things that these troops are doing, could you just talk a little bit about that? What's the thinking?  What allows you to go down that road?


            GEN. CONWAY:  Sure.


            Q:  What would it look like?


            GEN. CONWAY:  Sure, Barbara, I'd be happy to.  I think it's the continued maturation of the Iraqi security forces, both army and police.  Our efforts are really along two parallels.  One is what we call partnering, wherein American battalions in the field where Iraqi battalions are assigned immediately partner with those units and provide them with a whole host of things -- training, operational base, they provide them logistics and they provide them access to American systems.  And on a routine basis, that's how you're now seeing these combined operations wherein American forces are out but in any case there's an Iraqi force, sometimes of equal size, sometimes even larger numbers of Iraqis, who are in this operational lead. That's the partnering aspect of it.


            The second part of it has to do with our transition teams.  And you're going to see increasing numbers of senior people assigned in these teams, that number in the low teens, that will live with, eat with, sleep with and fight with Iraqi units. And they also are assigned responsibilities for the continued maturation and professionalism of the Iraqis so that as they become more and more capable, we are then able to bring our units home.


            Q:  What will we be seeing U.S. troops do less of themselves? What will they be pulling back from doing because they won't have to?


            GEN. CONWAY:  Well, I think the whole nature of countering the anti-Iraqi forces is something that we more and more want to see the Iraqi forces stand up and be able to do.  So the typical things that you might see associated with combat operations -- cordon and knock, patrols, sweeps, those types of things that you've been reading about American soldiers and Marines doing over the last year, you're going to read increasingly about Iraqi units doing those things.  And Tall Afar is probably the first and best example of that, where the ratio of Iraqi forces to U.S. forces was much different from what we had perhaps seen in the past as they were coming on line.


            Q:  So just tell me what kind of -- when Larry talked about maybe different kinds -- or one of you were mentioning different kind of troops, U.S. troops being needed, what kinds of different troops?  (Inaudible) --  would be different?


            GEN. CONWAY:  Well, if you feature a traditional American unit there now, you've got a few officers and a large number of soldiers or Marines who are grunts and fire support guys and logisticians who are doing their work.  These advisers are made up of more technically oriented people, a little more senior, on average, probably starting with staff NCOs going all the way up through lieutenant colonels or colonels, depending on where they're assigned.  They have these technical fields, these expertise, if you will, that will allow them to plug into the Iraqi units and give them what they don't have at this time, which is, again, logistics capability in some instances, better training opportunities, and the ability to call in supporting arms, American arms or coalition force arms, if they get into trouble.


            MR. DIRITA:  As increasing Iraqi combat units come on line, what they lack but are growing are this combat -- what we would call combat support and combat service support.  So you may see more of those engineering and logistics and those kinds of U.S. assistance to enable these combat units -- Iraqi combat units to function.  And over time, obviously, they'll develop those support -- combat support and combat service support capabilities as well.




            Q:  I'd like to ask you, General Conway, a question about Afghanistan.  In the past five or six months there have been several spikes in violence that have resulted in the highest number of U.S. casualties than in any other time period -- similar time period in the past four years.  To what do you attribute that?  Are the Taliban and/or al Qaeda becoming more aggressive, more sophisticated?   Why have we seen those spikes in violence that have resulted in these higher number of U.S. casualties?


            GEN. CONWAY:  We have seen a larger number of attacks, okay?  And I think with those numbers of attacks -- now I'll tell you, they're not very efficient, Jim.  I mean, if you look at the numbers of attacks that actually cause casualties versus the slope of the numbers of attacks, they are terribly inefficient.  But we are seeing more use of IEDs, more use of close-in explosives, suicide VBIEDs in some instances, than what we have seen in the past where it was typically a small-arms skirmish.  So we're keeping a close eye on that.  It looks like some of the things that we've seen in Iraq have perhaps migrated to Afghanistan.  But I think that's the principal reason that you're seeing some of these attacks more lethal.


            Q:  Now, is it believed that this is just a case of imitators in Afghanistan, or do you believe that there are actually Iraqi operatives who have migrated to Afghanistan to carry out this IED explosive --


            GEN. CONWAY:  We've seen no instance of the Iraqis in Afghanistan that I'm aware of.


            Q:  Or anybody who may have been trained in Iraq who migrate back.


