CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Aired April 2, 2003 - 13:01 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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VICTORIA CLARKE, PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: ...forces continue their attacks on enemy forces near Karbala, Al Kut and on An-Najaf (ph).
Our forces, air and ground, are performing superbly and continuing to degrade the Republican Guard significantly. While we're moving forward, we want to underscore again that some of the toughest fighting may well lie ahead.
Yesterday, as you know, coalition special forces rescued Army Private Jessica Lynch from captivity by the Iraqi regime. Pfc. Lynch was taken from a hospital where she was being guarded near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq. She's in good spirits and being treated for injuries. I think we have a video clip.
We salute the Air Force, Army, Marine and Navy participants for a very successful joint operation, and all of America is thankful for what they did.
As we free our soldier, we are also making life better for the Iraqi people. Yesterday, some of you may have seen an Iraqi regime spokesman went on television and was calling for the Muslims of the world to launch a jihad against coalition forces. Saddam Hussein in the past -- who knows where he is now -- has made similar pleas to Muslims on other occasions.
But we must not forget that this regime has a history of killing hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Iraq. They killed thousands of Shi'a Muslims who rose up after the Gulf War, and that terrible memory still lives with the Shi'a population today.
The coalition forces are the ones helping and feeding Muslims in Iraq.
A single picture can disprove a thousand words of Iraqi propaganda. We have several pictures of coalition forces helping the predominately Muslim population in southern Iraq. And within just a few days, we expect two American ships to deliver more than 50,000 tons of wheat, enough to feed 4 to 5 million Iraqis for a month.
Furthermore, we are showing so much more respect for the prominent mosque in Najaf, the Ali Mosque, which is one of the most important religious sites for Shi'a Muslims, than the Iraqi forces are. Iraqi troops are holed up in the mosque and firing at coalition forces. Against all international laws of war, the regime's forces are using and abusing the mosque as a military fortress. We have not fired back, and we continue to work hard to avoid civilian casualties and protect Iraq's holy sites.
And it's not just mosques that are being mistreated by the Iraqi regime. Coalition forces in An Najaf (ph) also found a school in which the Iraqi forces had stashed weapons and many rounds of ammunition.
As they see the end of the Iraqi regime near, more and more people are coming forward with vital information about the enemy. They approach coalition forces and tell them where to look for the enemy and where to look for the enemy's weapons.
The true nature of the Iraqi regime was recently discovered by a man who went to Iraq to be a human shield.
This is a quote from Daniel Pepper (ph) in the London Sunday Telegraph paper on March 23. Mr. Pepper (ph) said quote, "I was shocked when I first met a pro-war Iraqi in Baghdad, a taxi driver taking me back to my hotel late at night. I explained that I was an American and said, as we shields always did, 'Bush bad, war bad, Iraq good.' He looked at me with an expression of incredulity.
"As he realized I was serious, he slowed down and started to speak in broken English about the evils of Saddam's regime. Until then, I had only heard the president, Saddam, spoken of with respect. But now this guy was telling me how all of Iraq's oil money went into Saddam's pocket, and that if you opposed him politically, he would kill your whole family," end quote.
The Iraqi people do know this regime the best. They know what it has done, and they are helping bring about its end.
MAJOR GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, VICE DIRECTOR FOR OPERATIONS, J-3, JOINT STAFF: Thank you, Ms. Clarke.
I, too, would like to add my congratulations to the brave service members who rescued Private Lynch last night. It was a well executed mission that returned one of our own. Well done to all involved.
Operation Iraqi Freedom moves into its 13th day since major ground forces moved into Iraq. We're now engaging the Republican Guard divisions defending the outskirts of Baghdad and irregular forces throughout the south supporting the Iraqi regime. We've moved to within 30 miles of Baghdad, but there remains tough fighting ahead.
Yesterday coalition aircraft flew more than 1,000 sorties over Iraq. The focus of air operations was on regime leadership targets, Republican Guard divisions and countering missile threats. Coalition forces have fired more than 700 cruise missiles and have now expended over 10,000 precision-guided munitions since Operation Iraqi Freedom began.
