Press briefing with Brig. Gen. John Bednarek, deputy commanding general for operations, MND-NORTH, June 25, 2007
BRIEFING BY BRIGADIER GENERAL JOHN "MICK" BEDNAREK, DEPUTY COMMANDING GENERAL FOR OPERATIONS, 25TH INFANTRY DIVISION AND MULTINATIONAL DIVISION-NORTH VIA VIDEO TELECONFERENCE FROM COB SPIKER, TIKRIT TOPIC: UPDATE ON OPERATION ARROWHEAD RIPPER, PART OF OPERATION PHANTOM THUNDER LOCATION: THE COMBINED PRESS INFORMATION CENTER, BAGHDAD, IRAQ TIME: 7:30 A.M. EDT DATE: MONDAY, JUNE 25, 2007
MODERATOR: Let everybody know who you are and what's going on up there in Task Force Lightning's AO. We'll go ahead and get started.
GEN. BEDNAREK: Chris, thanks, and good afternoon everybody there in Baghdad. I'm Brigadier General Mick Bednarek. I'm the deputy commanding general for Operations, 25th Infantry Division, Tropic Lightning, here in MND-North. And again, thanks for joining us this afternoon to allow me to provide you a short update on ongoing Operations Arrowhead Ripper, but also the broader operations across MND-North and certainly as part of overall Operation Phantom Thunder.
Let me first start off by giving you a short update of operations across not only MND-North, but in the broader perspective, serves operations in Iraq and in Baghdad. Certainly, you're aware that Arrowhead Ripper is a part of the larger and broader operational and tactical actions occurring across Iraq. There are very detailed operations by 3rd Infantry Division, the Marne Division, ongoing in Baghdad, Kharma. There are operations in Al Anbar by our Marine counterparts in MNF-West and other forces across the area of operations.
Here in Multinational Division-North, one of the things I'd like to start off with is to highlight a recent action up in the city of Mosul. Mosul, as you know, up in Nineveh province, is at the northern most part of our operational area of responsibility here in Multinational Division-North. You may have heard recently of a significant cache that was found, a vehicle-borne IED factory and a bomb-making facility, in the city of Mosul.
What is significant about this particular action in Mosul was a series of three fairly sizeable houses linked together by a tunnel that had not only a vehicle-borne IED-making facility, but also VBIED storage area and also homemade explosives and other IED construction facilities all linked together. Significant in the sense of not only the size of this cache, but also the impact that this has of VBIEDs and the introduction of these potential significant dangerous activities across not only MND-North, but Multinational Corps-Iraq, with impacts south to Baghdad and other provinces as well.
What I'd like to do is to roll a short video for you that highlights part of the action. As I mentioned, this was a coalition force in concert with 2nd Iraqi Division and our coalition forces, 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division assigned to Multinational Division- North.
The footage that we will show you is a B-1 bomber strike dropping precision-guided munitions on three target houses after these factories were not only photographed but exploited to ensure that these explosives and dangerous munitions would never be used again. This highlights not only the joint integration of our actions but also what is significant of this is, this entire operation started by a tip. The tips were from our local nationals there in Mosul, through our Iraqi security force counterparts. And we took action on this, identified the information, vetted that, went after the target and destroyed it.
You know, clearly the obvious impact is that what could have been horrific acts of violence and explosives in its most dangerous form, VBIEDs, been used against local and innocent civilians, families, infrastructure, Iraqi security forces and obviously our coalition force counterparts. Again, this is just one example of a larger, focused effort across MNC-I and MNF-I with the additional forces now operating in Iraq.
Let me highlight now a little bit about Arrowhead Ripper, and then I will open it up to questions for you. As you know, we are on day six of our operations in the city of Baqubah, in Diyala province. Baqubah obviously is important, given it is the provincial capital of Diyala province, long known for it -- as an al Qaeda supporting zone and a strong point. We have had approximately 10,000 coalition forces involved in this operation for almost a week.
We are focused at present in the western part of Baqubah in the specific neighborhoods of Mufrek -- (names inaudible). We have cleared a significant amount of the city so far. We have eliminated a large part of the al Qaeda threat there.