            GEN. CONWAY:  No, nothing like that, no.


            MR. DIRITA:  Tom?


            Q:  Larry, a question about troops and end strength across the broader Army, not just in Iraq.  At the town hall meeting last week, the secretary had an interesting comment.  He was talking about Army modularity and said the Army's going to grow to 42 brigades or thereabouts.


            MR. DIRITA:  Right.


            Q:  The official number is 43, and we've all learned, sometimes painfully so, how precise the secretary can be.  We listen to him carefully, the way people read Pravda.  Was he speaking that way for some reason, or is he telling us that the money or the QDR is saying the Army cannot grow to 43?


            MR. DIRITA:  You're correct about the secretary's desire for precision, so I'll stipulate to that.  The -- first of all, there haven't been final decisions, because these are ultimately presidential decisions in the context of budget.


            What we're -- what we have seen is a significant increase in the defense depending over the last -- many years, 2001 till now, for sure; significant shifts in investment in this department, so that the Army can continue -- can develop this modularity.  The operational Army has grown substantially in the last couple of years.  And in the headroom that that growth has allowed, they've been able to conduct this reorganization into brigade modular units.


            At the same time, the Army is trying to find the right balance between the redesigned Army, which will end up being some 70 -- 75 brigades across the range, the active and Reserve component, and the technology that will enable that redesigned Army to be as capable as it can be.  And they're trying to strike that balance.


            And as the Future Combat System, which is the Army's future vision for network technology, becomes more refined as they do greater research and procurement into the Future Combat System, there probably will -- you probably will see them making assessments of the right balance between how many units and then how much technology to start bringing on line to connect those units.


            There haven't been decisions, but that's the evaluation the Army's been making this year, is -- we like where we're going.  We're  at 20 -- 32 or (3)3 modular brigades right now.  We're going to go up, as the secretary accounted for.  But at the same time, we're getting more confident in understanding what the Future Combat System is and the investments in that --


            Q:  Forty-two -- (off mike).  Did he mean to say 42, or did he mean to say 43, and he just said 42?


            MR. DIRITA:  You interrupted me.  That wasn't very polite in the holiday season.


            Q:  I don't mean to interrupt you, but you're not really answering the question.


            MR. DIRITA:  The -- I'm trying to explain the decision -- these discussions in the way that they best are understood.  And that is, we're at 34.  We're going to go up.  That's for sure.


            As we shoot for that target of what's the right number of brigades, the Army's also trying to assess and -- what's the right number of -- what's the right volume of technological investment to be making to match that brigade.  And so that's where we stand, and we'll have decisions made when the president decides the budget.  So --


            Q:  Larry, if I can follow up on that --


            Q:  It would be fair to say, then, that the final end number of modular brigades is still under review --


            MR. DIRITA:  Mm-hmm.  Yeah.


            Q:  -- and that the hard target of 43 that we've all written many times is now no longer a hard target?


            MR. DIRITA:  I would not -- you would have to decide whether you think it was a hard target.  At one year, you make an assessment: "Here's where I think we're going."  And then you're always adjusting the knobs and the dials and saying, "Well, I'm going to try and make some shared investments across the range of modularity, as well as investments in technology."


            We know we're going up.  The Army -- the operational Army has gotten substantially larger over the last few years, and it's been -- we are at some level of low 30s of modular brigades, and we'll be somewhere in the low 40s when this is all over on the active side and some commensurate level on the Reserve side.  So --


            Q:  Larry, if I could follow up on that?


            MR. DIRITA:  Please do.


            Q:  Thank you very much.


            How are you guys going to explain this technology to the people who need to write the check.  I mean, these Army programs that are going to be -- WIN-T (ph), J&N (sp) -- they're pretty incomprehensible even to those of us who work around them a lot.  So how do you convince people that these are worth spending $5 billion a year on?


            MR. DIRITA:  Well, the American public has made a substantial investment in defense.  That's a fair point.  And therefore, the Defense Department, as stewards of the public's money, you know, has the responsibility to let the public understand what it's getting for its investment.  And that's the challenge we face every year when we submit the budget.  Many of our programs are complicated.  Many of them have acronyms nobody understands but the program manager.  And yet, I think there's been a general understanding that in the world we're in now, investing 3, 2 -- 3  percent of our GDP in the defense of our country is a worthwhile investment, and then we take on individual programs and do our best to explain them.  And when the Congress -- the president proposes and the Congress disposes. If we can't explain them sufficiently and can't demonstrate how we'll execute them, the Congress will adjust them, and we know that.


