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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Updated 13 May 2003

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Presenter: Army Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus
Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 10:00 a.m. EDT

101st Airborne Division Commander Live Briefing from Iraq

(Briefing from Mosul, Iraq, on the involvement of the 101st Airborne Division in the conflict and in post-war stabilization efforts. Participating were Bryan Whitman, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs (media operations), and Army Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus, commanding general, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).)

Whitman: Very good, General. If you could say a few words and make sure we can hear you.

Petraeus: Okay. Good morning from Mosul. Life is great here in northern Iraq.

Whitman: Thank you, sir. I will dispense with the introduction that I gave while you were watching me but not hearing it, and let you get into the remarks that you wanted to make, and then we'll go right into the questions and answers.

Petraeus: Okay. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the Pentagon press corps. I'm grateful for the opportunity to talk with you today. It's a beautiful spring day here in Mosul. The temperature is about 90 degrees, the skies are blue and the warm, sunny weather mirrors the mood of most here in the city right now. And I look forward to telling you a little about what our soldiers have helped the people of this region achieve since we first arrived here 22 days ago.

As you know, the 101st Airborne Division is now over 1,200 kilometers from where we went through the berm in Kuwait two months ago. Our soldiers had a number of very tough fights in Southern Iraq, liberating An Najaf, Karbala and Al Hillah, and then clearing al Mamadia (ph), Escondaria (ph) and south Baghdad, as well as Hadithah in the western desert. We then air-assaulted 500 kilometers further north to secure and clear Mosul, Tall Afar, Qaiyara and other cities in Nineveh Province. And we are now securing these cities and helping the people of this part of Iraq get their lives back to normal and truly exploit the wonderful opportunity our soldiers have given to them.

Again, our soldiers had some tough fights to get here. Indicators of the close combat in which our units engaged are that we shot some 3,500 rounds of artillery, nearly 1,000 2.75-inch rockets and Hellfire missiles, 114 Army tactical missiles and over 40,000 rounds of Apache and Kiowa machine-gun ammunition. And we also used some 150 sorties of close-air support, and tons of everything else in our inventory. Beyond that, three of our soldiers were killed in combat and some 79 were wounded.

Now more than 18,000 Screaming Eagles are on duty in the northern sector of Iraq helping maintain a safe and secure environment in Nineveh Province. Our soldiers have deployed throughout our area of operation, securing cities and key infrastructure facilities; helping the new interim city and province government get established; conducting joint patrols with Iraqi policemen and manning police stations in the city; helping organize and secure the delivery of fuel and propane; assisting with the organization of the recently begun grain harvest, a huge endeavor in this part of Iraq; building bridges and clearing streets; helping reopen schools and Mosul University; assisting with the reestablishment of the justice system in the area; distributing medical supplies; helping with the distribution of food; guarding archeological sites; working to restore public utilities, and 90 percent of Mosul now has power and water; facilitating the payment of government salaries; and working closely with our partners at ORHA North and a variety of nongovernmental organizations to commence one- time payments to government workers and pensioners in reconstruction efforts.

We also are working very hard to collect and secure munitions and weapons that could harm the citizens of Mosul in the area and that typically are found in caches all over the region, some 400 that have already been identified, including ones in schools, fields and former military facilities.

In addition, today we helped reopen the Iraqi border with Syria to trade in accordance with the U.N. Security Council resolutions that govern such trade. Our soldiers have, together with the people of this city and region, accomplished a great deal in the past three weeks in the north of Iraq.

I'm very proud to have soldiered with the wonderful troopers of the 101st Airborne Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom. They've repeatedly proven to be more than equal to every challenge we've encountered since the beginning of the operation. And I want to assure you that we're as intent now on winning the peace as we were on winning the war.

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

Q: General Petraeus, it's Tammy Kupperman with NBC News. And I wanted to ask what the situation was with the television station in Mosul. There has been various reporting on whether the station had to be censored or was being censored, whether there were U.S. military personnel stationed actually on the premises. If you could clear up the confusion on that?

Petraeus: I'd be happy to, Tammy. In fact, I welcome that.

We've actually had U.S. soldiers securing the compound within which the TV station is -- or the TV facility is located ever since we arrived here because there was some looting that had taken place there earlier and the main station actually was looted. Our soldiers never were, however, inside the actual operations booth there, and they still haven't been.

