CENTCOM Operation Iraqi Freedom Briefing ~ 31 March 2003
|Presenter: Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, CENTCOM Deputy Director of Operations||March 31, 2003|
BRIG. GEN. VINCENT BROOKS: (In progress) -- entered Iraq to remove the regime. The coalition remains robust, with 49 countries supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
We continue to remember those who have lost their lives, and their families.
The coalition attacked regime targets over the last 48 hours in Baghdad and several cities throughout the country. Additionally, there were precision attacks against surface-to-surface missiles and Republican Guard forces. Our efforts are focused on every aspect of the regime. Here are some examples of recent attacks, and they illustrate our approach.
First, we attack the regime directly. This is a strike against an Iraqi television service building in Karbala, and it was attacked two nights ago.
This is a Ba'ath Party headquarters building in al-Hillah.
This is a military headquarters building in western Iraq.
And this is a communications building in western Iraq.
These are all attacks against the regime directly.
We attack forces defending the regime. This first image is a tank in a revetement north of An Nasiriyah.
The next image is an air defense radar in the western desert near H-3 airfield.
As the next video clips show, we also attack the logistics that make it possible for the Iraqi forces to be sustained, and we prevent them from being sustained. The first image is a fuel truck in a revetement near al Kut. The second one is an ammo truck near An Najaf. And the final one is an ammo storage area near Baghdad.
Coalition special operations forces continued their operations and actions throughout Iraq. They're facilitating attacks against regime targets and death squads within urban areas. These attacks are enabled by information provided by the local populations. Special operations forces have also been effective interdicting movements into or out of Iraq, and movements into or out of Iraq, and movements within Iraq by Iraqi commandos, missile units, or others.
This is an example of an encounter that occurred along the highway west of Ar Ramadi. Coalition special operations forces destroyed two convoys of vehicles, including 10 tanks.
We also used special operations gunships with great effectiveness against regime targets and also targets of opportunity, as this next video shows. This is H-2 airfield in the western desert. It had aircraft dispersed on it. Special operations forces observed it, called in AC-130 gunships and destroyed the aircraft on the ground.
Our land component developed the situation on the ground in several areas, seeking out concentrations of terrorist death squads and paramilitaries to further reduce their effect while also attacking divisions of the Republican Guard.
U.K. forces fought near Basra to eliminate enemy positions and succeeded in capturing several hundred enemy prisoners, and attacking some Iraqi gunboats nearby.
The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force conducted raids into Al-Fajar (sp), south of al Kut, which you see on the map. They were able to capture several Ba'ath Party members, several weapons caches, destroyed air defense equipment, and exploited a number of documents found nearby.
Near Tallil airfield, southwest of An Nasiriyah, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force seized a large weapons cache, about 40 buildings worth, containing ammunition, chemical decontamination equipment -- and that includes a Samala (sp) decontamination vehicle, chemical suits, and unidentified artillery munitions.
Fifth Corps conducted attacks near An Najaf, near positions east of the river, and captured three small weapons caches. Additionally, Fifth Corps concentrated air attacks and artillery fires against the Medina Division's tanks, artillery systems and command posts.
We continue to see brutal acts by the regime and the forces loyal to it. An example came from an outpost in front of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force a day ago. And the story goes like this. During daylight hours, two vehicles rapidly approached the Marine checkpoint at a high rate of speed. When they failed to stop, having been signaled by a psychological operations loudspeaker team present at the site, they were taken under fire by the checkpoint. The lead vehicle, a sedan, immediately halted, and the second vehicle, a truck, rear-ended it. And adult male, an adult female, and two children exited the sedan. Two Iraqi soldiers exited the truck with weapons and one of the soldiers shot and killed the adult female. After a brief firefight, both Iraqi soldiers and the three surviving civilians lay wounded. As the Marines approached, one of the wounded soldiers pulled out a weapon and was killed on the spot. The Marines evacuated the remaining wounded, and upon searching the truck found 120 millimeter mortars, and mortar ammunition.
The land component continues its efforts to destroy any forces that are encountered, and also any forces that would threaten the supply lines.
Our maritime component continued its work of keeping open the waterways and did find some mines in the shallow waters of Khor Abdullah as we continued expanding the channel way. All those mines have been destroyed.
Also, in an effort to increase the security of the ports, the maritime component is searching any vessels that remain to ensure that there are no threats. And this short video shows a boarding party doing that work. This is a search aboard the deck, and then you'll see them attend -- ascend to clear the rest, the remains of the boat. Dangerous work, but important work, and it's necessary to ensure that anything that's in the ports is safe.
