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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Washington File

14 June 2003

Iraq Secure, Despite "Hot Spots," Says U.S. Commander

(June 13 Baghdad video-conference with Lt. General David McKiernan)
(4610)
The security situation in Iraq is generally improving, despite
isolated pockets of resistance, especially in the Fullujah-Ar Ramadi
area, said Lt. General David McKiernan, U.S. commander of ground
forces in Iraq, in a video-teleconference from Baghdad on June 13.
McKiernan described several U.S. raids and stepped-up military
operations to attack and capture regime loyalists or suspected
terrorists. He said that U.S. forces had struck a terrorist training
camp in western Iraq, conducted a raid by the 173rd Airborne near
Kirkuk in northern Iraq, and launched a series of aggressive patrols
and raids in the Fullujah-Ar Ramadi corridor in central Iraq by the
3rd Infantry.
Asked about the search for weapons of mass destruction (WMD),
McKiernan said, "It will take some time to uncover WMD in a country
that's spent years . . . perfecting their techniques of hiding it."
Following is the transcript of the June 13 video conference from
Baghdad with the U.S. commander of ground forces in Iraq, Lt. General
David McKiernan:
(begin transcript)
United States Department of Defense 
News Transcript
June 13, 2003
Presenter: Army Lt. Gen. David McKiernan
Coalition Joint Task Force Seven Commander Briefing from Baghdad 
(Video-teleconference briefing on post-war stabilization efforts in
Iraq and his upcoming transfer of authority from Baghdad, Iraq.
Participating was Army Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, commander of
Coalition Joint Task Force Seven. Also participating was Bryan
Whitman, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs
(media operations).)
Whitman: General, looks like we've got a good picture; hopefully we've
got some good audio.
Welcome, Pentagon press corps and thank you for joining us so early
this morning. As all of you know, Lt.Gen. David McKiernan is joining
us from Baghdad this morning. This may be his last videoconference as
the commander of CJTF7, but I'll let him talk to you about that a
little bit. (Coughs.) Excuse me.
Again, we appreciate you spending some time with us, especially given
that the temperature is 114 degrees out there in Baghdad today. With
that, though, since we have a good link, let's go ahead and get
started. And sir, I think you may have a few words before we get into
the questions.
McKiernan: Well, ladies and gentlemen, good morning. I'm pleased to
join you here. Can you hear me okay? (Pause.)
Whitman: We do have good audio.
McKiernan: Okay. What I would like to do is just spend a minute and
give you my assessment on security operations here in Iraq and then
I'll be happy to take your questions.
What I've done from the very beginning when we completed the decisive
combat operations part of this campaign, I've generally broken up Iraq
into a south sector, which is the First Marine Expeditionary Force
with the UK division under its command, and then the center of Iraq,
the northern part of Iraq and then Baghdad, Baghdad and the center and
northern part of Iraq being under U.S. Army Fifth Corps. And how I
would characterize these different zones as we sit here today: first
of all, in the south, the south is permissive, it's been declared
permissive by UNSECORD and I think things are generally secure,
although there are still pockets of subversive elements that we find
and have to deal with over time. There are still those in the south
who would work against the coalition, and so there'll be some
continuing flare-ups at different parts of the south.
The other thing to remember about the southern part of Iraq is it has
the poorest state of infrastructure anywhere in Iraq. It was neglected
by the regime of Saddam Hussein for years and years, and so bringing
quality of life actions back up to a standard that we feel is
acceptable will continue to take much work. But I would tell you that
in quality of life and in electricity, in water treatment plants, in
re-hiring police, in sanitation and medical coverage, the trends are
all up and very positive in the south. Many places are at standards
that exceed pre-war.
In the north part of Iraq -- and that is generally the area up around
Mosul, Tolifar and the previous Kurdish autonomous zone -- we call
that semi-permissive: great progress there, a lot of businesses are
reopening, a lot of commerce happening, but again there are some
Ba'athists, residual cells in that area that we will continue to
develop intelligence on and go and apprehend or destroy. But I think
generally all the trends in the north are going in the right direction
as well.
