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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Briefing

Aired March 31, 2003 - 14:01   ET

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

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
VICTORIA CLARKE, PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: ... hit a large terrorist facility in northern Iraq.

The bombing continues to weaken the command-and-control leadership. Since the coalition bombed Saddam's headquarters at the very beginning of the war, the world has neither seen his hide nor hair, only tapes. We've not seen his sons. We have seen evidence that family members are fleeing the country, or trying to flee the country.

We continue to put about 2,000 troops a day into the country. One thing that is very clear is the end of the Iraqi regime.

It's also important to note what hasn't happened in the first 10 or 12 days, some of the things that were predicted or feared but haven't happened so far.

Unlike the Gulf War, no Iraqi Scud missiles have been fired into Israel. Unlike the Gulf War, the oil fields have not been turned into a huge bonfire, wreaking enormous economic and environmental damage. There has been thus far no humanitarian crisis or mass exodus of refugees. There has, as yet, been no Iraqi use of weapons of mass destruction.

Of course, bad things may still occur. Some of the toughest fighting, as we have indicated, may well lie ahead. But the fact that none of the predicted disasters has happened yet is good news in itself and testimony to the progress we're making.

The increasingly desperate and bloodthirsty Iraqi regime is willing to terrorize and destroy just about everybody, military and civilian alike, who gets in its way. On Saturday, a driver with a suicide bomb killed four American soldiers in southern Iraq. The Iraqi regime, what's left of it, publicly celebrated the deed and predicted more suicide bombings.

The Iraqi regime parades our prisoners of war on television, contrary to the Geneva Conventions. And meanwhile, we are treating Iraqi prisoners of war humanely, with dignity and decency, adequate food and medical care, and full access to the Red Cross, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. Our humanity contrasts sharply with their inhumanity.

We also continue to provide meaningful humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people including the recent flow of water from Kuwait to Umm Qasr.

Finally it's worth noting that the free Iraqi forces are having a positive role in their homeland already. These Iraqi volunteers help U.S. forces in civil military operations in carrying out such essential functions as translating and security. Already they may have saved lives.

General Franks told an amazing story yesterday. There were two men who were brothers who were trained in Baghdad as suicide bombers, and they were sent to Umm Qasr. Evidently they had thought twice about the mission, were trying to figure out what to do, but were afraid to surrender. When they heard a free Iraqi forces soldier speaking in Arabic and explain who he was, they made a decision to step forward and surrender.

There's no telling how many lives saved because of the free Iraqi soldier providing a vital communications link. When the Iraqi regime is gone, and it will be, the free Iraqi forces will have played an important role an important role in this war.

General?

MAJ. GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, JOINT CHIEFS OPS VICE DIR.: Thank you, Ms. Clarke.

Operation Iraqi Freedom continues. More than 300,000 forces are deployed in support of combat operations with more than a third of those inside Iraq.

Our ground operations are continuing to engage enemy positions throughout Iraq. General Brooks gave an overall accounting earlier today. We've seized additional key bridges over the Euphrates River, and conducted offensive operations to isolate Al Samarra (ph) and An Nasiriyah in order to destroy a irregular forces in those areas.

The air campaign continues, as well. We flew about 1,000 sorties over Iraq yesterday, mostly against the Medina, Hammurabi, Baghdad and Alneeda (ph) Divisions. We also hit the command, control and communications targets and air-defense sites in Baghdad and in northern Iraq.

Our forces have fired more than 700 Tomahawk land attack missiles and dropped more than 8,000 precision-guided munitions since Operation Iraqi Freedom began.

I have two pre- and post-strike images for you today. The first one is a special security compound in Baghdad. As you can see, the building was destroyed with no damage to the surrounding area.

The second image is of a missile facility in Mosul. We believe it serviced all types of missiles, from short-range ballistic missiles to air-to-air missiles.

I have three videos for you today. The first video is of an A-10 dropping a precision-guided weapon to strike a bunker located near the H-2 airfield in western Iraq. The second video is also of an A-10 attack on two vehicles on a road north of Al-Asa (ph). The aircraft used its 30-millimeter Gatling gun in this attack.

The third video is of an F/A-18 using rockets to strike an artillery emplacement south of Al Amarah.

With that, we'll take your questions.

QUESTION: You said you'd seen evidence of family members fleeing the country and trying to flee the country -- Saddam's family members.

There were reports before the war that people were jumping into taxi cabs and stuffing their suitcases and trying to run. What kind of evidence do you see now that family members are fleeing the country?

CLARKE: We have seen some reports recently, and I'll just leave it at that, that some family members, including family members of very senior officials, are trying to get out of the country.

QUESTION: By reports do you mean U.S. intelligence reports, or anecdotal reports from the region, perhaps media reports? You're talking about...

CLARKE: From are several different reports, and I'll just leave it at that. But I'm not talking about media.

