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

Presenter: Chief of Staff, Multinational Corps - Iraq, Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson September 28, 2007 10:00 AM EDT

DoD News Briefing with Brig. Gen. Anderson from Iraq

WMV Video [5 MB]

MR. WHITMAN: Well, good morning, and thank you for attending today's briefing. And good afternoon, good evening to General Anderson. We are once again privileged to have you in this format. This is Brigadier General Joseph Anderson, who's the chief of staff of Multinational Corps-Iraq. He arrived in Iraq with the 3rd Corps in November of last year and has served as the Corps chief of staff since August of 2006.

As you'll recall that it was back in March that he talked to you last in this format, and he is at Camp Liberty today in Baghdad and is going to give you a summary of an operation that recently took place and then take some of your questions.

So, general, thanks again for joining us, and let me turn it over to you.

GEN. ANDERSON: Thanks, Bryan. I appreciate it.

It's a privilege to talk to you all again. Today I'd like to give you a update on a high-level al Qaeda in Iraq terrorist cell leader who was killed near Musayyib on 25 September by coalition forces.

If you'll put the first slide up, please.

Coalition force operations led to the death of a senior foreign al Qaeda terrorist, Abu Usama al-Tunisi, a close associate and part of the inner circle of close advisers to Abu Ayyub al-Masri, or otherwise known as AAM, the overall leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, and his likely successor. Before I tell you how he met his fate, I would like to share with you the significance of his demise and review the activity that led up to this operation.

Next slide, please?

Abu Usama al-Tunisi was one of the most senior leaders within al Qaeda in Iraq. He was the emir of foreign terrorists in Iraq, and as I stated, part of the inner leadership circle of al Qaeda in Iraq who had direct contact with Abu Ayyub al-Masri. He was originally from Tunisia, and was a primary facilitator for the movement of foreign terrorists into the country. His death is a key loss to the al Qaeda foreign leadership.

His background includes the following: He operated in Yusufiya, southwest of Baghdad, since the second battle of Fallujah in November '04 and became the overall emir of Yusufiya in the summer of '06. His group was responsible for kidnapping our American soldiers in June '06. He was known to have direct access to the al Qaeda in Iraq senior leader AAM.

He facilitated foreign fighters in the Yusufiya area and helped equip them for improvised explosive device, vehicle-borne improvised explosive device and suicide attacks in Baghdad. He took command of the Aisha battalion after its former leader, AAM, was promoted to al Qaeda in Iraq emir status. His second in command, Abu Abd al-Hadi, supervises local AQI and Islamic State in Iraq, or ISI, fighters.

His deputy, Abu Jihad, a Tunisian, aids in foreign fighter facilitation.

Prior to his death, he was coordinating with an al Qaeda in Iraq -- in the Radwaniyah area, also southwest of Baghdad, to reinforce al Qaeda in Iraq's capability project -- to project power and operations into Baghdad.

Next slide, please.

This chart shows the senior leadership of al Qaeda in Iraq and puts al-Tunisi's death in context. The inner circle of leadership with Ayyub al-Masri consists of foreigners, and al-Tunisi was in this top tier of leadership.

Of further note, Abu Ayyub al-Masri was killed on 31 August near Tarmiya, north of Baghdad. The top two Iraqis, Abu Shahed and Abdallah Latif al-Jaburi, have also been captured or killed.

Abu Usama al-Tunisi was the emir for foreign terrorists for al Qaeda in Iraq. He oversaw the movement of foreign terrorists into Iraq and their coupling with terrorist cells to conduct operations.

It's important to note these foreign terrorists commit most of the suicide bombings and high-profile attacks in Iraq. Over 80 percent of suicide bombings are done by foreign terrorists. Until recently, approximately 60 to 80 foreign terrorists have entered Iraq each month.

Now let me tell you about the operations we conducted that led up to September 25th.

Next slide, please.

September 12th. In Baghdad, coalition forces detained five suspected terrorists during an operation targeting foreign terrorist facilitators in the southern part of the city. One was a close associate of Tunisi.