The coalition continues to push information to the Iraqi population, and at this point we've now pushed our ground-based communications capability further forward by moving a ground base into Iraq. Up until this point in time, it was in neighboring countries.
Our coalition forces also continue efforts to preserve Iraq's future resources, and that remains a very, very good news story, and I have a few things to highlight from our actions in that regard.
First, the oil well fighters we've talked about for the several days were successful in extinguishing one of the three fires burning in the Ramallah oil field. The video that I'm about to show you is the moment of truth and mission accomplishment as you see the fire extinguished and then the well being capped. With that -- that one's over. Our efforts continue to extinguish the last two fires in the Ramallah oil field, and we are confident that we will be successful on that in the coming days.
Additional good news, fresh clean water began flowing through the pipeline from Kuwait to Umm Qasr yesterday. The pipeline construction project makes it possible now for over 625,000 gallons of clean drinking water to flow daily. The coalition escorted aid convoys to Umm Qasr, As Zubair, and Safwan, and a local school and market are due to reopen today in Rumaila (?) after a period of closure.
Finally, our civil affairs teams are continuing their assessments amongst the population in the south. These teams provide useful information, training and assistance to the Iraqi people. And they also help to assess the most vital needs of the population. And, of course, they act as the initial goodwill ambassadors on behalf of the coalition.
With that, ladies and gentlemen, I'll take your questions. Please, second row.
Q Hi. Donna -- (inaudible) -- of USA Today. You have made a point -- or actually the U.S. has made a point of saying that you want to be liberators and not invaders or occupiers. Today there are reports that 4,000 suicide bombers have come from all over the Arab world into Iraq. And what does this say to you about U.S. efforts to win the hearts and minds of the Arab world? BRIG.
GEN. BROOKS: Well, Donna, first, you're exactly right, we have come here and liberation is in our minds as we destroy the regime and proceed to remove the weapons of mass destruction from Iraq. Liberation is the action that will occur by way of what we're doing in this campaign. The potential threats of others coming in from external countries tells you that the problem is not in Iraq, the problem is the regime and trying to protect itself.
We remain convinced from what we're seeing throughout the country, as we are having more and more success, that the Iraqi people are welcoming the departure of the regime and its destruction. Where we attack regime complexes and Ba'ath Party headquarters buildings, the towns people are helping us, and in fact they're very pleased about that. There is, truthfully, still a degree of "let's wait and see." We have to understand that for decades these people have been severely brutalized by this regime, and they have taken risks before that have not proven to be safe for them to do so. And so there's a degree of caution still that's out there and is entirely understandable, but we mean what we say and we're going to continue with that mission.
Yes. Q (Inaudible) -- ABC News. Regarding the suicide attack which occurred a couple of days ago, did the commanding office on the ground there, did he violate any protocol, any rules of engagement, by allowing that civilian vehicle to make its way so close to the checkpoint? And the second question is regarding Iraqi POWs. Is it possible, sir, that some of them might end up in Guantanamo? And if so, does that mean that they would be denied POW status and instead be designated as battlefield detainees? Thank you. BRIG.
GEN. BROOKS: First, regarding the checkpoint, we don't second-guess what's happening out on the ground. There's dynamics that happen out there that we will not know, and we leave it to subordinate commanders to look into the circumstances surrounding any losses that happen within their force. And we are confident that that's ongoing at this point in time.
What we do know is when we conduct checkpoint operations, the checkpoint itself provides security to other parts of the force. They are pushed further out along roads to prevent someone from getting in close on to the actual outfit that's being protected. That's what we believe happened in this case, certainly with the checkpoints. I'm familiar with the outfit. I was in command of that outfit not too many months ago, and I certainly can vouch for their training.
As to the prisoners that have been taken, right now, at this point, we are treating all those that we take into our custody as enemy prisoners of war. Any additional decisions made with regard to ultimate status determinations would be a policy decision not done by this command. Q Do you think it's possible they could end up in Guantanamo, sir? BRIG.
GEN. BROOKS: I wouldn't want to speculate what the ultimate decisions will be made, but that's really a question for Washington.
Q Hello, General. Kelly O'Donnell from NBC. Earlier you remarked that Special Operations forces are trying to keep control of who's coming in and out of Iraq. Now that we know of this report of 4,000 potential suicide bombers coming in, are Special Operations forces specifically targeting them?
And can you give us any indication, without the security issues that I know you would avoid, of what those missions are like and how actively they're looking for those sorts of people?
GEN. BROOKS: Let me describe it like this. First, as I mentioned, we have Special Operations forces operating throughout the country. What is occurring primarily in the western desert, where routes lead into Iraq, is something that can be characterized as area denial. We are eliminating freedom of action and freedom of movement from anyone that would pass through there.