I've mentioned in earlier opportunities and engagements with the press that al Qaeda remains our single focus of effort, not only in Baqubah but across Diyala province and other areas of Multinational Division-North. We have been successful and I am cautiously optimistic, in the weeks ahead, that not only will we win this fight and eliminate al Qaeda in Baqubah but continue to pursue them wherever they go across Diyala and across MND-North. I'll take your questions and, subject to your time available, we will continue the interviews.
Q General, it's Alistair Bell from Reuters. I'd just like to quickly ask you about the -- your assessment of the readiness of the Iraqi police and army to take over the hold phase of your operation in Baqubah. Thank you.
GEN. BEDNAREK: Yeah, Alex, great question. I've mentioned that in the prior days, and let me highlight first by saying we have about 1,500 specific Iraqi army soldiers involved in the city of Baqubah. These are from the 5th Iraqi Army Division, Major General Salam (sp), the new division commander, working hard across Diyala province to provide the forces he needs for additional security; in the Iraqi police, Major General Ghanam (sp), the provincial director of police, also providing forces, his policemen, there in the city of Baqubah. They are joined with us, hand in hand, in our operations in the western part of Baqubah.
Our challenge always has been, as we continue to clear areas, regardless of location, across Multinational Corps Iraq, is how we can hold those areas and retain the terrain, the neighborhoods, the cities, the town, the infrastructure, the streets, the highways from falling back into the hands of al Qaeda or other insurgent groups. This has been tough. We're confident that based on our current focus of effort here in Baqubah during Operation Arrowhead Ripper, that we will be able to do that.
What we have done with the Iraqi army specifically in Baqubah is to provide organic forces, approximately 50- to 60-man-sized Iraqi army companies, partnered with coalition force companies and battalions side by side, as we clear these neighborhoods.
The IA forces then have ownership of those locations, not only where they have fought hard to clear them, against al Qaeda, but also that sense of pride of a job well done, but also be able to physically stay and retain that terrain to where we have cleared.
This is, no question, going to be the difficult challenge for the coalition forces, not only in Baqubah but other areas. We are confident that at this time, specifically in western Baqubah and as we continue our operations in the eastern side of the city, that we will be able to do that.
That is partnered also with the police. There are, of course, Iraqi police stations within the districts there in Baqubah.
Q (Starts to speak.)
GEN. BEDNAREK: And they will reorganize, they will occupy, and they will hold those. Q Sorry. I didn't mean to -- well, I did mean to interrupt. I just wanted to be a bit more specific. How long is it going to take for these guys to be able to take over from the coalition forces in Baqubah? Can it be specific?
GEN. BEDNAREK: Well, our -- yeah, our assessment of how long it will be able to take for the Iraqi army and police -- we are embedded with them now, and our expectation is, upon completion of these operations, within the next couple weeks, the forces that are embedded with us will be the ones that retain this terrain.
Now, getting a little bit more specific to how long their logistics, their systems will allow them to continue to hold that after we continue to move on to other offensive missions that we have as a coalition, that is going to be the difficult part -- that we will continue to partner with them, to resource them for success.
MODERATOR: Sir, we have a question from one of our Arabic reporters, from Al Ahayah (sp) TV.
A two-part question. The first is, after you've cleaned up and kicked out the terrorists out of Diyala, will you do the same in the other provinces? The second part of the question, then, is --
GEN. BEDNAREK: Let me take that first part.
MODERATOR: Yeah. No, go ahead, sir. Go ahead.
GEN. BEDNAREK: Yeah, let me take the first one, the first part, so I don't forget it.
Our expectation clearly is, after we eliminate al Qaeda in Baqubah, yes, we will go after this group, this dangerous adversary, wherever he resides. Our focus of effort initially is Diyala, but I'll be frank, we have operations ongoing in the other provinces in Multinational Division North already. I've highlighted up front in my discussions with you activities and operations in Mosul up in Nineveh province, similar activities in the western region of Nineveh, up in Rabiya, in Baj (sp) and other areas already ongoing. In Kirkuk province, significant activities ongoing there in that city. In Salahuddin, in Tikrit, Samarra, those areas. Large activities and operations, intelligence-driven raids focusing on our enemies and adversaries in those locations. So while Arrowhead Ripper, a fairly sizable force, involved and engaged here in Baqubah, those operations against al Qaeda continue.
