CENTCOM Operation Iraqi Freedom Briefing ~ 23 March 2003
|Presenter: Lieutenant General John Abizaid, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, and Major General Peter Wall||March 23, 2003|
We're now in the fourth day of operations in Iraq and continue to make good progress on the ground, in the air and at sea and in accordance with our military campaign plan. Operations in the west continue to put pressure on Iraqi units. We continue to hit command- and-control centers and logistics nodes in that area as well.
In the north, we're reinforcing our presence and targeting elements of regime support units and the Republican Guard.
In and around Baghdad, we continue our air and special operations activities with good success.
In the south, our air units continue the campaign towards Baghdad and continue to operate in and around the area in support of our ground forces.
Combat operations have met with resistance in a number of locations, the most notable of which is in the vicinity of An- Nasiriyah. United States Marines defeated an enemy attack there while sustaining a number of killed and wounded in the sharpest engagement of the war thus far.
Also in the vicinity of An-Nasiriyah, a United States Army supply convoy was ambushed by irregular Iraqi forces. A number of American service members were wounded in that action. And, as a result of that action, 12 U.S. service members are reported missing.
Subsequently, Iraqi regime officials displayed captured Americans on state television. This is a clear violation of the Geneva Convention.
Earlier this morning, an American Patriot battery is thought to have downed a British Tornado in an accident that is both tragic and under investigation. The crew are at this point listed as missing.
In the various combat actions and accidents that have taken the lives of many of our comrades in this campaign, all of us mourn them. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those killed, wounded and missing. Despite our losses, the enemy remains in grave danger, and our victory is certain.
GEN. WALL: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I'd like to start by adding my personal condolences to the families and friends of the UK service personnel and United States service personnel who've lost their lives since the start of this campaign. Our thoughts should be with them and those that are still missing, including coalition military personnel and those from the media.
Even in peace time, the business that we are in is inherently dangerous. In war, the dangers and uncertainties our people face on a minute-by-minute basis are infinitely greater. However, this is what they're trained for. Our forces are professional, highly motivated and committed to this operation.
We don't know the full circumstances of the incident earlier today, but there is clear evidence to suggest that the U.S. Patriot missile battery shot down an RAF Tornado GR-4. A detailed investigation is underway, so we must not rush to judge. We need to establish exactly how this happened so we can take steps to minimize the risks in the future. But we have checked our current procedures, and we are satisfied.
We must also recognize that we're working at the edge of the operational envelope. The risks will never be eradicated, but we're always working to ensure they are minimized.
We mustn't forget that the Patriot missile system is deployed to provide an umbrella for the coalition. So far, the system has shot down four missiles that Iraq has launched indiscriminately at our forces and the people of Kuwait. Were it not for Patriot, many more lives could have been lost.
In this coalition, we have to share responsibility for each others' lives, and we each benefit from the capabilities that we each provide. We must remain focused on our objectives, and notwithstanding these tragic events, get on with the mission.
UK forces have made an outstanding contribution to the progress that the coalition has made so far. As you will have seen, our operations are fully integrated, and we're fighting side-by-side with the forces of the United States and Australia.
The remarkable TV coverage over the last few days has demonstrated how 3 Commando Brigade and the 15 Marine Expeditionary Unit from the United States are still engaged in operations to mop up the last remnant of resistance on the al-Faw peninsula and most importantly in Umm Qasr.
The majority of the resistance we have faced so far comes from Saddam's special security organization and the Saddam Fedayeen. These are men who know that they will have no role in the building of a new Iraq, and they have no future.
While this is ongoing, fleet clearance diving teams are in the port area to make safe demolitions and some of our mine countermeasure vessels are engaged in the critical process of clearing the seamine threat in the core Al Abdullah waterway. Once this has been done, humanitarian aid can begin to flow.
In the south, elements of 7 Armored Brigade and 16 -- (inaudible word) -- Brigade are consolidating their position around Basra and have taken many hundreds of prisoners. A camp to house them is currently being constructed near Umm Qasr, where they will be provided with food and water and their medical needs will be catered for.
As a soldier, I do not see these men as cowards. They have simply taken the very sensible decision that Saddam's regime is just not worth fighting for. We take our responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions very seriously, and having seen the disgusting TV images which appear to show the mistreatment of U.S. prisoners, the same cannot be said for Saddam's regime.
