CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
General Victor Renuart Hold Press Conference, Gives Update to Operation Iraqi Freedom
Aired March 29, 2003 - 07:04 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Let's listen to Major General Gene (ph) Renuart right now. Thanks, Barbara.
MAJ. GEN. VICTOR RENUART, DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, CENTCOM: ... Major General Gene (ph) Renuart, and I'm the director of operations here at Central Command.
And Operation Iraqi Freedom continues. We continue to make good progress in accordance with our plan. We continue to believe it's a well-orchestrated plan, it's flexible, and it's producing the daily successes that we need on the battlefield.
We continue to apply good pressure across a broad (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- broad area of lines of operations. This allows us to put pressure on the regime. It allows us to communicate with Iraqi civilian leaders in the various communities and to take that information and then target some of these terror cells that are holding hostage many of these cities of southern Iraq.
It also allows us to work in the west and the north with a number of tribal leaders to continue to expand influence of free Iraqis throughout those parts of the country.
It's important, as you look at the results that we see on the battlefield and the results that maybe are briefed to you here, that while there's a great deal of information that is passed through the media from the battlefield and from what we try to pass here, there's a great deal of information that's just not covered out there. And those kinds of things are also producing great pressure on the battlefield.
So it's important to understand that we try to pass on as much information that we can that you can see. There are many things that we just can't pass to you because we don't have visibility in terms of visuals for some of those key elements out on the battlefield.
And, of course, as we continue to put pressure on some of these terror-like cells throughout the country, we certainly don't want to put any of our people at risk.
We continue to integrate a really superb coalition force. That comes at the lowest level, all the way up to the highest levels. And I would tell you that -- I'll mention a couple anecdotes in a minute that can show you how important it is to be able to take capabilities of each nation, integrate it into a fighting force, and then get great results in a very timely fashion. As I said, we're moving very successfully along our objectives, but that comes -- does not come without a cost, and certainly we mourn the loss of those men and women who deployed here committed to the important aspects of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and we share the concern of the families of those missing in this tough time.
But as I said, we continue. We continue to isolate the regime, its forces on the field, its command and control networks. We continue to take strides with humanitarian aid. We mentioned yesterday the port of Umm Qasr opening 12 distribution points opened up on the -- in the area today, and food being delivered to Iraqi people in the Umm Qasr, As Ubayar, and to some degree, as we're able to get it to some of the Basra population.
We continue to take control of airfields. We're operating from some airfields in southern Iraq with combat search and rescue, close air support, and obviously logistic support to our forces in the field.
We continue to expand the influence in our air operations and have virtual freedom of mover around the country. We've taken advantage of very rapid sensor-to-shooter links in order to re-target our airmen as they move around the country to respond to situations on the battlefield that the commanders feel are critical to them.
It's a great story of a combined nature. These are Australian, U.K., and U.S. airmen responding through pretty rotten weather over the few days prior to the last couple of days, where we've had much more of a capability to engage the ground -- the field and ground targets. And I think we're seeing success as we expected to.
I say it was -- it's an integrated operation. And I'll give you a couple anecdotes. We had a U.S. fighter aircraft out on a mission a day or two ago caught in bad weather, fought his way through thunderstorms. And after having a few harrowing moments in his airplane found himself recovering, heading back out to a tanker. And after what I would have called a mission where I would have been ready to come home, he took on gas and went back and flew four more hours, striking targets in southern Iraq.
So it's that kind of heroism that is occurring out there every day. And I can't show you that. I can't -- there's not a good way, other than for me to communicate that to you here, that kind of courage and heroism that occurs.
We've had Australian and U.K. fighters working through very difficult conditions in the southern portion of Iraq to strike targets in the midst of thunderstorms, Australian fighters who have swung from doing defensive counter-air into strike missions.
And so across the board, we have seen great flexibility.
One further little note, that we had a search -- circumstance a couple days ago where a long-range patrol element was out isolated in a bit of a bind, and we used an Air Force combat rescue unit to go pick them up and bring them out. Certainly not traditional missions for each one of those, but adapting to the battlefield has been one of our successes.
As we mentioned, we continue to secure the oil industry resources in the southern part of the country. We have begun to complete -- or we progress nicely in the emergency -- or explosive ordnance disposal operations in the southern oil fields. We have the Basra refinery now secured, and we continue our commitment to keep the economic assets safe for the people of Iraq in the future.
I mentioned our ability to destroy Iraqi command and control. But we've also been able to target some of those key elements of Ba'ath Party and some of these terror cell organizations. Later General Brooks will show you some imagery of a strike that went particularly well.