Q Sir, the second part of the question is, are the U.S. forces going to provide any new support in arming, new equipment to the Iraqi army? You know, what are you doing up in your area in terms of supporting the Iraqi army?
GEN. BEDNAREK: Our support to the Iraqi security forces is unwavering. We have partnered with them in every area of focus -- training, manning, equipping, sustainment. Our MNSTC-I counterparts, as part of our overall efforts in Multinational Force Iraq, has been nonstop. And it's not just the equipping and being able to provide the necessary and requisite supplies they need, but also providing them the capacity so that from their own stores and stockages and future plans, whether foreign military sales, other contracts, budgeting, et cetera, that they take ownership and they have the wherewithal, they certainly have the budget and the focus of efforts to provide for their own forces from their own stocks and their own planning effort for the long term. Near term not only as we continue with the 5th Iraqi Army here in Diyala, but across Multinational Corps Iraq with all the other Iraqi army divisions, this remains a key cornerstone of the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police readiness.
MODERATOR: Sir, another question, from Al-Hurriyah, talks about tribal leaders are being armed by U.S. forces. That's been, obviously, in the news a lot, our relationship with the tribal leaders. Are you for or against the tribes armed? And if you want to talk about the specifics of what's going on up there in your area, I think that would be good.
GEN. BEDNAREK: We are not arming tribes in the sense of militias.
We don't arm militias; that's not our policy, that's not our position, and it is certainly not the position of the government of Iraq. Clearly there are citizens within the tribes -- and the tribal sheikhs clearly have a leading role in this effort -- but quite frankly the citizens are sick and tired of al Qaeda. They want to fight back. They want to take a stand. They want to take a position. And they realize now that al Qaeda has no future in this country, it's misaligned, it's wrong, and they understand it, they know it, and they're ready to do something about it. This was reinforced by the significant increase in tips and information leading to ground tactical actions and leading to information that drives us to vet for intelligence, to go after al Qaeda leaders, cells, financiers, bomb makers.
There are citizens that ask for assistance. They want to fight back, and they need the wherewithal and the resources; that includes weapons and ammunition to allow them to fight back, and the answer to that is clear, that there are institutional organizations that do exactly that. They're called the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police and the Department of Border Enforcement, and those are the governmental organizations in this great country that allow those citizens to join this fight, to work together and defeat our common enemy.
Q General, hi. John Anderson from The Washington Post. Maybe you can update us on the numbers of al Qaeda operatives who have been killed, captured and that you think are still in Baqubah, but when you add all those numbers up, as I've been doing over the course of the last number of days, they don't actually equal the hundreds of people that you thought you were going to find when you got there, which tells me that either your intelligence was bad about how many people were there or that a lot of the people have gotten away. And either way, it seems like there's a problem either with your intelligence or you failed to meet one of your major objectives. Is that the case?
GEN. BEDNAREK: Yeah, John, great question. Statistics don't lie, only statisticians. And always, as you know from your experiences, certainly the information is best-guessed from multiple sources, vetted to provide a common operational picture.
But here's our picture. We have killed a heck of a lot of al Qaeda, probably somewhere less than a hundred of hard-core fighters here in western Baqubah. We have detained about as many, perhaps a little bit less than a hundred. And those detainees realize, as you have heard and accurately reported, that perhaps many of the senior al Qaeda leaders in Baqubah, seeing the news, watching the reports, kind of reading the tea leaves, so to speak, that they perhaps left before the introduction of forces perhaps a couple weeks ago.
But that speaks to another issue. You've got the senior leaders of a terrorist organization that cowardly leads their mid-level leaders and followers to take on the fight that's larger than they are.
I don't know of any organization that's going to be successful when the leaders, when it gets too hot, they're the first ones that leap. It doesn't speak too well of an organization.
But your point is, is our intelligence or is our information flawed. We have what we have, and we're going after with what we have. We believe we are on target, but we continue to refine based on what we hear from the citizens who are providing us a lot of information and also those detained individuals, part of al Qaeda network, that understand that they, perhaps, will be detained for a long time. And they are looking to provide information to us as well through tactical questioning. This is going to lead us to other locations, both inside Diyala province and potentially outside the province, and we will be resolved in our determination to pursue them and bring them to justice.
