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Press briefing on Operation Rat Trap with Maj. Gen. William Caldwell IV, Multi-National Force - Iraq spokesman, May 3, 2007.

Multi-National Force-Iraq


GEN. CALDWELL: Good afternoon. As-salaam aleikum. Over the last six days, we've been conducting very deliberate operations and very focused operations against al Qaeda-in-Iraq targets. Progress has been made. There have been quite a few enemy both killed and captured as a result of these operations. Due to the significant number of these operations and a large number that have been killed and captured, it became evident that there is some confusion out there as to understand exactly who may have been killed captured.

So, if I could, I'll first start off by talking about Abu Ayyub al-Masri. We, in fact, do not have in our possession, nor do we know of anybody that has, anybody or person at this time that we think is him. His overall status, whether he's dead or alive, is absolutely unknown to us at this point. We have nothing to report on him. But I know that has been in a lot of speculation out there in the press reporting, and we just want to clarify that point. On Omar Al-Baghdadi, again, if that person even exists, again, we have nobody in our possession or know of anybody that does, either alive or dead, that is going through any kind of testing or analysis at this point -- with respect to those two individuals.

What I can tell you -- and if you would, could you throw up the first chart -- six days ago, we began a very deliberate operation against al Qaeda-in-Iraq targets. Operation Rat Trap went over about a 72-hour period. As you can see, most of the areas in which we were operating -- we're focused here on the side of -- is the mike on? Yeah. -- we're focused generally in the central part of Iraq in here.

As a result of these operations, 29 targets specifically were focused in about 72 hours. Out of that, 95 enemy personnel were detained and 15 were killed. You can see the areas in which these were conducted. We picked up things from chemicals, obviously, that were being utilized that would have been part of and associated with what we assume would have been car bombs -- again, trying to make chlorine car bombs again -- and then again down here in the -- (audio break) -- picking up what, again, are some more anti-aircraft weapon systems that they've been using to target against coalition force helicopters. And then again, each of these other locations, if you look up here in Tikrit area, on the 29th it was -- this operation here resulted in 36 detainees.

In these areas there have been multiple targets that we hit, but between these eight different identified locations that occurred, there was a total of 29 different operations. And again, this was to go after al Qaeda in Iraq specifically, targeting them during that time period.

What we do know, as we continue to watch these operations, al Qaeda continues to use indiscriminate targeting against civilians. We've said during the month of April somewhere between 1,500 to 2,000 innocent Iraqi civilians were either killed or injured through the use of car bombs and suicide vests, so this is an important operation to take on. We're going to continue that targeting.

During the month of April -- and again, this is the end of April -- but during the month of April there was a total of 139 specific al Qaeda in Iraq targets that we went after, resulting in 87 enemy being killed and a total of 465 personnel being detained. And that's the whole summary for the month of April. This is just the last 72 hours in the month of April with these focused operations that we conducted. We did not brief them as they were going on. Normally, one of these type of operations, the information that we're able to take off a target set, we'll -- as we turn that very quickly through our sensitive site exploitation of the material that we will bring off a target along with the detainee debriefings that we do -- we're able to immediately turn and go after other multiple targets that are associated with and followed on from there. As a result, we've conducted those during those three days.

The very next morning on 1 May at about 0200 hours, an operation was conducted against a site where four buildings were located.

If you would, on the next chart, please -- as a result of that operation, that is when we in fact did kill the senior minister of Information for al Qaeda in Iraq. Muharib Abdul Latif was in fact killed on a target set on the 1st of May at about 2:00 a.m. in the morning. What we do know is that he had been previously captured by coalition forces some time in 2003 and released some time in 2004. He had been in Syria for a while. We assess his family still is residing there at this time. We do that he was closely associated with AAM, Ayyub al-Masri; we also know that Muharib was involved in both the Jill Carroll and the Tom Fox kidnappings. Based on multiple detainee debriefings, we know that he was responsible for the transportation and movement of Jill Carroll from her various hiding places; again, from multiple detainee debriefings, we know he was responsible for the propaganda and ransom videos from the Jill Carroll kidnapping. Muharib was also the last one known to have had personal custody of Tom Fox before his death.

