Press Briefing, Dec. 5, 2006
Monday, 04 December 2006
Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV
Spokesman, Multi-National Force - Iraq
IRAQ OPERATIONAL UPDATE BRIEFING BRIEFER: MAJOR GENERAL WILLIAM CALDWELL, USA, SPOKESMAN, MULTINATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ LOCATION: COMBINED PRESS INFORMATION CENTER, BAGHDAD, IRAQ TIME: 7:00 A.M. EST DATE: TUESDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2006
GEN. CALDWELL: Good afternoon. "As-salaam aleikum."
Today we will cover the acceleration of the transition of Iraqi responsibility and the growing capability of Iraqi security forces and other institutions necessary for stabilizing Iraq. But first I would like to provide you an update on several ongoing operations.
On Sunday, a CH-46 helicopter from the 3rd Marine Air Wing departing the Haditha Dam experienced a mechanical problem and made an emergency landing on the lake. During the precautionary landing, the two crew chiefs and the other passengers aboard the aircraft went ahead and evacuated while the two pilots remained onboard. The pilots were able to guide the aircraft to the shore and up a boat ramp. However, four of the evacuated personnel drowned. All indications are that this was a mechanical failure, and an investigation is under way. Coalition and security forces are also continuing to search for our missing soldier, Specialist Ahmed Altaie, who was kidnapped on October 23rd while visiting with his family at Baghdad. We continue to receive tips about Specialist Altaie's whereabouts, but obviously at this point we have not found him. We also work closely -- continue to work closely with the U.S. Mission in Iraq to recover the five contractors from the Crescent Security Group who were abducted north of Basra on November 16th.
Also this week the status of the Air Force pilot Major Troy Gilbert was changed from missing to killed in action. Although efforts to recover Major Gilbert's remains are ongoing, his status was changed based on the results of DNA tests. This new information, in addition to the previous reports that the ejection seat and parachute were found intact and undeployed, leads investigators to believe that he was killed instantly upon impact. Recovery of Major Gilbert's remains will remain a priority for coalition forces.
On behalf of all of the Multinational Force-Iraq, I offer our deepest condolences to Major Gilbert's family, as well as to the families of the service members who drowned in Haditha. They died performing a great service to our nation, and we will remember them in our prayers.
Slide and chart, please.
In order to provide the security and stabilization necessary for the transition to Iraqis determining their own future, we have to neutralize those that are trying to divide this nation through sectarian violence. These illegal armed groups do little to protect neighborhoods. Unfortunately, they have proven themselves to be much better at exacting revenge against innocent people rather than protecting communities from terrorism, violence and kidnappings.
The majority of the violence here still occurs in a very tightly area within 30 miles of Baghdad. Iraqi security forces and coalition forces continue to pursue illegal armed groups in this area through the execution of focused, intelligence-driven raids.
As you look at this chart here, during the past week, 12 different operations were conducted -- specifically, if you look, five of them within the proper area of Baghdad itself; two others right in the vicinity of the Baghdad area; and then you can see the others still in the close-knit area of Baghdad.
What's key here is there were four cell members picked up. Those came from these locations both here and here, and then also here, which is an area just a little north of the Baghdad city itself, where the cell leaders were picked up.
Next chart, please -- slide. As we go after the web of extremist death squads, we also continue to degrade the terrorist networks responsible for the mass slaughter of Iraqi civilians. As Dr. al-Dabbagh presented last week in our joint press conference, we have seen some significant gains in dismantling al Qaeda in Iraq's leadership, and the images of these six that were captured recently have been released by him. Focused operations against al Qaeda in November resulted in 205 assaults on objectives, resulting in 126 terrorists being killed. This is about 28 percent of the anti-Iraqi forces that were killed during the month of November, and there are another 522 suspected detained, along with the rescue of a kidnapped Iraqi policeman. We understand the government of Iraq will release further information this week on the dismantling of al Qaeda in Iraq and on Ansar al-Sunna leadership.