September 14th. In Mahmudiyah, coalition forces targeted the network that facilitates the movement of foreign terrorists in the southern belts around Baghdad. The ground forces killed four terrorists and detained five suspected terrorists for their alleged ties to that foreign terrorist network. One of those detainees was another key link to Tunisi.

September 15th. West of Baghdad coalition forces disrupted the foreign terrorist network in the southern belts of the city when they captured six suspected associates of the network's leaders. Another key associate was among the detained.

September 16th. Coalition forces continued operations to secure Baghdad and the surrounding belts during two operations targeting terrorist networks in and around the city. The ground forces killed seven terrorists and detained 19 suspected terrorists during the raid.

September 22nd. During operations in Musayyib, coalition forces captured yet another key associate of Tunisi. In addition to the targeted individual, ground forces killed seven terrorists and detained 11 suspected terrorists during the raid.

September 25th. South of Musayyib, coalition forces targeted and captured another associate of Tunisi, killed five terrorists and detained another seven suspected terrorists.

Again on September 25th, we received information that a meeting was taking place with Tunisi and another al Qaeda in Iraq members in the Musayyib vicinity. United States Air Force F-16 aircraft attacked the target. Reporting indicated that several al Qaeda members with ties to senior leadership were present at that time. Three were killed, including Tunisi. His presence was confirmed by one of the two detainees from the operation, one who left the target area just prior to the airstrike, who eventually -- we eventually captured minutes later. The other two killed were assessed to be Abu Abdullah, reported to be the new emir of south Karkh in Baghdad, and Sheikh Hussein, an AQI facilitator.

The next slide, please.

This is the actual video of the airstrike. (Pause.)

GEN. ANDERSON: Just tell me when it's done, please.


GEN. ANDERSON: Okay. Next slide, please.

Following the strike, ground forces secured the area and continued to collect evidence at the scene. One item that was found was a handwritten letter believed to be written by Tunisi. The key points in this handwritten note include: he's surrounded, communications have been cut, and he is desperate for help.

This was a dangerous terrorist who is no longer part of al Qaeda in Iraq. His death deals a significant blow to their operation. He was a foreigner who brought al Qaeda terrorists into Iraq. And more importantly, he was arguably one of the most important leaders within al Qaeda in Iraq, a possible successor to AAM.

With that, I'll be glad to take your questions on this topic or any others.

MR. WHITMAN: Well, general, thank you for that comprehensive review of that operation. And we've got plenty of questions here, it looks like. So let's start with Kristin.

Q Sir, it's Kristin Roberts with Reuters. About one or two weeks ago General Petraeus was here, told Congress that Iranian Qods Force agents had withdrawn from Iraq. I'm wondering if that assessment still stands, or have you seen Iranian trainers back inside the country?

GEN. ANDERSON: Well, we retain -- we detained one this week. So the presence kind of ebb and flows based on how successful we are interdicting across the border. I'd say, by and large, they are withdrawn, but again, it's something we're going to have to monitor constantly as we see what happens at our border crossing sites.

MR. WHITMAN: Go ahead, Pauline.

Q Sir, it's Pauline Jelinek with the Associated Press. You mentioned that up until recently, between 60 to 80 foreigners were entering the country per month. Is that to say that number has changed? And what would it be?

GEN. ANDERSON: The number is reduced.

It's been cut in about half. The effectiveness between the Iraqi Department of Border Enforcement and our border transition teams, they've had great success at the standard border crossing points, enforcing standards and monitoring what's going on there, and then all the locations in between the fixed sites. We've had great success with additional forces now, everything in Diyala province, Wasat province, Maysan province, in backstopping, if you will, what's flowing through. So it has been reduced from what it was previously.

Q What would you say the overall size is of the number of foreign fighters in Iraq now, and the size of that leadership group that you said Tunisi was part of?

GEN. ANDERSON: The leadership group itself is a cell, so it's probably a half a dozen to about 10 leaders. The size of the fighters is awful hard to call. You know, many of our operations we get -- we gather up the intelligence and figure out who's who based on what we get from the target site. But numbers are -- it'd be really hard for me to give you a number.

