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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

U.S. Central Command Briefing in Qatar

Aired March 27, 2003 - 07:05   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Now to Brigadier General Vincent Brooks.
BRIGADIER GENERAL VINCENT BROOKS, U.S. ARMY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

Today is the seventh day since the coalition ground forces entered Iraq. Our plan is working, and we're one day closer to achieving our objectives. We will continue until all of our objectives are attained.

Day by day, we significantly diminish the regime's ability to command and control its forces. As we do, we witness the regime's forces becoming more and more desperate in their actions, their repressive acts against Iraqi citizens showing any signs of tolerance of the coalition are growing harsher, and their disregard for the Geneva Convention are becoming more and more pronounced.

Our field commanders report that in the vicinity of An-Najaf, as one example, Iraqi regime forces are seizing children from their homes, telling their families that the males must fight for the regime or they will all face execution.

The men and women of the coalition are fighting very well. They're showing tenacity to the forces of the regime and compassion to the victims of the regime. We remain committed to the memory of those who have lost their lives in this operation.

The force is growing daily, and we are defeating the regime's forces with overwhelming force in each battle every day. The coalition is unified and strong, and it grows more so every day with now 49 countries contributing to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Now, as before, let me give you an update on our operations, and then we'll proceed to questions.

Our direct attacks against the regime's structures and units continued in the last 24 hours, and the cumulative effect that we are seeing is degraded control. We're seeing locally-controlled military and paramilitary actions, frequent survival moves by regime leaders, and uncontrolled firing of air defense missiles.

I want to show you two sets of pre- and post-strike images today.

The first image is an Iraqi missile support facility, and this is in Baghdad. In these types of facilities, ballistic missiles are assembled essentially. The parts are put together for use. And destroying it disrupts the missile production and reduces the threat to neighboring countries. The post-strike image shows an effective attack, and the split view.

The second set that I'll show you today is of a television and communications facility that was used for dual purposes by the regime, on one hand to broadcast television, on the other hand to use as a node for communicating to different parts of the regime. And our intended effect in this case was to severe the links to the outside for the regime. This is the pre-strike image. You can see there are two very large radar dishes -- or satellite dishes, excuse me. And the post-strike, please. An effective attack. And the split.

The work being done by our coalition special operations forces in northern Iraq, southern Iraq, western Iraq and central Iraq accounts for the entire array of special operations capability. Strategic reconnaissance is ongoing to find weapons of mass destruction, ballistic missiles and regime leaders. Unconventional warfare is ongoing in several areas to prepare Iraqis to join in liberation, and direct action occurs at times and places of our choosing.

The land component remains on track and continues its advance beyond Diwaniyah east of An-Najaf, and an airborne brigade combat team parachuted into an airfield in northern Iraq yesterday evening.

Action occurred at several places I'd like to highlight today. The first, east of An-Najaf coalition forces of the U.S. V Corps were attacked by vehicle-mounted irregulars where there had been a report of some significant number of vehicles approaching. The reports were not accurate in terms of the size of the force, and V Corps units soundly defeated the attack, destroying most of the force.

In An-Nasiriya, the 1st Marine Expeditionary force defeated an attack by irregulars, supported by armored personnel carriers, rocket launchers and anti-aircraft artillery systems. The fight lasted for about 90 minutes. The Marines in that battle did sustain some wounded, but remain fully effective.

U.K. forces, as Air Marshal Burge (ph) told you earlier today, have continued aggressive patrols and operations in the Al Faw and Basra areas. And they also have inflicted considerable damage on paramilitaries south of Basra and near Al Faw.

Our maritime component continued its efforts to expand the width of the cleared channel in Khawr Abd 'Allah. I had mentioned to you yesterday that that channel was opened all the way up to Umm Qasr, and that is in fact the case. It was about 60 yards wide that we were able to open a path.

As we expanded that broader to get to about a 200-yard-wide pathway, we identified some bottom-responsive mines, or the actual term that is used is really bottom-influenced mines. These are subsurface mines that are able to be programmed, if need be, to count the number of hulls that pass over the top of them, and at a certain point, however programmed, they detonate.