If you look back to this chart here specifically and you notice the people being picked up -- I mean, this one here, Fayir (ph), he is one of AAM's -- Abdul al-Masri's -- drivers. We know that he has been involved in personal confidant of AAM and helping to facilitate meetings. This gentleman here, we know that he is involved in VBIED attacks against Iraqi security forces. And each one of them, along with many others I understand the government of Iraq is about to release shortly, will be coming out here this week. Again, these are the six that Dr. al-Dabbagh talked about earlier last week in our joint press conference.
Although these operations have dealt a significant blow to the terrorists, who are desperate to prevent Iraqis from deciding Iraq's future, this weekend's car bombings in Baghdad demonstrate they are still dangerous and very capable. We recognize this threat and are taking deliberate steps to reduce it.
On December 2nd, coalition forces uncovered a weapons cache in a neighborhood of southern Baghdad just south of Rusala (ph). Among the munitions discovered were three complete car bombs and 700 pounds of explosives, along with RPGs, mines, grenades and small arms. Behind a false wall in another house these was -- we found two SA-14 surface- to-air missiles.
And if I can, what occurred was there was a convoy of security forces moving along this road and an IED went off. No individuals were injured in that attack. As they cordoned the area and started to search, they found that the trigger man had been located back in this vicinity here. In the ensuing search of the local area -- and this building here was where they found the three vehicle IEDs that were all set and prepared to be used as an explosive device, an additional 700 pounds of explosives. Further over, in a building right here, is where they found the two SA-14 missiles, along with additional munitions.
This cache is important, as each of these discoveries like this will undoubtedly save hundreds of innocent Iraqi lives. Although these operations are important to stabilize Iraq, we are also in a period of transition as Iraqis assume greater responsibility and greater authority for the security of Iraq. Coalition forces possess greater military capability than Iraqi forces at the present, and our presence can have a temporary and a local effect in improving the security situation in an area where we are employed. Yet Iraqi forces have unique advantages in identifying threats and deterring terrorist activity. They also are better at things like understanding the terrain, the language, the culture in the areas in which we operate jointly. Moreover, the fundamental conflict in Iraq won't be resolved until Iraqis come to grips with the difficult issues dividing them.
In order to bring about this transition more effectively and more rapidly, we will accelerate some aspects of our support for the Iraqi security forces in the near future. We are working with the ministries of Defense and Interior to accelerate leadership development, logistics and communications capability, and the creation of operational and tactical reserves, amongst other programs.
This is a picture of what took place on the 1st of December, December 1st, when the 3rd Iraqi Army had a transfer of responsibility. This is the Multinational Division North commander and the division commander from the 3rd Iraqi Army Division, and this is an Iraqi soldier here as part of that division's standing point, representing all of the Iraqi security forces that continue to assume greater responsibility for their nation.
Iraqi divisions that are in the lead in their own areas of responsibility are capable of coordinating, planning and executing security operations independent of coalition forces. The ability of the 3rd Iraqi Army Division to control its own maneuver space and maintain stability and security in the area will determine the level of assistance that they receive from coalition forces. Thus far, the 3rd Iraqi Army Division headquarters has demonstrated that it's fully capable of taking over security operations in their area of Nineveh Province, which includes the major cities of Tall Afar and of Mosul.
Next slide and chart, please.
This transfer represents the 70 percent mark of Iraqi army divisions' headquarters assuming responsibility for the battlespace. There are 10 Iraqi army division headquarters, and this will be the seventh fully trained division, joining the 1st, the 4th, the 5th, the 6th, 8th, and the 9th. With this transfer, the ISF, as you can see -- as you look at this chart, the green area indicates where Iraqi army units are in the lead, the yellow where the division headquarters is in the lead, and then these are where we have provincial Iraqi control. And again, I think we all know down here in the south is where the provincial Iraqi control has occurred, and in the green areas is where we find that the Iraqi forces are in the lead, and then where we have yellow that's the division headquarters has assumed the lead for the coordinating, the planning and the executing of operations independent of coalition forces -- thus far, to date, seven division headquarters, 30 brigades and 91 battalions.
The Iraqi security force is increasingly taking the lead every day. They are battling an insurgency in order to establish a safe and secure nation. This week recently saw several engagements that show how the Iraqi security forces' increasingly tactical and operational efficiency is being developed.
