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Pentagon Briefing With Clarke, McChrystal

Aired April 4, 2003 - 13:31   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, we'll move to the Pentagon here in Washington. Victoria Clarke talking to reporters. Let's listen.
VICTORIA CLARKE, PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: That progress does not come easily. We reflect every day that a number of our troops have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, and our heart breaks to hear of each one lost. We salute their remarkable dedication and their bravery, and the families are in our thoughts and prayers.

Several journalists have died as well trying to tell the very important story of this war. And I know that many people in this building and this town knew Mike Kelly, who was killed last night just south of Baghdad.

Mike was just a phenomenal journalist, with an enthusiasm for his work that was surpassed only by his passion for his family. And our condolences go out today to Madeleine (ph), his wife, and his children and his parents.

Our troops are accomplishing our goals in Iraq, and these include -- and it's always good to go back and take a look at these -- ending the regime of Saddam Hussein, destroying any facilities or groups involved in global terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, security the oil fields, providing humanitarian relief and helping the Iraqi people move toward self-government.

As we've said before, many bad things that could have happened have not thus far. The oil fields have not been destroyed. There is not a humanitarian crisis or a mass exodus of refugees. Iraq has not yet fired missiles at Israel or Jordan. And chemical weapons have not been used yet.

At the same time, some very good things have happened. Out in the field we have seriously weakened the divisions of Saddam Hussein and are securing the Baghdad Airport, a very important location. More and more Iraqi troops are realizing every day that they are in a lost cause and are leaving their positions, going home or surrendering to our troops.

We continue to deliver a tremendous amount of food to the Iraqi people, including some straight from the United States. We have a few photographs of wheat being loaded onto a ship at the port of Galveston, Texas. The ship, which is named the Free Atlas, is carrying about 28,000 tons of wheat, nearly one pound of flour for every man, woman and child in Iraq. Another 28,000 tons were loaded on the Yellow Rose earlier in the week for delivery to Iraq.

We are also delivering something else in Iraq. On Wednesday, this baby, only two hours old in this photo, was delivered by a medical team from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Unlike previous generations in Iraq, this girl will have a chance to grow up in a place of hope and freedom.

The regime we are ousting clearly would do just about anything to hold onto power and abuse its people.

In many locations the enemy continues to use schools, hospitals and mosques as places of war. In dozens of classrooms -- literally dozens of classrooms coalition troops continue to find mortar rounds, rocket-propelled grenades, anti-personnel mines and anti-tank mines.

There have also been reports from embedded reporters of Iraqi facilities that look like they may have been used for torture. One television report showed the desk of a police chief or a jail warden containing the identification cards of several Iraqis. As many of you know, a person could be punished severely for traveling in Iraq without an identification card, so the question is obvious: Why did those men no longer need their cards?

The fear and the terror is starting to evaporate in Iraq. Many of them feel free enough to cheer the arrival of the coalition forces. A recent story in the New York Times said, quote, "People rushed to greet them" -- the soldiers -- "crying out repeatedly, 'Thank you. This is beautiful.'

"Two questions dominated the crowd: 'Will you stay?' and, 'Can you tell me what time Saddam is finished?'

"Asked what else the people wanted, residents pointed to a building from which they said rocket-propelled grenades were launched and asked the military to remove them."

As we near the end of the regime, we have to remember and underscore repeatedly that the very toughest fighting could lie ahead. It's quite possible that what's left of the Iraqi regime will continue or even escalate their horrible tactics of using civilians as hostages and shields for their own protection.

In Baghdad we continue to see the enemy putting military assets in and around schools, hospitals, mosques, homes, embassies, clearly hoping to blame any civilian deaths on the coalition forces.

The regime is fooling nobody and the end is inevitable. As the president said yesterday at Camp Lejeune, no scheme of this enemy, no crime of a dying regime will divert us from our mission; we will not stop until Iraq is free.



I'd also like to express my condolences to families and loved ones of all those we've lost in the conflict.