In the Ramallah oil fields, our explosive ordinance disposal teams are continuing the difficult and dangerous task of clearing the munitions and booby traps that regime left behind. It is a testament to the effectiveness of the coalition of forces that the regime failed to destroy more than a handful of oil wells, and that an environmental and an economic disaster has been averted.
The RAF has been involved in operations around the clock since the campaign began, flying over 100 sorties a day. And our tankers and AWACS have played a key role in supporting the coalition's air effort. Tornado GR-4s and Harrier GR-7s, accompanied by Tornado F-3s, have attacked targets ranging from critical command and control facilities to surface-to-surface missile sites. The new generation of precision guided weapons has greatly increased the RAF's ability to attack a wide variety of targets in all weathers. The first operational use of the new standoff weapon system called Storm Shadow has also been an outstanding success. It's both extremely accurate and exceptionally potent.
U.K. forces will continue to make a significant contribution to all aspects of coalition operations across the whole theater until we achieve our objectives. We will not rest until this regime and the threat it poses to the world through weapons of mass destruction is eradicated.
BRIG. GEN. VINCENT BROOKS: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I want to give you a brief update on the operations. You've already heard many of the pieces, and I will highlight a few additional points as we go through.
Today was a tough day of fighting for the coalition, but we continue our attack to remove the regime and to destroy the forces supporting it. Our forces continue to fight bravely and with determination. The terrain gained today includes Umm Qasr, the approaches to Basra, the seizure of the Tallil airfield, and the bridges at An Nasiriyah, all of which are shown on the map. What I have not shown is just how deeply and where the ground attack has penetrated.
In advance of the land component, air attacks concentrated on the destruction of Republican Guard forces outside of Baghdad. At the conclusion of one of those air attacks, the Patriot firing incident occurred, and General Franks has ordered an investigation into this incident.
The coalition encountered pockets of determined resistance by irregular Iraqi forces, who in some cases fought in civilian clothes or in modified commercial vehicles. These encounters were most intense in the area north of An Nasiriyah where coalition forces did sustain casualties.
You have heard of the six-vehicle convoy that encountered an ambush near an Nasiriyah which resulted in the destruction of their vehicles, and the wounding of four soldiers who were later medically evacuated as a unit from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force passed through that area some time later.
There were 12 soldiers from the ambushed convoy that could not be accounted for. We believe them to be in the custody of the irregular forces that conducted the ambush, and their status is not known.
Finally, as coalition forces continue their attack north of an Nasiriyah, they encountered a force showing every sign of surrender. As our forces moved to receive this surrender in an honorable way, they were attacked and sustained casualties.
With the hard fighting of the last 24 hours, the coalition does continue its attack. Our forces remain determined, and even more resolved to accomplish our mission.
GEN. ABIZAID: Okay. Ladies and gentlemen, we'll be happy to take some questions. Yes sir.
Q General, Jeff Meade (sp) of Sky News. We may all have found those images distasteful, but what do you say to those in Iraq, and perhaps in parts of the wider Muslim world, who may hail the first capture of American service men and women and be encouraged by it to believe that the coalition can be beaten?
GEN. ABIZAID: Well, it's very important to understand that as we progress in our campaign throughout Iraq, in the vast majority of places we have been welcomed. And I think that the people of Iraq who see those images will not heartened, they'll not be encouraged, they'll just regard it as one more brutality inflicted on people by a regime that has inflicted countless brutalities upon their people. The same goes for the rest of the Muslim world. No one has killed more Muslims than Saddam Hussein. So, the sympathies for that regime and for this brutal dictator are not served by the humiliation of our people.
Q General, Tom Fenton, CBS News. Why has there not been such mass surrenders as you had in 1991 so far? Does it have anything to do with the fact that the army wasn't pounded for weeks in advance?
GEN. ABIZAID: I think the main reason that there haven't been a lot of mass surrenders on the same scale as in 1991 is that the Iraqi forces really were trapped in Kuwait. They were far away from home. They had no where to melt back to. Here in the areas that we've been encountering regular Iraqi forces, by far the majority of units have just melted away. We find a substantial amount of abandoned equipment on the field, and in the regular army there is clearly very, very little will to fight. True, we've captured 2,000 prisoners thus far, but the units that we have expected to find in various locations and put up resistance really haven't done so.
Q Yes, Alan Cypress from the Washington Post. Could you tell us more about the incident in which U.S. forces were approaching Iraqis who appeared to be surrendering? Was it a case that they were pretending to surrender, or they mistakenly believed to surrender? And also, we understand about 15 U.S. soldiers were killed in that incident. Could you please tell us more?