QUESTION: I have a question about some of these numbers you just threw out. To make sure there's no numbers inflation here, you said that there are over 300,000 troops in the region today, sir. General Myers on Friday said there was like something like 270,000. Is it possible you could have gotten 30,000 in four days?

MCCHRYSTAL: No, our number is 200,000 about -- a little over 250,000 U.S. forces, and the remainder are coalition. It's about 300,000 -- slightly over 300,000 combination coalition forces.

QUESTION: But that's grown by 30,000 since Myers's press conference on Friday.

MCCHRYSTAL: I'd go back and -- I will go back and check that, but I don't believe so.

QUESTION: PGMs, you said 8,000 were dropped as of now. General Myers on Friday said 5,000 had been dropped. So in the last three days, three and a half days, roughly 3,000 more PGMs have been dropped? Is that a fair, accurate way to look at that?

MCCHRYSTAL: That, in fact, is correct. We've been running a tremendous number of sorties, as you know, against -- primarily against the Republican Guard divisions, close air support and interdiction of those forces using an awful lot of munitions. QUESTION: I mean, what percentage have been dropped on Baghdad? Of the 6,000 -- of the 8,000 to date, can you give a rough order of that so it doesn't appear that most of these are dropping on Baghdad? MCCHRYSTAL: I couldn't do it with accuracy; I'd like to get back with you with that.

QUESTION: Would you? Because that's a point people would like to know.

QUESTION: There are reports from the front that they found some kind of a torture chamber near this hospital that was used by Iraqi forces. Do you have any information that the Iraqis have used torture on coalition prisoners?

CLARKE: I don't have any information on what you just said, but there are reams and reams and reams of information about what the Iraqi regime has done for decades. I mean, it is policy, it is practice, there's bureaucracy behind it, civilians and military alike, what they do. But nothing on the report you have.

QUESTION: General, could you answer that? Do you have any information about this?

MCCHRYSTAL: Nothing to add to what Ms. Clarke said.

QUESTION: Torie, on the use of the heavy bombers, and I guess it's for the general primarily, the B-1s, B-2s and B-52s, can you tell us what kind of ordnance they're dropping? Are the B-52s dropping dumb bombs in what we used to call carpet bombing on the Republican Guard troops?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, they are not. They are dropping a combination of munitions, a large number of precision munitions. So there's really not carpet bombing occurring.

QUESTION: Can you say how much these Republican Guard divisions have been degraded? And are you still seeing a problem with them moving their armor and so forth into civilian areas?

MCCHRYSTAL: Really two questions there.

We are seeing significant degradation of those forces. I won't put an exact number on it, but I'll say very significant weakening of the forces.

We are seeing some movement in Republican Guard formations as well. What we believe we're seeing...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... is that correct?

MCCHRYSTAL: We are seeing movement around the battlefield. What we think we're seeing them do is move to reinforce other forces that have already been significantly degraded or attrited at this point. So we think they're trying to strengthen where they were.

QUESTION: And they're putting their armor in civilian areas. Does that continue to be a problem with taking that armor out? MCCHRYSTAL: Well, we continue to see them put it next to houses, all kinds of structures. So it's still targetable, but it's more difficult.

QUESTION: Can you describe the combat you had this morning, or earlier today, between the Republican Guards and the probing units of the U.S.? How long did that encounter last? How violent was it? What was the result?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, we have some movement of our forces, and I think it's inappropriate if I discuss actions which are still ongoing in any kind of specificity.

QUESTION: Is there an effort to try to stop the units that are up on that front line from retreating back into Baghdad?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, there are maneuvers going to try to destroy those divisions that stand in our way.

QUESTION: Two questions: one about the night vision equipment that the secretary said that he heard was coming over the border from Syria. Has any of it actually been found in-country on any of the Iraqis?

CLARKE: I don't have anything new on that report.

QUESTION: OK. And the other question: It seemed like the secretary yesterday was trying to say that we were close to taking Basra -- the coalition forces were close to taking Basra, but we continue to see reports of the British, who are primarily apparently the forces there, engaging Iraqis, and the fighting just seems to keep going on and on. Is there any reason it's taking so long to take down Basra?

CLARKE: I'll start.

I know one thing he was trying to do, which we don't do often enough, is talk about the fabulous job the Brits are doing there.

CLARKE: They're doing a phenomenal job of trying to go after the death squads and lessen their influence there -- my understanding is, there is less of an influence there in Basra -- trying to make sure things like water and humanitarian assistance can beg in. And I think they are making good progress.

It's too soon to characterize which way it's going. We know where it will go eventually, but it could take some time.

QUESTION: Are the Iraqis that strong in Basra?

CLARKE: I think it's too soon to make characterizations about it. We know that is a place where some of the worst of the worst of the Iraqi regime were slaughtering people, putting civilians in front of the fighting, those sorts of things. And the Brits are doing fabulous work, and they made good progress.