Q Hi, General, this is Lauren Frayer with the AP. If I may ask two questions, one, you mentioned that there are about 1,500 Iraqi army soldiers from the 5th IA Division involved in the operation in Baqubah. My understanding is that there are about 12,000 Iraqi soldiers in that division. If the U.S. has brought in 10,000 soldiers from all over Iraq to help on this, why is such a small fraction of the Iraqi forces that are actually based in that province involved in this operation?
And then, second, if you can go through some of the air power you've used in this operation, what kind of air strikes have coalition forces used in Baqubah? We had one report that five civilians were killed in such an air strike last week. Apparently, the bodies were found and the U.S. military is investigating the incident. I wonder if you had an update on that.
GEN. BEDNAREK: Yeah, Lauren, thanks. You were reading my notecards earlier when I saw you earlier this week. Two-part question.
The first part, the 5th Iraqi Army has just over 10,000 soldiers on the rolls assigned to the division, and yes, you're also accurate, our expectation is just under 1,500 specifically in Baqubah; but don't forget, certainly, that Diyala province, significant size, geographical spread of battlespace north of you there in Baghdad, all the way from the Iranian border -- Mandali, Khanan, Balad Ruz, north to Sulimaniyah, of course, south of Iraq. They have a huge expansive area that they are responsible and that we have tasked them here in the 25th Infantry Division in Task Force Lightning; also responsibility to ensure that those areas remain somewhat stable as we persecute this near-term fight in Baqubah.
So the 5th Iraqi Army is spread very thin across a very large battlespace, accounting for a large part of the forces assigned to 5th Iraqi Army. Frankly they need to do a better job and they are working hard on accountability of their forces to maximize their soldiers available for the fight every day. As I mentioned, their new division commander, working exceptionally hard on this specific challenge that he has, not only for accountability but ensuring that his soldiers in the fight are doing the best they can.
But let me highlight on that one specifically, because it ties to the broader issue that many of us wrestle with from our great transition teams of the coalition embedded with all of our Iraqi army, Iraqi security force counterparts. Those Iraqi army formations that are linked right now in the fight in Western Baqubah with our coalition force companies and battalions are doing a darn good job. Talk with the battalion and company commanders in the fights, in the streets, over the last couple days and frankly they are impressed.
The Iraqi army soldiers are good. They're holding firm. They are in the fight. They're doing what they're told. They're following their leaders. But more importantly, as we've known for years that they have that direct link and rapport with the citizens that the coalition forces do not have, they can get that immediate link, that human link, the human dimension, that information potentially leading to intelligence.
And in fact, Lauren, what we have seen and directly tied to several of the house-borne IEDs that you've heard much about, other IEDs and VBIEDs here in Baqubah that had been an incredible, dangerous, tough and demanding challenge every day out in the streets, house to house, alley to alley, that we contend with. And back to, John, your earlier question about numbers of enemy killed, wounded, detained, et cetera, one of the significant increases just in the past 24 hours is the amount of caches that we have found and the house- borne IEDs, those structures, those homes, those al Qaeda holding locations and strong points that had been rigged with masses of explosives, homemade explosives, some military-grade munitions, that we had been able to find and dismantle or destroy based on tips from the citizens that are living in -- (name inaudible) -- Mufrek -- (name inaudible) -- there in Western Baqubah. So it highlights the significance of not only the number of Iraqi forces that we have, but they are doing well with those that are in the fight in Western Baqubah. Lauren, your second question had to do, I believe, with the airstrikes. Let me tell you a couple things. Number one, this is a joint fight. Our Air Force comrades and counterparts and our significant, powerful Army aviation component, not only Wings of Lightning but the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade and our own 25th, provide immeasurable support to ground force commanders almost 24-7 in this tough, demanding fight.
Several days ago, to highlight the specific incident that you're talking about, there was a munition that dropped that missed its target. It hit a different structure about 500 meters north of that structure. There was 11 civilians that were injured in that explosion.
Most of those were traded at the local facility. I do not have a follow-up of current disposition of those civilians.