I have one video for you today. It's of an F-117 dropping a precision-guided weapon on a surface-to-air missile facility on the southwestern outskirts of Baghdad.
As General Brooks covered most of yesterday's events earlier, I have nothing additional to add, so we'll be happy to take your questions. QUESTION: Torie, and I'd like to ask the general this, too, the United States, the Pentagon has generally described degradation and destruction of Republican Guard forces around Baghdad. Have you seen any sign of retreat or surrender, or are these people apparently fighting to the death, as far as you know?
MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, it's a good question. We have definitions of destruction within a unit, but rather than focus on percentages right now, what it normally -- to sum it up what it means is when a unit can no longer act as a coherent element on the battlefield; i.e., a Republican Guard division cannot maneuver as a division, cannot defend effectively, is not effectively able to counterattack. And that's what we're seeing with a couple of these divisions.
Clearly there are pockets of resistance still capable within that organization, and the contact we've seen earlier today has been described as sporadic, but not able to stop coalition maneuver.
QUESTION: How about retreat or surrender?
MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, we are seeing some surrender, but not in tremendous numbers. We are essentially able to move through. It's unclear what is happening to some of those elements.
QUESTION: I want to (OFF-MIKE) Charlie's (ph) question a second.
QUESTION: We were told today that the Baghdad Republican Guard division was destroyed. What are the prospects for cutting off any retreat back to Baghdad of the Medina and the Hammurabi divisions?
MCCHRYSTAL: I don't want to speculate beyond what I can give you with assurance, but clearly, as we are destroying many of those organizations in place, their equipment in place, as people melt away, it's very difficult to stop very small groups of people. But organized formations would have a very difficult time pulling out.
QUESTION: Can you quantify the destruction that was meted out to the Baghdad division? Were they totally eviscerated? How many tanks were destroyed? Do you have any sense...
CLARKE: I don't think we've ever used that word again.
MCCHRYSTAL: I wouldn't dare use that word. I was warned not to. I would say incapable of effective maneuver or defense anymore.
QUESTION: And if we're on that track, can we go into the other divisions, the Medina Division? What's the perception, the characterization of that right now? MCCHRYSTAL: If they are not at that point, they are very close to that point. But it's somewhat unclear on the battlefield because there has been reinforcement of the Medina and Baghdad sectors by some additional Republican Guard organizations. So they start to be mixed up, you start to have a certain number of forces within a geographical area. But I would say that the Medina and Baghdad divisions are no longer credible forces.
QUESTION: And, General, to follow up, on command and control, are you seeing any more signs of command and control from Baghdad? Obviously somebody is pulling the strings here to move these divisions, right?
MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, there's clearly command and control evident. There are maneuvers being conducted. There is some level of integrated air defense in the Baghdad area. But having said that, there is command and control, but effective command and control, effective maneuvers is not as evident.
CLARKE: And I'd just follow up. We just shouldn't talk about the degradation of the Republican Guards or the progress that has been made, which is significant, without repeating again and again, we really believe some of the toughest fighting could lie ahead.
QUESTION: General, as a war fighter yourself, how would you describe what these Republican Guards are doing? What's the strategy here?
MCCHRYSTAL: It's tough to speculate what their intent is. Clearly, they are arrayed for a defense on the southern side of Baghdad at this point, and on the flanks, as well. Whether they intend to defend in place or delay is just not clear.
QUESTION: But they haven't been able to defend in place. They haven't been able to maneuver. They haven't been able to attack, as you say. And if there's the command and control, sporadic as it may be, what do we know about their orders? What are they doing there, sitting there, sitting ducks essentially?
CLARKE: I'd push back on your characterization, and then the General can follow on.
They're fighting. We have superior forces, superior capabilities. The end is inevitable. We know how this is going to end. But they are fighting. They're not just sitting there waiting for this to happen to them.
QUESTION: Can you comment on reports that possibly there are some regular army troops or divisions that are also arrayed south of Baghdad, some of these divisions that sort of went unengaged up until now, and that they've retreated back toward the city?
