(Live briefing from Bahrain with Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Earl B. Hailston, Commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command.)
Moderator: Why don't you go ahead and make whatever opening comments you wanted to make, and then we'll open it up for questions.
Hailston: Thank you very much. I'll do that then. Thank you very much for your patience also. I'd like to wish good morning to ladies and gentlemen there. My name is Earl Hailston. I'm not sure what introduction you had, but by way of introduction, I'm the component commander for Marine forces in Central Command. As such, I provide the Marine forces. I supply them, equip and train those forces, and then serve as the adviser to the combatant commander on the use of those Marine forces throughout the theater. And I'm coming to you today from my headquarters in Bahrain, and it's certainly a pleasure to be with you.
As the Marine component commander, I have the honor to represent 72,000 active and reserve Marines and sailors of the fleet Marine forces currently deployed to this part of the world. Marine Forces Central Command is responsible for the deployment, the sustainment, the reconstitution and the redeployment of Marine forces currently supporting General Franks in Operation Enduring Freedom and in Iraqi Freedom.
To do this since September 11th, 2001, we've joined with the other component coalition commands throughout CENTCOM to create a very solid and superb joint and combined team in support of the war on terrorism. I think you'll agree that the recent result of that effort is evidence of the success -- proven to you by the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
We deployed a Marine air-ground task force, a MAGTF, that provided substantial combat, combat support and combat service support forces to General McKiernan. The forces included four infantry regiments, two artillery regiments, three light-armored reconnaissance battalions, two tank battalions, a force service support group and three Marine aircraft groups with over 400 aircraft.
Additionally, we established a logistics command just especially to sustain the efforts of the MAGTF throughout the campaign in Iraq and to cover the great distances that ultimately exceeded 820 kilometers or 500 miles inland from the shore to Tikrit.
The United Kingdom support for the MAGTF has also been significant. That our British coalition partners placed the First Armored Division under Marine command is evidence of our continued special relationship with this long-standing ally.
The key to the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom was unquestionably the outstanding cooperation between all of the services and coalition partners. We planned and we executed as one team. The rapid advance of Marine forces to Baghdad would never have been possible without the tremendous service support provided to us by the Army.
In turn, we've supplied the Army with Marine close air support and airlift. Marine air assets were combined under the air component commander, General Buzz Moseley, to provide deep-air attack missions, hundreds of close-air support missions, and airlift support to all the coalition forces.
Our medical assets have been used to treat coalition forces, Iraqi civilians and enemy forces. The naval support provided to the coalition by the maritime component commander, Admiral Tim Keating, was equally unprecedented. Tim commanded a coalition maritime force that numbered well over 100 combatant ships and included in that 11 maritime pre-position ships that brought Marine equipment here, and we're capable of rapidly unloading that equipment and supplies.
We also had two amphibious task forces that carried Marines from the east and the west coast to the fight. And then that support didn't stop at the shore line but continued all the way to Baghdad, as elements of the MAGTF remained afloat supporting the campaign from the North Arabian Gulf.
Marine aircraft based aboard those amphibious ships launched nearly a thousand carrier sorties from their decks during the campaign to augment the already round-the-clock carrier-based aviation from the Arabian Gulf and the Mediterranean. We also benefited from the effective integration and the participation of the Special Forces throughout the theater.
Sophisticated communications and logistics systems developed through lessons learned from the Gulf War and subsequent operations allowed our Marine forces to move further and faster than ever before, with very deadly effectiveness.
Besides our forces inside of Iraq, I also was responsible for maintaining a consequence management task force to respond to any employment of weapons of mass destruction by Saddam, either prior to or during the execution of Iraqi Freedom. CJTFCN, consequence management, augmented with specialized units by our coalition partners, ran regular patrols through Kuwait, and we're ready to assist in regional problems for any of our regional partners in the event of a WMD attack by Iraq or any terrorist.
I'd say that throughout this entire operation, nothing too much can be said about the leadership and the spirit of our Marines and sailors. Time after time they did the right thing under the toughest conditions, and time after time they gave everything they had to do whatever was needed. They fought this fight with extraordinary courage and commitment.
While we were engaged in Operation Iraqi Freedom, we never backed away from our hunt for terrorists and our global war on terrorism. We maintained active support operations in both Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.