Operation Iraqi Freedom continues. General Brooks covered the last 24 hours of operations in detail during the CENTCOM brief earlier today, so I'll be brief.

Currently, the coalition has a substantial number of forces on the ground at Baghdad International Airport and we'll being to increase our scope of control over additional areas nearby. We are still sporadically engaging forces on the airport grounds and clearing buildings there.

Further east, Marines are continuing to push toward Baghdad from Al-Kut and we're continuing to engage any remaining elements of some Republican Guard divisions defending the outskirts of Baghdad.

Yesterday, coalition aircraft flew more than 1,000 sorties over Iraq, focusing on regime leadership targets and Republican Guard forces.

Coalition forces have fired more than 750 cruise missiles and have now expended over 14,000 precision-guided munitions since Operation Iraqi Freedom began.

I have three videos for you today. The first one is of an F-16 dropping a precision-guided weapon on Iraqi troops and their vehicle hiding in an orchard near Hadithah.

The next two videos are of F-15s dropping precision-guided munitions on MiG-21s parked in a revetment in the vicinity of Ar Ramadi.

And with that, we'd be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Tori, what does the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence make of television pictures from Baghdad -- apparently from Baghdad today -- of a figure purported to be that of Saddam Hussein in rubble that could have been caused since the bombing started?

CLARKE: I think apparently is a good word. We have no idea where the tapes have come from. Don't have anything for you on the tapes themselves. I just don't think it's that significant what may or may not be in tapes or when they may have been made.

We haven't seen him publicly, and what really matters is not whether or not he's dead or alive, but the fact of whoever is left in this regime, whatever is left of the regime leadership, got up today and realized they have less and less control of their country. They have less and less control of just about everything in that country, and that's what's significant. And what we're focused on is ending the regime.

QUESTION: If it is Saddam, are you concerned that he's alive and able to exhort people to continue fighting?

CLARKE: Not going to speculate on any hypotheticals. What we are focused on is continuing the kind of progress we've made thus far. I mean, think about what has happened in two weeks. Think about how far the forces have come. Think about the domination and the supremacy in the air. Think about our special forces everywhere. Think about what we have saved for the Iraqi people.

And again, whatever is left of this leadership, they got up today and looked around and realized they have very little control of their country.

QUESTION: You said, again, you weren't -- I'm sorry, you said you weren't going to speculate, and yet, you seem to indicate that it didn't matter whether he was alive or dead. Is this building concerned that he might still be alive, kicking and exhorting people to fight?

CLARKE: Well, we focus on results, and the results are that the coalition forces have made some pretty extraordinary progress in two weeks.

We still have some tough work ahead. As I said, as we close in on Baghdad, we have great concern about whether or not they would use WMD, for instance. We realize that some of the fighting from a desperate, dying regime could be pretty intense. But that's what we're focused on.

QUESTION: One thing that's -- whether or not these tapes are genuine or pre-taped or whether Saddam is alive or dead, one thing that's clear is that the Iraqi regime is still using television images to create the perception that the regime remains in control to some extent.

I guess I would ask both of you, how long will that be permitted to continue? And do you have any sense of whether these images that we're seeing are being seen in Iraq or are they only broadcast externally on satellites or are they broadcast internally?

CLARKE: My understanding is that the communications and what people in Iraq can see and not see or hear and not hear is up and down. Sometimes it's on, sometimes it's off. So I have no idea what they're actually seeing.

I do know, and people are demonstrating this, more and more people in this country are beginning to realize that the regime is going to be gone. The very fact that they are coming out and greeting coalition forces, the fact that they are pointing coalition forces to caches of arms and weapons and telling them where some of the death squad headquarters are, for instance, that demonstrates increasingly what they increasingly believe about the results of what's going on with the regime.

Do you want to add anything?


QUESTION: ... Iraqi television, which has already been identified as a legitimate military target, why is it still able to exert a force?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, the regime determined early on that one of its primary mechanisms for controlling the population and exerting coercion was through its media. And it has a very redundant system, starting with fixed sites, to include mobile vans that it uses to put out its signal.