GEN. ABIZAID: Well, I think there were a number of incidents today in this sector. As you know, there's an awful lot of stuff that has transpired, an awful lot of combat actions. I think you're probably referring to the action that the Marines had in and around an Nasiriyah. I would not want to give numbers of casualties because, as all of you know, you're all seasoned folks and have reported on these sorts of things before, the first reports are always misleading.
Suffice it to say that in the Marine action in an Nasiriyah, it was a combination of irregular forces and regular forces -- as a matter of fact, one of the few times that we've seen regular forces fight -- and it's difficult for me to characterize it right now as whether or not they could have been special Republican Guard units that were moved down into that area, or irregular forces of other types, or irregular armies. So, I wouldn't want to characterize the force that did the fighting in an Nasiriyah. Suffice it to say that it was a very sharp engagement, but the Marines were successful. They defeated the enemy. They -- first reports indicated they destroyed eight tanks, some anti-aircraft batteries that were in the region, and also some artillery along with a number of infantry.
Q Is this the incident in which the Iraqis were thought to be surrendering and were not?
GEN. ABIZAID: There were several incidents reported today in which there were types of behavior that I can only describe as ruses, that were perpetrated by the enemy. In one incident, a flag of surrender was displayed, and it was followed up by artillery. In another incident, there were troops dressed in civilian clothes that appeared to welcome the forces, and then ambushed them. So, there are a number of incidents occurring to the rear of the main combat forces. None of these incidents, however, I would characterize as posing a danger to the overall success of the mission or the thrust of the main forces toward Baghdad.
Right here, sir.
Q Ahmed Samir (sp), Abu Dhabi Television. We have been seeing reports of U.S. soldiers killed, missing, and captured, and the state of resistance of Iraqi in many cities which you claimed before taken full control, such as An Nasiriyah and Umm Qasr. Are you facing a new Vietnam in Iraq, or are you victims of over-self-confidence?
GEN. ABIZAID: War is a very, very risky business for everybody. We are not over-confident about this endeavor. We are confident about the ultimate outcome of this endeavor. We are soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines in a combined, in a joint team that is very powerful, and one of the most integrated and well-trained forces ever put together. There won't be anything that stops us on the battlefield.
Q (Inaudible name and affiliation.) You often acknowledge that this has been a tough day of resistance from the Iraqi side. Is that within your expectations? Can you comment on that?
GEN. ABIZAID: A tough day of resistance is all relative, of course. It's the toughest day of resistance that we've had thus far, but it's also a day in which we have continued the attack in almost every area. We understand that there may be other tough days ahead of us, but the outcome is still certain. We have to understand that in many conflicts in our nation's history, and in the history of our coalition partners, there have been days much, much worse than this by any stretch of the imagination.
Q (Inaudible name and affiliation.) Have we seen any evidence of weapons of mass destruction yet?
GEN. ABIZAID: We are continuing to look for weapons of mass destruction. We have received reports from various prisoners that have given us leads. Suffice it to say that we continue to look, but so far we haven't found any conclusive evidence. We are confident that we will find it.
Q Can I follow on that, sir? The Jerusalem Post -- George Stephanopoulos ABC News -- Jerusalem Post is reporting that 30 Iraqi military along with a general have surrendered to the 3rd Infantry Division around al-Mujaf (sp), at what appears to be a bio-chemical weapons complex. Can you say anything about that? Can you confirm it? And is that the report you were referring to?
GEN. ABIZAID: I will not confirm that report. We have a Iraqi general officer -- two Iraqi general officers that we have taken prisoner, and they are providing us with information.
Q Ari Vall (sp), ABC News. Sir, before the war started, there were reports that if a war were to start that Saddam Hussein would force some of his Iraqi civilians to serve as human shields -- force them to serve as human shields. In the encounters that American forces and other coalition forces have had thus far with the Iraqi soldiers, can you confirm that indeed this is occurring? Are Iraqi forces forcing Iraqi civilians to serve as human shields?
GEN. ABIZAID: There are indications that some of the irregular forces are purposely fighting in positions that are occupied by civilians. There is no doubt about that.
Q (Inaudible) -- from Swiss Television. Red Cross already asked to go and see prisoners. Will it be soon possible?
GEN. ABIZAID: Please repeat that question.
Q Red Cross already asked to go and see prisoners. Will it be soon possible?
GEN. ABIZAID: Well certainly from our side it will be possible for the Red Cross to see our prisoners that we have taken.
Q Will it be soon?