But we were on the spot immediately when it happened, with our Iraqi army soldier counterparts, not only talking to the neighbors, talking to the civilians involved, and making our remunerations and certainly our condolences for that tragic accident. And we've worked very hard to be as precise as we can in this tough, demanding fight.
MODERATOR: Sir, we've got a question from Radio Sawa. The question is, is al Qaeda the only group you are engaging during this operation? We know there's also talk of other enemy forces, enemy groups up there, but we've focused a lot lately on al Qaeda. Is al Qaeda the only group that we're fighting up there at this time?
GEN. BEDNAREK: The answer is no, al Qaeda is not the only enemy. But let me be clear. They are the number-one enemy. They are the ones that are bringing destruction, despicable acts of horrific violence, directly against the people, families, citizens, infrastructure across not only Baqubah and Diyala but tearing at the very fabric of this country. So that clearly is our number-one priority.
But there are other violent insurgent groups that -- as they oppose the Iraqi security forces, the legitimate provincial government and the central government of this country, we will go after them, and we will bring them to justice.
Q General, Tom Frank at USA Today. Do you have numbers on the number of weapons caches, IEDs you've found and also people you've been able to enter into the database?
GEN. BEDNAREK: Tom, I think I heard your question. It had to do with the specifics of caches, IEDs and the number of people in a database.
The answer is yes. I think our caches at present are up to approximately 65. But again, that was as of 07:45 this morning. My expectation, based on tips and information from local nationals -- that has been increasing every day.
Similar with detainees -- our detainees are up to 70 individuals. And those are individuals that are suspicious, that we detain, that we tactically question. And based on questioning, then the decision is made by the on-scene commander to hold that individual for follow-up questioning and potential exploitation of information that he may have that leads to follow-on offensive operations or other activities.
Clearly, there are many that are questioned and released, and we do not specifically track those numbers. And quite honestly, we don't track the details or specifics of enemy killed in action and wounded in action.
I would tell you this: that based on information that we are getting from the people that live there, the citizens that are now walking freely through the streets -- okay. Are you still with me? Over.
MODERATOR: Yes, sir. We got you. Go ahead. Keep going.
GEN. BEDNAREK: Are you still with me? Over.
MODERATOR: (Starts to speak.)
GEN. BEDNAREK: All right, talk to me, guys. What's going on?
MODERATOR: Sir --
GEN. BEDNAREK: Are we dead, are we redialing, or what?
(Off-mike talk from staff.) Are we dead, are we redialing, or what's going on?
(Off-mike cross talk.)
STAFF: We're redialing.
GEN. BEDNAREK: Okay. Well, let -- just tell me, so I can take a sip or water or something. (Laughter.) Come on. Talk to me. Keep the troops informed here. (Laughter.)
(Pause.) Sometimes technical difficulties are a challenge. That's okay. Just keep me informed.
STAFF: Sir, you're still on the Pentagon Channel, live.
MODERATOR: Sir, radio check. Can you hear us yet?
STAFF: He can't hear us. (Pause.)
MODERATOR: Sir, can you hear us now?
(Pause.) Shooby-dooby-do -- sir, can you hear us now? (Prolonged pause.) STAFF: General, can you hear us?
MODERATOR: Sir, can you hear us now?
GEN. BEDNAREK: Hello?
MODERATOR: Yes, sir. We got you. Go ahead.
GEN. BEDNAREK: I can.
GEN. BEDNAREK: How can you hear me?
MODERATOR: Hey, we've been -- we can hear you too. We've been hearing you the whole time.
GEN. BEDNAREK: Okay. I think they -- (inaudible) --
MODERATOR: And you've been quite entertaining. We appreciate it.
GEN. BEDNAREK: That's great. All right. Great. You hear it? Good. I've been -- you've been counseling the staff here. I love it. We're all going to do push-ups at the end of this thing, so that's good.
Hey, I think, Tom, I was going to answer your question here. And you had asked about the number of detainees, I believe, the caches, et cetera, and also we're talking a little bit here of vetting or the number of people entered into the database.