Clearly, we degraded that significantly, and we believe that it is sporadic at best. But it is still important.

And we find it interesting that Saddam Hussein, if he is alive, feels the need to walk in the street to prove that.

What we don't see is effective command and control from his level. We do see some sort of regime command and control, but effective military command and control, which has normally emanated from the core of the regime, has not been apparent on the battlefield.

QUESTION: But do you plan to take out Iraqi television or take over Iraqi television at some point?

MCCHRYSTAL: We intend to limit their ability to use those mechanisms to control the population.

CLARKE: And we're also communicating with the Iraqi people in a variety of ways, such as Commando Solo. We've been communicating regularly with them.

QUESTION: It was reported today that a Marine colonel has been relieved of duty. Why was he relieved of duty? And was it related to the investigation of two Marines who drowned several days ago in the Saddam (ph) canals?

CLARKE: I don't have anything for you on it. I got asked that question by a reporter and that's all I know.

MCCHRYSTAL: It would only be appropriate to let his chain of command discuss that.

QUESTION: Major General McChrystal, could you categorize the remaining fighting strength of the Republican Guard divisions, excepting Medina and Baghdad, which have already been spoken of at this podium?

And can you also describe or characterize your level of anxiety about this threat today from the information minister that tonight, specifically, unconventional, non-military means would be used against coalition forces at the airport?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sure. We believe that the Republican Guard, which consisted of six divisions, now is missing two of those divisions essentially in their entirety, the Medina and Baghdad divisions. There may be a few remnants of those wandering around.

But the situation of the other four is very confused, because we know that they moved parts of those divisions around, and in fact they have become intermixed with some of the other elements on the battlefield.

We believe that overall each of those remaining four divisions has been significantly attrited to this point, significantly degraded.

I won't put a number on it, but those remaining four are nothing like what they started the battle.

Now, our level of concern over the surprise or unexpected activity, we went into this operation expecting the unexpected, and from car bombings to the potential use of weapons of mass destruction, we've had to stay postured for, sort of, anything that the regime is capable of using.

So at this point, we are just postured for that. We have no particular threat that we consider more than another.

QUESTION: My question was along the same lines about, so what happened to the Republican Guard? The embedded reporters along the way have been saying that they have not seen the evidence of this destruction that they expected to see, and they've been quoting the troops that they're going along with, that they're continuously surprised at how light the resistance is. I guess that, just from a layman's point of view, that raises the question of the rope-a-dope strategy of somewhere, you know, they're holding back and ready to pull a surprise. Is that a concern at this point?

MCCHRYSTAL: It's always something that we pay attention to, but I would tell you, I think what they're seeing is the doctrine and the synergy at work.

The way we are designed to fight and are fighting is to use intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to identify enemy locations, and then use our air and long shooters, ATACMS, MLRS and artillery to attrite enemy forces, so that when we finally close in ground combat, in fact, it's not an even fight.

What we believe we say in the Baghdad and Medina divisions is we had attrited both of those formations, both materially and also morally (sic), to the point where when the first MEF, the Marines came on the Baghdad Division and then when 3rd ID hit the Medina Division, they were incapable of a coherent defense.

Now, there were some point contacts that were very violent. And the soldiers and Marines fought through some sharp fights. But the fabric, the cohesion of the defense isn't there. They may be able to pull it together, but there's no evidence of that yet.

QUESTION: There have been several reports today from Iraq of chemicals or suspected chemicals being found in various places, Nasiriyah, and other places. Are you able to shed any light on what you know about that?

CLARKE: Really nothing new to report. We're in a lot of different places. The first primary objective, obviously, is to win the war and finish the war. We have a lot of people that will be going into potential or suspected sites. It's hard work. It will take a long time. I have nothing new to report.

In a lot of these places, for instance, I know they have found defensive equipment and supplies, which says something. But again, it's not hard to speculate. These are people who have used chemicals against their own people. The potential for them to do it again is real.