And so if we see someone coming in on roads, we may stop and check and see who they are. In some cases along borders we have encountered people and turned them back, first because it's dangerous and they should know they're going into an area that's under combat operations. We do that on the ground. We provide notice to airmen. We provide notice to mariners, to let people know that there's war going on, for their safety.
Within Iraq, Special Operations forces have a robust capability that lets them identify first, operate at night, if need be attack and destroy things they find, like this convoy of multiple vehicles, including tanks. And so I would simply characterize it as we are denying freedom of movement throughout the western desert and are being very effective at that.
Third row, please.
Q (Inaudible) -- able to verify whether the aircraft you've taken on the ground was a real one or it was just a decoy and whether you've been able to identify the type of the aircraft? Thanks.
GEN. BROOKS: Well, I'm not able to identify the type of aircraft. I'm simply not trained to do so. But I can tell you that our targeteers are very skillful at examining anything that we are deciding to strike in advance or, in the post-strike images, what it is we hit.
We're comfortable that we hit legitimate targets in this case, but I think that I'm not in a position to say one way or another beyond that.
GEN. BROOKS: They were indeed in the open. They were in the open and they were attacked. We want to ensure that there's no capability that would come up, especially from western airfields, to attack coalition forces. And it's better to err on the safe side and destroy it than to do otherwise.
Q (Inaudible.) How will the new security measures, which I assume you are going to put into effect after the car bombing, affect your relations with the Iraqi civilians? Is it possible your forces will treat them with more suspicion in the aftermath of this attack?
GEN. BROOKS: Well, first let me say that we haven't changed the procedures per se. We've already been maintaining security of our forces. And this attack occurred at a security checkpoint.
There's no question that someone on the line that's in close contact with the population, and also in close contact with a set of regime players who will quickly put themselves in civilian clothes, hide weapons, do things that are inconsistent with the laws of armed conflict, exhibit brutalities against civilians, that there would be a heightened awareness to anyone that's encountered. That we can count on.
As to how we will encounter Iraqi civilians, I think we still will make determinations on the ground whether a threat is posed or not. In some cases, like the example I gave you, there may be a threat and a non-threat in the same action coming toward you; very, very difficult to sort that out.
Our forces are disciplined, though. They're alert. And they are primarily focused on protecting civilian populations, not destroying them. We'll continue with that.
Q Tom Mintier, CNN. A two-part question concerning the media. It's our understanding that the domestic version of Iraq TV did not come on the air this morning. Was this a result of targeting in the air strikes last night?
And secondly, there was discussion about Voria (ph) phones and some commanders not allowing embedded journalists to use those phones. Have you had any problems with the embedded journalists violating any rules?
GEN. BROOKS: Well, let me start with the second question. The Voria (ph) phones, we talked about that a few days ago and the importance of making sure we're maintaining operational security. We don't have something we've applied as a blanket across the battlefield. We continue to look at whether it's necessary or not to do that.
The good-news story associated with the parts of the battlefield where we've decided to do that is, in many cases, embedded media reporters have pulled together and shared assets. And also the organizations they're covering have made it possible to ensure stories get transmitted even using military equipment. So that's working out very, very well at this point.
What was the first part of your question again, Tom?
Q Iraqi TV.
GEN. BROOKS: Right. I understand that report that Iraqi TV domestically did not come on. We certainly have been doing things that would affect the possibility of Iraq TV to be coming on. We'll continue to do that. We think that the domestic population is not seeing very much of the Iraqi regime at this point in time, and we'll continue our efforts to make sure that's the case.
Please, third row.
Q (Inaudible) -- from Hong Kong. We all know that once urban fighting starts in Baghdad, the number of casualties, military and civilians, is most likely to increase. So my question is, is urban warfare inevitable? And is coalition troops prepared for the possibility to engage urban fights?
GEN. BROOKS: We will conduct military operations in a way that we believe is necessary to conduct them, all the while remaining focused on our objectives and also carrying with us the effort and the responsibility of trying to maintain a balance in how we respond inside of any military circumstance, particularly with regard to the potential for damaging civilians or other structures around them.
You've already seen some examples of how we do some of our work in urban areas. We're very selective about where we go. And frankly, the Iraqi people are telling us exactly where to go.
When we go in to do something against a Barth headquarters, for example, it's based on intelligence or other information that's been provided that can be turned into action. And the action is related to that purpose. And in some cases we leave. In other cases we may go in and stay.
So I wouldn't want to predetermine exactly what the circumstances would be in Baghdad. There certainly is potential for very intense fighting. We should all anticipate that and be prepared for it. But our tactics will let us do this in a way that we think can save lives as much as possible.