I'd like to focus a minute on the integrated effort that it takes to make that work, taking advantage of an ability to use small special operating teams to get close to targets. We can identify that a location is of interest to us, we can find that the -- these terror leaders are in fact having a meeting and then call in very precise strikes to destroy that. And I'm pleased to say the result of that, we believe, were about 200 leaders of these irregular squads. And key leaders, we believe, were destroyed last night.
Each time we make one of these attacks, we continue to degrade the regime, we continue to degrade their capability. And in a very systematic approach, we are moving nicely down the road.
Our plan remains unchanged. We continue to focus on movement of the logistics support up to our units. We've had, as you may have seen from some of the embedded reporters, consistent movement of long lines of supplies up to the forces. That's going fairly well. Not without some engagements by some of these Iraqi irregular forces, but there is good force protection there with armed helicopters, with armored patrols.
And we feel that line of communication is moving along quite nicely.
We continue to see these small units operating in the south, although we're seeing them get smaller and smaller, reducing in the areas of As Samawah and An Nasiriyah and in Basra, we're having positive effects. But we still see that terror behavior.
A couple days ago, actually a day ago, we had a report of an Iraqi woman waving a white flag to get out of an area that was hazardous. Our troops allowed her to continue. They continued on a patrol, came back sometime later in the morning, found her hanged at the light post on a street corner.
So that kind of terror continues. And we should not forget that that's the approach of this regime. That's not the approach of this coalition.
Iraqi terror organizations continue to force young men to come out of the towns and fight, and we have anecdotal evidence of young men fighting in some of these small cities that clearly are not there because they want to. They're probably being forced to fight because they fear for their families, as opposed to being loyal to the regime.
And their prowess on the battlefield in some cases leads us to that conclusion.
So in conclusion, I guess I'd say that we continue to work on plan. We continue to see the results that we would like to see on the battlefield. There is, I think, good progress being made with the land forces conducting long-range patrols, artillery attacks to interdict a number of enemy lines of communication as well.
So we're having our effect, and a much broader scale than these small attacks that are getting some publicity are having on our forces.
With that, I'll turn it over to Brigadier General Brooks for a few comments and video.
BRIG. GEN. VINCENT BROOKS, U.S. ARMY: Well, good afternoon again, ladies and gentlemen.
Our direct attacks, I'll just begin with directly and go straight into our daily discussion.
Our attacks against the regime, its structures, and its units continued in the last 24 hours, and that includes attacks against nine different Ba'ath Party headquarters locations.
Here are some examples of recent attacks. The first one is the one that General Renuart told you about a bit earlier. It's an attack against a Ba'ath Party assembly northeast of Basra yesterday evening. It had about 200 members of the Ba'ath Party in attendance.
The next video is of an antiaircraft artillery system in western Iraq, and it also was struck yesterday.
What I'd like to show you next is a before-and-after image set that shows the regime-controlled television studio and broadcast facility. This, like other facilities, was used as part of the command and control network. There were three key facilities that were targeted within it. The post-strike shows the intended damage at the three arrows.
I particularly highlight the top most arrow, which shows a building that was caved in. Different effects for each weapons system delivered in that complex. And by comparison, the split.
Our targeting process remains deliberate. It remains sophisticated, and it remains precise. The risk to civilians increases, however, as the regime moves weapons into residential areas.
What I'll show you next is a video that provides just one example. What you see is a set of buildings. These are buildings in a residential area. It's just south of a major highway. There's a mobile rocket launcher that's beside the building in the shadows. We tried to attack it earlier and did not have success in the preceding attacks. It moved into the shadows of this housing area and was eventually flushed out and destroyed again.
This is a zoom-in view. You can see it much more closely.
This is taken by an observation platform and not by a strike system, so you'll not see the attack in this case.
Our coalition special operations forces achieved good success in their actions throughout Iraq in the last 24 hours. And I'll highlight four particular events.
The first two are very effective close air support missions that happened against enemy compounds in As Samawah and Ar Rutbah, and those are both indicated on this map. Our special operations forces interdicted several movements in the west, including a group of 30 men dressed in civilian clothes carrying mortars, Iraqi military uniforms, petroleum bombs, and cash.
And the last example is a coalition raid by Army Rangers last night against an Iraqi commando headquarters. And this headquarters controlled most of the commando operations in the western desert. And we will show you a video from that operation.
Now, this begins in the daylight, as they began to move out. We'll transition into darkness. This is their night vision sights.