And so before we proceed with humanitarian assistance through that area we want to ensure that that's all cleared; so clearing operations continue today. I want to show you the type of mine that we're describing here. This is a Sumair (ph) mine developed by the Iraqis from another country's design. And as I mentioned, it is programmable. We believe that these have been developed since the imposition of sanctions. Before 1991, Iraq did not have these.

I'd like to also show you now some additional leaflets, and in this case I'll show you one leaflet that we've used in the last several days to communicate with the Iraqi people.

This one focuses on protecting landmarks. And it's very much, as I said yesterday, because we see regime positioning military equipment in and around cultural, religious and historical landmarks, we want to inform the Iraqi population that we have no intention of destroying those landmarks, but we will destroy military equipment. We make that very clear to them. That's what this leaflet shows.

We continue our efforts to preserve the resources of the Iraqi people and protect their future, and our efforts really engaged in earnest yesterday in that regard and also in our humanitarian activities.

First, over 600 oil wells at this point now fall into an area that is under coalition control. Our firefighting operations continue, and in the blue highlighted area you see the parts that we now control. There are about 600 wells inside of there; more to follow.

The red dot at the bottom shows where we still have six wells on fire, and our work is ongoing to put those out.

Additional good news, we had two humanitarian convoys that went overland yesterday into the areas of Safwan just north of the Kuwait- Iraq border, and Umm Qasr, which you are all well familiar with. And that delivered much needed water and food supplies to those two areas.

I'm going to show you a video here, and I'll show the entire thing, because I think it's truly worth a thousand words, and it shows the arrival of the humanitarian supplies into Safwan, I believe in this case. This is a Civil Affairs soldier in this case. We have Civil Affairs units that are located with our military organizations.

There is no coercion in any of this. This is all truth. You see people who are tasting for the first time in their lives what freedom is.

We also have Free Iraqi forces that some of you have heard of that are joined with our Civil Affairs units. We've organized them based on the regions that they came from, the regions of their origin, into small groups. They've joined with our Civil Affairs units, who are then joined with our combat units.

I'm going to show you a picture of some of the effect that our Free Iraqi forces are having in a very recent encounter. As I mentioned, this is about as good an example as we can find of how the coalition is really being received as the regime elements are being pushed away.

There are two images here. This is a Free Iraqi forces person interacting. He was with a Civil Affairs battalion commander, did some interpretation and translation work, but mostly he simply interacted.

And the next one, please. There is no hostility.

This scene is being repeated all over Iraq in every area in which we're operating, and it is the truth.

Let me close by saying we remain true to our stated purposes of removing the regime and liberating the long repressed people of Iraq, and we will not stop until we have done so.

At this point, I'll take your questions. (UNINTELLIGIBLE), please.

QUESTION: General, Garrett Reed (ph) from Sky News. The British are just reporting in London the discovery of several thousand chemical protection suits in the Rumaylah oil fields that they now control. What does that say to you? What concern does that give you about Saddam Hussein's ability to use chemical weapons and his willingness to do so? And also, doesnít it signal that we should now step up the tempo of your operations, because the longer you wait, the more opportunity he has?

BROOKS: What it tells us is, first, there is a certain knowledge in the Iraqi forces that chemical weapons will be used. Thatís the first thing I would say. We don't have chemical weapons to use. When we join that with what we found yesterday in An-Nasiriya in the hospital, there is obviously distribution to outlying units. Perhaps there is already a decision that's been taken that at some point chemicals will be used.

As to the second-half of the question on the pace of operations, our operations donít need to change pace. The regime has always had the ability and potentially the will to use those weapons. The timing of our operation doesnít necessarily drive that decision.

And so we'll continue on the pace that we have right now operating at a time and place of our choosing, but it certainly reminds us of the reality of this risk that we've been speaking about for so long. What it does for us also is it causes us to take notice and be more ready to the potential use.

We'll go on the third row back here, please.