One of the things I'd highlight again, Tom, is for -- and I think I was talking about our citizens here in western Baqubah providing information that is leading to a lot of different things -- but most important to us as the coalition and our Iraq army soldiers partnered with us is IEDs and specifically these house-borne IEDs. I cannot overstate to you the significance of what that means. Here you have a city just six days ago under siege, held hostage, if you will, by al Qaeda, that every day now sees more and more people walking the streets, riding their bicycles, heading to the market, going to see other neighbors -- absolutely huge, incredible. And they are coming up to us and providing information that has led literally in the last 24 to 48 hours to where we have found additional caches and additional house-borne IEDs.
Also what that means -- very unfortunate and tragically -- that has led us to uncover horrific scenes of despicable, inhumane treatment and locations at the hands of al Qaeda -- torture chambers, houses, implements of violence from knives, saws, blood trails, shallow graves of local nationals buried in the back courtyards of houses that otherwise -- it would have taken us much longer to uncover these locations.
So positive in the sense of how we are getting information -- unfortunately, at the hands of al Qaeda and their despicable acts for the past months against these people. So I'd highlight to you from that perspective, it is a success story in the sense of people providing information and significant, and our belief is that our uncovering of additional caches, IEDs will continue to increase in the days and weeks ahead.
Tom, you also the question, I believe, of vetting or databasing individuals. Quite frankly, and as you know, this culture here, the desire of the great Iraqi people is not to go to a displaced persons camp or to seek shelter in a tent somewhere else provided by the ICRC or the Iraqi security forces but rather to stay in their homes in their neighborhood, or, as the wonderful custom and courtesy of this country, is to provide a haven for neighbors and families that have fallen on hard times.
But what we are seeing of those that have come to those locations for food supplies, water, meals, flour, rice has been a little over 700 that have come to these distribution sites for these foodstuffs and water being provided at the hands of the Iraqi army. I hope, Tom, that answers your question.
MODERATOR: We have time for one more quick question. We know you're busy, and you've got some push-ups to do -- or watch your guys do some push-ups up there, and we'll be doing some back here as well.
But from Turkish TV, IHA, we've got a question about the number of multinational force casualties we've seen over the last week. Does this mean that al Qaeda and the terrorists are using advanced new techniques, something that we're having a difficulty combatting?
GEN. BEDNAREK: Yeah, Chris, I missed the first part of that question. Can you say that again, please?
MODERATOR: Yes, sir.
We've seen many multinational force casualties during this week. Does this mean that al Qaeda and the other terrorist groups are using some new techniques, or why are we having difficulty combatting them now?
GEN. BEDNAREK: Yeah, boy, tough question to get our arms around. Clearly, in our view, al Qaeda is on the run, as highlighted by somebody's earlier question that implied al Qaeda leaders leaving Baqubah, leaving Diyala going elsewhere because they can't stay here, because if they do, they know they will be captured, brought to justice, or they will be killed. So they're going to go elsewhere, but we're going to pursue them.
As to the number of casualties, we have always said it's going to be harder before it get easier with the surge and coalition forces involved across this great country of Iraq. We are going into places that the coalition has not had the sufficient troop strength and force size to go before, and we're going after them, and they will not find safe haven in this country.
MODERATOR: All right, sir, thanks.
If you've got any closing comments you'd like to make, we have just a couple minutes, and again, thank you for your time from us down here at the CPIC and for all the reporters present.
GEN. BEDNAREK: Yeah, Chris, and thank you and for your reporter team there. Thanks for taking your time to bring this news to the world stage and to the people. I have one closing comment, if I might, and it has to do with these incredible warriors in the battlefield every day. It is tough, demanding, arduous, dangerous -- pick an acronym, pick an adjective, that's what you're seeing out there against a very tough, demanding, adaptive enemy, but the enemy's not 10-feet tall; these incredible warriors, soldiers, air men and Marines, all of our Navy shipmates, our electronic warfare officers that are engaged and involved in this great fight as well, and certainly our civilians on the battlefield every day, whether it's logistics and providing what we need in the front or those great warriors fighting every day in the streets, not just in Baqubah but across Multinational Force and Multinational Corps Iraq.
I'd ask for your prayers, I'd ask for your support, and I'd ask you to remember always the sacrifices that these great soldiers and their families endure every day.
Thanks from all of us at Multinational Division-North Tropic Lightning.
MODERATOR: And thank you, sir.
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