Q (Inaudible.) We've been hearing accounts today from the crew of a British Scorpion light tank that was attacked, although it was clearly marked, by an American A-10 aircraft. How much of a concern is that for U.S. Central Command? And also, what does the situation in Basra tell you about what may lie ahead on the streets of Baghdad?
GEN. BROOKS: When we have reports of potential fratricides, we always examine it deeply. And certainly whenever there is a coalition involvement there where two nations are involved, we try to respect the sensitivities of the countries involved as much as possible.
We have a number of things that we're examining right now to make sure that we have not had or that we have had a case of fratricide or blue-on-blue type of actions. When those things are complete and their investigations are complete, we will then provide additional information. We'll be forthcoming about it. But it's important that we are thorough in examining all the circumstances that surround any incidents like that.
I would just say that we know that there's a lot of fog and friction on the battlefield, and accidents do happen. There are still humans in the loop and mistakes can occur. We haven't gotten to the point where warfare can be waged in perfection at this time.
The situation in Basra and what it tells us first is that the Iraqi people are still in some cases under the boot of the regime. And where that boot is applied, there's a great want, a great desire, to have the boot removed.
We are receiving assistance and information from people in Basra, and it localizes our attacks very effectively. And the UK forces have been outstanding in that regard of conducting operations where needed at a time and place of our choosing.
It also says, though, that there's still work to be done. We wouldn't say that Basra is completely under coalition control, but we continue to increase the degree of control over top of that. As we do our work, we'll remain in close contact with as many Iraqi leaders, resistance leaders and others out there that can give us additional information and assistance. And they ultimately will be the inheritors of Basra, we believe.
On the left.
Q Jeff Schaeffer (sp), Associated Press Television News. General, what's your current assessment of the Iraqi air force? And why do you suppose that they've pretty much been keeping their planes grounded since the war's begun?
GEN. BROOKS: Jeff, it's as simple as if they fly, they die. It's as simple as that. If they come up, we'll destroy them. And, as you see, if we find them, we'll destroy them. We've destroyed aircraft in cemeteries or near cemeteries. We've destroyed aircraft outside of protected areas. We've destroyed aircraft on the ground at H-2.
We think that they know not to come up and fly against us. And certainly we're prepared to respond to that if we choose to.
Q (Inaudible.) General Tommy Franks has told us last week, early last week, that there have been contacts between the U.S. military and what he described as commanders of some of Iraqi units. In the last 10 days we haven't heard about this. Have they failed, the contacts? Or where do they stand now? Can you tell us, please?
GEN. BROOKS: Contacts continue on a variety of levels. I won't be too specific about where they're occurring or who we have contact with. I would tell you that we have contacts with civilian leaders. We have contacts with military leaders.
We have a number of military leaders that have been taken under our control as a result of combat actions or by raids. They're providing useful information in a number of cases that we are then taking and taking action on. So if we find that it is something that can be acted upon, we'll go in and deal with that and try to take advantage of it.
As General Franks mentioned, we do our work in a way that in some cases is sequential. In some cases it's simultaneous. And what we're seeking is a broad effect on this regime. But we can operate in a variety of areas, with a variety of (effects?), the time and place of our choosing. And that's working very well.
Q (Inaudible) -- BBC. Two questions. One of the great benefits of briefings like this should be able to give us a little bit of the overview and perhaps share with us some of the intelligence picture. In that regard, could you tell us something about the level of (attrition?), level of damage that you think you're doing to the Republican Guards in several days now of air strikes?
Could you also give the points you raised about the decontamination vehicle and more chemical suits being found? Could you say a little bit about what all this evidence about the preparedness for chemical weapons or chemical weapons environment tells you about likely Iraqi intentions?
GEN. BROOKS: The Republican Guard forces command is one of our key targets. We know that they're part of the solid defensive structure of the regime. That's what the regime relies on heavily for traditional military work.
And so we're targeting them. And we're destroying a number of them. We're taking away their capability to fight. But I'm not going to tell you what the number is at this point in time. It just wouldn't be appropriate to make that assessment, first because it's not a precise science.
In much of that, we use as much intelligence as we can to make a determination of where they stand, what their strength level would be, whether we've created vulnerabilities, whether we have advantages. And that's (art?) at that point, once you get beyond there.
And so while I would not be specific about where we see the Republican Guard forces command, I can say that there are a number of organizations within the Republican Guard forces command that are in serious difficulty at this point in time, and we continue our efforts to put them in greater difficulty and danger.
Go back to the second half of your question; I'll pick that up.
Q You say you found a chemical decontamination vehicle, more suits. What does this tell you about the likelihood of the Iraqis having chemical weapons?