Q General, Dave Wood from the Baltimore Sun. What do you make of his statement in the letter? If I remember, he said he was surrounded and desperate. What do you make of that?

GEN. ANDERSON: He's -- I'm sorry, you're going to have to repeat that one. That came in real muttered.

Q David Wood from the Baltimore Sun. In the letter that you flashed up on the screen briefly, as I recall, it said, "I am surrounded and desperate." What do you make of that?

GEN. ANDERSON: What I make of that is that we're having great success in isolating these pockets. It's very clear, based on the surge we've had, Operation Fard al-Qanun and the plus-up of forces in an around Baghdad, we've pushed many of these elements out. And all indications are they've moved north, they've moved into Nineveh, Salahuddin, Tamim, Diyala, a little bit west in some of the provinces here down south, Babil.

They are very broken up, very unable to mass, and conducting very isolated operations. And I think what that little note says is that he was very desperate. He wasn't getting the materials, the supplies, the guidance, information, anything he needed. And I think that's -- that's probably indicative of how successful we've been with these cells.

Q General, it's Tom Bowman with NPR. We were told last week by General Fil that in Baghdad, about 46 percent of the neighborhoods are in the control phase, and roughly 8 percent are in what he called the "retain" phase, and that's under Iraqi forces. If you could just tell us -- why such a small percentage in the retain phase, and how many Americans are with those Iraqis in those "retain" neighborhoods?

GEN. ANDERSON: The percentage is incrementally growing based on the capability of Iraqi security forces to hold the ground. It's all -- it's kind of tied to two things. It's tied to the rotation plan of the Baghdad security plan where they bring Iraqi army units into and out of the city.

The reason why it's been a little bit less in the "retain" piece is because some of the units are rotating out for retraining, refit, and that's kind of impacted some of the ability to hold it, retain it on a larger scale.

That is improving. That is in partnership with U.S. units. U.S. units remain in partnership in those retained neighborhoods. But the beauty of having the Iraqi security forces, which number in the 79(,000) to 80,000 ballpark, Iraqi army and police assets, is to allow our coalition forces to expand the clearing methodology. But what we're also saying is at some point we're not going to have to necessarily be in all those stages throughout the city, based on stability by security district. Each security district has a little bit different demographic dynamics, and they all won't go through the same methodology, based on the conditions in each of those districts.

Q (Off mike) – confidence in numbers of Iraqi security forces in Baghdad?

GEN. ANDERSON: It's 79,000 Iraqi army. You've got two national police divisions there, and then the local police force is upwards of -- this is nationwide, though – 250, about a third of that in the city, Baghdad proper.

MR. WHITMAN: Jim and then Luis.

Q General, this is Jim Mannion from Agence France-Presse. If the bulk of AQI are Iraqis but the leadership is foreign, what is it that those foreign leaders bring to this fight? And if you do succeed in decapitating that foreign leadership, what do you think would happen then?

GEN. ANDERSON: The reason why they're here is to help them with their training, their tactics, techniques, procedures. There's resourcing, financing, training and leadership because that wasn't resident here in Iraq. Obviously that segued in here over time.

Over time, by decapitating that leadership it's going to make these cells very ineffective. I think most of them are fairly ineffective now. The more leadership that we are able to peel off will make them very ineffective.

The question's going to be, does anybody take up those leadership roles of Iraqi origin or is it going to be purely based on foreign fighters coming in and doing that? And as that diminishes, will the AQI network in Iraq have the mobility, the power, the capability to conduct the attacks they've been conducting at the same levels with the leadership being severed? I think the answer is no. I don't think the Iraqis will fill in those roles without the foreign influence coming in.

Q General, it's Luis Martinez with ABC News. If I could follow on on the foreign fighters question, you said that there was improved cooperation with the Iraqis at the border points, but the provinces that you've listed were all bordering Iran.

Are you suggesting that a lot of the foreign fighters are coming in through Iran? And also, can you expand on the report about a month ago that there is going to be a permanent facility based there along the border with Iran, that border crossing, and what will that bring to security along that area?

