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Strike on Iraq: Briefing by British Defense Secretary

Aired March 22, 2003 - 05:10   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: We just have word that the British defense secretary, Geoffrey Hoon, is speaking in London -- let's listen in to hear what he has to say.

GEOFF HOON, BRITISH DEFENSE SECRETARY: ... I can confirm that seven aircrew are missing. A search and rescue mission has been mounted. As yet, no survivors have been found.

Our priority at this time is to notify the next of kin at the earliest opportunity. The cause of the accident is being investigated. And although this will be of no comfort to the families concerned, the crash is not believed to be the result of enemy action.

I hope that you will understand why we cannot give further information until next of kin have been contacted.

In regard to yesterday's CH-46 helicopter crash I can confirm that the next of kin of the eight men killed in the crash have now all been informed. At the request of the families, we will not release further details until later.

Over the past 24 hours, you have seen the military plan start to take shape on the ground. What we are looking to do is to achieve a series of effects to which the Iraqi regime simply cannot respond, and we can do this, whilst at the seam time reducing the risk of civilian casualties. Indeed, we believe that this is the right way to minimize such risks. The coalition is now, therefore, working simultaneously along several lines of operation.

First of all through information operations. We're making clear to the Iraqi armed forces and to Iraq's civilian population the coalition is resolved to achieve our objectives: the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime and his weapons of mass destruction. We have seen pictures of the Iraqi armed forces responding to this and recognizing that there is no need for them to fight for Saddam Hussein.

Through ground maneuver we are rapidly securing Iraqi territory. Again, as you will have seen from reporting overnight, the Iraqi 51st Division has stopped fighting. The U.S. Army's 5th Corps has secured two bridges over the Euphrates. Admiral Boyce will say more about events on the ground in a moment.

But last night was, of course, dominated by the air campaign, and in particular by attacks on targets in Baghdad. I want to say a little more about the underlying purpose of that campaign. It is thought to meet a number of objectives.

As far as possible, we have been attempting to minimize the risk of the Iraqi regime using its weapons of mass destruction. First and foremost, this has required attacks on the regime's ability to communicate and exercise command and control over these weapons, as well as attacking potential delivery sites. A particular focus has therefore been on communications facilities, both within Baghdad and throughout Iraq.

I want to show how we are aiming to inflict damage on the Iraqi regime itself, whilst leaving civilian infrastructure intact.

This first slide shows a map of central Baghdad. Many of the key regime facilities are concentrated in the center along the west bank of the Tigris River. The thoughts, which in a moment will be highlighted in greater detail, you will be able to see the concentration of so-called presidential palaces and regime headquarters in one particular area of the city. All along the river bank is, in effect, an area closed to ordinary Iraqis, populated by senior figures in the regime from which they operate.

And our attacks, therefore, have sought to send clear signals to that regime that it can no longer exercise its tyranny over the Iraqi people. By isolating regime leaders from security forces under their control we're sending a very clear message, a message that they can no longer exercise control through the threat of force, a clear message as well to the ordinary people of Iraq that the days of this appalling regime will soon be over.

Finally, in order to facilitate such attacks and enable close air support to our ground forces, it has been necessary to achieve air superiority by reducing the threat from the Iraqi-integrated air defense systems.

And again, I want to give you some general examples of the kinds of targets that we have been attacking. They include, as you see here: intelligence and security organizations which are instrumental in the repression of the Iraqi people; command and control structures, for example bunkers in the so-called presidential palaces; Iraqi military capability, for example surface-to-surface weapons; and their integrated air defense system, radar and surface-to-air missiles.

The targets have been selected for the effects that will be achieved, rather than to produce physical destruction for its own sake. And in considering every pre-planned target, we go through a rigorous process of weighing the military advantage against the danger to civilian life and property. I personally oversee this process.

Let me illustrate this point with two examples of the types of targets which our forces attacked last night.

The main headquarters of the Iraqi Intelligence Service in Baghdad, a key part of the regime's intelligence and security network, was attacked last night by a United Kingdom Tomahawk missile fired from a British submarine. This was a carefully-targeted strike, which will have had significant effect on the ability of the Iraqi Intelligence Service to contribute to the internal repression carried out by Saddam Hussein's regime.

Attacks on this and other Iraqi Intelligence Service facilities were removed from the Iraqi regime, a key source of its power, reducing the potential threat to coalition forces and reducing its ability to terrorize the people of Iraq.