We also know he was involved in the kidnapping of two Germans in January of 2006. Between May and September of 2006, we know he was working as a money and foreign facilitator for AQI in Syria, and then sometime in early -- late September or early October, returned to Syria and moved into his position where he was serving as the minister of Information responsible for both propaganda and disinformation on behalf of al Qaeda in Iraq.

This is the individual that I think has caused some of the confusion out there recently as to who was the senior personnel within the al Qaeda network that had been killed on a recent operation. This is him. We do have digits and pictures we can make available to you after the briefing if you'd like to have those.

And with that, I'll take whatever questions you all have associated with this operation or the other operations against al Qaeda here. Yes, sir?

Q General, where -- I apologize -- Hugh Riminton from CNN. Where was this operation in which this gentleman was killed?

GEN. CALDWELL: This operation was conducted just west of Taji, I'd say about four miles outside the city, west of Taji. And again, it was four different targets that we went in on that night, early that morning. Out of that target set, there were six killed, five -- correction, six detained, five killed. Other personnel were brought into custody but released on site.

The only body that we took off the site was Muharib's body. The others were left on site. We brought his body off, obviously, because it was assessed that he in fact could have been Muharib. We could not, obviously, make positive identification on the target location. He was brought back. DNA testing was conducted, along with photo identification, and the determination was made just yesterday that that's in fact who we had killed on the target set early that morning.

Yes, sir?

Q Tom Wagner from Associated Press. When you started this operation, did you know that he was a potential target, or was this -- what motivated this particular strike in this area if you didn't know he was there?

GEN. CALDWELL: We, in fact, were tracking another individual that we did pick up on that target that we were going after because we knew that that person could lead us to him. And so in fact we were going after a person of interest who we knew had direct contacts and would lead us to Muharib, and in fact we were just fortunate to have found them both on the same target set. Muharib, though, we did not, obviously, take into custody and was killed attempting to resist detention.

Who's got the mikes?

Q General, Miguel Marquez with ABC. If you did get Baghdadi or al-Masri, and they -- could you identify them? How would you identify them? Do you have DNA to do that?

GEN. CALDWELL: If we in fact got al-Masri, we would be able to give a positive identification, unequivocable (sic).

On al-Baghdadi, again, we're not really sure who that is. There's a lot of discussion about a person called al-Baghdadi, but we actually have no knowledge who that might be.

But obviously the reason -- I bring it up only because there was a lot of press reporting that that may have been the person who was killed on the target set, and I just want to clarify that's -- one, we don't know who that is, but that wasn't who we're tracking.

Q (Through interpreter.) Taber Shimeri (sp) from Al-Arabiya. We would like to know that since the beginning of Fard al-Qanun operation, you have captured many people, and you have targeted many people. Many of them were leaders. Still we see an increase of violence and explosions in Baghdad. And there is something important. The Iraqi borders, especially our borders with the neighboring countries -- the multinational forces has no plan to control these borders.

If you kill this person, for example, thousands will infiltrate the borders to replace him. Do you intend to make a mechanism to control the Iraqi borders and the international borders?

GEN. CALDWELL: Again, I'm trying to stay focused on this operation. What I can tell you is that during the month of April, just against specific al Qaeda targets -- these are not overall targets that were conducted during the month of April, but just al Qaeda- related targets -- that there are 139 that we went in and conduct (sic) specialized operations against them, which resulted in 87 enemy being killed and another 465 people of interest being detained.

So these operations have stayed very deliberate and focused. We do know this gentleman here was in responsibles working in Syria, helping with both the foreign fighter facilitation and the movement of money until sometime in the September time frame, when he made his way back into Iraq and then took over as the minister of information for al Qaeda. Q (Through interpreter.) My question is about the multinational forces. Did you make a plan for the control of the Iraqi borders and ways leading to Baghdad? I am not talking about the person you have killed in this operation. The Iraqi borders are still open to these people. Thank you.

GEN. CALDWELL: Yeah. Yeah. I think what you'll find -- obviously, as this -- as we talk about, he was helping with the foreign fighter facilitators moving through Syria into Iraq. Those numbers continue, we do see, but there has been some movement by the Syrians for -- whether for their own security reasons, whatever, where there has been in fact a reduction in the amount of foreign fighter flow making their way into Iraq here, as we have observed over the last month-plus at this point.

Q General, Victoria Coates with Red State.