GEN. ABIZAID: It will be soon. In the back. Go ahead.
Q Yes. Kathy Chen (?) from -- (inaudible) -- Satellite TV in Hong Kong. In a time like this, morale is very important. I am wondering if you are aware of the morale of the American troops? And could you do anything to prevent something like 101 Airborne Division incident from happening again?
GEN. ABIZAID: Well, it's an isolated incident. It was very tragic and very unfortunate, but these things happen. I don't think it's at all indicative of the morale of our forces.
As a matter of fact, I was just recently forward and had a chance to visit with some of our troops, and I can assure you, and I think all of the embedded media out there would also attest to the fact morale is about as high as it can be. I mean, morale is high. Confidence is high. And the troops are extremely prepared and ready for this operation.
Q Mike Tobin with Fox News. When you have the Iraqis apparently surrendering and then turning on the U.S. forces, does that change at all the manner in which the U.S. or coalition forces will deal with the surrendering Iraqis?
GEN. ABIZAID: We, of course, will be much more cautious in the way that we view the battlefield as a result of some of these incidents. But that will not in any way take away from the way that we treat the battlefield. And I think that it is clear that there's no force like this coalition that has honored and respected the rights and the safety of civilians as has this coalition. So we will continue to do everything possible to safeguard civilians. As a matter of fact, I think it's very interesting when you think about it that the coalition forces attacking into Iraq spend a greater amount of time worrying about the safety of civilians on the battlefield than their own regime.
GEN. ABIZAID: (Off mike.) The growing anti-war movement in the Arab world, do you think it will force the Arab governments to go back on commitments they may have given you to support your efforts against the regime of Saddam Hussein?
GEN. ABIZAID: Well, I really wouldn't want to make any statement that might mark me as a State Department official. (Laughter.) I'm a soldier and I do my best, but I would say, as a person who has studied the Arab world and loves the Arab world, that the majority of educated Arabs that I talk to know that Saddam Hussein has been a plague on the Arab world and on his own people, and they welcome his removal.
Q Yes, sir. Tommy Chu (ph) with CNN, taking you back from the State Department and back to the Pentagon. (Laughter.) Do you feel you have sufficient force in the coalition currently to continue this operation, or will more forces be called up?
GEN. ABIZAID: We certainly have sufficient force. There's probably not been a more powerful military force ever put together on the planet of the Earth than this one.
GEN. ABIZAID: Yes, sir.
Q John Proder (ph) with the New York Times. A follow up on an earlier question regarding human shields. Do you have evidence that the Iraqis have put explosives in potentially important military targets in and around Baghdad or put civilians in those targets? And has that inhibited targeting certain facilities that might be good targets?
GEN. ABIZAID: We have received reports that certain bridges that link some of the eastern neighborhoods to western Baghdad are prepared for demolition, and we don't believe that this is military move; we believe it's directed against the local population.
We've also received reports of explosives being placed up against certain buildings in inhabited areas in Shi'ia neighborhoods in Baghdad, and we regard this as a very bad sign and a typical move by Saddam.
Q Does it cause you to inhibit your targeting of those?
GEN. ABIZAID: Our targeting of course does not target the population of Iraq. We do everything in our power to keep our targeting as precision-based as it can be, always knowing that there are -- there is room for problems that could take place. But we're very precise in our targeting, and we're certainly not influenced by any targeting that he would make against his own people.
Q Craig Morgan (ph) from Newsday. I know you're reluctant to discuss numbers at this stage, but can you help us put some sort of shape or -- I think several of us in the room are hearing from various embedded reporters, 15 Marines perhaps in one incident; I've heard some numbers of Army casualties in a separate incident; and we have the 12 missing from the supply convoy. Can you just give us some sense of how many skirmishes we're talking about, and rough scope of numbers of casualties in each?
GEN. ABIZAID: It's very difficult for me to do. I -- before I came over here, I did my best to try to find out the numbers. I can tell you for a fact that we are definitely missing 12 Army soldiers that are unaccounted for, some of whom I believe ended up on Baghdad Television.
We have a number of killed in the action in An-Nasiriyah with the Marines. I believe that that number will remain less than 10. And a number of wounded. That is probably -- I really wouldn't want to speculate on the number of wounded, but there are wounded, some of whom have been returned to duty, others that have been evacuated from the battlefield. And as usual, the Marines handled themselves in the greatest and best traditions of the Marine Corps.