            Q:  So what do these technology programs actually do?


            MR. DIRITA:  Well, I'm not in a position, as you might imagine, to be able to give you a detailed briefing on the Army’s Future Combat System.  But when we've made preliminary decisions in the budget, we'll do that.


            Q:  Broadly speaking, can you say why this technology is so great we should --


            MR. DIRITA:  Yeah.  The Army believes that the -- what we all believe generally is that we have moved into a world where speed,  agility, precision and networking has changed the face of battle. Prior to -- let's just say in the last century we were a fixed force where mass and concentration mattered a lot.  That still matters on some level.  But what we've also learned, and we've learned it through Operation Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and a lot of other operations, is that speed, agility, precision bring a quality to the fight that when networked properly, is, at least for the world we're in now, appropriate.


            And so the objective is find the right capability of network technology that can enhance the speed, the agility and the mobility, the precision of our forces.  And the Army is at the leading edge of those -- of that thinking.  And I think the Army that exists today is so vastly different from the Army that existed 10 years ago because of that kind of thinking.  And that's the discussion we're having.


            Q:  (?)   And we don't want it to weigh too much.


            MR. DIRITA:  And we don't want it to weigh too much.


            Yes?  Maybe one or two -- (off mike).


            Q:  An American soldier is supposedly under investigation in Italy for murder for the death of the Italian intelligence officer last March in Baghdad.


            I would like to know your reaction to this development and how this will affect the relationship between the United States and Italy.


            MR. DIRITA:  Well, on the latter point, the United States -- Italy is an important ally of the United States.  We're a NATO ally. We're a coalition ally.  The relationship with the United States and Italy is broad, it's deep, and it's important.


            What happened last March, I believe, in Baghdad was obviously a terrible tragedy, a terrible personal tragedy that has been -- that was investigated by the coalition, and the Italian government participated in that investigation.


            On the basis of that investigation, the investigators concluded that the soldiers involved followed the rules of engagement, that it was a terrible accident, but that no further action was necessary.  We certainly understand that the Italian government has its view, but that's our view, and we don't believe further investigation is warranted.


            (To the general.)  Do you have any --


            Q:  Larry, you made it sound like it was -- I'm sorry.  You made it sound like it was a joint investigation.  They cooperated, but they had two separate investigations, and the Italian government didn't necessarily agree that no --


            MR. DIRITA:  I stand by precisely what I've said.  They participated in an investigation, and the Italian government has its view of that investigation.  I'm -- I didn't want to make it sound what you just made it sound like.


            I was -- I understood what happened.  What happened was a terrible tragedy.  We did investigate it.  The Italian government participated in that investigation, and the reports have been widely discussed.


            Q:  But you said the investigators agreed that no further action should be taken.  The Italian --


            MR. DIRITA:  The investigators concluded that no further action was --


            Q:  The Italian investigators didn't necessarily conclude that. They had a lot of questions about it.


            MR. DIRITA:  Fair enough.  We do not believe further action is warranted on the basis of that investigation.




            Q:  Just one last follow-up on Iraq.


            MR. DIRITA:  Okay.


            Q:  This election was a week ago.  General, can you talk a little bit about sort of your military assessment?  I know it's just a week.  It's a snapshot in time.  But what did you see over the last week in terms of the insurgency attacks?  We keep hearing about what seems like a fairly quiet period.  Does that mean anything?


            GEN. CONWAY:  You're talking about Iraq?


            Q:  Yes, Iraq.


            GEN. CONWAY:  Yeah.  If you compare what's happening right now on the ground to, let's say, during the referendum period -- interesting -- just about all the indicators are down, and that's of course a very positive development.  We thought that there would be more hostility on the part of the insurgency during the actual election.  That did not occur.  We're seeing numbers of casualties, numbers of attacks, number of suicide VBIEDs, VBIEDs -- all those indicators that we track routinely are down.


            It's also interesting that that saturation point that we thought would come with the Iraqi people, we think, is starting to take place. And I think it was tied to the vote, in some regards.  We're seeing what we call red on red, where insurgents are actually going against the AQI because they think they've overstepped any reasonable bounds in terms of their actions, in a lot of cases resulting in the death of Iraqis and in some cases women and children.