Can you speak to the level of local support for this operation in general and for the capture of Muharib in specific?

GEN. CALDWELL: Yeah, the -- what I can tell you, in terms of these targeted operations, most of these are a result of information that we glean off target-site sets that we've gone in and do the sensitive-site exploitation, which will lead us to another one. Separate and distinct, obviously, the fight against al Qaeda down in Al Anbar province continues there with the tribal elements coming together and taking on al Qaeda down there themselves in the group called the Awakening and the operations that they conduct down there. You know, we see the very distinct reduction in the number of attacks against coalition forces. I'd have to go back and give you a straight statistical, but it's well over a 50 percent reduction just in the last six months.

If you were to go back six months ago and then look at it again today, even go back a year ago, six months ago and today, you can in fact see the differences in the amount of activity that was against the coalition forces over this past year, specifically in the last six months. From the efforts by the local tribe leaders taking on al Qaeda and saying that their tactics, their methods, the means by which they intimidate people, the indiscriminate killings against innocent civilians, their use of chlorine car bombs that they do use -- it's just something they're not going to tolerate anymore. I mean, that's a decision they've made, and they are not allowing al Qaeda to operate freely as they once did out in that area.

Q Courtney Kealy, Fox News.

This is the second time this week that the Iraqi ministry of interior has given out information to the press, first with al-Masri, now with Baghdadi. How come they keep insisting that they're getting these guys? And then we have to -- but then we're waiting so long for denials. Is there any way to --

GEN. CALDWELL: Yeah, we drilled down real hard in the last 24 hours, trying to understand what happened, too, ourselves. Yesterday afternoon the decision was made. The positive identification had been made on Muharib, and we did release him with a person from his tribe that we had picked up in our operation here in the last 96 hours. We put them in a vehicle, released them so that they could make their way back to a mosque, so that they could conduct a proper burial and follow their practices in terms of burying him.

As they were making their way through Baghdad, they came to an Iraqi checkpoint. The Iraqis identified in the vehicle Muharib, as they didn't know who it was, so then they recognized that he was somebody on some kind of wanted list. They then immediately took that member of the tribe we had just released, Muharab's body, back into custody at that point; started trying to piece together how he had gotten to that point and where he was, because, obviously, there was no coalition forces associated with him at that point.

So that led to this ensuing report that they in fact had captured him, although he had been killed yesterday, and in fact, there is some very truth to that. They had picked him up at a checkpoint with this detainee that we had released, making their way to a mosque.

Q I'm sorry. I'm a little confused. The reason the news came out about Baghdadi is that somebody at a checkpoint saw the body of this guy that you were trying -- that you had released for a proper burial.

GEN. CALDWELL: Yeah, we -- yeah, but what I'm telling you is --

Q (Off mike) --

GEN. CALDWELL: First of all, we don't know who Al-Baghdadi is. That's a name that's thrown around a lot. The best that we can understand what we think happened yesterday with the reporting that occurred, as we went back through all the Baghdad Operations Center, talking to the Iraqi counterparts there, is that they had picked up a known terrorist at a checkpoint who had been killed and had that terrorist now in their detention, which we found out was Muharib as we worked through the evening getting people there to see who this terrorist was that they had picked up. We were able to help them with the identification.

Q And do you think the al-Masri claim earlier was probably related to this as well, since -- (off mike) -- probable?

GEN. CALDWELL: We think it very well could have been. And because of these -- the amount of the number of operations that went on and what occurred, we thought it was important. We did not make the positive DNA verification of him until just yesterday, and of course, once we did, we then wanted to release his body so that his tribe could go back and handle the proper burial for him.

Q What tribe?

Q Jaburi.

(Cross talk.)

GEN. CALDWELL: Thank you, Tom. All right.

Q Jaburi.

(Cross talk.)

Q General, Mike Shuster from NPR. Actually, what you've just said raises another question: did you seize Muharib's body in the action that you described and then released it to these people, who were then taking it to a mosque? Or did you only discover his body when someone else identified him?

GEN. CALDWELL: We in fact killed him on a target objective at 1:42 a.m. to be exact, west of Taji on the 1st of May. We took that body off the target objective. We did not take the other bodies that were killed there, but we did take his because he, through quick identification we thought who he might have been and brought him back with us when we came off the objective site.