Slide, please. On November 29th, the 9th Iraqi Army Division initiated an operation in the area of Nassir (ph) fish farm, to the west of Iskandariyah, to disrupt insurgent activity. And what you saw here was six Iraqi army companies -- one, two, two more here, and two over here -- that conducted a combined operation to -- there was one coalition company involved. That operated down here in the south in more of a blocking position, working in support of and available to assist if required. These two companies here conducted a sweep through this area, these two Iraqi companies a sweep through this area to here, and these two over to here. Additionally, the Iraqi security forces set up blocking positions to their north, to their east, as they conducted this operation.
What's significant here, you'll also start seeing the military transition teams that we have embedded operating with the security forces, which will only increase in numbers as we move forward with the Iraqi security forces assuming more responsibility for their operations.
What's key out of this operation, they did detain 83 suspected anti-Iraqi forces, they did recover one murder victim, and they did sustain four wounded, of which two were immediately returned to duty. The other two that required medical care then utilized the whole concept of the MiTT program, and what they did is they turned to their MiTT team, requested medevac support, from which the coalition forces have medevac helicopters. They brought in medical evacuation helicopters and picked up the two Iraqi army soldiers that required medical care. Again, MiTT team working in support of and providing that key logistical element that has not been fully developed yet into the Iraqi security forces.
Two days later, the 9th Iraqi Army launched a series of targeted raids in (Yusufiya ?). Here they were focused on capturing terrorist forces responsible for planning and execution of innocent Iraqi civilians. The Iraqi security forces encountered heavy resistance in what was a complex urban environment. Embedded again within these forces were our Military Transition Teams.
And again, what you saw here in this situation, you find the Iraqi security forces coming in from multiple locations into this (Beshile ?) area here in Musafa (ph).
The result of this operation was 43 anti-Iraqi force suspected members being detained and another 20 that they killed during the fire fight. This operation lasted about over five, six hours. During the operation, again, the Iraqi security forces turned to their military transition team members that were embedded with them requesting coalition air support, again, which the coalition force has the ability to provide and has not yet been fully developed into the Iraqi security forces. They provided air support for them, and then they were also able to call in and provide additional on-ground support as needed.
The Iraqi commanders did, in fact, continue to talk with and allow the MiTT team commanders to serve a role of coaching, teaching and mentoring the leadership of this Iraqi security force as this operation was actually being conducted.
On December 2nd, the 2nd Brigade of the 5th Iraqi army division conducted point raids and a (coordinated ?) search within Katun (ph), south of Baqubah. They had identified 14 targeted people that they wanted to go after. You'll see 12 targets here listed on the map because two of these targets had double embeds within them. Out of the 14 targeted individuals they were going after, they were able to find 10 of those individuals and detain them.
They also found here in this mosque a weapons cache, and you can see some propane tanks they had pulled out of the location and bullet- proof vests. And then, over here in this location, adjacent to it, they found a kidnapped teenager and were able to free him.
Out of that operation, they detained 44 individuals. And once again, it continued to demonstrate the Iraqi army's increasing capability to mass a brigade-size element and effectively control their battle space.
In order for the Iraqis to assume full responsibility for securing Iraq, they will need to acquire a broader range of capabilities beyond their growing counterinsurgency capability. A positive step in this direction was taken with the establishment of a river patrol unit to bring law and order to the Tigris River. This new unit, consisting of five boats, patrols the river around Baghdad with professional, competent police. This capability allows the Iraqis to secure their waterways and to protect their people.
And this is one of the five new boats that they've recently acquired, and this is one of their new police units on patrol. This is the unit that recently sent 26 individuals back to the United States for some very deliberate training for several months and then brought them back, have now reintegrated them back into their unit.
They had a ribbon-cutting ceremony about two weeks ago and now are fully operational, operating here on the Tigris River in the Baghdad area. They also have, obviously, underwater capabilities too, as demonstrated there with an Iraqi police officer going into the water.