GEN. ANDERSON: It applies to all borders, also the Syrian, and there's a lot of other elements on those border crossing points. The fixed-site facilities that are being built, the life-support areas as we call them, at the ports of entry allow permanent presence by Iraqi security forces -- again, Department of Border Enforcement folks -- and our border transition teams. What that means is we'll have obviously a permanent presence and the ability to sustain that over time, and that's both from a enforcement standard piece and a communication piece as we network all these across, because the other concern is the seams between the fixed sites.

One problem is the fixed sites and the standards that have to be enforced at them, and then all of the activity that occurs in between the sites -- to make sure we have the same success in those locations. But these fixed facilities allow us to do better screening at the actual site, and then we have these life-support areas that are very much like joint security stations, or combat posts -- give us the same capability on these remote border posts, and that applies to all. That applies out west, north, south. Of course, south is obviously more militia resourcing, IED, EFP materials; the west is more of the foreign fighter terrorist network.

MR. WHITMAN: Ann and then over to -- (off mike).

Q General Anderson, Ann Scott Tyson with The Washington Post. When General Petraeus was here, he suggested that the al Qaeda leadership outside of Iraq might be assessing the importance of Iraq as a central front. Can you tell us any more about that?

GEN. ANDERSON: I would tell you I agree with him, and I think what you're seeing, Ann, is a very disrupted network. So I think what we're seeing is an assessment of their capability to conduct attacks here now that we -- security's been improved significantly, and as you can tell by the attack rates going down, lowest since last summer, we're being very successful. So I think they are assessing their ability to disrupt the coalition government of Iraq activities, and I think you have to monitor and assess what they do elsewhere, like in Afghanistan, based on what they're able to do or not do here.

But it's fairly conclusive that they are very scattered, very disparate here in the country and disorganized, and I think the report I just gave you is very indicative of that.

Q So do you -- to follow up, do you believe -- where do you believe they will be shifting their attention if they are doing that?

GEN. ANDERSON: Well, an opinion -- all I know -- all we -- all I'm monitoring is what's going on here, but an opinion would be they're going back to Afghanistan where this thing all originated -- potentially their ability to try and do -- expand their operations there. Again, their ability to do that, I can't comment on, but that would be an opinion.

Q General, it's Bill McMichael with the Military Times newspapers. You said that your efforts to try to interdict foreign fighters coming into Iraq apply to all borders; we generally hear about efforts along the Iranian border and the Syrian border, and it's been testified that the efforts are stepping up along Jordan. But we never hear anything about efforts along the border with Saudi Arabia, yet the Jones Commission found that over half of the foreign fighters coming into Iraq are coming across the Saudi Arabia-Iraqi border. What's going on down there in terms of U.S. or coalition efforts? And if not much is going on, why not?

GEN. ANDERSON: The border effort is countrywide, so the same amount of effort's being applied down on the border with Saudi Arabia just like it is as everywhere you've mentioned -- Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran -- all the way around to include the ports -- Umm Qasr, the airports and everywhere else. That effort is greatly expanded.

So what I would tell you is the monitoring and the assessment and the presence in all those locations is equally applied across the entire frontier of Iraq.

Q Are there any efforts to -- or any -- is there any thought being given to establishing border outposts, such as you're establishing along the Iranian border, down along the border with Saudi Arabia?

GEN. ANDERSON: There are outposts on that border. They're all around. The question becomes, which -- based on the government of Iraq's call, which ports of embarkation and ports of entry are going to be more standard bearer with backscanner screeners and the whole -- you know, very similar to checkpoints we have on our borders in the States; which ones are going to be full-up standards, which ones are going to have the full-time life-support area, like the joint security stations and the combat outposts, and which ones are just going to be actual border outposts.

Admittedly, the ones that you're talking about in Saudi Arabia and even some of the ones out west are more of the border outpost, not the full-up, POE-equipped with the life support areas. They're a little bit more spartan than some of the ones on the Iranian border, but again, based on what's flowing across those borders, equipment-wise, supply-wise, training-wise, leadership-wise, justifies that.

Q So why don't we hear more about efforts along the Saudi Arabian border, if more than half of the foreign fighters are coming in that way?