GEN. BROOKS: It's one more tile in the mosaic. We still cannot determine what the regime will do. We've seen a number of things that tell us there are desperate men that will go to any extreme to protect themselves. We've seen that exhibited before this war started, and it's been reaffirmed since this war started.
We know that there has been equipment positioned in places to provide protection to the Iraqi forces. Protection from what? I don't know; we don't use the chemical weapons. We see this in a variety of different locations. Whether it means there's going to be an intention to use or not, that's for the Iraqi regime to determine.
Our efforts will be to prevent that from happening if we can, by identifying the leaders that would make such decisions; by warning military organizations that might pull the trigger what the cost would be and reminding again that no one benefits from the use of weapons of mass destruction; by attacking the systems that would deliver it when we find them, and the places where they might be stored, and at the same time, seeking addition information of where might they be; who knows, and what can we do about it.
So those actions are ongoing. We have to wait and see what's going to happen, but we won't be benign as it goes along.
Q Paul Hunter from Canadian Broadcast. Back to the suicide, the effect of the suicide attacks and the threat of another 4,000. Were coalition soldiers told ahead of time to prepare for that type of fighting? And what had been the effect of it becoming a reality on the morale of soldiers? And secondarily, how many times would you say Iraqi civilians have been killed after being targeted by coalition soldiers because there was the threat they might be suicide attackers or they were driving where they should be and didn't stop?
GEN. BROOKS: I think first the degree of sensitivities out there is a heightened awareness. We always new that there were threats of suicide bombers. We'd seen things that have been reported, just like these reports of thousand coming in that want to be suicide bombers. So we certainly know that in a regime that is linked to terrorism that terroristic practices might be exhibited.
Whether we look for that in every case, different story. And that's something that's determined on the ground. But I can certainly say that there's a heightened awareness to it.
I would not want to characterize what the morale is. I think the morale inside of a military organization comes from a whole lot of things. First is the ability to bond with on another and know that you have a common goal and that you're taking care of each other as well as you can. They had losses that occurred because of that attack in that specific outfit, but that unit would not want to stop because of that attack. I know this to be true.
I think as we see additional threats on the battlefield, as it relates to civilians, we will still encounter then in the right way that we want to, that is in a way that does not brutalize, that tries to protect as much as possible. I don't have any numbers that I can give you in terms of cases where coalition forces have attacked civilians. I'm not aware of any where we've deliberately -- I'm certain that we have not deliberately attacked civilians under any circumstance.
Whether we've had true civilians, noncombatants, innocents caught up inside of a firefight where someone is pushed out in front of an irregular force, that I cannot say. I know the regime would like to have that number escalate beyond count. We see that even today, actions that are ongoing as we speak. Along a bridge in the north between Karbala and Al-Hila (ph). Irregular forces trying to get across a bridge that's rigged for demolition. They know it's rigged for demolition; the did it. And pushing women and children in front of them. One woman tried to break contact and escape, and as she ran, she was shot in the back and thrown into the river.
So the encounters with civilians out there are certain. We know they're going on. We're not targeting them. No one's killing more Iraqis right now then the regime.
Please, you had a question.
Q There were elements of the Nebukadnezar Division of the Republican Guard reportedly discovered in some of the town in the fighting out there. Could you explain the significance of that and explain the significance of why we are seeing so much fighting in these little towns to what appear to be the northernmost reaches of where the coalition fighting forces is located?
GEN. BROOKS: Okay. First, the initial report is that some of the people we've taken into our custody as a result of recent operations say they're from the Nebukadnezar Division. So we're not certain indeed that they are. It's possible. If it is true, then it's -- it may reinforce some of the movements that were in and around some of the defensive positions that we've seen. It may be reinforcements. It may be replacing losses as a result of the actions that we have inflicted upon the Republican Guard forces.
As to why they're where they are, I think it's really military terrain. When you can anchor onto something that might provide you an advantage terrain-wise, you may choose to defend there. We have awareness of where they are. It doesn't protect them. And I think that they may seek to draw us into places where we would be perceived as not ready to fight. We're able to fight anywhere on this battlefield. That's already been shown, and it will continue to be shown.
Second row, please.
Q (Off mike.) It's often said about the U.S. military that they own the night. Have you seen any evidence that the Iraqis obtained their own night-vision goggles and are fighting back?
GEN. BROOKS: We have reports that there have been some night-vision devices provided to different parts of the regime. I have not gotten any reports that any of them have been found at this point. So it's all speculative at this point. Even if that's the case, we would still own the night.
Q Nick Spicer (ph), National Public Radio. I was wondering, sir, if you could tell us if landmines are being used by American forces along the road leading to Baghdad? And if that answer is yes, what does that say, in military terms, about -- about strategy? Is it hunkering down of any kind?