We have visited on occasion, and we had two concerns about what was going on out there. The first was, there were some local political operators who wanted to get a bit more than their share of the air time and were given to a bit of rhetorical excess when they had it.

The second is that on occasion, the station has aired segments that are --- could actually incite people to violence against our soldiers and against other citizens of this region. An example of that is the Saddam letter that incites Iraqis to rise up against the American occupiers. It's very much within our right -- in fact, it's our responsibility to maintain the safe and secure environment, and that includes, if necessary, taking steps to avoid the transmission of segments such as that.

We examined language that we could share with the station manager that would caution him against such segments. We've been up there and talked to him, and I think that's really all that's going to be necessary in this case. We did at one time look at the possibility of having an officer and a translator in the station, but we have not done that. And we've certainly never seized the TV transmitter or given orders to that effect. And that's really the long and short of it.

We are watching what the station broadcasts. And again, it's very much within our responsibility to make sure that broadcasts do not give rise to violence against citizens in this area or our soldiers.

Does that answer that for you? (No response.)

Q: Thanks, General. This is Pam Hess with United Press International. Could you give us just a little bit more detail on the TV situation? Had the Saddam letter already been broadcast and you were responding afterwards, asking them not to do that?

And then my actual question is, could you talk about when you first came into Mosul? That town, we saw, had a great deal of looting and unrest, but also in Kirkuk, in the north, there wasn't necessarily the same experience. Could you explain, maybe, what the difference was in those two cities; why you saw it in Mosul and not elsewhere?

Petraeus: Well, first of all, I'm not responsible for Kirkuk. That's the 4th Infantry Division's area of responsibility.

Mosul had, indeed, been the scene of some stiff firefights. We knew about that. And when we came in, we came in with a tank battalion, an Apache battalion, a Kiowa squadron, and several battalions of infantry, a brigade, and a lot of other combat multipliers, artillery and so forth. We immediately secured the city, established a civil military operation center in the former governance building in the center of the city, and immediately began our dialogue with the citizens of the city, with its leaders, and so forth, to ensure that there weren't repeated instances.

We did have several firefights our first week here. There were enemy casualties, somewhere between five and 10 during that time in various engagements. We took no casualties. We have not had effective fire against our soldiers in at least the last week.

Again, back to the TV station. As we were examining this, originally it was really, based on my experience in Bosnia, where we, in fact, encountered the TV station broadcasting vitriolic language that incited a riot one time while I was there, and prior to that, a couple of years earlier, the TV towers had actually been seized because the Bosnian Serbs were using them again to incite violence.

I believe the first Saddam letter had been transmitted at that time. It was again transmitted a day after we began the consideration of what to do about the TV station, and the development of legal language that we could use that would caution against any kinds of broadcasts that would threaten the safe and secure environment.

Before that definitely had taken place, although it took us a few days to discover this, again, certain political figures in the city had been up there, had threatened the employees with loss of their jobs after we left, if they did not give them air time and allow them to broadcast certain things. I talked to those individuals afterwards, and we have not had instances of that again. And again, right now I don't think there's going to be any problem with the station. If there is, we will be happy to occupy it and to monitor what's being transmitted.

But again, our job is to maintain a safe and secure environment for the people of Mosul. That's an obligation that we have, a legal obligation. We take that seriously, and we're certainly not going to let radios or TV stations broadcast anything that would again foster violence or actions against either our soldiers or the citizens of Mosul. Frankly, right now, I don't think there's going to be any problem in that regard.

Q: Hey, General, Tom Bowman with the Baltimore Sun. I hope you're doing well. I wanted to ask you about a comment that --

Petraeus: We are, Tom.

Q: I wanted to ask you about a comment that General McKiernan made about the force level in Iraq. And he was saying that with 150,000 some-odd U.S. forces, he doesn't have enough to secure the country. Do you agree with what he's saying. And also, what have you heard from other commanders about their situation, perhaps being stretched too thin? And what about your own situation? Do you have the right mix of forces, the right number of forces? Or would you like to see some other types of forces in there -- let's say, MPs?