The raid was successful and resulted in the capture of over 50 enemy personnel, weapons, a large cache of ammunition, gas masks, and radios.
That was, of course, done at night. You saw it through a night vision device that was with the combat camera crew with the Rangers. Otherwise, it was completely blacked out. You would not have been able to see that with the naked eye.
Our operational maneuver continued. Our land component conducted an attack helicopter raid yesterday evening against elements of the Republican Guard Medina Division north of Karbala. The attack had some effect and reduced the strength of the Medina Division. All aircraft returned safely.
An additional operation by U.K. forces north and west of Basra positioned the coalition to be able to successfully interdict the northern approaches to the city. And the land component continues its efforts to destroy any forces that would threaten its supply lines.
The maritime component, having successfully cleared the Corps Abdullah (ph), as you saw yesterday, continued its support of coalition operations with operational fires, strike aircraft, and missile attacks.
As an information update, at this point we've dropped over 32 million leaflets and are continuing to do so on a daily basis. We've also added an additional airborne broadcasting system to the coverage area.
And finally, our efforts to preserve the resources of Iraq's future, the oil well repair activities are ongoing. Firefighting continued yesterday. There's still three wells that are burning in the southern oil fields. And we are confident that that will be reduced to, within the next few days.
I'm also pleased to report, as General Renuart mentioned, that the Basra oil refinery, one of three in the country, is now secured by the coalition. And we will enter that facility -- it appears to have been shut down -- and get it started again as soon as possible.
Yesterday did indeed mark an important milestone for the humanitarian action part of this campaign. The arrival of the Sir Galahad positioned much-needed supplies into Iraq, and distribution began first in the Umm Qasr area and will be carried to other areas as the security condition permits.
Short video of some of the coverage of the unloading yesterday. There was a lot of media there, which is great, because it's an important story. This was just some of the work that we saw.
These are all water boxes, water containers. Water is one of the most important resources that we're finding the Iraqi people need at this point, and work on the water line from Kuwait into southern Iraq continues. That will considerably increase the amount of clean water available to the people of the southern region.
BROOKS: And finally, our civil affairs teams, coupled with teams of free Iraqi forces, as I showed you a few days ago, continued their great work in the trail of the land combat operations. These next two images show that they are indeed well received.
RENUART: OK, thanks, Vince.
Let me just make one point before questions. We've mentioned in a couple cases Kuwaiti support for oil field repairs and humanitarian assistance. We are extremely grateful to Kuwait and many of the other Gulf nations who have contributed to this humanitarian aid and seem committed to expand that as we move to the future.
OK. Let me start with questions. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: The -- some embeds with U.S. Marines have said that they are no longer able to use (UNINTELLIGIBLE) phones. Could you tell us why this is, when they'll be able to start using them again? And doesn't this amount to censorship?
RENUART: Well, let me get to the last question first. On the battlefield, operational security is critical to the successful accomplishment of every military operation. And there are times and places on the battlefield when you need to ensure that no communications go out in order to shield your movements and your intent.
So I really don't see -- look at this as a -- as in any way restricting the ability of the media to cover an event. But I really see this more as the requirement for the operational commander to ensure that his movements are appropriately secured until such time as he's completed or begun that operation.
I think in some cases we have asked reporters to not use those. Those have happened in a couple -- a number of places on the battlefield. I had a comment yesterday that it's maybe in one place but not in another. Why is it unfair for me and not for them?
I think the important thing is to understand that as the battlefield moves, operations move around the battlefield, that it will be critical to the security of our forces out there that we make sure that nothing gets out that may tip the hand of the Iraqis, because some of those communications can be monitored somewhat easily.
So I think that's really the better way to describe what has occurred.
QUESTION: First I'd like, if you could, a few more details on the Republican Guard engagement, the Medina Division.
And the second question, the captain of the cruiser Cape St. George has been quoted as saying that Saudi has closed the airspace for some Tomahawk missiles because they have not landed at their designated targets. I'd like you to, if you could, speak about if that is indeed the case, confirm that.
And are you -- are Tomahawks no longer being fired from the ships in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean? And if you could also speak to the issue of...
RENUART: You're going to overload me, aren't you?
QUESTION: Sorry. I'll leave it at that.
RENUART: Let me -- so you got so far (UNINTELLIGIBLE) back to the first one in a second.