            All those, we think, are positive developments and we think in some ways contribute to this comparative decline in those critical figures that we follow.  So overall the assessment, I think, is somewhat positive, viewing the last few weeks.


            Q:  A follow-up on that?  General, to what extent do you believe that this reduction in attacks and casualties resulted from any contacts or negotiations between MNF-I and the insurgents?


            GEN. CONWAY:  You know, I honestly don't have a feel for that. I've read about it. It has not been reported officially.  I probably know what you know, just based on what I've been able to read.  I do know that those people from time to time do attempt to reach out. Even when I was there, they wanted to sometimes come together with us. We would say to them, "Show us that you have a say-so over these people who are carrying weapons, and then we will take it from there." They were never really able to do that.  So I have my own skepticism, I guess, about the accuracy of some of those reports.


            So I don't attribute much to it because I just don't think that they control that much of what we see in terms of the anti-Iraqi forces.


            Q:  Well, what's the policy on negotiating with the terrorists, so to speak?


            MR. DIRITA:  Well, we don't negotiate with terrorists.  The issue is, how do we manage groups that want to reach out to either the Iraqi government or the coalition and say, "Geez, we're ready to rethink this."  It is something that happens at various levels, and it's done with, you know, the full consultation or full understanding, generally speaking, with the Iraqi government.  We don't -- what you said is not what's going on.  What we're trying to do is pull off the fence- sitters, the ones who say, "Okay, I get it, enough is enough, I'm not with them anymore."  And that's an important objective, military and political objective of what's going on in Iraq right now.


            In the spirit of the season, we'll take two more, and that will have to do.


            Q:  To follow up on this.  The U.S. released some high-value targets very recently, including Iraqi scientists who worked on germ and biological warfare programs.  Is it possible that the reduction in violence that you just described has something to do with the release of those prisoners?


            GEN. CONWAY:  There have been, again, no official reports to indicate that there's any connection to that whatsoever.  There is a process that's followed when high-value prisoners, or targets, as you characterize them, are released.  The Iraqi government was part and parcel to that.  It was done consciously, I think, based on a number of factors that went into the judgment.


            So I think those are probably, we would say, more likely the rationale or the thought process behind it than any negotiations with the leadership of the anti-Iraqi forces.


            Q:  So there was no deal made?


            MR. DIRITA:  They have a process, and to the best of our understanding, the process was followed in this case as well.  I mean, these -- we're in regular consultations with the Iraqi government on detainees.  They have a process.  We have a process.  And this -- these kinds of releases, particularly on the high-value end, are done with full consultation of the Iraqi government.  So --


            Q:  General Conway, you mentioned transition teams are going to be teaching the Iraqi security forces how to call in help from U.S. forces.  Are U.S. forces going to teach them how to call in air strikes?  And if so, about how many Iraqis do you envision to be trained as such by the end of next year?


            GEN. CONWAY:  We're not there yet.  We do a fledgling Iraqi air force.  It's flying C-130s and some other -- a mixture, really, of helicopters.


            But I would not say that's not something that --


            Q:  (Off mike) -- American fliers --


            GEN. CONWAY:  Right now, I'm saying, that is not within the state of the art.  But that's not to say that one day that that couldn't be something that we would envision taking place.  It's progressive.  We take steps at a time.


            I think first we would teach them, if they don't already know it, how to call in artillery/mortar fire, those types of things, as intermediate level supporting arms.


            Q:  So are we giving the Iraqis artillery as well, or -- has this -- would this be calling American artillery or --


            GEN. CONWAY:  Right now, the only artillery -- functional artillery is American artillery.  Again, as we develop their combat support units, I think you're going to see artillery.  You already see armor.  So I think, again, as we progress down that line, you'll see increasing Iraqi capabilities, I suspect one day to include air as well.


            MR. DIRITA:  Thanks very much.  Have a great holiday.


            Q:  (Off mike) -- supplemental?  Can you give us a ballpark -- how much he'll ask for Iraq and Afghanistan -- (off mike)?


            MR. DIRITA:  I cannot.  I don't even know, frankly, off hand, what the status of all of that is at the moment.  So -- thanks, folks.


            GEN. CONWAY:  Merry Christmas, folks.


            Thank you.

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