QUESTION: General, Ed Neldon (ph), Cass (ph) newspapers. We hear regularly that you're right on the timeline. I think people are trying to understand overall what that might mean. Without revealing anything about when any particular attack might start, what broadly is your timeline for the military operation? When might Baghdad be under control to start a transition to some sort of civil administration? Is it three weeks or seven months? Give people some idea of what your timeline is. BROOKS: Probably a better way for us to describe it is that we're on our plan, and we have had a plan for certain access to occur. They're related in time and space and purpose. When things impact that -- for example, the weather had an impact on some of what we could do -- maintaining the relationship of time and space and purpose has to be preserved.

So it changes timelines per se as to when something is going to occur. It's impossible for me at this point to say what date we're going to do a certain thing, but rather when conditions are set, we will take further actions.

Let me go off to the left side here, please, Kelly (ph).

QUESTION: Good afternoon, General. Kelly McDonnell (ph), NBC News. A couple of things. Can you update us on the status of the investigation concerning the events in the Baghdad market, acknowledged yesterday that it was possible that was the responsibility of the U.S.? Can you tell us more now? And secondly, there are increased reports today of friendly fire incidents involving at least three dozen Marines who may have been hurt. What can you tell us?

BROOKS: What I can tell you about the Shaab market is that this report, like any other report we get that has any potential at all that we may have caused unintended consequences from an attack, we examine in detail. And that examination involves looking back at what missions we've flown, what weapon systems specifically had been used within a period of time when it might have contributed to such an issue, we look at flight pats, we look at angles of attack, we look at everything we can to examine whether or not we did this. It reinforces, first, that we have no intention of harming civilians unnecessarily or destroying infrastructure and buildings that we don't intend to attack.

What I know further about this particular one is that we did have an air mission that attacked some targets not in that area, but in a different area and during that period of time they encountered surface to air missile fire. As I mentioned in the opening statement, we've seen uncontrolled surface to air missile fire, and what I mean by that is normally they're controlled by radar, but there's a hazard to turning on a radar against one of our aircraft, a very certain hazard. And so the firing crews have decided not to turn on the radar and fired the missiles ballistically.

They're also using very old stocks, we've discovered, and those stocks are not reliable and missiles are going up and coming down. So we think that it's entirely possible that this may have been, in fact, an Iraqi missile that either went up and came down or, given the behaviors of regime lately, it may have been a deliberate attack inside a town.

QUESTION: Friendly fire, sir. Friendly fire.

BROOKS: Thanks very much. The other question was about friendly fire. Similarly, whenever we have any kind of incident that we think may involve a blue on blue, as we describe it, type of event, whether it's on the ground or air to ground or whatever may happen, we begin to investigate right away. We've already reported a few of those. We had the unfortunate incident with a Patriot missile against a UKGR-4 aircraft. We'll be truthful with you about it when we know some more. But right now all reports are currently under investigation.

Let me go to the fourth row, please.

QUESTION: Jonathan Marcus, BBC.

A lot of the armchair generals and the military pundits in the United States are constantly saying now that your force is too small in terms of combat troops and it's a relatively light force. Given the sorts of problems you seem to be having securing the area in Nasiriya, how confident are you that you have sufficient troops to be able to end this war before additional heavy divisions actually arrive in the theater?

BROOKS: Well, I've worked for many of those generals, so I have to be very careful about my answer here. The reality is we have adequate force to do what we need to do and we remain satisfied with that. We still also are building additional forces, as I mentioned in the opening statement, the airborne brigade that entered last night and other forces that you're aware of that are flowing into theater.

The key to this is examining what the circumstances are right now and then applying more art than science on achieving what it is we seek and that's ongoing. We've got great commanders who can do that and are doing it daily.

In the fourth row over. I'm sorry, in the third row.

QUESTION: Cathy Shin (ph), Phinisawi TV (ph) from Hong Kong.

On the second day of the operation, the coalition declared they have Umm Qasr secure. But a statement got (UNINTELLIGIBLE) by the Iraqi information minister and with the pictures they have been showing us at the briefing indicates the coalition only targeted precisely on the military infrastructure. But Iraqi and also -- Iraqi, as a matter of fact, Iraqi health minister said that the coalition have killed many of their civilians.

So could you tell me who is telling the truth here and is this war is all about image building?