QUESTION: General, you talked about the degradation of the Iraqi Republican Guard units. Can you characterize how they're supplying their troops?

And we've seen video gun camera of taking out fuel trucks and supply trucks. Can you make a broad statement about how the Iraqi Republican Guard divisions are supplying their forward?

MCCHRYSTAL: I would say with great difficulty at this point.

Another thing about the attrition or degradation of a unit like that is, once you start to take a certain percentage of a force like that down, particularly a mechanized or armor force, the systems start to break down, the resupply systems, the maintenance systems, all of the thing -- command and control that go together. So it doesn't always require you to go down to zero percentage to take a unit to the point where it's not very combat effective if you can break those systems.

CLARKE: I know one of the positive signs we've seen in Basra is in a neighborhood, for instance, they were able to reopen the marketplace, reopen the school. So again, I know what the secretary was trying to do yesterday was demonstrate what a great job the Brits are doing there.

QUESTION: General McChrystal, could you talk a little bit about the planned follow-on force that's now moving to the region, the 1st AD (ph), the 1st Cav, the 2nd and 3rd ACR; why you are sending that force; the general role and mission they would fulfill; and would they have been sent anyhow, no matter how the battle was progressing at this point?

MCCHRYSTAL: That's a great question, and we talked a little bit about it Saturday.

As you know, the plan was set up or it was developed initially to start with a force with a flow that then could be shut off if not required. We had the follow-on forces that are now -- some in movement, some in preparation for movement -- all under orders for movement that can be shut off if not required. And the way it was designed was, if opportunity struck and conflict was not required or if very early success was achieved, in fact, the number of forces flowed could be adjusted.

The others that come in, all come in with their full combat capability and can support the actions required.

QUESTION: So what will they be doing now, broadly speaking, this 100,000 or so, the mission that they will be fulfilling once they get there, broadly speaking?

MCCHRYSTAL: It will be exactly based upon what's required on the ground. If, in fact, they're required to maneuver and be part of that combat fight, that's what they'll do, and they are prepared for that.

QUESTION: General, for the record, have any of coalition forces to date located any chemical weapons or biological weapons in Iraq? If not, more broadly, do you think you have an idea of where they are? And how concerned are you that some of our air attacks -- coalition air attacks, might hit a storage place or chemical weapons and release a toxic plume?

MCCHRYSTAL: We have not located any chemical or biological weapons to date. We still believe very strongly that the regime has the capability and potentially the intent to employ those weapons. We are targeting in a number of ways, through information operations, through attacking launchers or capabilities, the different ways they could deliver those munitions to try again to prevent their use.

We are very carefully targeting suspected or potential storage sites for just the reasons you outlined so that we don't get an unintended effect by targeting something kinetically. So we have some other methods we can do that.

But I'd remind you that when chemical and biological weapons are used, in fact, once they're disseminated they can be put in fairly small, difficult-to-predict areas. They can be delivered by everything from a garbage truck to a car bomb, as well as, of course, conventional artillery. So we have got to maintain our own posture and preparation for that.

QUESTION: General, you showed that video of a bomb hitting a bunker near H-2, and that's one of the few times that I've seen much information at all come out about what's happening in western Iraq. Could you describe what's going on out there, what sort of Iraqi forces are in the area and what the U.S. troops are doing out there? MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, we have a combination of special operation forces operating in western Iraq supported by air, supported by information operations.

MCCHRYSTAL: They represent the countries of the coalition.

They are doing what probably could be termed an area-denial mission. They are able to move almost at will wherever they want. They have been cutting some lines of communication, they've been raiding some facilities, they've been going to some suspected weapon of mass destruction locations. We've had a series of direct action raids, as well as interdiction.

So we think what we've done is in addition to doing some counter- Scud work out there and denial, we think that we have denied the regime the ability to operate effectively at all in western Iraq.

QUESTION: What kind of forces are out there for the Iraqi side? And what kind of a bunker was this?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, that particular bunker is at H-2 airfield. I don't remember exactly what's in it. The Iraqis have a combination of forces, some caretaker units, and they'd move some commando forces out to the west, as we saw on Saturday when the Rangers hit a commando headquarters.

QUESTION: Can you update us on the status of the ships in the Red Sea, the eastern Med? Are you, in fact, going to bring them around into the Persian Gulf?

And in particular, are the carriers going to stay in the eastern Med?

CLARKE: Future operation.

MCCHRYSTAL: I know of no plan that we should discuss here on moving ships around.

QUESTION: How about the smaller ships? Just the Tomahawk ships? Are they being brought around, as has been reported?

CLARKE: We wouldn't -- it's up to General Franks to decide where and how and when he moves people, he moves assets.