Q Yeah, there was a British general today who said that you guys might be in Baghdad by late Monday or early Tuesday. Does that seem wildly optimistic now, in view of the resistance you're getting, or not?
GEN. ABIZAID: I wouldn't want to speculate on the timetable. And I think that we are on track, will arrive in the vicinity of Baghdad soon. And I prefer to leave it at that.
Q Jeff Schaeffer (ph), Associated Press Television News. There were pictures today on television out of Baghdad showing Iraqis looking and shooting at the water, looking for an alleged American pilot or pilots who had jettisoned from the plane, and they were looking in the water. So far, can you say if in fact any American planes have been shot down, any pilots, American pilots parachuted out of any of these planes? Can you comment on that?
GEN. ABIZAID: No planes have been shot down. No pilots have parachuted. But I did note that the Iraqis were searching for what they thought to be a downed American pilot, and you can see by their actions, shooting into the water, that their search-and-rescue techniques leave a lot to be desired. Q General?
GEN. ABIZAID: Yes, ma'am.
Q Linda Donaldson (ph), NBC. Can you give us a sense now that if there are in fact civilians being used and explosives being placed, what does this tell you about who is in control? Are these the actions of someone close to Saddam, or are these the actions of lesser forces who are improvising?
GEN. ABIZAID: Well, I believe these are probably the actions of desperate people that are trying to save a doomed regime. We have not seen on the battlefield a single coherent military move. These moves are dangerous to the troops in the field, but they're not dangerous to the success of the mission.
Q Omar Asari (ph), Al Jazeera satellite channel. The engagements with the Fedayeen Saddam and the special security forces
At Umm Qasr, first of all, have you encountered such forces in other locations in other engagements? And is it usual to find them so far south? And is there any other reason for their being there than waiting for you guys? Thank you.
GEN. ABIZAID: Well, certainly I believe that it's clear that certain elements of the special security organization and perhaps the Special Republican Guard infiltrated forward in an effort to conduct these types of raids as our troops came through the area. I do not regard the forces that conducted these operations as regular army forces by any stretch of the imagination.
You're from Al Jazeera television. I'm very disappointed that you would portray those pictures of our servicemen. I saw that, and I would ask others not to do that.
Q Michael Wolf, New York Magazine. And as a follow-up to what you just said, can you envision a situation in which you would come to regard Al Jazeera as hostile media?
GEN. ABIZAID: No. I don't regard any media as hostile media. I regard --
Q Even if they continued to show pictures like that? Even if you continued to have that kind of exchange every night?
GEN. ABIZAID: I regard the showing of those pictures as absolutely unacceptable.
Q So you do -- there might be then a situation in which you would say that's -- Al Jazeera --
GEN. ABIZAID: I said -- I said what I said, and that's about all I'll say about it.
Yes, sir, in the back.
Q George Basker Watson (ph) from The Sun in London. Can you tell us how the pictures that you did see in Al Jazeera made you feel, how disgusting the images were, and how shocking they were around the world? And can you also confirm whether or not you thought that the American who'd been killed in those pictures had actually been executed?
GEN. ABIZAID: I wouldn't want to comment on that. I would say the pictures were disgusting.
Q (Inaudible) -- from the Xinghua News Agency of China. Do you think the pictures of Al Jazeera will influence the morality (sic) of the U.S. troops or the psychology of American people?
GEN. ABIZAID: I don't think I understood your question. I'm sorry.
Q The pictures of Al Jazeera's TV showed badly killed U.S. troops, servicemen. Do you think these pictures will badly influence the morality (sic) of U.S. troops or the psychology of American people?
Q (Off mike.)
GEN. ABIZAID: I understand the question. Certainly I don't think that these pictures will damage either the psychology of our soldiers, morale of our soldiers or the steadfastness of our government or the resolve of our people. We're a pretty tough people.
Q (Off mike.) With respect to WMD (for a moment ?), you've now taken quite a substantial part of the country, and you haven't found anything. Do you think this WMD, i.e. chemical, was deployed forward and has been successfully withdrawn to Baghdad? Or was it always concentrated in that area? Where do you actually think it is?
GEN. ABIZAID: I think we'll find WMD once we have had an opportunity to occupy Baghdad, stabilize Iraq, talk to Iraqis that have participated in the hiding and in the development of it. And it will take some time. We should not expect to immediately come across it, although there are reports that some units in the vicinity of Al Kut may have some type of chemical weapons. And of course we're taking the necessary precautions to deal with that. But I have no doubt that we'll find weapons of mass destruction, but you shouldn't think it's going to happen tomorrow.