MCCHRYSTAL: We have indications that elements of the regular army have been brought in to reinforce Republican Guard organizations. Interestingly enough, we think that's a sign of weakness on their part. They would not normally match those formations. QUESTION: Can you give us any details of Jessica Lynch's treatment? She apparently had some medical treatment? Was she treated, in any sense, well in hospital, and does that give you any encouragement as to how other prisoners of war might be treated? Or alternatively, could they face some retribution for the fact that you've come in and rescued one other?
CLARKE: Nothing to add onto what you've learned before. I'm sure those details and information will come forward when people think it's the appropriate time.
She's on her way to Germany as we speak, on her way to Germany for medical treatment there, but that's all we could say about it for now.
QUESTION: Could you describe the situation on the ground a little bit more? You said that the Baghdad Division -- or they said over in Qatar that the Baghdad Division has been destroyed, but it's been reinforced.
Does that mean that that area, there still continues to be credible fighting, or have U.S. forces been able to move through there? And could you also talk about the Medina ground situation?
CLARKE: I think he said that we have information that some of the Republican Guard divisions had been reinforced with regular army. I don't know if he specified a particular one.
QUESTION: And could you describe that? I think when people hear that that division has been destroyed, people think, "OK, that's all clear now, they can go through." What's the situation?
MCCHRYSTAL: I don't think we described it as clear. There's still sporadic fighting, but the elements, the coalition elements are still able to maneuver.
QUESTION: And could you just explain what that means in English?
MCCHRYSTAL: When you can maneuver, when you have freedom of maneuver you still have the ability to advance or move to the flanks, so you still have the initiative, and the coalition still possesses that.
QUESTION: But there is fighting there?
MCCHRYSTAL: There is sporadic fighting there, indeed.
QUESTION: General, can you give us a sort of a bigger picture of what we're seeing happening on the ground now with the movement of the Marines and the 3rd Infantry Division? Is this the beginning of the so-called Battle of Baghdad?
MCCHRYSTAL: I think it's hard to say exactly. It's clearly threatening Baghdad and threatening the core of the regime.
QUESTION: Should we expect to see any pauses such as we saw before that created so much confusion about what was actually happening, or is this military action (OFF-MIKE) continue on until its logical conclusion?
CLARKE: I think there may have been confusion among some, and General Franks will decide what the right steps are and when to take them. But as the general said, we have the initiative.
QUESTION: Yes, I'd like to follow up on the earlier question about this hospital? Can you describe what kind of activities were at this hospital?
QUESTION: And secondly, what can you tell us about additional casualties found at that site? Were there American casualties there?
CLARKE: I really can't add anything to what's been said already. I know what great interest this is for many, many people, but it's sensitive issues. And so, we'll just let it come forward at the appropriate time.
QUESTION: Yes, can you address, as we continue to engage these Republican Guard divisions, what concerns U.S. commanders have? Have we seen any evidence that any of their missiles are loaded with chemical or biological weapons? Are we concerned about the question of them retreating back into Baghdad? Can you go over some of the -- we know that U.S. forces are still taking the initiative. But I'm wondered if you can go over some of the obstacles that you have to face?
MCCHRYSTAL: Well, I think that's a great time to bring up the fact we are expecting or at least planning for a very difficult fight ahead. We are not expecting to drive into Baghdad suddenly and seize it in a coup de maine (ph) or anything like that.
So in regard to that, we are paying great attention to their ability to defend on the ground. They may just suddenly be effective on the ground. Additionally, their ability to use chemical and biological weapons, they've proven it historically. We believe they have the capability now.
Clearly, as we threaten the core of the regime which Baghdad and Tikrit represent, we believe that the likelihood of them using those weapons goes up. And so, the posture of our force is prepared for that.
But if they do use it, what I'd want to stress is, first, it's a war crime and it'll be a grave mistake for either who orders it or the people who execute it; but it also won't change the outcome on the ground. We'll still be able to maneuver, we'll still be able to execute the operations as planned.