BROOKS: What I will tell you is that first, I can tell you who's telling the truth in this room right now. I am. And we'll tell you the truth with everything we know. We're not going to try to stand up against the reports that are coming out of Baghdad or wherever those reports happen to come out of at a given time. We do target precisely and we take our work very seriously, as I've stated a number of times.

And so that's probably the best I can tell you on that. We continue to go in the direction we want to go and the way we want to and we're being very truthful about how we approach our operations.

Please?

QUESTION: Sir, Neil Carlinsky with ABC News.

Leadership on the battlefield has raised some concerns that supply lines may be stretched too thin, that they're in increasing danger and that the flow of supplies, in fact, could be in jeopardy.

Can you talk a little bit about that and about the logistics?

BROOKS: Sure. As a former maneuver commander myself in one of the unit's that's up on the front end of this operation, I can tell you that as we gain space, we move forward our logistics. And there are different layers of logistics that are out there. So the combat units carry a considerable portion of logistics with them already. As they get into spaces they control, they move it closer, which makes it possible for them to extend their operating range even further.

Layers of logistics beyond that push whatever the distance is from where those logistics are originally stocked to where they need to be delivered. That may, indeed, stretch out lines, but each layer secures itself and we can also add additional forces when risk increases, additional combat forces anywhere along that supply line to ensure they remain safe. We feel pretty comfortable right now about the condition we're in with our logistics.

Please?

QUESTION: Brigadier General, Paul Adams, BBC.

You said earlier that special operations were conducting a number of operations, including preparing Iraqis for liberation. I would if you could tell us how you are preparing Iraqis for liberation.

BROOKS: The nature of our special operations we have to be very careful about because they go in and operate very, very closely with a number of people. In some cases, they may be operating inside or near urban area. In other cases, they may be working with forces that are already armed. In other cases they may work with forces that may be awaiting the time to surrender or to capitulate and change sides, and we've seen that certainly happen in Basra, where forces that may have already returned to their homes might have been pressed back into military action by the irregulars at the point of a gun and then turned their guns back the other way.

So it's that type of activity when we talk about unconventional warfare that I'm referring to. We certainly have forces that are robust and able to do that with great experience.

In the last, fourth row back there, please. Ye, sir?

QUESTION: General Brooks, I'm Jay Chen with the Central News Agency, Taiwan.

Given the importance of the truth coming to light about the explosion at the marketplace in Baghdad, I'm wondering whether you know or you can give us a time when you will be able to finish your thorough investigation.

And secondly, have you been able to find out who provided, which country provided the mines that you showed earlier?

Thank you.

BROOKS: On the first question, I think we won't have a final answer until we're in Baghdad ourselves, which we will be. I don't know when that time is going to be or whether the circumstances will lend themselves to a good thorough investigation. The best we can do at this point is account for everything we did and we have accounted for our weapons systems that we fired on that night. They hit their target. We're certain of that. And the rest of the story we just don't know. We may never know.

The second part of your question had to do with the Sumeir mine (ph). We believe that was developed by the Iraqis themselves and I'm not going to talk about the technology source beyond that.

Please, in the fourth row.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: General, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Given the risk of the use of chemical weapons by the Iraqi regime, could you tell us what's going to happen with the embedded journalists' program as you get closer to Baghdad?

BROOKS: Well, certainly anyone we encounter that would be at a hazard we'll do the best we can to protect, whether that's Iraqi civilians or whether that is embedded media and certainly our own forces that are out there. Our capability to protect ourselves is certainly much more robust than the others that might be endangered in that area.

There's a certain hazard that any embedded media reporter engages in by being that close to the lines and being in that area. All I can say is that if there is a problem, we'll do the best we can to protect them and assist them.

The second row on the far side, please, sir, with the mustache. In the yellow shirt.

QUESTION: Thank you. Marlie James (ph) from "Gulf Times" in Doha, Qatar.

Could you enlighten us about the situation in Basra, especially with respect to the humanitarian scenario?