In -- with reference to the Tomahawks in the west, or actually through Saudi Arabia, we've had, as is not uncommon with a Tomahawk missile, that there is a transition period from some -- from launch to flight, and then begin, beginning of its guidance process, where there are some steps that have to occur. If one of those fails, then it's likely that missile will not continue on its flight. That is something that the Navy has been working on quite a bit.
In the case of Saudi Arabia, we did have a number of TLAM (ph) that were reported down in their territory, and basically we have a situation where the Saudis have said, Can you see if you can figure out what is the cause of this? And we do not want to in any way hazard the people of Saudi Arabia or any of the other countries where these may transit.
And so we have agreed with them to conduct a review of those launch procedures and make sure that we don't have a systems problem that we're -- that we might not be aware of, and then once that's completed, we'll go back with the Saudis and work to resume those when it's appropriate.
RENUART: We're continuing to use Tomahawk cruise missiles around the theater. We've actually coordinated with the Saudis to hold on a couple of routes that might put them in a position where they could be close to any civilian population.
And back to your first question.
QUESTION: Republican Guard, Medina Division.
RENUART: Yes. As General Brooks mentioned, we conducted a helicopter deep attack mission last night with a number of our Apache helicopters into an element of the Medina Division. We believe it was a very successful attack. A number of tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery pieces, multipurpose vehicles, and some surface- to-air missile -- mobile surface-to-air missile radars were destroyed in that attack.
And the aircraft returned successfully. We did have two airplanes that had mechanic -- maintenance problems, mechanical problems, and I think those were reported in the press. But none were due to enemy fire.
Yes, sir, right here.
QUESTION: Some sources told us that a few days ago, some Israeli military expert joined the Central Command headquarter here in Silia (ph). Can you confirm that?
And is the coalition receiving any kind of military technology, information, even logistic support, from Israel in this war?
RENUART: No, I can confirm that we do not have an Israeli representative here at Central Command. As you know, Israel is a close ally of the United States, and their traditional relationship is with our European command. And that relationship continues.
As to use of equipment, I'm not aware of any specific Israeli equipment that we are using anywhere in the theater, to the best of my knowledge right now. But I can't confirm anything more than that.
QUESTION: This morning, apparently, there was a different type of attack involving 3rd Infantry Division, where a vehicle pulled up and apparently was loaded with explosives at a military checkpoint and caused casualties when it was detonated. This appears to be the first time that this type of strike against coalition forces has been used.
Is this something that you train for, plan for, worry about?
RENUART: Well, I -- first, I guess I'd make a point that I'd ask, where have we seen those kinds of events occurring before? And I think we'd all agree that all of them are associated with terrorist events.
This -- that kind of an activity, I think, is something that's a symbol of an organization that's beginning to get a little bit desperate.
Having said that, our troops do in fact train to those kinds of events. I don't know the circumstances revolving around this particular one, because, as you mentioned, it's been relatively recently -- it occurred just recently, and we're still reviewing that, determining exactly what that particular small element of U.S. forces did at the scene.
But I think what we -- I can tell you what we have seen across the battlefield is a movement of civilians to try to get away from some of these repressive cells that are in some of the cities. And so there is a fair amount of civilian traffic that we just have to be very cautious with.
And obviously in this case these forces took advantage of a situation and caused some...
QUESTION: But are you concerned about this type of strike against our positions?
RENUART: Well, we're concerned about any kind of a unconventional attack on our forces. And each one of those is reviewed to ensure that any other means that might be considered at checkpoints or in our force protection measures are (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- are taken into consideration. But I think in this case, it will not have any operational effect. It's certainly a tragedy for those families, but no operational effect on the battlefield.
QUESTION: I wonder if you could talk a little bit to this pause in the advance, which has -- there's been a lot of speculation about this morning. Also, whether, as an airman, you might also consider now advisable a pause in air operations to avoid more civilian bloodshed, which hands to your adversary -- I know you will challenge the responsibility -- but hands to your adversary the moral high ground which you claim.
RENUART: I wouldn't assign moral high ground to anybody that sheds -- or that allows the kind of terror to occur in some of these towns that we have seen.
I think, with respect to a pause, I -- we're -- there's no pause on the battlefield. Because you see a particular formation not moving on a day does not mean there is a pause on the battlefield. At the same time that we are conducting our air operations throughout the battlefield, we conduct artillery raids. We conduct deep attacks like we did last night. We conduct long-range patrols in order to fix and identify where enemy formations may be. All of those things are part of the battlefield commanders' tools, and so it would be unfair to characterize the fact that you don't see tanks rolling on every single day as any pause in the operation.