Q (Off mike.) Can you tell us anything about what is going on with the western and northern part of Iraq?
GEN. ABIZAID: In the west, we continue operations there against logistics nodes, command-and-control facilities and against some of the Iraqi commando units that operate out there. We of course are continuing to look for the possibility of what we would call Scud missiles that could operate from there and did operate from there and launch against various targets back in 1991. We have a very sophisticated air and ground effort that's going on out there that we regard as being quite successful.
In the north, we have forces there that are primarily designed to help stabilize the region and also to target pro-regime units that operate in northern Iraq.
Do we have any Arab media here that -- I'd like to call on -- you already had a question, sir.
Q Can you talk about the situation in Basra? We were led to believe that our troops, our forces would be welcome there. General Franks said yesterday that there are no major Iraqi formations there, so why haven't we gone in?
GEN. ABIZAID: Well, the situation in Basra is not unlike that in An-Nasiriyah, where you have the majority of the people, I think, legitimately looking forward to the arrival of coalition forces, and small groups of regime-supporters and irregular forces that are embedded in the population and offering some resistance.
I think all of us should understand that in these very large, urban areas, it will take a long time to ensure that various regime- support elements are brought under control. And I think that we have done quite well, actually, in all the areas that we've passed through. And you also have to understand that we're not looking to go in and fight house-to-house in all of these areas either.
Q Tom Harry (ph) from CBC Radio in Canada. How does it change the fight for you going up against irregular forces? And does it raise the risk of you killing real civilians?
GEN. ABIZAID: Well, there's a risk in war of always killing civilians. And again, I'd like to once again reemphasize that we do more as a coalition probably than any other coalition in history to protect the lives of innocent civilians. It does not raise the risk to the operation. These are problems that can be dealt with along the lines of communication. And the main forces that are closing on Baghdad are powerful and unstoppable.
Q Paul Hunter (ph) of CBS Television in Canada. Re: the Patriot incident, could you tell us what investigators will be looking at, what the range of possible explanations is, and whether it's affected your faith in the Patriot as an instrument?
GEN. ABIZAID: I think I'll ask my British colleague to answer that question.
GEN. WALL: I'm not in a position here to divulge the way in which this is going to be conducted. Suffice it to say, it'll be a thorough investigation and it'll be conducted, certainly, by the Royal Air Force, in concert with U.S. forces. The outcome will be disclosed between both nations, and we are confident that we shall -- we shall come to a conclusion which will enable us to make these procedures and processes better in the future.
For the time being, we're reviewing our current practice, and we're satisfied that if we went out tomorrow, from a U.K. perspective, we would conduct our activities just as we have, in concert with coalition procedures, been doing up until now.
And if I could just add that the aircraft in question was conducting a mission, the like of which has only been going on in this war for a few days. But if you look back to before D-Day, it's actually been going -- those sort of missions have been going on for a protracted period. And these procedures have stood us in good stead for a very, very long time. And so it's against that backdrop that we should be looking into the issues of today.
GEN. ABIZAID: Yes, sir.
Q General, Mitchell Switch (sp) from the BBC. Nobody thought this was going to be simple, but, given the degree of resistance, which I think you concede has been unexpected -- the level of casualties, now the prisoners of war -- is it not the case that this is proving to be significantly more difficult than you might have hoped?
GEN. ABIZAID: No. (Laughter.)
Q Gary Divot (sp), CanWest News, Canada. I was just wondering, sir, how the convoy, the supply convoy, was actually ambushed. I was just wanting some more details: when, and I was wondering if the U.S. military now knows where the POWs are and whether, in fact, you've established contact with the other side to negotiate their release? What is -- what are you doing, just if you could bring us up to speed, that would be grand.
GEN. ABIZAID: No, we do not know where our prisoners are.
As far as the incident concerning the convoy, I believe that it is probable, like many other tragic incidents in war, that a young officer, leading his convoy, made a wrong turn and went somewhere where he wasn't supposed to. There weren't combat forces around where it happened. Combat forces arrived at the scene and helped extricate some of the survivors. It's an unfortunate incident.
Again, I don't know the exact circumstances, but I would say that the combat forces that arrived on the scene to help the survivors of the ambush did a superb job in extracting the survivors.
Q Vyacheslav Lukin (sp), Russian State Television. What exactly do you believe was in violation of the Geneva Convention regarding those pictures shown in Al-Jazeera, and do you believe the pictures of Iraqi prisoners shown on other networks are in compliance with that Convention?