So we have nothing new to report on finding WMD, but just in the name of managing expectations, we've said we've got a primary mission here which is to finish the war, which we are continuing to do, and then a second primary objective, which is finding and destroying the WMD. But nothing new to report.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that some materials have been found that are being examined or tested in some...

CLARKE: Oh, they're -- in some places, they have gotten in enough that they can take documents and equipments and samples, but nothing to report back to you on it.

QUESTION: Can you help us to understand one of the points, one of the arguments made by the administration on the war criminals tag.

Obviously, the administration has seen a number of irregular practices on the part of the Iraqis. One of them in particular puzzles me. When they take off their uniforms and fight in civilian clothes, why is that a war crime, because U.S. special forces do it and did it in Afghanistan? They didn't behave in the same way. But why is the act of fighting without a uniform considered a war crime?

MCCHRYSTAL: I'm not a lawyer, so I might get part of this wrong, but having grown up in that business, part of it is the action, what you do when you're not in uniform. If a force is going to engage in combat, it's going to fight, it must wear a uniform or some kind of uniform; law of land warfare says arm bands or some distinctive marking that allows combatants to be identified from civilians.

MCCHRYSTAL: In these cases, the use of civilian clothing was expressly for the purpose of acting in a combatant way while hiding the fact that they were combatants, similar to the false surrenders: using the law of war and the sure knowledge that we would follow that against coalition forces.

QUESTION: That goes to the behavior, but U.S. forces in Afghanistan and U.S. forces now in Iraq are not in uniform and do not -- some of them are not in uniform and do not have specific designations that they are, in fact, American soldiers.

CLARKE: I'd actually like to take that question, because I don't think you're right about that. No, we'll take the question and we'll get back to you, but I don't think you're right about that.

QUESTION: That they are somehow designated as U.S. soldiers?

CLARKE: We'll take the question. But my understanding is they are designated as such. QUESTION: Tori or General, are coalition forces under any special instructions...

CLARKE: You don't need to answer his question now.

QUESTION: Are coalition forces under any special instructions if they come across Saddam Hussein or any of the other senior leaders who are considered most wanted?

And secondly, outside of the Kurdish territory, are we currently working with any armed groups in Iraq or have we armed any Iraqis to work with us?

MCCHRYSTAL: I'm not sure whether we've armed any elements outside of the Kurdish area. We are working with elements in many of the areas, Shi'a elements in southern cities, to try to help them identify and help us identify some of the irregular forces that have been operating there.

So clearly we are working with populations to try to give them the ability to remove the regime figures in the area.

QUESTION: And as far as any special instructions to our forces vis-a-vis Saddam Hussein or any of the other senior most wanted?

CLARKE: Not things we would discuss from here. QUESTION: General McChrystal, every day we see on the briefing and at the CENTCOM briefing they talk a little bit about special operations forces and specific forces activity. But given your own background, can you characterize for us how extensive these operations are in Iraq and how they compare historically to other campaigns, the ones you've been involved in?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sure. They are more extensive in this campaign than I have seen. Probably as a percentage of effort they are unprecedented for a war that also has a conventional part to it.

In fact, in the north significant special operations presence, working with the Kurdish groups, helping achieve stability, helping to bring in the 173rd Airborne when it came.

In the west, a large area-denial mission, very, very effective at this point, to include the point attack of a number of specific targets: air fields, potential weapons of mass destruction sites, some command-and-control headquarters.

And then in the south some aid to the conventional forces, some reconnaissance and whatnot, and then additionally some of the work in some of the cities to help the Shi'a element.

So it's probably the most effective and the widest use of special operations forces in recent history, clearly.

QUESTION: And can I just follow on that? Early on, Ms. Clarke, I think you said there were hundreds of special operations forces in. Obviously that number has gone up. Can you give us a ballpark figure of the amount of special operations people in the country?

CLARKE: Probably not.

MCCHRYSTAL: It's a lot.

CLARKE: Enough.