Petraeus: Tom, all I can really talk about, honestly, is my situation in the northwestern part of Iraq, northern part of Iraq. And we honestly believe we have just about the right force mix up here right now. To give you a description of that, I've got over 18,000 soldiers actually assigned or attached to the division and probably another 1,000 or two (thousand) that are non-divisional units that are supporting us in some way, such as a field hospital, a variety of support group assets and so forth.

This is perfect country -- this area -- for an air-assault division. As you know, we have 250 helicopters. Our distances range probably well over 200 kilometers in width and about 100 kilometers from south to north. There are multiple air fields up here. We are occupying three of them. They are huge. One of them will be C-5 capable in a couple of weeks, once we pour concrete in some of the holes that are on it. We cleared the other two; they are already operational. One of them is being used by C-130s already. So, we have lots of hard (sand ?), lots of grass up here. And again, it's wonderful to be out of the dust that we encountered southwest of An Najaf, for example.

We have an MP battalion, plus our own organic MP company, which is dynamite. We have MPs in 14 of the police stations in this city. And the MP battalion commander is taking charge of the training and the professionalization of the police force. There are some nearly 3,000 police back on the job here, and a good police chief who came out of retirement, had good credentials and is doing a good job for the city.

We have three Engineer battalions. Those are always in short supply in a case like this. That is not the case right now. In addition, we have an Engineer group headquarters, which brings engineer design experts, as well, which is very, very useful as we and ORHA assess various projects for reconstruction and then work with the local -- the interim new government to prioritize those and get them built.

We also have, in addition, an entire Civil Affairs battalion. As you probably know, that brings a great deal of expertise in a host of different areas, including governance, even economics, legal, and we're helping work to stand the justice system back up in a variety of other functional areas.

Then we have the ORHA element -- for example, the Treasury Department representative that -- up here. And I worked with Major General Moore, who's ORHA North, in Bosnia before. We have a great relationship. He's the former chief of staff of the 101st Airborne Division. His Treasury rep brought in $5 million the other day, and on Saturday they'll start the one-time payments.

We already are paying salaries to government workers and have for about the last four days, with funds that the bank manager up here from the National Banking Ministry safeguarded during the looting, which we have helped safeguard since. And they are methodically paying the salaries of those workers who had not received salaries through the month of April, and then later this month will begin the payment of salaries for the month of May.

I mentioned the helicopters. We have some heavy forces, but frankly we have enough to do what we need, which is really not much now, other than occasionally intimidate. And we have three battalions of Apaches and a Cav squadron to help with that, when that's necessary. And that has not been necessary much in the past week.

And then what we have is lots of infantrymen on the streets, nine battalions of those spread throughout the area of operation. And as you well know, there's nothing like an infantryman on the beat, both to reflect America's commitment to be here for a while and to reassure the population that we are really on the job.

So honestly, Tom, we have the right force mix up here. We have enough forces for the mission we have, and our troopers are doing fine.

Q: General, this is Matt Kelley with the Associated Press. I'm wondering if you can tell us some more about the discoveries of the -- at least two possible biological weapons mobile laboratories that were discovered up there.

Petraeus: I can, Matt. Let me read, because I want to get -- be right on this and actually talked to an expert from a special mission unit this morning about the one that we found.

The suspected mobile biological agent production lab found on 9 May in our area was found by one of our infantry units during operations at the Al-Kindi Rocket and Missile Research and Development Center. Our own chemical section looked at the trailer and confirmed it as a trailer that was very close to identical to the first trailer that was found by Special Forces southeast of here last week.

The expert I talked to this morning said that he had a reasonable degree of certainty that this is in fact a mobile biological agent production trailer. The layout is nearly identical to the first trailer that was found. It contains a 5,000 PSI compressor, 2,000- liter reactor vessel, small feed tank, 3,000-liter water tank and a water chiller.

We do not believe that the lab trailer that we found here was completed. Several welds were not finished, and shipping plugs were still in place. And in addition, a water pump, forward air compressor, canvas cover and some of the piping were looted.

The data plate work order number is identical to the work order number found on the first trailer. The trailer plate from the first trailer had a manufacture date of 2002 and a serial number of 1. The trailer we found at Al-Kindi had a manufacture date of 2003 and a serial number of 2.

The trailer we found is now secured and will be moved to Baghdad International for further exploitation by a team coming from the United States. And that team, I believe, will be quite a few civilian experts as well.

And that's about what I've got on that.