Mostly I'd like to acknowledge the solid joint force that came together as one team, one fight for this operation. Never have I seen greater cooperation and team work from all of the services and among different nations. Our operations have truly been joint and coalition in every sense of the word.
I'd be glad to take any questions you may have.
Moderator: Okay, when you ask your questions, please identify yourselves so the general knows who he's talking to. And we'll start with a question and a follow-up. Okay.
Q: General, good morning. It's Carl Rochelle at NBC News. I wonder if you could tell us something about the Marine task group that's up on the Iranian border, what they are looking at, what they are facing up there, what they are charged to do.
Hailston: The Marine task group -- good morning. Thank you for the question, Mr. Rochelle. The task group up on the northern part of Iraq is there in support of the Special Operation forces that are up there and are conducting missions not unlike we're doing in the rest of the country right now to ensure stability and bring things back to a level of normalcy within the country of Iraq.
Q: Are they seeing any forces crossing into Iraq from Iran?
Hailston: That question -- I can't answer that question. I'm not up there with them and they're not under my command, so I'm not sure what they're seeing right now at all.
Q: Hi, General. This is Jim Garamone from American Forces Press Service. I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about the cooperation you received from the British. How did the command arrangement with the First British Armored and the Marines work out? And what lessons learned at a first look do you have from that experience?
Hailston: Thank you, Jim. The first part of your question, how was the cooperation with the British forces, it couldn't have been better. We worked and planned this for months together. We certainly immediately came together as a team that was able to directly support each other. We did that.
Our forces were melded together throughout the fight and even off the shore. One of the very first Marine casualties that we had was, in fact, medevaced to the Argus, aboard the British ship. It certainly was totally almost without bumps. Everything in combat has a little bit of bumps, but mainly for communications.
Lessons learned out of that, I think, is that this is a capability that, first of all, our training and work over the years has certainly paid off. We'll continue to collect data from the operation, and I'm sure that more things will come out of that. But it has proven to us that it's a very effective force to work together and support each other.
Q: General, this is Alex Belida from Voice of America. I was wondering if you could tell us whether the Marines in Iraq or any other coalition component that you can speak about are making any effort to disarm gun-carrying Iraqis, whether they're individuals or militia groups.
Hailston: Excuse me. If I could, could I have some help with that? I could only catch every other word, and I didn't at all understand your question.
Q: Let me try again, General. I was asking whether the Marines or any other coalition component that you can speak about are making any effort now in Iraq to disarm Iraqis, whether they're individuals or militia groups or other types of groups.
Hailston: Well, Dan, certainly as we move into phase four, we're working hand in hand with the police force to come back in and to establish that part of the triumvirate that you need to have of security, stability and economic growth for a nation to prosper. So we are working very closely with the police forces in the cities to establish just that.
And I believe that as we continue with this and the nation stands up, it's very important that they have a capability of self-defense. And I can say that our plans in the future will include building a self-defense capability for the country. With that will come arms. But we aren't to that point yet.
Q: General, Hunter Keeter with Defense Daily. My question is about your job, following conflict, to reconstitute and rebuild the forces under your control and your duties to train and equip the Marine forces for CENTCOM. What are your priorities for reconstituting this force?
Hailston: Well, the first thing that I have to do is to make sure that the forces that are no longer required by General McKiernan, that I'm able to redeploy those so that they can pick up the other remaining tasks that they have around the world. But I need to assure you right off the bat, any decision to do that first will be made by General McKiernan that he no longer needs those forces, and then subsequently approved by General Franks and then Washington.
But my priorities would be to get those forces back so that we can get them into the global naval force plan that we have with MEUs and ARGs. And I'm very concerned with taking those 11 maritime pre- positioning ships and getting that equipment cleaned up, fixed up and back-loaded to maintain the high level of readiness that we always have.
Q: Good afternoon, General -- afternoon your time. Otto Kreisher with Copley News Service. On that issue, one, do you have any idea of when you're going to be able to release any of your people for either return to CONUS or other duties?
And on your equipment, your Amtracks are a little long in the tooth and may have to do a lot of hard charging across Iraq. So what's your materiel condition now as far as your armored vehicles, your Amtracks and those sorts of things?