GEN. ABIZAID: A state television that broadcasts the pictures of prisoners, asking them questions in an effort to humiliate them, is in violation of the Geneva Convention, and it is not right and we will hold those accountable for their actions.
Q Goa Din (ph), from China Daily. You know, there are many people, especially some innocent people, were killed in this war. Suppose you were sent to inform those family about the tragedy: what would you say?
GEN. ABIZAID: You know, I've been a soldier for thirty years; there's never been a cost-free war that I know of. We deeply regret the loss of any innocent civilian, Iraqi or others.
Q General, Steve Insky (ph), from National Public Radio. Are your supply lines to your most advanced forces completely open; can you get them, at this point, everything you need? And have the events of the last day or so changed the way that you intend to deal with some of the areas in the south that you've bypassed in the attack over the last few days?
GEN. ABIZAID: I'm certain that the land force commanders will make some adjustments, but I'm also certain that when the history of this campaign is written, that people will look at this move that the land forces have made in this amount of time as being not only a great military accomplishment, but an incredible logistics accomplishment. But we'll wait until we arrive in Baghdad to discuss the history of the campaign.
Q Donna Linewant (ph) with USA Today. Are you satisfied with your strategy in al-Nasiriyah on Saturday, or do you think it was a tactical error not to occupy that city?
GEN. ABIZAID: We are satisfied with the strategy of our campaign plan. It's on track, it's being very successful in the broadest military sense. There will be times when actions will happen throughout the sector where loss of life will occur, but I would also emphasize that we do not consider the actions taking place in the sector as a defeat of any kind.
Q Do you -- Matko Berzat (ph), Italian News Agency Anzer. Did you strike other terrorist targets like the camp of last Friday? And did you find any link -- any evidence of link between the Iraqi regime and terrorist organizations?
GEN. ABIZAID: Well, again, the discussion about links between the Iraqi and terrorist organizations are very clear cut , and we know that they exist, and I don't know that that's really something appropriate for me to comment on.
In the back, please.
Q Karen Sloan (sp), of AP Radio. I have two questions for you. The first is, Independent Television News is claiming that the death of their correspondent, Terry Lloyd, was caused by coalition fire. Do you have any comment on that?
The second question is, how great a blow is it to your overall strategy to be moving the 4th -- the Army's 4th away from the northern sector because Turkey would not give permission for those troops to move through their territory?
GEN. ABIZAID: First of all, I believe you're talking about the death of the correspondent in the north, or the British correspondent --
Q Correspondent for Independent TV -- south, the British correspondent in the south.
GEN. ABIZAID: I'm sorry, I have no information concerning the details of what happened there, so I really can't answer that.
As to your question about the 4th Infantry Division equipment being moved to the south, I think it's a prudent measure to move it to the south because it's clear that in the near term, we would not be able to get the division and its equipment into the north in a timely manner as a result of various negotiations with Turkey.
Having said that, we do have an overflight agreement with the Turks that is in effect. We remain committed to our relationship with the Turkish military and government. And we're satisfied that we are able to apply the pressure we need to apply to be successful in the north with the various strategies that we've employed.
Q (Off mike) -- with the London Daily Express. I was wondering, General, if you might -- (inaudible) -- an apparent discrepancy in the figures. You're saying 12 people are missing. Those pictures seem to show five people captured and round about 10 or 11 bodies. How do you explain the difference in those numbers?
GEN. ABIZAID: I cannot explain the difference in the numbers. I don't know that the numbers that you have said are what I observed. Those of us that had the unfortunate opportunity to see those pictures can come to different conclusions about them. I think that I will leave that for further investigation as time goes on.
Q Mike Tobin with Fox. With the Republican Guard units believed to be in Baghdad and to the north of Baghdad, do you anticipate that the fighting will intensify here in the coming days?
GEN. ABIZAID: I believe that there is a high probability that we will come into contact with Republican Guard units in and around Baghdad. Whether or not they fight with any degree of tenacity remains to be seen. Suffice it to say that we are applying significant pressure on them from the air as ground troops continue to close with them.
Didn't you already ask a question once before tonight?
Q Yes. (Laughter.)
GEN. ABIZAID: I'm new at this, and I won't do that again. Only one question -- (laughter) -- only one question per person.
Q (Off mike) -- Greece. Are you aware of any Turkish troops that have entered north Iraq? And do you think that such a move would create bigger problem in the area?