One thing we can say, and it's being demonstrated every day, is we have enormous flexibility. Because we're getting so much support from so many countries, we have enormous flexibility to use these assets to their greatest effectiveness.

QUESTION: You fired 800 TLAMs to date. Is there going to be a pause while you get some of those ships resupplied before a push into Baghdad?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, we fired, I think, 700 Tomahawks to date, and we resupply on a constant basis, as required.

QUESTION: For the general: You had said you'd seen a very significant weakening of the Iraqi Republican Guard, and then you also said that once you take the system, that whole system starts to go down, that, sort of, echoes what a senior defense official was saying earlier today in Doha, Qatar. He was saying that he senses a tipping point, they sense a tipping point in Basra and Nasiriyah, and once that comes it all starts to spread.

Do you actually -- is this a beginning of a tipping point?

MCCHRYSTAL: Ma'am, I couldn't say that I see a tipping point, but we clearly look for that. That is true in units, that is true in places like Basra and an-Nasiriyah, and that's what we're working toward.

QUESTION: But is the -- you were saying -- elaborate a little bit on the very significant weakening of the Iraqi Republican Guard. Is this reaching a tipping point there?

MCCHRYSTAL: Yes, ma'am, we see some very significant weakening and it will hit a tipping point in some of their formations.

CLARKE: I would just go back to a vision Secretary Rumsfeld used yesterday on the shows, is put yourself in Saddam Hussein's shoes. You're losing control over more and more of your country, you have forces coming at you from every direction; it is not a good picture for him.

But we always say in the same sentence, some of the toughest fighting could lie ahead.

The outcome is inevitable. We know how it will end, the Iraqi regime will end. But we know that there could be some tough fighting ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry, one of the underpinnings of the strategy that the U.S. is using is what you keep referring to this inevitable -- creating the feeling that there's an inevitable outcome, that's a

CLARKE: The inevitable outcome is more than a feeling. It is reality.

QUESTION: Well, except wouldn't you concede that at this point in the campaign, whether it's premature or not, you have yet to actually achieve that feeling of inevitability among the Iraqi people and the Iraqi leadership?

CLARKE: Again, I'd push back on how you're saying it. It's not a feeling that we will achieve, it is the inevitable outcome that the Iraqi regime will be ended, the Iraqi people will be free of decades and decades and decades of torture and oppression the likes of which I think the world has not ever seen before, and we'll find the WMD and we'll get rid of it. That is absolutely inevitable.

What goes on in the mind of every one of the Iraqis, I don't know. I know if I were an Iraqi citizen I'd be saying, "Huh, look at what's been on here for the last 10 days, or 12 days, and we haven't seen any of our leaders." That's pretty extraordinary, when you think about it.

QUESTION: Torie, you mentioned the attack on what you called the terrorist facility in northern Iraq. Were you referring to the Ansar al-Islam...

CLARKE: Right.

QUESTION: ... the holdout?

CLARKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Can you tell us about, either one of you, what exploitation you've managed to achieve so far from that...

CLARKE: The general probably has more. What I know is very extensive facility and a lot of hard work to get through it.

MCCHRYSTAL: Exactly that. It is, as General Franks said, I think, massive. We have a significant size force there. We actually believe we destroyed a significant portion of the Ansar al-Islam force there. And they're doing the exploitation as we speak.

QUESTION: Any results whatsoever?

MCCHRYSTAL: There are no results yet.

CLARKE: None to report yet.

QUESTION: Some members of the 101st today received a briefing in which they were told to be on heightened alert for a possibility of a chemical agent attack. Actually it was said that a chemical agent attack might be imminent and were told to watch out for particular types of vehicles or aircraft.

Do you have any idea why -- what prompted that heightened alert?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, that specific report, I'm not sure what caused it, but clearly we knew and planned as we got closer to threatening the core of the regime the likelihood to use chemical and biological weapons would go up dramatically, and we're responding to that with posturing.

QUESTION: But is it in response to particular, specific intelligence?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, I am not aware of any particular intelligence in that case.

QUESTION: Torie, you mentioned that forces were moving from the north on Baghdad. We haven't seen the 173rd moving. Could you elaborate on what you meant by that? And are the Kurds -- are the Kurdish forces being allowed to move south, especially on the city of Kirkuk?

CLARKE: I wouldn't elaborate on what I said, but it is very clear there is pressure bearing down on the regime from all directions.

QUESTION: Can either of you give us any kind of estimate on Iraqi civilian or military casualties? And if not, why not?

CLARKE: On civilian casualties, when we have ground truth, we bring it forward. That is our habit, that is our policy, and we will continue to do that.

Numbers on Iraqi -- I just don't think we have them. I think it's very hard to tell.

MCCHRYSTAL: That's exactly right. Even as we do what we call battle damage assessment, trying to get numbers of casualties is really inexact.

CLARKE: Thank you.

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