Hailston: We're putting together plans right now, Otto, on how we will deploy the force and who we want out. But they're still in the formative stage, and so I haven't got an answer to give you on who's coming out first. But surely I will tell you that what we're looking to do is to try to get forces that have been away from home the longest. We have Marines right now that have been deployed for approaching 10 months, and it's time to get them back home.
I will tell you that your second question is a story of great news. I, too, know how old those machines are. I was only in for a short number of years by the time we introduced those into our repertoire of machinery. All the way through the battle, all the way to the further point that we went, we maintained well over 90 percent availability.
In fact, today, as we looked at those numbers, they're in the high 90s. They're extremely dependable. They've been ridden hard and they've put up with it. They made it all the way up there. And, in fact, their crews were happy. Many of them got there even without one gripe on them. All of them need to be cleaned and washed for sure, probably can use some shocks, but they have performed exceedingly well.
Q: This is Will Dunham with Reuters. What difficulties have you had in dealing with Iraqis who may have declared themselves in charge of a particular city or town? And what can you say about your recognition of whether they have any kind of legitimacy as local leaders?
Hailston: Well, that's a good question, Will. And I'd be, again, crossing lanes if I was to answer that. That is something that David McKiernan works on very hard on a daily basis. And I know that it has not presented a problem to the cities and towns where my Marines are, but I won't speak for the whole AOR that David has.
Q: General, hi. This is Esther Schrader with the Los Angeles Times. I'd like to know if you used the Harrier in Iraq, if you employed it, and, if so, if you can give us a sense of the extent to which it was used, whether the vertical lift function was employed. Since this craft has had a history of safety problems, I wonder whether its use in Iraq, if, in fact, it was used, gave you any concerns about safety or alleviated any of those concerns?
Hailston: Thank you very much, Esther. That's a good question. In my opening remarks I tried to mention that we had the Harriers, both shore-based and sea-based. The vast majority of them were sea-based, over 50 aircraft out to sea. They flew over a thousand sorties from off the decks out there. And the shore-based Harriers have an equal percentage of ordnance carried and sorties flown.
We did move them ashore, used forward arming and refueling points where we took the carriers in so they wouldn't have to return to the ship to refuel. And that worked exceedingly well. They've kept the airplanes overhead our Marines 24 hours a day, ready to support anything that they needed.
The airplane certainly, especially now with some upgrades and carrying new technology and sophisticated pods, became the envy of pilots even from my background. I happened to fly the Hornet. And there's an awful lot of things on the Harrier that I've found the Hornet pilots asking me that they want.
So we couldn't have asked for a better record. It flew as much as anybody else. We had absolutely no incidents with it. It's always been an airplane that's performed well. But in this environment, it performed exceedingly well.
Q: Thanks. Hi, General. Gordon Lubold from Army Times. My question is about the rush to Baghdad. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about the advance that went so quickly, left some areas unsecured and in need of MPs and what-not. There's been some criticism that the advance was so quick that it left those areas vulnerable. And I wondered if you could talk to that issue? And also, how does that situation leave you fixed now in terms of going back and stabilizing that area? Thanks.
Hailston: Thank you, Gordon. Two very good questions. It's something that I suppose concerns all of us when we really would like to go to maneuver warfare and move along, and we talk about bypassed forces.
I will tell you, in this case that never was a problem. One of the things in my opening remarks that I stressed was the great distance. You're talking to a Marine who's accustomed to having one foot on the ship and the other on the shore. We stayed tethered to the ships, but we moved inland over 500 miles. I don't think that any of you in any history books will find where Marine forces were able to do that in the past, except possibly the story of Presley O'Bannon in 1803.
It was the Marine Logistics Command that we put together that stayed under my command that was the force that pushed those supplies up those roads through those areas and towns about which you speak. Like all prudent military commanders, we had protection and security along with us, but never did we lose or have one of those convoys, which were huge and lasted for days, ever ambushed. So remaining behind forces were not a problem.
When we went through the nature of the enemy that we faced, they really stayed away. And if they went anywhere, they may have gone into urban areas. But much is the same today. The situation that we find right now, there continue to be some pockets of resistance. It is not over. It is not all over. Neither are all the battles over. But we are able to move with relative safety up and down those highways to continue to support those Marines that are still spread throughout the eastern area, eastern and southern part of Iraq.