In the central part of Iraq, we have currently two what I would call
hot spots that you're well aware of: one is to the west of Baghdad,
out of the Fallujah-Ar Ramadi corridor. We have, over the last couple
of weeks, moved forces from the 3rd Infantry Division into that area
and are aggressively conducting patrols and raids and developing
intelligence. And over the last few days, that area has quieted
significantly. We're also continue (sic) to make contact with tribal
sheiks and local interim governance to try to bring security to that
area.
The other hot spot is north of Baghdad, and that's an area we call the
peninsula, which is slightly northeast of the city of Balad, where
we've been conducting an operation under Fifth Corps and the 4th
Infantry Division over the last two or three days called Operation
Peninsula Strike. And based on some confirmed intelligence, we've gone
in and conducted some search and cordon operations and some raids,
which we've detained over 400 Iraqis -- many of them, though, we've
released in short order because they did not have any intelligence
value, they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But we do have over 50 Iraqis that we still have in our hands that we
are moving over to our confinement facility here in Baghdad, and we'll
do some further interrogations on.
That operation continues. And as recently as last night, we had some
actions against part of our forces in that area, and the battalion
that was engaged pursued those forces, made contact with them and
killed over 20 of them. And so there's going to be some continued
operations in that area north of Baghdad.
In Baghdad itself, all the signs and the indicators that I see are
moving in the right direction. I would tell you that as I travel
around and talk to units and walk the streets of Baghdad, in some
cases now I'm seeing where income is not just going for food and the
essentials, that in some cases income now is going to repair business
establishments. There are more and more businesses, restaurants,
cafes, transportation running in Baghdad. The police force is growing
in numbers. And next week, under Ambassador Bremer's office, there
will be a training, a police academy training program initiated here
in Baghdad.
So we are dealing with some hot spots. I will tell you that there are
still those that are loyal to a regime that is no longer in power;
that we will continue to have to seek out, close with, and either
apprehend them or destroy them, and that will take some time. It is
still a combat operation, but it takes on, as you can imagine, a
significantly different nature than the decisive combat operations
which have ended.
And lastly, today is D-plus 86 in this campaign. And as I've told
many, when I look at where we're at 86 days after crossing the border
in Kuwait, I am -- I think it's a remarkable achievement of where
we're at right now, given the fact that those 86 days were preceded by
30 years of terrorism, brutality, a completely oppressive and
repressive regime that took all the rich resources of Iraq and plowed
them back into regime residences and military and did not invest those
resources into the people of Iraq. So I think where we're at right
now, and the pride that I have in all the soldiers and Marines that
are out there on point conducting all these activities is very
remarkable.
So with that quick snapshot, I'd be happy to open it up to your
questions.
Whitman: Please identify yourself and your news organization.
Q: Hi. General, this is Matt Kelley with the Associated Press. Could
you please fill us in on some more of the details of the operation
-- I think it was a day or two ago -- on the -- what was described as
a terrorist training camp? There's some indication that that might
have been al Qaeda sympathizers. Could you give us some more
information on that and what exactly happened and what the result is?
McKiernan: Yes, I'll give you some information, but it won't be enough
to quench your thirst on it. There was a camp location out in the
western part of Iraq. We had good, actionable intelligence on it, and
we struck it very decisively and very lethally the night before last,
with both air and ground elements. And I will not go into specifically
the battle damage assessment from that site, because, as you can
imagine, as we exploit that target, that might lead us to new intel
that we can use for actions elsewhere.
But I will just simply tell you that it was a camp area that was
confirmed with bad guys, and specifically who the bad guys are will be
determined as we exploit the site. We struck it very lethally, and
we're exploiting whatever intelligence value we can get from that site
for future operations.
Q: General, Brian Hartman with ABC News. Just to follow up on that,
CENTCOM announced this morning that the -- and I believe this is a
different raid; correct me if I'm wrong -- the 173rd Airborne
apprehended 74 suspected al Qaeda sympathizers near Kirkuk. Can you
tell us anything about how you believe or understand that these are al
Qaeda sympathizers, what you think they were doing there, where
they're being held or have been moved to?
McKiernan: Well, and that is -- first of all, that is a different
operation up in the vicinity of Kirkuk. There was a raid conducted. I
think it's premature to be able to tell you whether they were -- had
any ties to al Qaeda. And as we always do, as we apprehend suspected
either terrorists or regime holdouts, we'll go through a series of
screening interrogations and decide what we have. But I couldn't
confirm to you right now that those were all al Qaeda- linked persons.