GEN. BROOKS: What we're seeing, actually, is landmines that have been left by the regime forces. We found those in a few areas. We have had some wounded as a result of landmines. Any landmines that we would use are retrievable. They're under our control at any given time. They're used for temporary protective purposes, and then they're recovered, and they go with us.
That is not the case of what we're seeing on the behalf of the regime. They're left out there. Anyone can run into them, military forces, the civilians who are trying to escape their brutality inside of towns. That's what we're seeing on the battlefield at this point.
Q (Off mike.)
GEN. BROOKS: I don't know specifically what's happening down inside of tactical units. We do have some landmines that are available to us, like the Claymore antipersonnel mine, that's a put-in-place-and-remove type of mine. We take it with us, and we use it for protection.
So, yes, we do have them. But in terms of the specific tactical actions, I don't know where they're being used and where they're not.
Q General, Cammie McCormick (ph), CBS News. Could you tell us what's happening just south of Baghdad in (Hindia ?)? Are Republican Guard units being engaged? Is there street fighting going on there?
GEN. BROOKS: I don't have any reports of any street fighting going on involving coalition forces. I don't know whether the Iraqis are fighting in the streets at this point.
We are in contact with forces just south of Baghdad, and we know where they are. They're in contact. I don't want to characterize too much, because it's an ongoing action, and some of your embeds are doing a great job of reporting what's going on right now from the soldiers'-eye view.
We're going to continue to work against the Republican Guard forces that are defending Baghdad. Our efforts are going to go to the regime. We've made that clear. Where the regime is, we're coming. Where the regime is, we're coming.
Please, in the third row.
Q Hi, General. Anne Bernard (ph) from the Boston Globe. I know the action is still ongoing, but is this the first clash between Republican Guards and U.S. forces on the ground that's going on right now?
And my second question is about the Fedayeen. At the beginning of the war, the estimates of their numbers ranged from 10,000 to 100,000. What's the latest intelligence that you have about how many there are? And since they've been characterized as dead-enders and sort of informed that their only future is as prisoners of war -- or, I'm sorry, as possible defendants in war crimes trials, what is their incentive to surrender? And why wouldn't we end up in a situation where each one of those individuals would fight for his life until the last minute?
GEN. BROOKS: Well, certainly the Republican Guard has met coalition forces before. We've been attacking them in a variety of ways for a number of days. So this is not the first contact that they have experienced from us, nor will it be the last.
As to the desperation of regime members who know that they have no future, first, they can be certain of it. We'd be happy to guarantee that they have no future. We've made that statement clearly a number of times, and we'll continue to say that. There is not future for the regime or anyone that supports it.
Will they fight to the death? Probably. We're seeing that in a number of places. Those who have everything to lose will lose it.
Q And how many of there are there?
GEN. BROOKS: I don't know what the number is at this point. It's a difficult number to count when someone wears civilian clothes and comes out of a bus with a weapon. You can't count that.
Actually, let's go in the second row over here, please.
Q If thousands of suicide bombers do show up on the battlefield, what's the military significance of that? Are they a serious threat?
GEN. BROOKS: Well, certainly if they're able to detonate an explosive, it's like any other weapon that encounters a force. And it's very difficult to achieve any kind of degree of mass with that. That's a tactic of terror. When losses occur inside of military formations, the military formations consolidate, reorganize, reestablish any capability, and they continue to fight. It's not a very effective military tactic at all. It's a terror tactic, and it won't be effective. We're continuing operations right now. We had a car bomb explosion within days, and our operations are still continuing beyond where that car bomb explosion occurred. It will not stop us. It will not stop us. So --
Please, fourth row.
Q (Inaudible) -- Russian state television. General, could you talk a little more about your humanitarian operations, and specifically how the distribution is conducted, because on TV, we have seen pictures of the crowds surrounding military trucks, which doesn't look like very effective. Do you receive any help from local communities in the distribution process? Thank you.
GEN. BROOKS: Okay, thank you for the question. There are a number of organization that are involved in providing humanitarian aid. As each day goes by and more terrain is secured, even more organizations come in. Some of them are international organizations, some of them are governmental organizations, and others are military organizations. We did see some early images when some of the first convoys went into the southern area of what appeared to be more chaotic than we believe it should be. A lot of lessons have been learned. The actual organizations involved -- we don't need to characterize who they were or what their roles were in that, but we certainly know how to distribute supplies in an organized way.