Q: General, this is Jason Ma with Inside the Navy. There were a number of experimental systems sent to your forces, such as the Dragon Eye UAV. What's your assessment of how some of those systems performed? And how were they used?
Hailston: I would tell you right off the bat, Jason, that things that we were most pleased with are those along the line of what you discussed, and that is intel on the battlefield, ready intel to the commander, so that he can see over the hill in front of him and then control -- have more control, anyways, on his future.
We were very, very pleased with the capability of the Predator, on how it worked across the field, across the area. We had very, very good success with ATARS on the F-18s. And we enjoyed the same success with the Harrier and its Lightning pods.
And as far as Dragon Eye, this is a very good story in that we launched the -- our VMU units were running artillery strikes for us. We could get over the top of forces out in front of our lead elements and actually control artillery strikes onto the enemy.
So I think those that allowed us better command and control on the battlefield really worked out exceedingly well. We were also doing much better in our communications in that we've recently put into the field the Smart-T comm suite, which has kept us in solid comms across the battlefield, from some of our headquarters that still were in Kuwait and here, and certainly within Iraq.
Q: General, Nick Childs from the BBC. You spoke a little about about the support the Marines and the Army were giving to each other at the beginning. Could you say a little bit more about, if you like, the jointness of the ground battle this time? The impression was given that the Third ID, the Army, were making one thrust and that the Marines were making a separate thrust north towards Baghdad. How much liaison was there between the forces, particularly compared, perhaps, with the ground battle in 1990-91, Desert Storm?
Hailston: Well, Nick, I think this is best demonstrated by the fact that I was in and out of every major headquarters that I could visit across the field. I never went into any Marines headquarters where I didn't find a substantial British liaison element or integrated into the staff. There were sailors on each staff. There was always an Air Force officer. And, of course, we were very closely tied with the Army.
When I went to any of their light headquarters, for example, with the CFAC in their headquarters, all close air support, in fact, was headed up and planned by a Marine. Deep-air attack had four or five Marines on the staff, and it was headed by Air Force. The deputy over there was Navy. So that was totally joint.
And certainly at the component, the combined force land component commander, Dave McKiernan's headquarters, we had representation deeply put into all parts of his staff, starting from his chief of staff, who was a Marine, all the way down to planners in logistics communications, and, of course, operations.
If you carry that another step of how did the teams work back and forth, it was very important that we were joined first underneath 1 MEF. And we had ANGLICO teams, air naval gunfire liaison company, ANGLICO, tied in with the British forces so that our communications and theirs were seamless across the board. We had great coordination that way.
And then, with the coordination on the battlefield, again, I got to watch this as General McKiernan ran it, but I will tell you that as an observer, this was totally a coordinated event. Everything was done on a two-corps front. And there were not single battles. It was one team, one fight.
Q: Good day, General. Staff Sergeant Dollison (sp), Marines Magazine. I am particularly interested in, in addition to security forces, which we know are ongoing, but I'm interested in the postwar operations or missions other than war. What are the Marines at CENTCOM -- what missions other than war are the Marines at CENTCOM already involved in, or do you foresee them being involved in throughout the duration of the postwar operations?
Hailston: That's a good question, Staff Sergeant. I'd ask you to think back to the early -- maybe the day before hostilities began at the end of March or the first couple of days. I can well remember the secretary of Defense standing there and saying that every soldier and Marine that was crossing the border was going to carry humanitarian rations along with him. I personally saw all those LAVs and Amtracks and PACs and Marines loaded with that.
So the start of that phase of the war, which you discussed, began a matter of hours or a day or two after crossing the border. So since that day, we have been involved with humanitarian assistance and trying to put some stability back into this country so that they can return to a little normalcy.
We need to get the power back on. We've been working hard. One of the things you are very familiar with as a Marine is our great capability to make water. We've been doing that as hard and fast as we can. We've also been working to get those water systems up and functioning; the same with electrical systems.
In downtown Baghdad, while the Marines are still there, we were very concerned with providing security and working with the police. I had the pleasure of joining our Civil-Military Operations Center, our CMOC, for the first meeting that they held in Baghdad. I don't remember the date. And I was overjoyed at the turnout of the people in the town as they came back and tried to get themselves re- established on a foot where they were going to have those three things -- security, stability, and get some economic growth going.