QUESTION: And as you get closer to Baghdad, can you say what you see the other capital defenders doing, the Special Republican Guard, or the security services, how much of it a fight do you expect from them?
CLARKE: We wouldn't go into any more details than what we've said. Some of the toughest fighting can lie ahead for the obvious reasons.
QUESTION: CENTCOM earlier today put out a release saying that a couple of al-Samoud missiles have been found in central Iraq. There's also a CIA report that came out in October talking about a whole bunch of different missile production facilities around Baghdad, but also in southern Iraq. Have you hit those facilities at all?
And separately from that, have you found any other sort of traces of Scud missiles, either the launchers or anything else up until now?
MCCHRYSTAL: We have not found any Scud missiles at this point, nor have there been any Scud launches. We have hit...
QUESTION: ... Scud launches?
MCCHRYSTAL: There have been no launches. We have not found any launchers either. However, we have done targeting on every known or suspected missile location we could find to include time-sensitive targeting. Every time we get intelligence on a potential missile location, we strike it for a couple reasons.
MCCHRYSTAL: One, because it's a weapon that threatens our neighbors, but also because of the chemical and biological capability that represents.
QUESTION: General McChrystal, two questions. As the regime feels more threatened, do you have any increased sense of the potential threat to the northern oil wells? Do you feel that they are any more vulnerable now than they might have been? And is there anything the U.S. military can do to reduce that?
And also, as this period, as you get closer to Baghdad, do you see any change in the Iraqi military command structure, insofar as some reaction by the regime to their lack of success? Are they replacing commanders in Baghdad? Are they are replacing air defense commanders because they've been so unsuccessful? Anything along either of those lines?
MCCHRYSTAL: Yes, ma'am. The second half of your question, we do have a report that the air defense commander in Baghdad was, in fact, replaced, reportedly for having so many munitions fall back on the city, SAMs and AAA guns, which, of course, could account for some of the civilian casualties in the city.
QUESTION: Do you think he's alive?
MCCHRYSTAL: I wouldn't speculate, ma'am. I wouldn't want to be him either.
QUESTION: On the question of the northern oil fields.
MCCHRYSTAL: That's a self-destructive tactic that they could use. We are very interested in preserving that for the Iraqi people. CLARKE: And in the category of the good news that people should be focusing on, the bad things that haven't happened that a lot of people predicted, the oil fields in the south, obviously, being safe for the benefit of the Iraqi people, keeping a close eye up there.
The Hadisa (ph) Dam -- I know with the obvious excitement of the return of the POW it got a little bit lost, but the fact that we have the Hadisa (ph) Dam, because as we've said many times, the kinds of economic environmental damage they've wreaked on the country before, the possibility of them doing it again was pretty high.
CLARKE: So that is a very good sign of the progress we're making.
QUESTION: In light of this closing on Baghdad now, and the pounding that the city has taken, are you aware of or are you receiving any feelers or are you putting out any feelers designed to encourage an early surrender, capitulation in an effort to avoid any further loss of life on either side?
MCCHRYSTAL: I guess I could answer a couple pieces of that, and then ask Ms. Clarke.
The first is the pounding that Baghdad has taken has been extraordinarily precise in its nature. So it has been nothing like what some people visualize the destruction of a city. It has been regime-oriented targets, and very carefully done. So certain things have been pounded, but we think those things that represented regime- oriented targets.
We have been sending messages in a number of ways to the regime that we believe the regime is through. And we've been sending them both in information operations and kinetically. And we hope that they understand that.
CLARKE: A couple of things. One, who knows who's in charge? We just don't know who is in charge. We have made it very, very clear what our expectations are. As the secretary said the other day, it doesn't seem likely at this stage that someone's going to come forward.
QUESTION: You see no signs that anybody appears to understand that their predicament is...
CLARKE: Oh, I think they probably understand the predicament. We just haven't seen somebody come forward and say, "Let's stop this."