We've seen some recent images of very controlled distribution points that have lines, that have a means of causing people to move down into a single row to receive what stocks they need, and to proceed on. It's very orderly, and it's going very well right now. I think what we saw coming off the Sir Gallahad was a very orderly distribution. The water distribution -- there will be 12 points that will be built up. It will be controlled distributions. So we don't want to create chaos in what we are doing, and we won't. We'll do the best we can to prevent that and maintain control, and also do it in a way that people realize life is going on, things are going to be okay.
In the back please.
Q Kevin Donough (ph) of ITV News. General, going back to the friendly fire incident in which a British soldier was killed, his colleagues have said they've found it inconceivable that the pilot of the A-10 was unable to identify the British armor, and he has said to make not just one, but two passes over the column. In fact, they've described his actions as being that of a cowboy. What do you say to the family of the dead soldier, and what action will be taken against this pilot?
GEN. BROOKS: I should first address the family of this dead soldier, and any others who have lost their lives. And we regret their loss at any time under any circumstance.
In this particular case, because there may a blue-on-blue incident involved, we have to investigate it and let it go its full course. So I can't say anything else about the circumstances surrounding it at this point.
Off on the far side, please.
Q Could I ask you -- there was a statement -- from the Irish Times -- a statement issued the other night from CENTCOM about an Iraqi stock of missiles and launchers in Baghdad, 300 feet from people's homes, which was attacked by your people. Is this going to be a continuing problem that you are going to have Iraqi missiles located in civilian areas? And is this going to affect your strategy, given that you have declared your desire to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible? Thank you.
GEN. BROOKS: It's a continuing and in fact a growing problem. The regime continues to position things that would bring threats into populated areas. We have seen heavy equipment transporters with tanks on their back moving into housing areas. It just doesn't make any tactical sense. We are seeing more and more of that. We've seen oil fires. Many of you have seen the skies of Baghdad beginning to turn black. Those are oil fires that were deliberately constructed, and the oil trenches have been set on fire. All these things are threatening the Iraqi population. They have no tactical significance whatsoever. Will it change our approach? I think it causes us to always redouble our efforts, as we already have, of looking at targets very selectively, finding the best way to attack those targets to eliminate them as a threat, and at the same time doing all we can to prevent, or to at least minimize the potential effect on civilians, noncombatants and other structures we don't want to hit. We'll continue our efforts in that regard.
Second row, please.
Q General, Pete Smallwood (ph) from Knight Ridder. Can you comment on where you think the Iraqis are getting their night goggles from? And also, with some of the chemical suits that have been found, and the gas masks, is there anything like an expiration date that would prove how long they've had it and not -- and eliminate the possibility that perhaps they've had it since the Iran-Iraq war or even since the first Gulf War?
GEN. BROOKS: Well, again, I don't think we have any report having actually found any night vision equipment. We have reports that there may be some that have been pushed in, and there may be some in their possession, but I am not aware of any reports that some have been said. So I couldn't say where they're coming in or who is providing them, what country.
The chemical suits are items that are under what we call exploitation at this point. We try to gather up any materials, documents, suits -- anything else we happen to take in our possession, and find out everything we can about them. At this point I don't have any additional information on that, because the exploitation is ongoing, and perhaps we'll have some information to share when we have more to say.
Let me go all the way in the back.
Q (Off mike) -- Australia. Sir, over the past few days you and all the other briefers have said you are on plan and that you expected this level of resistance. Do you concede that expectation wasn't conveyed to or absorbed by the commanders in the field, political leaders and members of the public? Because they certainly seem to be surprised.
GEN. BROOKS: Well, I don't concede that at all. I would say that we had a broad understanding of the types of threats that might exist in this conflict. All of those are considered. As to when they arrive on the battlefield, when they become exhibited, that's always unknown. That's the variable. Can tactical surprise occur at a given point in time where suddenly a capability that we knew existed suddenly show up and we didn't expect it at that time and that place? Sure. That's the nature of the dynamics of battle out there. But that doesn't mean we didn't know there was the potential for it, or that we hadn't given some consideration on how we would deal with that. So I think that that's really the dynamic of what you're seeing. There will be tactical surprises that happen on the battlefield. We are going to deliver a whole lot of them. And there may be some that come our way as well. But the key to a force that can adapt itself to the realities of the battlefield is knowing what could be happen and be able to deal with it when it does happen, and ideally to cause the circumstances to be advantageous to us before they happen. That's the way we do our work, and we'll continue to do it that way.
Let me go in the fourth row -- one, two, three, four, five rows.
Q Kevin Diaz (ph) from the Minneapolis Star Tribune. What's the latest on the missiles in the civilian areas in Baghdad? And have you heard these reports -- I think they are coming out of the United Kingdom -- that there were shards or pieces of metal with identification numbers on them -- have you heard those reports? Is there any validity to those reports at all?