BROOKS: I'll tell you a few things about Basra. First, we don't know everything about what's happening inside of Basra. That's the honest truth. We are in and out of Basra and we have a variety of things, of sources of information that come to us, but we're not in there ourselves and under control. So that's the first aspect of it. On the humanitarian side in Basra, we know that Basra had had its water turned off for some time. We believe the regime did that. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been successful in the last several days at being able to reopen the flow of water and at this point I believe it is about 50 percent of the Basra population is able to receive water that is safe for consumption.

That's ongoing. We know Basra has a lot of needs and we are eager to provide those needs as soon as we can and when the operations lead us to a safe condition, that will happen.

Please, in front.

QUESTION: Tom Mintier with CNN.

We've got indications that the weather is, indeed, improving for the next 48 to 72 hours. Could you tell us what difference that's going to make for your air operations, especially helicopter operations that may have been suspended because of the sandstorms in the last 24 to 36 hours?

BROOKS: I mentioned yesterday that in all military operations we take into account the impact of weather. It's done every day and it's applied to every operation planned for that date. As the weather changes, we have more options available to us and we have more things that we can bring to bear in the operations we have planned.

That's the best I can do.

Please, sir?

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Al-Jazeera satellite channel.

Regarding the picture you showed of the free Iraqi forces person, as you named him, sir, how many of those do you have and what sort of a reaction are they getting from the local population? How are they of benefit to you? That's number one.

You also just mentioned in your previous answer that you're in and out of Basra. What does that mean?

Thank you.

BROOKS: Thanks, Omar. I appreciate it.

First, the, we have roughly 40 -- I'll keep the number rough at this point -- roughly 40 free Iraqi forces and they're divided into small groups, usually between five and six in a particular squad as we put them together. As I mentioned before, they're joined with our civil affairs units. All indications are they're being received very, very well, particularly as they move into areas that they are from.

Our design in this breaking out of these particular groups was to try to get them back into areas where we thought the units they are moving with would end up close to where they are from. So there was a deliberate design up front in how we were going to do that. And you had a second part of the question and I've forgotten it.

QUESTION: You said in a previous answer about, that you were in and out of Basra. What does that mean?

BROOKS: Right. Thank you.

What I mean by that is that we have a number of sources that go in and out of Basra and raids like the U.K. staged a few days ago against the Baath headquarters let us have some insights into what's going on in Basra. That's what I mean by that.

In the back, please.

Thank you. You're the right one.

QUESTION: Michael Massey (ph). I'm a freelance writer.

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have issued statements critical of the strikes against the Iraqi TV transmission facilities. They point out that according to the Geneva Convention, it's not a legitimate target purely if they were broadcasting propaganda. You said yesterday, I believe, that they were being used for command and control purposes.

Could you be more specific? What actually were they doing that led you to believe that that is the case and given that they're back on the air, are there going to be efforts to try to get them off the air again?

BROOKS: Well, first, we believe and remain convinced that it is a legitimate military target and we only attack legitimate military targets. I will get as specific as I can under the circumstances here, but let me say that there are a number of facilities throughout Iraq that on their surface would seem like normal things. Maybe it's a telephone switch, but it doesn't only take care of the commercial population, civilian population, it is also used as a command and control network and a key node inside of that.

The TV station that you saw attacked in the images I showed today were also like that. It broadcast television. The propaganda is not our concern. It's the command and control aspects that run through the same type of station, that node, that cause us to attack it.

And in answer to with it being back up on satellite in other places, will there be additional pursuits, I would simply say that we will pursue the regime and its control wherever we see it, wherever we find it.

Please, in the center.

QUESTION: I'm Michael Wolff from "New York Magazine."

And I mean no disrespect by this question, but I want to ask about the value proposition of these briefings. We're no longer being briefed by senior most officers. To the extent that we get information, it's largely information already released by the Pentagon. You may know that ABC has sent its senior correspondent home.

So I guess my question is why should we stay? What's the value to us for what we learn at this million dollar press center?

(APPLAUSE)

BROOKS: Let's -- I've gotten applause already. That's wonderful. I appreciate that.

First, I would say it's your choice. We want to provide information that's truthful from the operational headquarters that is running this war. There are a number of places where information is available, not the least of which would be the embedded media. And they tell a very important story. The Pentagon has a set of information they provide, as well. If you're looking for the entire mosaic, then you should be here.