Iraqi security forces are not the only Iraqi institution demonstrating increased capability to support the government of Iraq's mandate as the sole legitimate authority in Iraq. Iraqi courts are also contributing to this effort through the improvement in the rule of law. Between November 10th and 23rd, the central criminal court of Iraq convicted 41 individuals for a variety of crimes, including possession of illegal weapons, possessing false identifications, and illegal border crossings.
To date, the central criminal court of Iraq has convicted more than 90 foreign fighters, handing out one death sentence, six life sentences without parole, and 24 life sentences with the possibility of parole.
Although the week of November 25th to December 1st saw the lowest level of casualties in Iraq in the past 12 weeks, it was flanked on both sides by sensational car bombs that produced significant casualties. The level of violence in Baghdad remains unacceptably high, and we're likely to see occasional spikes in the weeks and even the months to come.
In the end, only Iraqis can provide solutions to Iraqis' problems. We continue to work closely with the government of Iraq to develop an Iraqi security force that is both operationally capable and has the confidence of all Iraqis, regardless of sect or ethnicity.
The operations conducted this week demonstrate the Iraqi security force is making progress. Developing these forces is not a sprint; it's a marathon. The Iraqi security force is making progress towards ensuring that Iraqis' future will be determined by Iraqis who want unity and prosperity and not by outside forces, who seek to sow chaos and discord.
Thank you. And now I'll be glad to take any of your questions. Yes, sir. Q (Through interpreter.) Afman al-Mashhadani (ph) from the -- (inaudible).
I have two questions. The Islamic Army Organization Iraq has announced that it had killed Abu Dua, the leader of -- (inaudible) -- in Iraq. Can you confirm this news? And you talked about the killing of insurgents in Iraq. Are there any of them of Saudi origins?
My second question: Do you expect spike of violence in the next few days? And what is the evidence to that?
GEN. CALDWELL: Okay, the question was on Abu Dua. And we, in fact, can neither confirm nor deny that he's been killed. And what I'll tell you is all indications are to us right now that he has not been killed. That's our best indications.
As far as the question on insurgents and what's going on, if you're asking me, I guess I should ask, do you want to know are there still foreign insurgents operating within the country? Is that the question?
Q (Off mike.)
GEN. CALDWELL: Yes, there are. I mean, as we stated before, we still do see the flow of foreign fighters coming in from outside this country. And again, it's anywhere between 40 to 60 or 70 every month making their way into Iraq from Syria. And again, if the Syrian government wanted to be more helpful, they could shut down the border from their side more, as the Iraqi border forces attempt to also shut it down on this side and prevent that flow of foreign fighters into this country.
We did capture their -- the convictions that were made by the central criminal court of Iraq against foreign fighters that have made their way into the country and been captured and have gone before your criminal justice system. We've heard where one has been, in fact, given a life sentence -- correction, a death sentence -- and then the others that were given the life sentences out of the numbers that were recently convicted.
And I think we also talked about the fact that this past month we know, in fact, we did kill at least 126 foreign fighters, terrorists here in the country, and focused operations, which were about 28 percent, we think, approximately of the overall anti-Iraqi force elements that were killed this past month.
Does that answer the question?
GEN. CALDWELL: I didn't hear the --
Q What are the nationalities of the foreign extremists and terrorists who have been killed in Iraq? GEN. CALDWELL: I don't have that information readily available here. We will be glad to get that to you as best as we know it. Obviously the challenge always is -- the question was, what are the nationalities of those foreign fighters that were killed? Obviously the challenge always is identifying if they don't have some kind of identification on them, but we're never completely sure. So some of those are best case as we can ascertain. We do know that the largest number, in fact, though, came out of Syria recently; I'm sorry, correction -- Saudi Arabia first and Syria second.
Any other questions? Yes, sir.
Q As you transition more forces into a training and advisory capacity, do you have enough translators to manage the translation that will be required?
GEN. CALDWELL: Obviously that's something we're working very closely on right now and working to have additional assets available for us to assist in that very mission. But, yeah, what you'll see in a lot of cases is currently, while we may have an 18-person transition team operating, that team may go up to as many as 36 to 54, two to three times its current size, to get a greater coverage within the organization that's operating.
And then, of course, there are going to be new teams that currently aren't out there being put into other forces too. But, no, that's one we're looking at very closely, been working at now for quite a while. And we're, in fact, getting additional translators to assist in that.