We also carried out a successful attack against the main sector air defense bunker in Kirkuk. This operation center provides command and control for Iraqi air force interceptors and strategic surface-to- air missiles. By destroying or disrupting the operation center, we gained and maintain coalition air space superiority, reducing the risk to our aircraft operating in the area.

I was asked at yesterday's press conference how we resolved the apparent dichotomy between our commitment for the use of minimum force and the overwhelming nature of the air campaign. I hope that what I have said today has addressed this issue for you.

The use of overwhelming force during last night's attacks was not designed to turn Iraq into a wasteland. Rather, it was aimed at inflicting damage on the Iraqi regime, thus leaving civilian infrastructure as intact as possible. As last night's dramatic televisions coverage showed, the lights stayed on in Baghdad, but the instruments of tyranny are collapsing -- Mike.

ADMIRAL MICHAEL BOYCE, ROYAL NAVY: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

Well, as you have heard from the secretary of state, coalition forces have continued to make significant progress in all environments. But before I give you some details about our campaign so far, I'd like, once again, to echo the words of the secretary of state and send my deep condolences to the families of the servicemen who lost their lives last night in that mid-air collision between two of our helicopters in the Gulf.

Well, we did have a huge increase in activity in the scale of our coalition efforts last night, and the timing -- this timing of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on Saddam's regime included the high-intensity attacks on targets in Baghdad and Kirkuk and other areas along the lines the secretary of state has described. And in terms of scale, I can tell you that as of earlier today, coalition air forces have flown some 3,000-plus sorties and delivered a very large package of precision weapons, including Tomahawk missiles, which were fired by our own submarines.

Now, let me give you some more detail about other operations. Some of you might have expected there to have been some sort of pause to coalition progress, but this has not been the case. In the Basra area, the Iraqi 51st Division has surrendered, and we have many thousands prisoners of war.

The 7th Armored Brigade, the Desert Rats, have been very much involved in the approach to Basra, and they're on the outskirts at the moment, and they’ll be consolidating their position today. Further off to the west, the United States Fight Corps advance has gone well, and they've reached beyond Tallil air fields in the Nasiriyah area, and they've secured also bridges over the Euphrates. And they are well-placed there for rapid exploitation towards the north, the west, and of course Baghdad.

Meanwhile back in the south of Iraq, 16 Air Assault Brigade is now on the move to occupy the southern oil fields and consolidate our position there, coalition position there. Now, with these oil fields now firmly in coalition hands, our U.K. engineers are now at work making safe the well heads, which had been prepared for demolition, and we're also expecting contractors to help them today. We believe that nine well heads will need the services of the contractors.

We’ve had specialists, U.K. teams, trained to deal with ordnance dispersal, and aria (ph) from Royal Tank Regiment MBC (ph) teams also deployed forward with the United States Regiment for Combat teams.

The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) infrastructure is that practically all of the oil and gas separation platforms were mined or bobby-trapped. It doesn't say a lot for Saddam Hussein's thoughts of his own people that he's prepared to blow up his entire economy. The challenging task of making all of these areas safe is now well under way.

So the southern Iraq oil infrastructure has been captured intact the coalition, and it has certainly averted the potential possibility of environmental disaster. And it really does raise the hope that Iraq's natural resources can be turned back to the advantage of the Iraqi people, and of course, this is so important for the oil-for-food program.

On the maritime front, there are a number of challenges, but the biggest is the need to ensure that seaborne access to Umm Qasr port is safe to allow humanitarian aid to flow quickly into southern Iraq.

On the al-Faw peninsula, operations by 3 Commando Brigade restarted at first light this morning to secure the entire area. But the sea mine threat in the waterway there is real and must be dealt with first. And so our mine countermeasure vessels are on the job -- HMS Brocklesby, Blythe, Bangor -- they've been at work to ensure safe delivery of that waterway.

And we've also had our U.K. Fleet Clearance Diving teams busy in the port area to make safe any demolitions there.

This early start to mine clearance operations, of course, as I said, is to allow access to key shipping, and particularly RFA Sir Galahad will be bringing humanitarian relief into the port.

COSTELLO: And we're going to take you live back to Umm Qasr in just a bit. We're going to wrap up this press conference. In fact, we're going to jump out of it right now.

At the beginning of that press conference you heard the British defense secretary mention a helicopter crash in the Persian Gulf. We want to tell you more about that because an American was involved. Apparently, two British Navy Sea King helicopters crashed in mid- air shortly after takeoff over the Persian Gulf. Six British crewmembers aboard, one American, not clear why the American was on board with the British crewmembers, but all seven have died.


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