So we continue with those. We want to help give to these people the requirements of life, and we're doing that as we work hard to provide them the security that they need to continue.
Moderator: Brian, you had a question.
Q: Hi, General. Brian Hartman with ABC News. We're being told back here that one of the successes of this war plan was the flexibility that was given by the top commanders out to the field commanders. Could you explain for us a little bit what kind of marching orders people got? I mean, were you initially told, "Just get to Baghdad as fast as you can and do it however you can," or was it more sophisticated than that? Can you give us some sort of idea of how the orders came down from the headquarters and then were executed?
Hailston: I really hope, Brian, you give us a little more credit than only "Go to Baghdad" and not have more than that. We did gather on a regular basis and work on a plan. There was a very solid plan on how this was going to unfold. But the way that you get the most out of the forces and you achieve what you want done the soonest are what we call mission-type orders.
We understand what the task ahead of us will be. We tried to provide the forces that would be required for that. And then the commander says, "I want you to do X, Y and Z." And that's how that worked here. The command and the direction and the support that we got from General Franks at Central Command was absolutely superb. I never had a question about what he wanted me to do with consequence management, how he wanted those Marines supported. I don't think that any of the other commanders did either, particularly since I had forces with the CFAC, and, of course, on the ground.
So we had a very good plan to begin with, and then we were able to loose the hounds and take our forces and use them to the best methods that we found that suited the enemy at that certain point in the battle. So it was managed by the commander there.
Q: Hi, General. It's Jim Mannion from Agence France Presse. Before the war there was a high expectation that the Iraqis would use chemical and biological weapons. And during the war, certainly there was a lot of protective gear that was found. But they didn't use those weapons, and chemical or biological weapons have not been found to date, so far as I know. How do you explain what happened there -- what happened to those weapons, why they didn't use them, and why they've been so difficult to find?
Hailston: Well, again, Jim, that's a very, very good question, and I think it's one that's going to have to be answered exactly as history plays out in the years ahead of us. You're asking me to speculate, and I'll offer you my opinion on that.
We worked very hard from day one in the planning efforts to develop an information operations system where we needed to get certain ideas and thoughts across to the enemy that we faced. And one of those that General Franks was very devoted to was a warning that "You should not ever use weapons of mass destruction against this force. We will still defeat you and you will be treated accordingly if you do." And I think people listened to that an awful lot.
I think it made a difference, because we did find protective gear. We found evidence that people were going to be in chemical protective suits and had antidotes for chemical. I think that that worked extremely well.
I think another reason is that our forces got there faster than he was able to think. And as this was passed down, they didn't have time to react to that. I don't think that this means they weren't there. I think that the folks on hand brought some of their early senior leadership and thought better of it.
But we still have hundreds of sites to look at. And he had several decades to hide stuff. We put those two together and it may take us a while to find some, but we're going to continue to look and follow up every single lead that we have.
Q: Hi. My name is Jonathan Capp (sp) from Lee Newspapers. I was wondering, in March and early April, toward the beginning of the war, there were some questions about possible supply-line problems and questions about whether Marines near the front were getting enough to eat. And I was wondering if, in the ensuing time, there's been more detail that's come out about that and if those were indeed problems at the beginning of the war, if any of those problems continued over the course of it. Thank you.
Hailston: Often, like you, I was -- a product of what I learned on a daily basis came from news reports as we watched the embedded press and other news reports come along. I will tell you that I have never been able to substantiate that. I have run into several Marines who said, "Gee, I wish I'd run out of food because it would make a great war story in about seven months of how I had to fight this without something to eat."
Our lines were drawn and they were tested. Nothing came fast and nothing came easy. But I've asked every single commander and I've asked every single Marine. He may have gotten down to only one meal on hand, but it was time to eat that before he got his next meal.
We worked very, very hard with the Army, with the Air Force, with the Marines in this joint and combined effort to make sure we had all the supplies we needed. And I will tell you, we're going to be very busy carrying a lot of this stuff that we didn't use because we were so good at that.