QUESTION: Is the news that the Baghdad Division no longer exists and the Medina has been degraded so, is that being broadcast to the Iraqi people, and have you seen any reaction on their part, assuming they know that?
CLARKE: We have seen some evidence and information that increasing numbers of the Iraqi people are aware of what is going on. And I won't go into too many details of how we know that. CLARKE: But just evidenced by the people who are coming forward to help the coalition forces, I think they are getting a better sense that this regime is coming closer to its end. So there does seem to be some awareness of this. Specifically about the Republican Guard, I don't know.
QUESTION: Well, is there any evidence of groups of people rising up against the regime or are there more incidents of Iraqis welcoming U.S. troops?
CLARKE: An Najaf (ph), the televisions were filled with it this morning. I know one newspaper I looked at had a front page story that talked about the welcoming of the coalition forces.
We have seen what we think is a lessening of the influence of the regime death squads in the southern part of Iraq, and as that occurs, more people seem willing and eager to come out and support and help the coalition forces.
So it seems to be happening. The bad guys are still out there. They are still putting civilians at risk, they are still putting civilians in front of fire, they are still using civilians as human shields.
So I'm sure there's still a fair amount of fear there, but we're seeing it start to move.
QUESTION: As the days pass and you do not see visual evidence of Saddam Hussein, are you picking up any evidence of his existence anymore, whether it is in communications that you can't specifically talk about or anything else referencing him that you feel is credible?
CLARKE: I haven't seen anything.
MCCHRYSTAL: Nor have I, sir.
QUESTION: ... follow up on the Republican Guard? Can you talk at all about the formations that you're seeing in the north and how much you've attrited some of those divisions that we heard were in the north near Tikrit, for example?
Can you give us a sort of a round-the-world view of the entire Republican Guard, all six divisions? CLARKE: I think the secretary yesterday was just generally describing, which is how we'd like to keep it, that Republican Guard that was based around Tikrit seems to have moved south, which is again a sign of something.
QUESTION: General, maybe we're reading a little too much into this, but some of the embedded correspondents seem to imply that elements of the 3rd Infantry have broken through elements of the Republican Guard and are surprised that there's not more resistance.
Are you surprised there isn't more, and do you believe that the Republican Guard perhaps is falling back to lure us into urban warfare, where our technological advantage would be severely diminished?
MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, I'm not sure. I've been watching it very closely, as I'm sure you have, as well.
One of the things that I think we all need to remember is in the period and prior to the period when people were talking about a pause, in fact we were working very hard on Republican Guard organizations with fires, with information operations, with a number of other things.
So the fact that the synergism of all of the different arms of our services coming together are having an effect shouldn't surprise us.
MCCHRYSTAL: Are they as weak as we think they are? The battlefield will prove that, but we hope that.
QUESTION: What about urban warfare? Do you think they're falling back to try to get us to fight in the cities?
MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, I just don't know.
CLARKE: And I just want to calibrate everybody again, because as much as we are making good progress, and we are, the toughest fighting could lie ahead. The likelihood that they might use chemical weapons is in front of us now. So I just want to calibrate everybody, we are not underestimating how tough it could be going forward.
QUESTION: Could you shed some light on what Pfc. Lynch has been going through since she was captured back and what she might expect for the days ahead?
QUESTION: Rescued. Even if, in general terms, what are the normal procedures that a returned POW would go through once they're back in your control?
CLARKE: It'll come forward at the right time. And having a little bit of experience with the POW community, there is great deference given, as there should be, to the individual and to the family, making sure all the medical treatment is appropriately given.
So it will come forward. It is a wonderful story. It was a heroic act on the part of many, many people. So we're glad it happened. But we'll just let that information come forward.
QUESTION: ... that you didn't answer, General. Bill asked about missiles. You did say that you'd found no Scud missiles or launchers. How about the Al-Samoud 2s? There's a report that the marines have found two Al-Samoud 2s...
CLARKE: CENTCOM put out a statement on it. Two Al-Samoud near Al Hillah (ph). QUESTION: They were found?
CLARKE: They were found. They were in violation.
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