Certainly we had a pause with some bad weather, and it has -- we've had a couple good days now to go back and reevaluate where we see the enemy during that period of time, and then -- and continue to work on plan.
Let me come -- yes, sir, right here with the glasses and the vest.
QUESTION: Is it true that you are going to take four up to six day of rest in the offensive?
Second, do you feel under pressure of us, of international media and pushed to hurry up with (OFF-MIKE)?
RENUART: I've asked General Franks if I could take four to six days off, and he's allowed that I should continue working. And I think everybody in the -- on the battlefield continues to do that.
As I mentioned just a minute ago, I don't believe there is any intent to pause on the battlefield. We will continue to focus our operations. Sometimes they will be focused in the west, sometimes in the north, sometimes in the south, sometimes all together. And so you have to be careful to characterize movement on any part of the battlefield as a pause or an acceleration, for that matter.
As to having all the international media here, I enjoy having you here. I think it's a good experience. And hopefully I'll survive it.
Yes, sir, back in the back with the -- yes, sir, with the glasses.
QUESTION: Over 50 people were reportedly killed in Baghdad yesterday. What is the coalition response?
RENUART: Well, we're -- I think the response of anyone is it's a tragedy when innocent civilians are killed. We took note of that event. We are looking at targets that may have caused something like that, but it's -- I really can't give you any more detail that would either clarify or clear that particular issue.
Let me go back over to the side. Yes, sir, back here?
QUESTION: Sir, are you worried that you're being dragged into a war of attrition by the so-called irregulars? And also, are you a bit concerned about the effect on the morale that the Iraqis -- by seeing the 90 percent of the media in the Arab world, print and television, and this is not just Al-Jazeera, just all TV stations referring to operations as an "invasion," an "occupation," and describing the Iraq resistance as a legitimate resistance?
RENUART: Yes. First, I think it's important to put this operation in context. You'll recall on September 11th two years ago, we began an operation or planning for an operation. And then October 9th began an operation in Afghanistan against a very different foe than we had here, and that we have here. And it was a period of about 60 or 70 days before we installed President Karzai as the new leader in Afghanistan.
I would go back to Desert Storm to tell you the time that it took to accomplish the operations in Kuwait. So we're 10 days or so into the campaign. I would not allow anybody to view those 10 days as too long, as us moving too slowly. I will go back to what General Franks and Secretary Rumsfeld and the president have all said is that we're continuing exactly on the plan that we would like. And I think the morale of our troops is exquisite in not in any way harmed by the time that we are taking to conduct operations. And as to what the international press prints, we believe they can print whatever they desire. And we think that we will continue on our plan, just exactly as we've begun.
QUESTION: You've been showing us a lot of pictures of tanks and weapon storage facilities being hit by precision weapons pretty much every day here. Yet in other conflicts, in fact here in Iraq in '91, it turned out many of these were empty buildings or in fact decoys. And so I'm wondering to what extent you know the targets are hitting a real and meaningful after the fact what assessments do you have? Are there any percentages you can give us? RENUART: That's a good question. The -- our intent in many of these command and control facilities is not necessarily to kill the people. It is to take away the capability that that facility allows. And while a facility may be unoccupied by a person, it may be the house or key switching systems for communications, a fiber optic networks, coax cable repeaters.
And so, there is very significant military value in each of those targets. Command and control nodes that allow the Iraqis to communicate with their units. So each of those targets are looked at and vetted for their military significance, not necessarily for a determination if they are necessarily occupied.
Now many of the other buildings, we believe, or many other facilities, operational command posts, core headquarters, those things we believe, in fact, do have occupancy.
QUESTION: For instance, the tanks, missile storage shelters, that sort of thing, after the fact, to what degree do you know they were real?
RENUART: Well, we have a...
RENUART: There is a group of intelligence analysts spanning the world that look at those things and determine A, they were valid, and B, that it was a good strike before we strike those in many ways. We -- the targets are picked as they are vetted by the intelligence community. And we're confident in their ability to give us good information.
Yes, sir, right back here?
QUESTION: Having (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ground operation, can you confirm that there is a shortage of supply and there's irregular attack from Iraqi side on your supply line? Thank you.
RENUART: Well, let me -- second question first and then I'll go to the first one. I like going backwards. The attacks on the Iraqis or on our supply lines, we need to be careful that they are not overplayed. Certainly, there is -- there have been some harassing attacks on our supply lines and they continue.
But they have not stopped the movement of our logistics support forward to each of our fielded forces. We continue to provide self protection to those. What we note is those attacks have become fewer with fewer forces. And they have all been defeated with relatively minimal cost to our forces.