GEN. ANDERSON: The majority of foreign fighters that we track are coming through Syria. I know what the report said, but that's not what we're finding.


Q This is Lisa Burgess with Stars and Stripes, sir. Up until fairly recently, the policy seemed to be that -- not to talk too much about the number of insurgents who are actually killed. Fairly recently, there -- you've been -- being more specific about numbers, including your talk today. Is there some sort of change? Why are you talking more about exact number of insurgents killed, and is it going to be easier for us to find out these sorts of numbers that you're collecting now?

GEN. ANDERSON: We're not focused on the numbers. The numbers I gave you in the report was to give you a readout of a very specific operation. Most operations, we have fairly quantifiable data, but that's not the genesis of what we're trying to determine.

But if we have it, we release it. So in most releases you see us do, it will tell you wounded, killed, detained/captured; it will lay that out. I saw the report today about the overall numbers. We're not focused on that. There's no attempt to sit down and tally it all up and keep track of it. We just try and do it operation by operation and yes, try and talk concretely about things that we can, based on what we know. But it is not any desire to change any tactic or any way we deal with the media or anybody else about numbers being released.

Q (Off mike) -- for people to understand in more concrete numbers how many -- what types of successes that you're having?

GEN. ANDERSON: I think it's important to have it all in context. And I think if you're not obviously all-out "Let's do a very good job of reporting our casualties," I think it's very important to understand and particularly when it comes to if they are foreign fighters or what network they belong to here in Iraq, to try and give you some benefit, some value of understanding who these -- who these insurgents, militias, terrorists, foreign fighters, other elements are, what they consist of, what they're trying to accomplish and what the magnitude of the attacks are.

You're going to see many reports that are going to give you that, but again, trying to get into a comparative analysis is not the case. But the data is maintained to get a feel for scale of. Like the question we had a little while go, what are we dealing with in the country, it's kind of important to understand what we're dealing with, in magnitude, to help us figure that out and of course to help you all understand it.

MR. WHITMAN: Go ahead.

Q Hi, general. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. Recently the State Department and the Pentagon both sent small assessment teams over to Iraq to investigate private security companies. I'm curious; have you met with either of these teams yet, and if so, can you give us kind of a early read on what they're focusing on, any of their early decisions?

And then also, you've been on the ground there for about a year. What's your opinion of the private security companies and their level of accountability?

GEN. ANDERSON: I got your second question on private security companies and accountability. I'll answer that, but I really had a hard time hearing your first question.

The private security companies play a huge role here, and we deal with them -- everything in the logistics arena, getting everything moved around, to obviously all the events of last week with Blackwater, in terms of Department of State and some of the key officials, who they protect. They have a valuable role here.

On the accountability piece, it's important that we are all in dialogue, in coordination, communication on when people are moving, where they're moving, how they're moving. Just like we conduct all operations here, from convoys to air movement to VIPs, it's all part of tracking and coordinating as we go across everybody's battlespace and understand that.

They have a role in that; we have a role in that. And we have to assess, which is why all these investigations are going on, how well we're going to do that and what our challenges are.

And again there's a whole variety of contractors here, the private security all the way to the ones who just do a lot of the functions over here, from water to transportation to whatever. So we've got to keep dialoguing and working on that, and I think we've made -- we've improved how we're doing that already. But it's incumbent upon all of us to make sure we're dialoguing.

I hope that answers that one, but I couldn't hear the first part.

Q The first part was about the assessment teams that State Department and Pentagon have both sent over there recently to examine the private security companies and their role. I was curious if you've met with either of these teams yet.

(Cross talk.)

GEN. ANDERSON: Okay, you're talking about the OSD assessment team that came over on the security situation. Is that what you're asking?

Q Yes.

GEN. ANDERSON: Okay, okay, sorry, you came in real blurred.

They're doing exactly what you're asking on the second part of your question. What they came to do was to assess the overall contract role here in Iraq. And like I just said, it varies -- everything from purely functional, maintenance personnel, up-armoring personnel, movement of equipment, water production, et cetera, et cetera.