Q That was sort of a no, you don't have enough right now?
GEN. CALDWELL: Currently we have enough to do what we're doing, but we're going to need additional ones, because we're going to obviously be ramping up here over the next few months with a lot more transition teams out there than currently exist today and a lot more people as part of the transition teams that are currently out there.
So the answer is no, we don't have them today, but yes, we are working on it.
Q Hi, General. You've just said you're increasing the size of the transition teams from 18 to about 34, between 24 and 34. How big an Iraqi unit would that be? Is that a company? A battalion?
GEN. CALDWELL: I'm not sure we're quite ready to start discussing all the particulars, other than what I can tell you is that there's a tremendous amount of work and effort that's been going on for about a month now on this. And once we've finished the coordination with the government of Iraq in solidifying this, there will be a briefing that lays out the exact numbers and sizes and how many additional ones were added to the current structure.
Q Two things.
STAFF: State your name and organization
Q My name is Charlie Coon, Stars and Stripes newspaper.
Earlier today, a release was sent out about a fifth Special Forces group soldier that was missing in that Haditha helicopter crash. Do you know anything about that?
GEN. CALDWELL: No, I have not heard anything about that.
Q And I think it said, "Refer other questions to CPIC."
GEN. CALDWELL: I do know that we had one Air Force member, one Marine; I'm trying to think. I don't have the exact list here, but everybody at this point has been accounted for that was a part of that helicopter mission. There's nobody at this point who's unaccounted for. So I'm not sure of the reporting on that. That's as of this morning; confirmation came back on all personnel.
Q Okay. I'll follow up with the CPIC guys.
GEN. CALDWELL: Okay.
Q Additionally, in the last week there's been at least four cases of Iraqi civilians getting killed or wounded in attacks by going after insurgents and being used supposedly as human shields during these events.
Why are we hearing more about that just this past week, or is it just because more of it has happened this past week?
GEN. CALDWELL: Well, what I would say is, first of all, regardless of the story, any time an innocent Iraqi civilian is killed in a military operation, it's a very unfortunate thing. And obviously our deepest sympathies goes out to those families.
But there have been two cases this week. We've acknowledged them very publicly when, in fact, there's any civilians involved in any military operations we conduct.
There have been also two others that have been out there floating around that somebody's reported that we have absolutely no confirmation of and have attempted to confirm or deny as best we can, and cannot at all confirm that those happened.
But we have publicly announced, and we always will announce, any time we conduct a military operation. But I think the important thing to realize is any time we conduct a military operation, there's always proportional use of force that's done. And we start off, you know, using the minimal amount of force that's absolutely required to accomplish the mission in hand, and then only escalate when required.
And so there are, in fact, elements out there we have seen of anti-Iraqi forces we have encountered that have, in fact, placed themselves in the same proximity of civilians, knowing that American forces will always use as much precaution as possible to preclude the loss of any innocent life, whereas, in fact, they have absolutely no regard for it when they put themselves in that position with civilians adjacent to them. So there were two incidents this week that we knew of and did report on.
Q Molly Hennessy-Fiske. I'm with the LA Times. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about something you touched on earlier, which was the handover of power to the provinces. Could you just talk a little bit about which provinces you've handed over control of the battlefield to and what that means?
GEN. CALDWELL: Sure.
If you could throw that one chart back up, please. Go forward, please. Keep going. That's it.
Obviously, down here, Molly, this is where we have -- what we call -- we've picked, where there's complete provincial Iraqi control down there. And when you move into these -- you find it down here. When you move into these two provinces, you're not going to find any coalition forces operating independently out of that area. We serve in an overwatch.
The prime minister, on the recommendations of the Ministerial Committee for National Security, makes those decisions when a province goes to pick the complete provincial Iraqi control. And he's going to announce shortly the next one that's going to occur here within the next two weeks, another province, and based on meetings that have just occurred this past week.