Through DNA testing, which didn't get finished until yesterday, we were able to positively identify that is in fact who we killed. So at that time we had in detention a member of his tribe who we had determined that nothing nefarious had been done by him. Through one of the operations we had scooped up some folks, so we went ahead and released his body to the member of his tribe, so that he could take it to a mosque to follow through with the proper burial procedures.

Q But then he was reidentified by someone at --

GEN. CALDWELL: At an Iraqi checkpoint as they were making their way through the city. That is correct.

Q And then brought back to --

GEN. CALDWELL: He was -- they were brought first back under Iraqi control, and then the Iraqis turned him over to us to help with the positive identification. Then as soon as those folks who had been associated realized what had happened, we told our Iraqi counterparts that this is in fact what just had occurred. Q Did you give him an escort after that back to --

GEN. CALDWELL: (Chuckles.) They did make sure this time that -- a little better coordination between us and the Iraqi counterparts during the next release.

Yes, sir.

Q (Through interpreter.) Asaam Anah (ph) from Aswat al Iraq. General Caldwell, since six days ago, many -- the greenhouse was targeted by mortar shells and also the American embassy. Is it the response of al Qaeda to your military operations and evidence of their failure?

My second question: yesterday, the Council of Al Anbar announced responsibility for killing Abu Ayyub al-Masri. How do you respond to this?

GEN. CALDWELL: And again, the confusion that exists over -- I know there's been a couple announcements that somebody did kill Ayyub al-Masri. We do not have nor do we know anybody that has in their possession right now either a person alive or dead that we can do DNA analysis or photo identification on at this point.

I mean, that's -- we just don't have any information or knowledge of that.

I am aware, though, of the claims that have been made. I've read them in the press reporting. But we cannot do any independent confirmation of that ourselves, as of this point.

And the second question is yes, we think that the -- you know, obviously the al Qaeda in Iraq has proven to be a very resilient organization. They have done regeneration in the past. We will continue to put pressure on that organization, targeting them as rapidly as we can, to cause more exposures within it that allow us to take opportunities to do like we did on Operation Rat Trap and go in and try to take down simultaneously, in a very short (period of ?) time, as many targets as we can.

Lifting off those targets, a lot of times the -- although the people are important, it's -- sometimes it's more important -- is the information that you glean out -- the target sets, both through the computers, documents and other information that you bring back that allow for much greater and more thorough exploitation not only within theater but out of theater too.

Q Hi, General. Damien Cave from The New York Times. I want to see -- wonder if you could go into a little bit more detail about where exactly the checkpoint was that this happened. And then also, has there been a change in procedure on how these kinds of things will be handled in the future, so it doesn't happen again? And third, what do you think the impact of this will be? I think he was trying to answer that question a little bit before, but you know, do you think this will make any difference -- picking this guy up and having him killed?

GEN. CALDWELL: Well, first of all, Damien, it took us to about three hours ago to totally sort out everything ourselves. So we're just now looking at the whole thing. I mean, I'd like to be able to tell you we had it all figured out perfectly last night. I mean, obviously the different amount of reporting, who saw what, and it just -- it took us a while this morning to sort all that out. So we will look at how it's done, obviously, and just so that it doesn't produce a flurry of repetitive reporting on the same person having been killed.

Q And then where exactly was the checkpoint that was the -- GEN. CALDWELL: I'm not sure exactly where it was. I'd have to -- I know it was some -- I'd have to go back and -- but we can get you approximate location.

Obviously we're just a little concerned about being too specific about -- only because of the identification of where they were released from, which we would not want to talk about, because obviously the targets that happened out west of Taji -- the body was moved to a different location, and then eventually released here within Baghdad.