So it covers the whole gamut, all the way to the private security company piece. And what that team was doing was getting a feel for how we employ them over here, to what scale, what functions they're providing and what kind of differentiates between Department of Defense, Department of State and, you know, in the security role and the other functional role, how that all sorts out and exactly what you're referring to. How do we communicate? How do we track what roles and responsibilities do we all have in that process, which is what they spent the last five days doing.

MR. WHITMAN: Let's go to Justin; he hasn’t had a chance -- and we'll finish up with Kristin.

Q (Name inaudible) -- from Fox News.

What's your impression of how these security contractors act? I mean, they've taken a lot of criticism for being overly aggressive. State Department reported 56 shooting incidents so far this year. What is your impression? Are they overly aggressive in their tactics for -- you know, in terms of security?

GEN. ANDERSON: A tough assessment to make: They obviously have a tough job to do in a tough environment. And the issue becomes, I don't know if they're overly aggressive. I think the question becomes, what rules do they follow with respect to what our rules of engagement are, what our escalation of force policies are? And how do they follow some comparable system to make them accountable?

I think that's kind of what the previous question was about: why this team is over here. Are they quicker with the trigger? Are they quicker to wave a weapon, brandish a weapon -- other tactics, cutting people off? All of us have experienced -- have seen different things at different times. I have seen them in my opinion overreact, but that does not mean it's consistently the case. So the real issue becomes which company it is, what the purpose is and what they're out there doing.

So it's -- I can't generally say they are. I can certainly say I've seen them do some tactics that I thought were over the top. But that's something we've got to keep working out: what their reason, what their rationale was for that, but what kind of procedures they're going to follow in this country to make sure we don't have incidents like occurred last week.

MR. WHITMAN: Let's take our last question from Kristin.

Q Sir, I'd like to follow up on the answer you gave to Ann Scott Tyson's question about what al Qaeda's focus would be if not in Iraq, if they're disrupted and perhaps defeated in Iraq. And you said your opinion was that they would refocus in Afghanistan. What is that opinion based on?

GEN. ANDERSON: What did you say after Afghanistan? I didn't hear the last couple words.

Q What are you basing your opinion on? Are you seeing evidence that al Qaeda elements are returning to Afghanistan, or is that just sort of your gut feeling about it?

GEN. ANDERSON: Well, we're basing -- yeah, no, I – A: I can't speculate on where they're going, and I can't tell you how we monitor what they're doing. Obviously they had a base there already in the -- what we would think would be the case -- they would want to expand that base, if they can. The question becomes, how much can they? But that's -- again, that's kind of not an Iraq question; that's a bigger question than us.

All we can tell you is, by numbers and by -- how the groups are operating in very remote locations, and not -- collaboratively, they're fractured, ruptured, mitigated here. And the question becomes, where would they go? What would they do? They obviously have a base of operations, and you've all -- you all know that based on the traffic that you do see. So that's the speculative part, based on what they already have there.

MR. WHITMAN: General, we have reached the end of our time here, and I do want to give you the last word here, in case you had something that you'd like to share with us or something that has stimulated something that we didn't touch upon that you think is important for us.

GEN. ANDERSON: I think something we haven't talked about at all is the whole reconciliation piece. And again, you -- we've got improvement in Iraqi security forces both in terms of number, equipment, training, leadership, but the big phenomenon here that is really causing things to turn is the fact that locals are taking up arms against al Qaeda, which goes back to why they're not being successful here. And this whole reconciliation on the Sunni front, which started out west, has expanded north, is now moving to the Shi'a south, is having great success. And they're -- definitely have an impact against insurgents, terrorists, foreign fighters, as they have attacked the people of Iraq, the infrastructure of Iraq. And that's a great success story, I think, something that is a big influence on why AQI in Iraq has been mitigated.

MR. WHITMAN: Well, general, again, thank you for spending some time with us this evening. Your insights are very valuable to us, and we appreciate you taking the time and hope that might be able to do this again before you leave.

GEN. ANDERSON: Thank you very much, and thanks for y'all's attention.

MR. WHITMAN: Thank you.

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