I think some of you may have been -- based on the questions yesterday -- looking for very, very precise information about the operations. And we will give you that as we can. But we should never forget the more we tell you, if we're precise about the front line trace and where units are operating, exactly what our strength is, you're not the only one being informed and that's the most important bits.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) General Franks on a more consistent basis?

BROOKS: I'm sorry if you were disappointed. I probably need to get a pay raise here. General Franks will, he's already shown that he's more than willing to come and talk to you at the right time. But he's fighting a war right now and he has me to do this for him.

Please?

QUESTION: General, Tom Fenton with CBS News.

A Pentagon official, unnamed, was quoted as saying that the dropping of elements of the 173rd in north was the opening of the northern front. What does that mean for the war as a whole? How does that fit into the mosaic, the big picture?

BROOKS: Thanks for the question, Tom.

Appreciate that.

First, as we add additional units onto the battlefield, according to our plan, we increase the number of options we have available and we also increase the number of threats posed to the regime. There are forces that remain in northern Iraq that are a threat along what has been described as the green line, a threat to the Kurdish autonomous zone.

And we certainly have already indicated on a number of occasions throughout the government that we have no designs on changing the territorial integrity of Iraq, but that everyone in Iraq should have a role in the future of Iraq. And so we don't want to see the types of things that have happened historically by this regime happening again at the hands of regime forces along that green line.

The presence of a combat brigade in that area changes the dynamics considerably. That's why they're there.

In the back, please.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) "Newsday."

A follow-up to that question. I think a lot of us thought that the northern front -- what you're describing is essentially some amount of fairly lightly armed, lightly armored troops to basically protect the Kurds from the Iraqis and potentially protect them -- keep the Turks and the Kurds apart. Do you envision that the northern front at some point would be of a more offensive nature, heading south toward Baghdad, south toward Tikrit to harass Hussein from the north as well as from the south?

BROOKS: Well, there are some parts of your question that allude to exactly what their purpose is up there and I described more their purpose in the answer to the proceeding question so I'm not going to reinforce necessarily your view of what they're going to do up there as it relates to the Turks and the Kurds and what have you. And I understand your question is really much deeper than that. So let me address that.

The capabilities of that force may be more than what meets the eye, let's say that first. They can be used offensively and if we choose to use them that way, then that's, indeed, how they'll be used. But I'm not going to allude to exactly how they'll be used as time goes on.

Please, in the back.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ABC News.

In your opening statement you said that the Iraqi regime is showing an increasingly disregard for the Geneva Conventions. Is that a -- when you said that, are you specifically referring to the American POWs that the Iraqi regime is holding? Can you give us an update on the American POWs? Have they been visited by the International Red Cross as the Iraqi EPWs have in, south of Basra? And also, can you give us an update on the casualty figures?

Thank you.

BROOKS: Well, let me start with first the casualty figures. That's not something I'm going to engage in. What I can tell you is we notify families first and we don't want to get into the numbers here. When the time is right for numbers to come out, they'll come by other means. Generally speaking, figures like that, after they have been rolled up, are released by the Pentagon. We're fighting the war here. The front part of your question, what I'm referring to in that case is how the regime has already approached prisoners of war, our soldiers and Marines that have been taken, our pilots that have been taken, their willingness to show their faces routinely, which is already a violation. We would love to show the faces of the Iraqi prisoners we have. It's not the same as what you see of our prisoners. The Iraqi prisoners are being treated very, very well.

I don't know if the Red Cross has made contact with our prisoners yet. We have not gotten a report on that. But we certainly continue to demand that the regime treat our prisoners in accordance with the Geneva Convention, as we are theirs.

In the fourth row, please. The fourth row. Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Sir, I am Pales Sinski (ph) from "Polish Weekly." For us, two questions. Do you receive information about increasing movement of anti-war protesters around the world? Do the information changing your decisions, influence your decisions? Secondly, do the soldiers parachuted this night to the northern Iraq (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from the bases located in Italy?

BROOKS: Well, I would leave any comments about what role Italy might have played to Italy. It's appropriate for them to make any comments. The force is based in Italy on a routine basis.