Now back to the first question.
RENUART: Ah, no. We have adequate amounts of support. We continue to build those over time. As you can imagine when a mechanized or an armory unit pushes forward rapidly in the field, the units with ammunition, etcetera, have to follow along behind. And there is a period of time that it takes to keep that supply train moving and make it robust. So we're more than comfortable with that rate.
QUESTION: Approximately 72 hours ago, we had the explosion at the market in Baghdad. Two days ago, 48 hours ago, CENTCOM said that it was possible that the Iraqis caused that explosion. Where do you stand now on that?
And the second question is regarding the Iraqi missile that exploded near Kuwait City last night, media reports indicate that it possibly may have come from the Al Faw Peninsula. I was under the impression that that area was pretty much secure. Does this foretell or does this show that possibly the Iraqis have a lot more launchers in that region, and that is a primary concern of yours?
Thank you, sir.
RENUART: Let me first talk to the market event. There is -- with every one of these circumstances, we ask the component who is in -- who may have had forces involved, whether it's land, sea, or air, to do an investigation. And that takes a number of days to do that. The air component in this case has -- is completing his review. We think that will be complete within the next day or so. And as soon as those -- the review is completed, well make that available.
As to what do we determine to be the cause? I think certainly there are a number of a possibilities. We want to make sure that if in fact there was an error on our part, that we found that out and made that available. And if there was -- if it was caused by an Iraqi system, that we also find that out as best we are able, or at least be able to determine that it was not one of our systems.
In -- with respect to the attack into Kuwait, they -- we have a number of forces on the Al Faw Peninsula. I couldn't tell you that they've been into every single farmhouse that there may be out there. And so, it's certainly possible that someone could have hidden equipment that we may not have been available -- or we may not have been aware of, but I do know that the land component commander is investigating areas where this may have come from, and has put forces back into some of these areas in order to determine what may be the cause.
QUESTION: One of the embedded journalists with U.S. Marines near Baghdad is saying that their rations are down to one meal a day. Is that not an indication that there are problems with supplies?
RENUART: I'm going to ask you to go back a second. I wandered off, but you said that an Iraqi unit...
QUESTION: No, no, no, an embedded correspondent with U.S. Marines near Baghdad has reported that their rations are down to one meal a day. Isn't that an indication that there are problems with supply lines and logistics?
RENUART: Well, I have not had that report. And I've checked with our logistics folks this morning to verify that we are moving supplies up into all of those units and been -- it's been confirmed to me that in fact we are. So I can't tell you that someone is only getting one meal a day. And so I have no way to verify that for you.
Yes, sir with the white tablet? Yes, sir?
QUESTION: I'm just wondering as every day passes, the situation, particularly humanitarian crisis in Basra is getting worse. And obviously, it's getting worse at the hands of the regime, you know. I'm just wondering how long do you wait before you go into Basra and liberate the people? These people have limited food and very limited water?
RENUART: Well, you know, Basra has been one of the cities that has been most oppressed by the Iraqi regime for many years. There will be no solution that happens overnight, even if we controlled the entire city and it was secure. We are poising our humanitarian assistance. We have improved the water supply into the city already. Up to about 60 percent of the people now have water flowing into the city. So we're making progress there.
In terms of the military, we are taking, I think, prudent steps to target the key elements of command and control of the forces to intercede where we are able. Example, we had an incident just in the last 24 hours where up to 1,000 or so Basra residents were trying to flee. They were taken under fire by these irregular forces. And U.K. forces placed themselves between the Iraqi forces and these civilians, to allow them to break free and took these Iraqi forces under fire and destroyed them.
Those kinds of operations will continue to expand. And we'll continue to very methodically root out the causes. Yes, ma'am, right here?
QUESTION: Are there any indications or intelligence reports actually to indicate that Al Qaida elements are fighting side by side with irregular forces in Iraq?
RENUART: Well, a few days ago, General Franks mentioned what he describes as the nexus of terror when you take a regime who would support terrorism and mix it with the fanatics of organizations like Al Qaida. We have conducted some operations in the north that are -- that have been targeted at elements that we believe are aligned with Al Qaida. We have not -- I have not seen any firm indications that those forces are in the south fighting. My sense is it's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. OK?
QUESTION: Just back to the terminology, this notion of terrorist organizations that you've been talking about and terror tactics. And yesterday was terrorist death squads. Does that -- how does that affect how people who are captured from these groups will be treated? Do they lose their Geneva Convention POW rights?