Q And then just the impact -- do you think that this will have significant impact, or --

GEN. CALDWELL: Well, you know, any time we're able to take down somebody that in the past has been associated with kidnappings, the degree to which he has been associated with kidnappings, we're not sure, but we can clearly, through very sensitive intelligence information and then, more importantly -- what we can talk about is the detainee debriefings that we have done -- when we can find somebody that we know was specifically associated with the Jill Carroll kidnapping by having helped facilitate the transportation and movement of her from location to location, once it became apparent that people were getting close and trying to track and find her; when we can say that detainees say he's the last known person that they were aware of that had Tom Fox when he still alive, in custody -- and then what happened after that is unknown by them, but they did not see Tom Fox again alive; the next thing they knew, he was dead -- and then when we can find that they're associated with what we do know where the two German citizens that were kidnapped in January of 2006 -- I mean, when we can pick up someone like that, that has that kind of history of being associated with the kidnapping and killing of foreign nationals within this country, that's significant, to be able to stop that kind of activity from ongoing, because those are the very people that are here trying to either bring the news to the rest of the world about what's happening in Iraq or in fact are doing something to help with the infrastructure and development of this country.

They're noncombatants, and yet they're being targeted by al Qaeda in Iraq specifically for purposes of, you know, both propaganda and ransom value. And so taking him off the street is a good thing.

STAFF: We have time for one more question.

Q Ed Sanders from the Los Angeles Times. Do you think the checkpoint confusion suggests a communication problem between Iraqi security forces and U.S. forces?

And I wanted to follow up a little bit on the talk about al- Masri. Do you think that the capture or killing of any one individual in al Qaeda will have -- what kind of impact do you think that will have? You talked about how resilient the organization is. Do you think if al-Masri were killed that it would have -- what kind of impact do you think it would have on al Qaeda's operations in Iraq?

GEN. CAMPBELL: To your first question, what I would tell you it shows, at least as we do an assessment of the thing, is that the Iraqi security forces are doing their job. They were alert, they were attentive, they were paying attention.

You can say, "Well, we could have done a little better coordination." Well, let me tell you what. The fact that they didn't know that somebody who had been a known terrorist was being moved from Point A to Point B in this, whether he was alive or dead, they were able to stop the vehicle, identify that person in the vehicle, detain everybody, bring them in for questioning, immediately notify the Baghdad Operations Center that they had whom they know was a significant terrorist -- although they may have made the wrong assessment who that was, they at least knew they had somebody very significant, through whatever matching they were using, and I'm not suer what that was -- it speaks volumes for the professionalization, the growth and the development of the Iraqi security forces.

Because it wasn't coalition forces that stopped this vehicle, it was Iraqi security forces. And they did it inside of Baghdad. So I mean, that's a very positive thing. You can say, "Well, why didn't you coordinate better?" Well, you know, the point is the person was being released; there's a lot of people within the city that are moved around that have been deceased that the Iraqi security forces probably see in different vehicles, but they were able to identify this one. So that is a good thing that that happened. Not that that was the intent behind it. As far as --

Q If I could -- did the U.S. notify the Iraqi government and Iraqi security forces that this man was being transported and that you had recovered his body?

GEN. CALDWELL: They were aware that -- they weren't aware when the release per se perhaps was going on. I'd have to go back and check all the specifics. But routinely, it's in fact a -- something like that -- again, I'd have to go back and look at the exact procedures. But the point was he was being released to a member of his tribe to go back and follow normal burial procedures. And so there was every reason to believe he just would have traveled to wherever he was going to, as we understood, a particularly mosque, where that individual was going to take the body.

I'm not sure there was a real need to per se notify somebody that there's a dead person being transported from point A to point B to undergo proper burial procedures. But the fact that the Iraqi security forces were able to identify that person in that vehicle -- however the body was, I'm not sure either -- and report it is a very positive thing.

Q (Off mike) -- did you notify the government that this significant al Qaeda figure had been killed? Did they know that he --

GEN. CALDWELL: Yes. They had -- there was in fact ongoing coordination with the highest levels of the government, but again, it wasn't until yesterday that we were able to give them confirmation that in fact he had been killed by DNA testing. Although we had had photo analysis match before that, we didn't have DNA analysis match before that. That just came back yesterday.

And then, as far as AM goes, if in fact -- your question is: If al-Masri's taken out, will that in fact -- that will cause a degradation in the organization. Clearly, they would go through with identification and regeneration of somebody else to replace him, but it does make the organization more vulnerable each time they're able to do something like that.

In many respects, al Qaeda works -- is almost like a franchise out there in some respects and conducting many independent operations at different times. So it's not like you can take out the one central figure and the whole organization's going to collapse, but it does provide the command and control and the overarching guidance for the organization. So it would be very significant if we were able to take him down too.

All right. Thank you very much. END.

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