GEN. BROOKS: That is an ongoing investigation still. I think we are starting to come to a high degree of closure on it. We are still accounting for every weapon system that we released into the Baghdad area. And once we've gotten to closure on that, I think we will be able to say one way or another what role we may have played, or not, inside of this.
As to shards of equipment, given the amount of munitions we have delivered precisely inside of Baghdad, it would not be difficult to go to one of those locations and pick up debris. So I would not want to speculate what that might mean. We do indeed account for our weapon systems. We have a number of methods to do that. We are deliberate and precise in our targeting process from the start, and we follow through after the attack to make certain we hit what we wanted to hit, and that we know as well as we can if there was any other additional influence.
Let me go on the side here.
Q General, Chas Henry (ph), WTOP Radio. When you are determining what supplies flow up into Iraq, is there ever a competition between humanitarian supplies and, say, tactical supplies for troops, ammunition or food? -- Asking this in the context of having heard reports in recent days about troops only having one meal ration. How do you prioritize what goes where?
GEN. BROOKS: There are priorities that are established by commanders at every level, what it is they want, what they need, depending on what their mission is at a given time. Where there are competitors for resources, the commander that owns both resources or those resources will make a decision as to what the priority is. Our first priority is sustaining the force and being able to continue the fight. So I would not way -- we have not had any problems at this point where we have committed assets away from our primary purposes in a way that created a problem for us. That's a commander's decision done at each level, and all commanders establish their priorities and make them known to their commanders and their commanders' commanders, so we have visibility across the board.
And I think we have time for one more question. You had your hand up.
Q General, Jim Wolf (ph) of Reuters.
GEN. BROOKS: Two questions, but you can have only one.
Q Okay, thanks. You just said that you couldn't confirm that the Iraqis had obtained night vision goggles and other equipment. But isn't it in fact precisely such shipments that prompted the warning from Secretary Rumsfeld to Syria to stay out of the war? How do you -- or, if not, what was it, as far as you understand, that prompted Secretary Rumsfeld to issue his warning to Syria?
GEN. BROOKS: Well, I wouldn't want to speak for the secretary of Defense, and he certainly will, if he wants to comment on that, will. But what I know is that we have not, to my knowledge, seen any at this point in people we've encountered on the battlefield. I am just not aware of any that have been encountered.
I think the governments that are involved in this coalition have been clear about preventing interference from external countries now that the battle has been joined, and that that should be the case throughout the operation. Anything beyond that really is a matter for capitals, not for this command.
I'll take one last question. Please?
Q I'm Nicole Enfield (ph) from Associated Press. Going back to the issues of POWs, by calling the paramilitaries "terrorist death squads" -- that's a very loaded word. It in the case of Afghanistan can carry some legal implications about people in Guantanamo who are considered terrorists, enemy combatants, not POWs. Is there any concern that by kind of demonizing the Iraqis in this way that the American POWs currently in custody on the Iraqi side might also be treated differently than you would like to see under Geneva Conventions?
A second question, a follow up to the issue of the Iraqi aircraft. You said there was no indication, I think, that the Iraqis were flying. There was a report a few days ago in the Army Times that at least two ultralights were seen flying over some units. These would be the kind of planes that could spread chemical or biological weapons. So can you confirm that these aircraft were sighted; yet, they weren't shot down by American forces on the ground?
GEN. BROOKS: Let me go to the second half, and then we'll come back to the first part of your question.
I've heard reports also by ultralights. I have not seen anything to confirm it, and I don't know what decisions were made on the ground, so I really can't go much beyond that. Any threat that is perceived by a unit commander is dealt with as that commander sees fit. Whether they've been flying ultralights or not I honestly don't know. I've heard the report.
Let's go back to the first part of your question one more time, if you'd repeat that -- at least just the topic area, and you'll prompt me again.
Q Using the term "terrorist death squads" --
GEN. BROOKS: Okay, I've got you.
Q -- very loaded, possible legal implications, American POWs.
GEN. BROOKS: Right, okay. (Laughter.) That's good. That brings me right back. We characterize them with terms that describe their behavior. It doesn't necessarily put them into any particular legal category from the perspective of this command.
I think our government has been clear that there will be accountability for the violations of the Geneva Convention. There will be accountability for failing to live up to the obligations one has when prisoners of war are taken in. We can't account for what this regime will do with our prisoners of war. We hold them responsible for what they do with our prisoners of war. We have seen that they are very unreliable in terms of protecting lives of people, even their own. And so what will happen next, we just don't know. I think that any characterization we make will not influence the Iraqi regime at all. Their behaviors are a function of their choices, not a function of our actions. But there will be accountability when it's all said and done.
Okay, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.
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