But the point is, when that occurs, any coalition force is going into an overwatch role. We have no active patrolling, no active involvement. The intent is, the governor controls it with his local police first in any kind of response. If that's insufficient, he can call on the national police or the Iraqi army. And if that's insufficient to handle the situation, if they need coalition force support, he has to go back to the prime minister and get permission from him to request coalition support. And then coalition forces will be provided, however requested by the prime minister. But you will not find us down in these two provinces conducting any kind of routine operations, patrols or anything else.
It doesn't mean, if there's a designated al Qaeda target that's time-sensitive or something, that may not be struck. But there are no routine operations that are conducted down in those provinces. And these other areas, like here, with the 8th Iraqi army divisions operating, this is their area of operation. It's a pretty big area.
Down there, the Iraqi army has taken control of that area. He's planning, coordinating, executing his own operations in that area. We will work in support of him and in coordination with him. But they're operating independently and not having to get approval for their military operations from us. So it's a real significant change.
Two of the divisions obviously are under complete Iraqi ground forces control at this point. And when you go up here to, like, the 4th, up here in this area, they take all their guidance and direction directly from the prime minister, the minister of defense, through the Iraqi Ground Forces Command, directly to those division commanders. And there's no involvement by coalition forces at all in the execution of their duties, whereas if you go over here to the 5th Iraqi army division, he's in command and control in that location there, but in close coordination with coalition forces.
Q How many are sort of in each -- which ones are in each category?
GEN. CALDWELL: Well, that's -- (inaudible). As far as the provinces or the divisions themselves?
GEN. CALDWELL: Right now the only two provinces that are 100 percent turned back over complete governmental control to the governors themselves are the two southern provinces right here. Those are the two that have picked. There will be a third one this month. The prime minister is going to announce that shortly, the third one that will occur this month.
That whole process, too, is part of the agreement between the president of the United States and the prime minister last week, and Jordan is also being accelerated. And we would expect to see the entire country having reached provincial Iraqi control by early fall of next year. We should see the complete transfer of command and control of all Iraqi army divisions by late spring, early summer.
And again, this is all part of that accelerated timetable discussion that was discussed between the president of the United States and the prime minister while they were in Jordan. Q So --
Q (Off mike.)
Q Sorry. The fact that those provinces have gone completely over to Iraqi control, that does not preclude U.S. forces from coming down, like you said, if there is some operation, if there's an insurgent that you are targeting?
GEN. CALDWELL: It would be very unusual. It would be something that would be coordinated with the government of Iraq. It would be some kind of very time-sensitive target against perhaps an al Qaeda element, extremist element. It would be an in-and-out-immediately type thing.
You will not find coalition forces except as coordinated and approved by the governor's office down there unless moving through those provinces. We truly are in a -- we've pulled back into our base camps. We don't conduct any routine operations whatsoever
Q Hi. Nancy Trahills (sp) of The Washington Post
Soldiers who were part of that Musafa (ph) raid described a situation in which they had to take over for the Iraqi soldiers because the Iraqi soldiers could not take the lead in that operation. The Iraqi soldiers said that they did not get proper notification and that they did not have adequate equipment.
Is there anything that's being done to improve on that situation? And at what point do you think the Iraqi army is going to get to the point where they can lead an operation like that?
GEN. CALDWELL: Nancy, what I'll tell you is the whole purpose of having the military transition teams is, in fact, they continue to work as coaching and teaching and mentoring the Iraqi security forces. And when they hit a difficult situation and perhaps they don't feel they are as well-trained for them to handle, they may turn to their American transition team there and ask for assistance in terms of coaching, teaching, suggestions, ideas. And that's the whole purpose of having that embedded guy in there with that unit and having that type of relationship.
The ultimate result of the operation was very positive. It was one of the larger type of operations that the Iraq security forces have conducted here. And so as we watch them grow in the size and the capability of what they're executing, they may, in fact, be challenged at different times as they go through. And that's the purpose behind these transition teams, to assist them when that assistance is requested. But they, in fact, took the lead. They planned that operation. They were executing it. The transition teams did assist, as we talked, in terms of coalition air support. And you are correct; they did turn and ask coalition ground force advisers for assistance. But I'd be very careful to say that it was a U.S. operation. In fact, it was not. It was an Iraqi security force operation. And the transition teams did exactly what they are supposed to be there to provide and assist with, if necessary; so, in fact, validating very much the concept of what was intended to be embedded within that force as necessary.