The first part of your question, if we can go back to that, please. What was the first part?

QUESTION: The anti-war protests are influencing your decisions.

BROOKS: Yes, thank you. See, I'm still trying to figure out how to get a pay raise so I can't remember as many things.

The anti-war protests around the world we view as people expressing their right to say what it is that's important to them. That's what we want to see happen here in this country. It won't happen right now.

Off on the left side, the green shirt, please.

QUESTION: General, Pete Smalliz (ph) from Knight Ridder. I had two questions about Basra, if you don't mind. You mentioned that some of the troops who had agreed to leave the battlefield and go home have now been pressed back into service. They were following the coalition advice that's spelled out in the leaflets. Is there anything that you're going to be doing to change the procedure then for having them leave the battlefield since they've been out pressed into service again by the Iraqis?

The other question I had is with regard to the armored column that left Basra yesterday and headed south, do you have any information about that, whether it was an offensive tactic, were they retreating? And also, how were they able to leave Basra when the British yesterday said they had cordoned the city off? Thank you.

BROOKS: You've got a complex question there, so I'm going to let you actually ask it again. What's the first part again?

QUESTION: The first part is with regards to the surrender.

BROOKS: OK. The -- I got the first part.

QUESTION: OK.

BROOKS: Let's do that one first, and I'll let you actually do each segment, because I want to answer each one of them. They're all fair questions.

First, on the surrender of the 51st. Yes, they did follow the instructions of the coalition, and that was a matter of choice, and we applaud their choice.

They were pressed back into service, as best we can tell, by the paramilitaries, the terroristic-behaving organizations of this regime. That was not by choice. We believe that some of them may get another choice, which was to put an end to that type of behavior, and we applaud that choice as well.

So we think that we are about right in what we've told different organizations of the Iraqi forces that are out there, particularly the regular army, and also some of the Republican Guards. We still believe that forces in this country should not shed their blood for a regime whose days are numbered.

The second part of your question was?

QUESTION: If they simply leave the battlefield and go back, what's to prevent them from being pressed into service again against their will by Iraqis?

BROOKS: Their choice. It really is their choice to do that, and we would certainly not want to have that happen, and we don't want them to be endangered either. And they are endangered, there is no question about it. Anyone in this country that returns to their homes or that stays in their homes while the regime is present is in mortal danger, and that's happening all over the country.

Did you want to go to the second part of your question? I'm going to let you go a little bit further on this one.

QUESTION: I appreciate it. The second part was with regard to the armored column that was leaving Basra heading south. Was that an offensive tactic, were they retreating? And also, how were they able to head south? The British yesterday said they had cordoned off the city.

BROOKS: OK, I think I can take care of those two.

This is a classic example of the fall before, so let me explain how this works. Out in the line a report will occur. The report gets pushed up immediately, especially if there is something that appears is going to require reinforcement. In this case we had something we call "moving target indicators," an electronic signature that says we've got something vehicular moving in large numbers. That got reported there.

It also got released to the world, because we have embedded media and they were reporting what the unit was sensing at that point in time, a very classic example of how the world looks from down on the line.

The reality was there were not some large number of vehicles. We heard reports of between hundreds and thousands. That was not the case at all. In fact, it was an erroneous signal.

So what we do when we have indications like that to work through the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of a war, which we are all in the military very accustomed to, we'll then do something else to corroborate it, and then something else to corroborate it. So a series of other efforts to gain further intelligence, to establish surveillance, to conduct reconnaissance. All of those things were done, and we determined it was a different size force, and we destroyed it. It's as simple as that.

And the last part of the question was about how could they have left Basra if it was cordoned off? Forces did come out of Basra, and the U.K. encountered them practically on the southwest side, and again, destroyed the force that came out.

How does that happen? The cordon is not like a wall that gets set around the town as much as it is a wall of control around the town. So things may move toward the town from the outside and be encountered, or they may try to move from inside of the town outward and be encountered. Once the determination is made that it's either hostile or not, then further action is taken. In that case, it was determined hostile, and they were destroyed.

Please, in the gray shirt.