Q: General, Brian Hartman with ABC News. Could you talk a little bit about any lessons you've learned about some of the strengths and limitations of attack helicopter warfare? And do you have any idea when you'll be coming home?

Petraeus: First of all, we don't know when we're coming home. We think we're here for at least probably three more months or so. And that -- the latest briefing we had was that possibly a coalition force might replace us then, but everything is really still quite uncertain at this time.

Our Apaches did a great job for us. We did in fact change our tactics from night-long deep attack operations, for two reasons. After a successful deep attack, but one in which we crashed a helicopter in a night dust landing on return, and also had problems on take-off -- so we had two problems.

One was that night dust landings at -- southwest of An Najaf, where we were, and all throughout the area, where we originally began these operations, about 400-plus kilometers into Iraq, were very, very difficult, and it's despite soldiers who had flown in Afghanistan, spent quite a bit of time with environmental training in Kuwait, had no problems there, and so forth.

The other problem, frankly, was that the Iraqis dispersed very early on and moved their tanks and fighting vehicles and artillery away from the avenues of approach that the 3rd Infantry Division, in particular, was going to use. And so they flat -- weren't massed in the way that we want usually for Apache operations. We did, as I say, have one quite successful deep attack operation, had reasonable BDA. But it was not the kind that we had hoped to with the, frankly, you know, 100-plus tanks, tracks, artillery and air defense systems.

Following that, when we could not get the target definition that we needed, we went to daylight, deep armed reconnaissance operations and conducted a number of very successful operations of that type. I don't think they were given the publicity, in part because, frankly, exciting offensive operations were being conducted against Karbala, some of the stuff we were doing in Najaf, Karbala and Al Hillah. And the BDA in some cases was not huge, although they did knock out very significant targets on a number of occasions, and did have one or two that did have very substantial BDA, on the order of several batteries of D-30 artillery, a number of air-defense pieces, and so forth.

We packaged these operations with ATACMS missiles, and as I mentioned, we shot -- or we called for 114 of these. Each of these clears an entire grid square. They're massive munitions. We had those a direct line between the shooters and the Apaches. We also had JSTARS supporting them, to direct them; AWACS, EA-6 jammers, and close-air support all packaged together with HARM shooters. And that package went down range; we could identify the target at up to eight kilometers. And then, depending on how much fuel the Apache had, if he had a lot of fuel, would bring in close air support, ATACMS, and save his missiles and rockets for later. And then, as he got toward the end of his time on station, find a target, use his munitions, be relieved in place by another platoon or company of Apaches, and do the same thing again and again and again.

We also had considerable success with attack helicopters operating in close support of our infantry soldiers. The one operation in which we actually ran into a substantial fight with the Republican Guards, and one of the few cases that I'm aware of where the Republican Guards employed combined arm operations was the morning that the V Corps attacked with an armed recon by our Apaches to the northwest of Karbala, the lake; the 3rd Infantry Division attacked into the Karbala Gap, both in the west and the east of the city; and then, of course, really never stopped from there.

We attacked into south Al Hillah, where we encountered a dug-in Republican Guard battalion with a tank company, with artillery and with air defense, and it fought very, very effectively. We had a very heavy fight there, lost our first soldier. The tank battalion commander attached to us received a Silver Star for his actions already. The Apache company in that operation fought very, very hard, and eight helicopters take some degree of fire. All of them made it safely back, another sign that the Apache can get hit and just keep on flying, as it showed in Afghanistan as well, in close combat.

In that fight, we destroyed that Republican Guards battalion. We destroyed the tank company. We destroyed two D-30 artillery battalions, destroyed an artillery battery and a number of other systems. We never again saw a Republican Guard unit stand and fight and employ combined arms like that.

We also employed our Kiowa Warrior cavalry squadron attack helicopters directly over cities, with enormous success. That squadron commander, in fact, also will receive a Silver Star and a Distinguished Flying Cross and a Bronze Star with "V" for actions in three different fights. He had two helicopters shot up underneath him. Each of them made it back safely. And again, they were very, very effective in their role as well.

We tended to use the Kiowas over the cities, where they flitted around a bit, were hard targets to hit generally, and could take the doors off and look directly down through the palm trees and into the city streets where the regular army and militia and Fedayeen were hiding their systems, and then using the Apaches around the edge of the city and occasionally bringing them in for really robust attacks. That, again, worked quite successfully.