Q (Through interpreter.) (Inaudible.) What are the death squads? Can you name them? How many death squads are there in Iraq?
GEN. CALDWELL: The question was, do we know how many death squads there are in Iraq?
We do not know the exact number, but obviously there's -- as we have discussed before, we have an entire cell that's what we call the extrajudicial killing cell that was formed and developed back in early July time frame whose sole function in life is to help us establish intelligence and target those type of cells that are out conducting sectarian violence like that -- the murders, the executions, the assassinations.
We don't have a firm number I can tell you other than we continue to target them and go after them each week. And there's anywhere between -- we've kind of been seeing between 10 to 20 operations conducted on a weekly basis, the majority of them focused within the Baghdad area during that time period.
Q Tom Wagner, the AP.
Two more questions about the helicopter that went down on Sunday. Can you tell us what damage it suffered itself, the vehicle itself, and also whether it was involved in any fighting in support of ground forces at the time it went down?
GEN. CALDWELL: The helicopter had lifted off from Haditha Dam. It was not involved in any fighting and experienced what they called a power malfunction in the air. It was losing power. It set down -- had enough power to set down into the water as a precautionary measure, because they thought they could easily tip or go under. They went ahead and evacuated everybody in the helicopter except the pilot and co-pilot. So both the crew chiefs and all the passengers aboard exited out the back of the helicopter once it got down on the water.
The pilots ended up having enough power, though, where they were able to sort of surf-glide across the water towards the shore with this helicopter, uncertain they were going to be able to do it to begin with, but they were able to, and found a boat ramp as they came towards the shore that they were literally able to drive the helicopter up on and get it on to shore. And it was unable to fly further from there and had to be recovered.
So it was really, truly just a power malfunction that occurred, some great pilots doing some terrific flying there that they were able to set it down safely in the water, and amazing that they were able to get it back to shore safely.
Q Sorry, one other question; a follow-up on the one about women and children who have been killed. I think there were three or four statements that came out from CPIC in the last week or so about different ones. And if there was any pattern that seemed to result, it was that they were raids where insurgents were either in what you were calling safe houses or using civilians as a protection of themselves. It always sounded like the ground forces engaged, the air forces came in and flattened a building, and then bodies were found. Is there any pattern along the line in terms of air support having to come in to prevent house-to-house fighting, and therefore civilian casualties?
GEN. CALDWELL: Those operations that were conducted this week were all very focused, delivered operations by forces that went in after specific targets. They were all al Qaeda in Iraq-related targets that they were after. And in each case we'd go in, and the first thing we normally do is provide the ability for anybody to come out. But if they start taking immediate heavy small arms fire, they attempt to re-engage back. And if it becomes such that they're going to be able to detain the people inside the building without using escalation force, then they'll escalate force to eliminate the threat.
Those elements that were hit, if you go back and look, you'll find that they were all al Qaeda in Iraq-related. They, in fact, understand and know that we are targeting them. I think you're going to see, when the government of Iraq talks later this week about some more al Qaeda targets that have been taken down recently, it's quite a few.
And, you know, we found them doing things like dressing up as women in recent target raids. We've identified that in one or two other press releases, but, in fact, are seeing it a lot more prevalent now than we've ever seen it before. In fact, I don't really recall seeing it all past summer but have been seeing a lot more this fall.
Q Joel Riddle, National Public Radio.
With the Iraq Study Group plan coming out tomorrow, I was just wondering if the military had any contingency plans drawn up in case the strategy changed with the suggestions? Has the military made any preparations for changing the strategy with reassessment of the situation here?
GEN. CALDWELL: What I'll tell you is we are constantly reassessing the situation here. You know, one of the things General Casey does with us is continuously come back and challenge us as a staff and ask us to look at what we're doing and if we've got it right.