QUESTION: Jeff Glasser (ph) with "US News & World Report." I'm wondering, are you facing shortages of supplies like food and water and batteries up on the front lines, as there have been some reports?

BROOKS: Jeff (ph), I'm not aware of any shortfalls. This is like many other things. For continuous operations what we have our commanders do is analyze their status from the lowest unit up to the highest-level unit. And that's reported on a continuous basis, and we push them what they need. We haven't had any problems that would hinder operations at this point.

In the second row, please.

QUESTION: General, Chad Henry (ph), WTOP Radio. U.S. and U.K. military officers have asked us to be careful about using images of military men and women who may die in this fighting. Does avoiding that imagery in any sense take away the public's ability to appreciate either the sense of dedication, sacrifice or human cost of war?

BROOKS: Well, we know that this war is being prosecuted by humans, and I thank you for the question, because it helps to reinforce that right now. Often what you see is what we can show, because we have images of technology, but the reality is there's a human behind every one of those. There's a human that has to take off from the deck of a ship, a human that has to take off from the surface of some runway somewhere inside of the region, and each time they take off they can't be certain that they're going to return.

You've seen the activities that happen out on the line. You've seen soldiers and Marines from multiple nations that put their lives at risk in some other country other than their own for the cause of freedom. And as you see that sort of thing you see the level of dedication that's out there. All we'd ask is that you respect that those are, in fact, humans out there and that they have families and that we care for them greatly.

Please, in the back in the red.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Georgia. According to the Iraqi house minister, 76 people dead and more than 200 injured yesterday night in Baghdad. Can you confirm that fact?

BROOKS: I'm not aware of more than 200 being injured in Baghdad last night. I've not heard the report. What I can say is that anytime civilians are injured inside of a combat zone, it's an unfortunate circumstance. It's something we don't want to see happen, and we do everything we can to prevent that.

The regime has not been as careful in that regard, and we're seeing indications where many of the problems that we see where civilians are being reported being killed happen to be in Shia populations. There may be a pattern there. I'll let you draw your own conclusion.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) BBC French Service. Can you tell us on a daily basis, first of all, the number of sorties, so we have an idea of the rhythm, of the thrust of the battle? And on the Scud issue, in the 1991 Gulf War, coalition aircraft had a hard time to target Scud platforms. How much of the situation has improved? Can you tell us a little bit of where these missiles launched on Kuwait are launched from? And can you target them?

BROOKS: I'll start with the second-half of the question first about the Scuds and the historic use of certain areas of Iraq for launching on neighboring countries.

Let me begin by saying we are very active in those areas to make sure that it doesn't happen again, and we have a variety of capabilities to make that happen. It's particularly out in the western desert, and we're able to move very well. We have good surveillance and reconnaissance out there, and thus far we've been successful.

But when we join the realities of some of what the regime has been doing over the last several years through its efforts in denial and deception, while developing significant military capability that you're beginning to see, like the Sumeir mine that wasn't in there, like atropine injectors purchased with oil-for-food money, we also know that there was some enhancement to the Scud missile system, particularly the Al Hussein family. And the reports that we have given you about the potential extended range makes it possible to move it much further east than where the missiles were fired during Desert Storm, much further east to be able to range a much larger radius of countries.

And so we remain focused on finding those whenever we can, things like the missile assembly facility that I showed you the picture of, help us to degrade their ability to threaten their neighbors, and that's part of our effort as well.

I think we have time for one more question. Please, on the far side.

QUESTION: Kevin Dunn (ph) of ITV (ph) News. Just following on from that, was this missile site that you've destroyed known to or visited by U.N. weapons inspectors? And if so, why did you destroy it?

BROOKS: I don't know if it was inspected by U.N. inspectors or not. We can find that out and provide the information to you. We destroyed it because it could be potentially used at this point for this operation. Even beyond the denial and deception that we all witnessed during the UNMOVIC days and years before that, even beyond that we knew that there were systems inside of there. Some have not been accounted for at this point in time.

And so rather than see them used, we destroyed the places where they could be assembled. And we'll also look for places where they might be used and destroy them there.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.

ZAHN: And that wraps up today's CENTCOM briefing by Brigadier General Vincent Brooks.

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