RENUART: It's a good question. I'm not sure that I'm capable of giving you a technical legal answer. We have the authority to engage as military targets, both military and paramilitary organizations. And we continue to treat all of these as hostile forces.
QUESTION: So how do you decide who's who I guess?
RENUART: Once they are captured, they will -- interrogation will determine what their appropriate status would be. And they'll be treated appropriately. I'm really not able to give you a more technical legal answer.
QUESTION: First, a comment. You said you had lots of great stories to tell, but you didn't have the images to go with them. As a print reporter, I don't care about...
RENUART: Doesn't help you much, huh?
QUESTION: ...I can -- I will hear a great story anytime. But a serious question, there have been reports that there have been found on the battlefield remains of what appear to be U.S. soldiers. And perhaps these were some of the POWs from the 507th. Can you tell us if that was the case?
RENUART: That report actually was in print today. I can tell you that we do have situation developing now up in the vicinity of An- Nasiriyah. I can't tell you whether they were the former POWs or POWs. I can't tell you whether they were soldiers who were in that engagement and were killed in the engagement, and subsequently buried. I can't tell you for sure that they are 507 soldiers.
We have a mortuary affairs team that is on its way to the site, may be already. And it will conduct the normal appropriate levels of investigation. We will also approach it from a -- from the aspect to ensure that there were no war crimes committed in their death that may have caused their death. So we'll have a full forensic evaluation as well.
QUESTION: Two questions, if you don't mind. You mentioned before that some Saudi routes for Tomahawk missiles were on hold now. And I was wondering without getting into specifics about future operations how that affects things generically?
RENUART: It doesn't affect our plan without getting into specifics.
QUESTION: Not using the same -- the routes that you planned to use, that that doesn't affect the plan? RENUART: We use other routes or we use other systems. We have a great deal of flexibility on the battlefield. And that it's not an operational impact to us. OK?
Yes, sir, on the end here.
QUESTION: As an airman, I'm wondering if you could give us some perspective about the air force, its capacity to realistically get up, this is the Iraqi air force, get up in the air and delivery WMD, and the daily question, any WMD found yet?
RENUART: Wait, this lady back here normally answers that -- asked that question. With respect to the Iraqi air force, they've not flown an airplane. They've not flown an airplane. They've not had the capability to fly an airplane. They've not shown any inclination to fly an airplane. And I can tell you as an airman that I am absolutely 100 percent comfortable that the air component commander has a number of airmen up there who would be ecstatic if one of the Iraqis tried to fly.
Now I'll also tell you that we have -- we keep a very close eye on the Iraqi airfields. We've kept them closed. We continue to -- we intend to continue to keep them closed. We're concerned about any possible use of an airplane to conduct terror or military operations. And we watched that very, very carefully.
And your other question was where's the WMD? We continue to and analyze a number of sites throughout the country. We have a number of pieces of both information and raw data that we've received from individuals that we're refining, but I can't really give you any more information than that right now.
Yes, ma'am, way in the back?
QUESTION: I have two questions, one regarding the 82nd Airborne Division. RENUART: Yes.
QUESTION: And the 173rd Airborne Division? First about the 82nd, how much is it involved in the operations in the west and the north of Iraq? And second, about the 173rd or the remaining part of it, what are the operations, other than the insertion at the Harir Airfield?
RENUART: I'm going to disappoint you, because I'm really not going to tell you how we're using any of the units on the battlefield. I will just tell you that both the 82nd Airborne and the 173rd are active on the battlefield and they will be integrated into the land components plans at the appropriate point on the battlefield. And that's really as much as I can give you.
Sir, with the pad over here?
QUESTION: Back to the Thoriyah (ph) phones for a second.
QUESTION: Thoriyah was singled out as the one provider that there's concern about because it broadcasts latitudes and longitude locations. Is that true? And second, if that is the concern, what does it say after eight or nine days of bombing Iraqi communications nodes and command and control centers, that you're worried they still have the real time capability of recognizing from other sophisticated analysis where a unit is and taking action based on that information?
RENUART: Thank you for your question. But I'm really not going to talk about what we can or cannot get out of any phone system. And the specific issue of what were concerned about in terms of operational security is not appropriate for this...
QUESTION: It's widely known that the phone broadcasts at the GBS location, everybody knows...
RENUART: Then you've answered your own question.
QUESTION: The question is what does it say about the capability of the Iraqis to be able to continue to analyze that information after you've spent nine days of hacking the communication centers.