Q: Hi, General. This is Eric Rosenberg with Hearst Newspapers. Could
you quantify for us the degree of assistance you are receiving from
the average Iraqi citizens in locating weapon stashes and former
members of Hussein's inner circle? And secondly, can you inventory for
us the information, the types of information that Iraqis are bringing
forward on what they believe to be weapons of mass destruction or
location of weapons of mass destruction or information about weapons
of mass destruction?
McKiernan: First of all, I think each week there's a growing trend in
information and intelligence provided by Iraqi people themselves. Now,
we always have to be very balanced on how we approach that information
because it could range anywhere from "Let me tell you this about
somebody that I don't like so that you go act on them," to actually
very good, actionable intelligence on either persons or locations of,
as you said, weapons or ammo caches.
So I do see increasingly a willingness in many different areas in Iraq
of information being provided by Iraqis who want to achieve the right
level of law and order and stability in their country and get on with
the recovery of Iraq.
In terms of weapons of mass destruction, because that was such a
secretive program over the years and I think the circle of Iraqis who
know anything about that program is so much smaller, that that sort of
information is much rarer. And as we do get that or as we interrogate
those who we have in our custody, we develop intel leads and follow up
on each and every one of them very rigorously. Q: Hi, General. Eric
Westervelt, National Public Radio. Can you talk about the security
situation in Fallujah? And has the deployment of the Spartan Brigade
of the 3rd ID had any demonstrable impact on the security situation
there? And what remains your biggest security challenges in that area?
McKiernan: Well, I think it has had a large impact. When you have
presence of coalition forces in that size, I think it's going to have
a very positive impact. Now, the difficulty with all these situations
is, in many cases you have those that don't actually live in that area
that will come in and use that as a base of operations or use it as an
area to conduct attacks or snipings at coalition forces. So you have
to be very careful and very methodical how you go through that area,
to separate out the bad guys from those that are innocent and just
live in that area. But I would tell you that the impact of that
brigade combat team has been felt out in Fallujah. It's been fairly
quiet the last couple of days. I would hesitate to predict it will
stay that way forever, but it's been quiet for the last couple of
days, and it's been a success.
Q: General, George Edmonson from Cox Newspapers. We heard a lot before
the war about a large number of Saddam Hussein's palaces with supposed
links to military uses and extensive bunker systems. Can you tell us
how many of those palaces you've been through and what you've found,
particularly with the underground bunker systems?
McKiernan: Yes. I think -- and generally speaking, we've been through
just about all those palaces around -- at least, around the Baghdad
area and up in the Tikrit area. Many of those were looted before U.S.
forces arrived on the scene. Some of them did have tunnel complexes
under them. Thus far, we have not found anything that I would call
usually significant in any of these tunnel complexes. We have found
some documents that are being exploited; we found some weapons. But we
have gone into some of the underground tunnel networks here in Baghdad
and made sure they were clear, and we'll continue to do that. But most
of -- generally speaking, most of these palace sites, there was some
extensive looting done in these areas before forces, coalition forces,
took control of it.
Q: General, this is Carl Osgood with Executive Intelligence Review.
Are you concerned at all that these operations that you're conducting
in the north and west of Baghdad, that there might be any backlash
from the civilian population as a result of the way you're conducting
these operations? And secondly, can you -- in that vein, can you say a
little bit about how you're operating to avoid -- to minimize the
impact on that population?
McKiernan: Yes, I'd be happy to address that. There is always the risk
of, when you go in and do an operation like a cordon and search, that
you end up apprehending some that live in that area that are truly
innocent of any wrongdoing, that don't have any information that will
help you find the bad guys. And so, you release them. You do run the
risk that their feelings towards the coalition forces might not be the
same was they were before that happened.
So what's very important on these operations is that we, hand in hand
with our military combat forces, come in with civil affairs- oriented
resources and provide projects and opportunities to -- for the Iraqis
to fix up their living areas and schools, bridges, water purification
plants, businesses, et cetera. So there is a very synchronized effort
between the military and the Office of the Coalition Provisional
Authority and Ambassador Bremer's folks to make sure that we go in
afterwards and are able to provide civil-military operation support to
those areas.