GEN. ABIZAID: I think to set the record straight, we all need to understand that there have been Turkish troops in northern Iraq for a long time. And so the Turkish troops that were in northern Iraq before the war started remain there. There have been various reports of reinforcements of those troops, but that is not correct to my knowledge.
Q Michelle Shearer (ph) from -- (inaudible) -- cable TV news. Do you know where Saddam Hussein is up to this moment? And if you confirmed Saddam is dead, will stop your attack Iraq, or you just continue to attack Iraq until you occupy the country?
GEN. ABIZAID: I think General Franks said yesterday, this campaign is not about the single person of Saddam Hussein. It's about a brutal and corrupt regime that has used weapons of mass destruction against its own people that must be overthrown. We will continue the attack until the regime is overthrown.
Q Nicole Enfield (ph) from Associated Press. Just a few more details on the ambush of the supply convoy. How many people were in the convoy? How many have been rescued successfully? Can you give us some details on the extraction process? And also can you give us an update on the fighting in Najaf?
GEN. ABIZAID: The supply convoy, I can only confirm for you that 12 people in the convoy are missing. I cannot confirm the size of the convoy. I can tell you that the convoy -- that the remnants of it, after the attack, were relieved by a Marine unit that attacked and drove off the attackers and evacuated additional wounded that were on the scene.
And as I'm sure all of you understand, giving you numbers and details within hours of the battle is very difficult to do accurately, so I would prefer not to do that.
Q On Najaf? Najaf? Sorry.
GEN. ABIZAID: Oh, Najaf? What about Najaf?
Q The fighting there.
GEN. ABIZAID: I wouldn't want to say.
Q General, Pete Smallwood (sp), from Knight-Ridder. Can you comment on reports from Iran that an overshot Tomahawk missile landed there, and also that American and British pilots have been invading Iranian airspace?
GEN. ABIZAID: I know of no aircraft that have violated Iranian airspace. It is certainly not our intention to violate Iranian airspace. I know that the Iranians have complained about some ordnance that they say landed in their territory, and we are investigating it.
Q (Name inaudible) -- Irish Times. Where do the Kurd fit into this, general? Are there any plans to have the Kurds involved in attacks in the war?
GEN. ABIZAID: The Kurds fit into this as one of the great peoples of Iraq. And we have had friendly relationships with the Kurds for many years. We have forces that are in contact with both the PUK and the KDP in northern Iraq. And clearly we look forward to the Kurdish parties being integrated into a democratic or at least different Iraqi regime that will emerge.
Q We have some reports or some indications of some chaos in these town that you're bypassing as you go on toward Baghdad. Who's going to remain behind to ensure the security of these places? Is this a concern for you?
GEN. ABIZAID: Well, I don't know that I would characterize what's going on in the town behind the main force units as they advance as chaos. There are activities that are taking place in some of these towns that, as we have described tonight on numerous occasions, that must be described as irregular actions. And I don't know that I would characterize what I see back there as chaos. We certainly are very mindful of the fact that over time, we will look for Iraqi police and other officials that are interested in working with us to ensure that we get stability as we continue the advance. I think you'll find that the campaign is in its very early stages, and some of these things will take time.
Q (Off mike) -- from CBS. Do these small pockets of resistance, or I think you just described it as kind of chaotic elements left behind, could that possibly mark the beginning of an organized resistance or guerrilla campaign behind your lines?
GEN. ABIZAID: I don't think that this marks the beginning of anything. I think that it indicates that there are certain elements in the regime that will fight and fight against us wherever they may show themselves because they want to protect their status and privileges that they have reaped from the regime. And I think it's not unusual that certain elements will fight. I don't think that you'll find over time that these groups will create a significant difficulty for the overall achievement of the military objectives of the coalition.
I think we have time for about one more question.
Q John Melvin (ph), Cox Newspapers. Can you give us any more detail on the background of the person who was accused in the grenade attack, whether he has made any statements, or do you have any clearer idea of his motivations, any prior blemishes on his record?
GEN. ABIZAID: No. And of course, being a member of the United State Armed Forces, you can certainly understand that the incident is under investigation, and I can't really, in my position, comment on either the person or the nature of what happened there for obvious reasons.
I think we'll take one more question.
Q (Off mike.) Do you use the skies of France to send the B- 52?
GEN. ABIZAID: Did we use?
Q The French skies to --
GEN. ABIZAID: Did we use French skies?
Q (Off mike.)
GEN. ABIZAID: I don't have any idea.
Okay, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for your attention. Thank you very much.
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