RENUART: Well, I didn't say that Iraqis have any capability to use it for location.
QUESTION: Why cut off just the Thoriyah (ph) phone and not the other satellite phones?
RENUART: Operational security is a broad area that we continue to monitor. And we'll take the actions that we need against any particular system.
Sir, with the vest back here? No, you first, then you, and then I have this lady over here who I promised. I forgot, sorry. Go ahead. QUESTION: Did the Red Cross already visit prisoners? And do you know that if you make interrogation with prisoners, it's not allowed?
(UNKNOWN): Eight prisoners?
RENUART: I understand, I understand.
QUESTION: To ask questions to prisoners that allude just to tell their name and that's all?
RENUART: Absolutely. And we will try to validate whatever information that they provide us against intelligence information that we have. Have the Red Cross visited the prisoners? I can't confirm they have gone back to visit. I know they have visited the location that is under construction. We are -- those prisoners are in many places on the battlefield. They will be brought back to the central location. And I'm sure they'll be made available as soon as that occurs. I can't tell you if that has occurred yet.
RENUART: I don't know the exact number, but we're well above 3,500. And I really don't know the specifics beyond that.
Sir, in the back?
QUESTION: Did you find any activities of Iraqi navy, because this morning, they may launch the anti ship missile to against Iraq, against Kuwait. Thanks.
RENUART: We're not seeing any activities of the Iraqi Navy per se, but as you may be aware, those missiles could be put on other types of vehicles. And so, we continue to be mindful of small dowels that might be out, or tugboats or any kind of vessel that might have a capability to launch those. And our naval component is actively monitoring anybody that might have that kind of...
RENUART: I think the reports show that were seen on the media today say that it was a Chinese made missile. And I won't go beyond that.
QUESTION: General, you mentioned many, many times at today's briefing, there's no pause on the operation. However, yesterday, the Pentagon Wallace told "Washington Post" that overextending supply lines, combined with unconventional Iraqi tactics make a longer war look like likely. And the other day, President Bush just say that, you know, there's no time table for this war. My question is would you surprised if this war -- the duration of this war turned into another Vietnam War?
RENUART: I really don't think there is any parallel between this operation and Vietnam. So that's as far as I'm willing to comment on that one. Besides, getting tired over here. Yes, sir in the blue shirt?
QUESTION: My question is the Chinese missile that was thrown into Kuwait wasn't detected by radars. My question is any kind of bombs, all bombs, won't be detected by the new technology?
RENUART: I don't think any technology's perfect. I don't know the specifics of what may or may not have been seen on our radars. We are working with the air defense units to determine what exactly they did or didn't see. And we'll know more after we've taken a look.
QUESTION: Given the warning that we had from the Defense Secretary yesterday to Syria, what efforts are you making to prevent any weapons coming into Iraq?
RENUART: Well, I think Secretary Rumsfeld was pretty clear in his comments. We have had indications on a couple of instances where either people or some equipment may have been coming across from Syria into Iraq. We will take action to not allow any kind of reinforcement or equipment to come from really any outside country to the battlefield.
QUESTION: You said in your opening statement that we've been in contact with some tribal leaders, I believe, in an effort to -- I'm not sure what the effort is. Can you talk -- elaborate on that a little bit? What kind of contact that is, and what was the nature of it?
And can you also give us a little sense of I think there's a little bit of a feeling that we have not begun to win the war for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. How much of that is the fact that we don't -- the faces that are telling them they're liberators are American faces, British faces and not Iraqis? There seem to be no Iraqis sort of putting that message out, at least none that we can see?
RENUART: Well, I think, again, as I mentioned, there's been 30 plus years of oppression in Iraq. And that has an effect on generations of people. So there will certainly be very conservative response to anyone in a uniform. Our goal is to convince with our actions. And it is humane treatment, it's medical care, it's food, it's water, it's treating people -- the people of Iraq as honorable human beings, and not as an oppressed race, as Saddam has treated the Shi'a.
Last question? Yes, ma'am?
QUESTION: There are reports that Iraqi dissidents are talking about camps that are being sponsored to teach the kinds of practices that may have been seen with the taxi event this morning that killed a number of soldiers. Do you have any specifics that those camps exist? And have any been targeted yet?
RENUART: I don't have any confirmation that those camps exist. As we have talked about, a number of terror like activities, those tactics have been used by other terrorist organizations. And so, it would not surprise me that that is being used here, but I have no information to tell me that there are camps somewhere that someone specifically is being trained in.
OK, thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.
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