Q: General, my name is Carl Osgood. I write for Executive Intelligence Review. Could you talk a little bit about what you think this campaign means for military transformation? Do you think that this validates the underlying concepts of transformation?
Hailston: That's a very good question, Carl. If it doesn't, we're going to miss the boat. We've come in here and the first thing we did is we fought like we've never fought before. We were integrated and joined from the top, all the way down.
I think that this talks to us about new ways of doing things. Intelligence is going to pass faster across the battlefield. We have better knowledge of where our forces are. We brought a new level of lethality that will probably grow even more over the years as we go ahead.
But certainly one thing it's going to tell us is that we kind of have the right forces. We used an awful lot of tanks in this battle. We used an awful lot of light forces and we used an awful lot of mech infantry in between.
So we've covered the entire gamut. One force doesn't fit all situations. And what we were able to do here through CENTCOM was to figure out where those forces would be needed and put the right ones in the right place. I think we really did that.
Moderator: Before we go around for seconds, is there someone who hasn't asked a question? Okay, Lisa.
Q: Hi, General. This is Lisa Burgess with Stars and Stripes. I wanted to follow up a little bit on my colleague Jim Mannion's question. Can you give us some thoughts about what you ended up thinking about the enemy and how he fought? Were you surprised by the lack of resistance? Or was there more resistance than maybe we have a sense of, sitting back here in the United States?
Also, if you could tell us, what's the general feeling your Marines are getting from the general population? Are people feeling hostile towards them? Are they neutral? Are they supportive?
Hailston: Thank you for those questions, Lisa. I appreciate both of those. I assure you, any gun fight is a big fight. There's no one who's been on the receiving or the giving ends of any rounds who doesn't think that he certainly is not trying to climb up the side of Mount Suribachi.
So the enemy that decided to fight stood in his position across the battlefield. We will find places from time to time. I'm most familiar with those spots where Marines were. But there was very strong fighting as we broke into some of the southern cities. And certainly, as we approached the gates of Baghdad, no one gave up.
Marines have been trained and specialized theirselves in years and years in urban warfare. We were prepared to do that. And some of us old folks were around and did something called Vietnam a number of years ago, and so the idea of guerrilla warfare or small units or unconventional forces was not new to us. So we saw all of that.
He fought very hard and was not a pushover. What happened is you had great forces. I'm telling you, the Army and Marines are tremendously well-equipped. They are phenomenally well-trained. We trained together in the States, and it showed when we got on the battlefield. We put together air-ground power that just overwhelmed anybody.
You have Marines and soldiers who are up there right now who are convinced that they are invincible because of what they did. And they didn't have to fight that enemy because they were able to reach out with some of the systems that we talked about earlier, with -- (inaudible) -- and see them in advance and engage that enemy before we came into close arms with him.
I would tell you, on your second question, I happen to be -- I wear my heart on my sleeve. My most favorite thing in the whole wide world is people. I love people. And the feelings that I enjoyed as I passed through the streets of An Nasiriyah or Baghdad or Al Kut just were truly uplifting for your soul.
A scene that will never leave my mind, besides hundreds and hundreds of children who ran out into the street waving and middle- aged men and women both throwing kisses, and everybody with their thumbs up, but the sight that I'll never, ever forget is a bent old man pushing a wheelchair in which there is another very aged woman who is also extremely bent and turned over and not sitting upright at all.
So we went by in a military vehicle that tends to make a little bit more noise, and they could hear that. And these people looked up together and just gave thumbs up. And this little old lady was blowing kisses to us. If that doesn't make you feel welcome, absolutely nothing would. And that's who's greeting our Marines and soldiers.
And I don't think we're making enough of that. We really pay attention to demonstrations, which is fine. I mean, we have freedom of speech, too. They ought to be able to demonstrate and to come out and talk about their first taste of democracy. That's what we hope they end up having.
But we'll help and we'll go for a long time remembering the sights of people who have been oppressed and held down for an awful long time and giving thanks to your Marines and your soldiers, your airmen and sailors for freeing them of that oppression. And that comes from the bottom of my heart, Lisa.
Moderator: Well, that's a great note to end on. We're out of time. Thank you for your time and your patience with the technology.
Hailston: And thank you for your time and your patience with me, too. Have a nice day.