Q: General, this is Jim Wolfe from Reuters. You spoke about your
interrogation of the people in custody, and the resultant leads. I
wonder if you can tell us whether anybody in custody has given you
reason to believe that there were active WMD programs before the war,
recently, and whether any of those interrogations have led you to
suspect that things are still hidden.
McKiernan: Well, even if there were no interrogations, I would tell
you personally I think there's a lot still hidden, that it will take
time for us to uncover and develop the intelligence on. It would be
premature for me to tell you exactly what leads are coming from
interrogations of those that might have been involved with these
programs. But I'll tell you I think we -- as I've said repeatedly, I
think we have a ways to go, and it will take some time to uncover WMD
in a country that's spent years and years and years perfecting their
techniques of hiding it.
Q: Sorry. Just to follow up, you said you thought it would premature
to say what leads are coming. Are you getting leads, though, that
suggest that there were active programs in the months leading up to
the invasion?
McKiernan: We get -- from some interrogations, we get information that
leads us to another source, that we have to go locate certain
facilities and go in there and check those out and see where it leads
us. But there is a discussion -- I'm not going to go into the details,
but there is discussion from both the chemical and the biological side
that leads us to intelligence that we have to go confirm or deny.
Q: Yes, General, this is Vince Crawley with the Army Times Newspapers.
You indicated you have some troops who are coming up on 90 days of
sustained combat operations. At what point do they get so exhausted
that they lose their combat effectiveness? And when are you going to
start to need to look for something like unit rotations?
McKiernan: Well, I have units that have been over here far longer than
90 days. My own headquarters has been over here on and off for two
years, through both Afghanistan and Iraqi operations. I'm not worried
about our units and our soldiers losing their combat edge. Their
leadership will make sure that that does not happen. There does become
a point in time where the equipment needs to be pulled out and
regenerated, maintained. And there is a time where forces need to be
rotated. We do have plans, but they're all conditions-based. It
depends on what the enemy does.
But right now, we have -- because I know you're probably going to ask
me this, too -- we have sufficient forces to accomplish the mission
over here. And when conditions warrant, we will replace some of those
forces, either with other U.S. forces or with multinational
contributions.
Q: Hi, General. Scott Foster with NBC News here. You mentioned that
over 20 Iraqis were killed in the operation last night. I'm wondering
if you can tell us about how many Iraqis were involved total in this
engagement?
McKiernan: No, I couldn't. It was -- it took place during the hours of
darkness. How many more were involved, I couldn't tell you. Q: Sir,
Brian Hartman with ABC News again. Just a follow-up on a question
earlier. Do you have a sense that at the end of this summer, maybe
into the fall or in the winter, that the 3rd Infantry Division will
still be in Iraq?
McKiernan: I'm not going to predict a date that the 3rd Infantry
Division won't be in Iraq. I'm going to tell you that military actions
combined with economic recovery and political governance -- in other
words, Iraqi institutions being stood back up and more Iraqis in
charge of things like policing, ministries, a new Iraqi army, et
cetera, all those things will work together to determine what's the
right force presence over here, in addition to multinational
contributions. So please don't try to pin me down on a date that the
3rd Infantry Division's going to redeploy, because I don't know that
yet. It's conditions-based, and the leaders in the division understand
that there's still a mission going on, and when the time is right,
they'll redeploy their forces.
Q: Sir, just to follow on. This is a challenge that's going to be
facing your successor, if you could talk a little bit about that. And
also, could you tell me, is it fair to say that you're not going to be
able to relieve the 3rd ID and the 101st folks until you get some
commitments from the international community? I mean, are you able to
relieve them from inside the Army, or do you really need somebody from
one of our allied countries to pony up some forces before you can send
them home?
McKiernan: Well, I think first of all, that will be determined back in
-- by the secretary and COMCENT on how that balance of forces will
work. But yes, they could be rotated with other army forces,
conceivably. Yes, they could be rotated with multinational forces. And
yes, they could -- we could reduce the number of forces over here
based on the security situation and progress in those other two
pillars, the economy and Iraqi self-governance. So all of those
conditions have to be assessed over time.
Q: Sir, to follow up on the operations, you've said the battle damage
assessment is ongoing and you're not sure how many Iraqi forces you
face. But could you characterize the level of resistance at the
suspected training camp? What kind of resistance were your forces met
with, and what kind of armament or what kind of tools was the enemy
using to put up that resistance?