So the Apaches did great for us. But I would say that I'd like to think that we were flexible and adaptable in the way that we used them when we encountered both the problems with night dust landings and the problems with the enemy massing his systems, as he would have had to to actually stop an enemy attack up the route through Karbala on the way to Baghdad.

Whitman: We've got time for about two more.

Q: Sir, thank you for that information. Neil Baumgardner --

Petraeus: (Inaudible.) -- by the way. We sent back to General Dick Cody, who was my predecessor as the commander of the 101st -- he's a G-3 in the Army, as you probably know -- a briefing that lays out what the Apaches and the Cav squadron and all of our helicopters did. And I think that you'd be impressed by it.

Q: Neil Baumgardner, Defense Daily. Thanks for that information. I wonder if you could talk more about the use of the ATACMS and how effective they were, and also about your use of the Javelin anti-tank missile -- any number of rounds you fired, how effective they were.

Petraeus: First of all, the ATACMS were tremendous. You obviously have to have a large area to fire them into. Needless to say, we didn't use them anywhere near built-up areas or civilian targets. We did use them, again, very, very effectively out in the desert, both west of Karbala and northwest of Karbala, packaged with our Apaches for both suppression of enemy air defenses en route to battle positions and then once our Apaches were in those positions. As I mentioned earlier, those missiles clear a grid square, a square kilometer. And so, those are incredibly lethal. And they were absolutely devastating against those enemy targets in which we employed them. And as I mentioned, we used 114.

I don't know how many Javelins we used, and I'll probably have to research that. I do know that we used Javelins and TOW missiles on a number of occasions, and also the SMAW-D, the squad medium anti-tank weapon, which is a very good bunker buster. And we used these against buildings typically in the outskirts of cities and then inside when we encountered fire.

One of my battalions also, which went in with 3 ID to the airport and cleared the airport terminal, and later fought a very, very substantial fight at the east gate of the terminal -- I believe that they also used the Javelin quite effectively that night that they were attacked, along with a lot of close air support, and again, the TOW ITAS system, which proved very, very effective for us.

The FLIR and the TOW ITAS, in particular, was the hero of the battlefield. It enabled us to see the enemy way, way out before he could even believe we could see him. And that night outside the airfield, for example, our TOW gunners could see the enemy and bring in either close air support or artillery before the enemy even realized he was being seen. Same with, of course, the tank FLIR or the Avenger FLIR.

Whitman: General, we're going to make this your last question here, then get you on to your other interview.

Q: This is Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg News. I want to go back to the weapons of mass destruction question that Matt brought up. Up until finding this trailer, your unit -- your division had been involved in a number of high profile potential finds of weapons of mass destruction, including potential missiles tipped with chemicals that turned out not to be the case. Can you give us your best thought on why no technical weapons of mass destruction have been found, much less any facilities or labs, given the ground that your units have covered?

Petraeus: Well, one of the speculations, of course, is that the individual who, in fact, passed the note to our soldiers around Karbala and who was subsequently interviewed at some length by the 75th Exploitation Brigade -- and I think that Judith Miller wrote some articles about him in the New York Times -- he claims that whatever they had left was destroyed shortly before the war. So that again is one theory. We did think at various times -- and, you know, you would -- there were Stations of the Cross of evaluating the various items that we would find all the way from the soldier himself with his test kit, then to the chemical NCO, then the battalion and on up to the division experts, and then we'd bring in the Fox recon vehicle. And as you know, we went all the way with positives all the way through the Fox and even beyond once or twice, and then the real experts got it and said, yeah, it was chemicals, but not necessarily precursors or chemical weapon-type items.

So again, I just don't know whether it was all destroyed years ago. I mean, there's no question that there were chemical weapons years ago. Whether they were destroyed right before the war, whether they're still hidden -- we did find, as you know, the mobile -- what looked -- what clearly was a mobile lab that was dug into the sand northeast of Karbala -- still have no understanding of why someone would bury these vans, these conexes, take so much trouble to bury those. And I think the explanation is still out there to be found.

Whitman: General, we want to thank you for your time and for joining us today. And in the weeks and months ahead we wish you the best and hope that we can do this again sometime soon.

Petraeus: Thank you.

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