The very fact that we are still taking casualties, both Iraqi civilian, security forces and U.S. casualties, means that we can always continue to look for a better way to do the execution of this overall strategy here in Iraq. So we're constantly assessing it. We're wide open to any suggestions or ideas. We have already been, at the direction of General Casey, looking to implement the tactic of going more towards the transition teams. I think what you'll find, the year 2007 truly is going to be the year of transition. We are going to transition the security responsibilities for this country to the government of Iraq and to their security forces. That is already ongoing, and I think the Iraqi security group may just put it more in context.
But what happens back in Washington -- you know, we'll take whatever guidance we're given, but we're already adjusting and making refinements here based on General Casey's guidance.
Q I asked last week about when a lot of these -- when you speak of al Qaeda in Iraq, you tell us all the successes. But there have been two leaked military reports, one saying that they're overflowing in funding and another saying that the U.S. doesn't have enough soldiers to deal with them. I asked you last week if you could look at those reports and maybe rectify that contradiction.
GEN. CALDWELL: I'll need to still get back to you on the money one. But what I can tell you as far as forces to handle al Qaeda in Iraq, we, in fact, have sufficient forces of the kinds that we need to take on those specialized targets. And we're very systematically dismantling that network.
I think what you're going to find is that (AEM ?) is, in fact, more isolated, more alone than probably he's ever been since he took over this last June at this point in time. I think you're going to find a lot of his leadership has been stripped away, especially in some of the senior-level leadership. Again, I should let the government of Iraq talk about this; I think they're going to shortly -- about more of the operations that have been conducted over the last 30, 60 days and the dismantling of that network. So --
Q (Inaudible) -- these military reports that are coming out are wrong?
GEN. CALDWELL: No, what I will tell you is that -- I'm not talking about the financing. What I'm telling you is the al Qaeda in Iraq network is, in fact, being systematically dismantled. They are not as effective as they were. But the fact that they can do one car bomb is enough to give us grave concern, because that means that innocent Iraqi civilians are going to lose their lives.
We know from the debriefs that are occurring with those have been picked up that, as we talked last week, you know, they specifically target innocent Iraqi civilians. They're the ones who normally are directly responsible for these large, sensational car-bomb attacks. I mean, that's their intent is to cause sectarian divide by inflicting large casualties in order to set up the retribution that would occur back against Sunnis to get that cycle of violence going. That's what they attempt to do. I mean, they want to divide this country. They have no desire whatsoever to unify this country. It's not a territorial quest. It's strictly a division to sow discord, to cause the downfall of this government, to discredit this government, to discredit their security forces.
Q (Through interpreter.) Mufit Hamir (ph) from -- (inaudible).
An Israeli military source said yesterday that Pentagon asked the Israeli company of Rafael to equip it with a new system for striker vehicles. A certain device is being mounted on this vehicle which protects against rockets. This (week ?), U.S. force in Iraq has been -- (inaudible) -- in Iraq against the insurgents, and that's why U.S. resorted to this new defense system. How far is this news correct?
GEN. CALDWELL: The question is whether the Israeli forces are providing us special equipment that we use in our military vehicles over here to counter the IED threat.
I'm not familiar with that report, but what I can tell you, that the systems we're using are coming from the United States of America. We don't talk about what the systems are openly; only for operational security reasons. But everybody is very much aware of what systems they are, where they come from, and what companies are producing them. So I'm not at all familiar with this report.
STAFF: We have time for one more question, sir.
GEN. CALDWELL: Yes, sir.
Q Thank you. I forgot to identify myself last time. It's Dave Clark from AFP.
I was going to ask -- last week President Bush said that the troops would remain here until the mission is complete. But in the memo that Donald Rumsfeld sent before leaving office, he suggested that you recast the military mission and talk about it in a different way. How today would you briefly define the mission of the forces in Iraq?
GEN. CALDWELL: What I'll tell you, the mission of our armed forces are to set the conditions that allow the Iraqi security forces to be successful in providing the security for Iraq so that Iraqis can determine the future of Iraq. I mean, to put it in real simple man's terms, when I was an infantry soldier, that's what I'd tell you our mission is.
So that's what we're working very diligently to do, and we'll continue doing that. Again, we're here at the request of the government of Iraq. We're here as their guest. We're working very closely with the Iraqi security forces. Okay, thank you very much.
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