McKiernan: Well, again, I'm not going to go into those details because
we're still exploiting the site and developing some intelligence that
we might be able to use in the immediate future, so I don't want to
divulge any of that. I will just tell you that it was a superbly
planned and executed operation with both air and ground forces, and
the element of surprise was on our side. And it was conducted very
decisively.
Q: General, this is Lisa Burgess with Stars and Stripes. When your
authority -- the authority is getting transferred over to General
Sanchez in a couple of days. Can you tell us, what type of advice will
you give him, and suggestions for priorities in this transfer?
McKiernan: Well, we have a very detailed plan where we -- what we call
right seat ride. So, I have many elements of my headquarters that have
been working with the 5th Corps headquarters for some time, and we'll
continue to work with them for the next couple of weeks or as long as
it takes so there's really a seamless transfer of authority. And then
after that happens, I'm in support of General Sanchez. He'll work with
Ambassador Bremer, and he will work for COMCENT. That's his higher
headquarters. And my headquarters will revert to CFLCC and 3rd Army
ARCENT, Army Central Command, and will provide any and all support
needed by this operation.
Q: General, this is Drew Brown with Knight-Ridder Newspapers. Could
you talk a little bit more about the incident last night involving the
20 Iraqis that were killed? Exactly what did they strike -- what U.S.
forces did they strike? Can you confirm that this was a tank column?
And if so, what does this say about their willingness to go after --
with small arms, I presume, to go after bigger, you know, American
targets, such as tanks?
McKiernan: Well, first, there's been no hesitancy from the beginning
of this campaign for enemy forces to attack armored formations with
RPGs, with small arms, with explosives, with grenades, mortars, et
cetera. So, that's not a first, by any means.
This was an element that's working for the 4th Infantry Division that
actually -- the 3-7 Cav out of the 3rd Infantry Division, and working
with them in this operation. They were attacked at night, and then,
like any good unit, they sought to gain and maintain contact with the
enemy, which they did, and then took their toll on these attackers.
Whitman: We've got time for one or two more here. Q: General, Jim
Wolfe again, Reuters. Can you talk about any foreign fighters that you
believe to be among those killed or apprehended? And where are they
coming from?
McKiernan: Too early to tell. And again, we have not completed the
exploitation of that site. And that's something we constantly look
for. As you know, we had the entry of foreign fighters during the
decisive combat operations part of this. So it would not be a
first-time occurrence, but too early to tell on this particular
target.
Q: General, this is Eric Rosenberg with Hearst Newspapers again. Aside
from the two mobile weapons labs or alleged mobile weapons labs, have
you found any other evidence -- and I'm including documents in that --
any evidence of active WMD programs? And secondly, you've have plenty
of time to debrief the Iraqi military officers. What do they say about
their alleged arsenal of chem-bio weapons? Did they have such doctrine
to accommodate such weapons?
McKiernan: Well, I really can't answer the second part. I have not
seen reports from Iraqi military that address that.
There are the two labs that have continue to be analyzed. There are
numerous documents, I know, that have been seized, but I don't do the
document exploitation here within my organization. They go to the
analytical experts at other places. So I really can't comment on
what's come out of those documents.
Whitman: (Off mike.) -- let's make this one the last one.
Q: General, Matt Kelley again, from the Associated Press. What more
can you tell us about whether the attacks that have been against U.S.
forces are perhaps coordinated through some sort of central authority
or whether they are organized on much smaller levels?
McKiernan: That's a question that's often asked of me. I see no
evidence that says there's any sort of national command and control
for these activities that are going on now. I see it in -- much more
decentralized, regionally or locally. There's certainly the
probability that there are financial trails that lead to other parts
in Iraq, and there might be communications that go to other parts.
But I see these as decentralized, only coordinated locally, not
nationally. And I still think a good part of them are related to those
that were part of Saddam's regime, his inner regime, the Ba'ath Party,
IIS, Special Republican Guard, those that know they have zero future
in the next Iraq and will do everything they can to make -- to attack
coalition efforts in this country.
Whitman: Once again, thank you, General, for taking some time out in
your evening, our morning, to share with us your activities and
operations that are ongoing. It really helps us understand some of the
complexities, and we appreciate your time.
McKiernan: Okay. Thank you very much. You all have a great day.
(end transcript)
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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