QUESTION: General, can I go back to one of the threats that hasn't materialized, the use of chemical and biological weapons? What are some of the military factors at play that have prevented the use of whatever inventory they might have? And I'm not asking you to repeat the psyops warnings from the podium, but what's been at play here?

And, you know, at some point the public's going to start wondering, "Has the Bush administration overplayed this? They might not have the inventory we thought they have."

QUESTION: Can you also lay out what they are suspected of having right now in terms of 155s, 122 millimeter rockets, delivery systems that they could actually use right now, after two weeks of pounding, relentless pounding from the air?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sure. I've got to start with the IO part, because I believe it is key, and that is identifying the people who give the order or executed as war criminals, and making sure they know that, because we think that's a big component of deterrence.

The next part of it is suppression of their capability. And what we've done with that is we've used air, long-range shooters, like ATACMS and MLRS. We've also used SOF to go at all the capabilities they have to launch, which are their rocket systems, their long-range artillery. We believe they have capability in both of those modes to launch chemical and biological weapons.

So in every case we've gone to destroy the launch capabilities, we worked to at least suppress them from being able to launch, to include having a system called time-sensitive targeting. And that's a series of aircraft in the air, and every time a sensor of any kind, be it a person on the ground or a collection asset like a Predator, identifies one, those aircraft are there for the express purpose of attacking that immediately. And that has a destruction and a deterrence capability to it.

Then the next part of the defense against this is the effective defenses we have, the Patriot, which has engaged effectively against other surface-to-surface missiles. Then our own protective measures that we have.

Chemical and biological weapons aren't going to affect the operational outcome of the battlefield, and I think the Iraqis know that. They can be a terror weapon, they can be a nuisance, they can slow certain elements, but they never had the potential to change the operational outcome to stop the movement of forces. So we believe that constantly suppressing their capabilities and yet the inexorable advance we've had to Baghdad is what does it. QUESTION: But the facts are against the wall now. What capabilities did they have left that you're concerned about? You're not going to moving into maneuver warfare now, you're going to be massed around Baghdad.

CLARKE: There are a lot of unknowables.

QUESTION: What's left, though?

MCCHRYSTAL: They may have a bit of all of that left. Logically, now that we are at Baghdad Airport, they wouldn't use chemical and biological weapons, because we are right amongst their population. But they have not fought logically from the beginning. And so we in no way discount the possibility they will.

They also could use car bombs. They could have, in fact, left chemical and biological weapons at locations that have been bypassed, so we've got to be ready for the entire spectrum of capability.

QUESTION: You mentioned the significance of the airport. I wonder if you could outline the significance of the airport, not only the symbolic significance of taking it, but also the military significance, in terms of the size of it, its location on major roads, its proximity to Baghdad. And if you could just outline the significance.

CLARKE: I'd just say one thing. It is hugely symbolic. That's not why we go in and do things.

And one thing that is significant about its location is what its near and what is around it. A lot of leadership sites, palaces. We know there are underground complexes that the forces are working their way through.

So it's a big complex. It clearly had a lot of leadership activities in and near and around it, and that's what we're focused on.

MCCHRYSTAL: And you can't discount that. That was clearly a big component.

In the short term, its valued as an airfield is not critical, because we had already shut down the ability to the Iraqis to be an airfield. It gives us great capability as time passes. It's too early for us to use it for air operations at this point.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) location on major roads, and what about other military advantages it gives you?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, it's a great location on the southwest portion of Baghdad to allow us to posture ourselves around the city or to move into the city.

QUESTION: So much has been made this is to free the Iraqi people. What kind of concern is there right now? You have U.S. forces on the gates of Baghdad, at the airport. The people inside -- there are millions of people, are without power, 100-degree weather, some without water. And now you're saying they could face intense fighting in their streets.

Can you describe what kind of concern there is right now for the people inside Baghdad, and what can be done about that?

CLARKE: I think the last two weeks have demonstrated the concern we had for the Iraqi people including the people in Baghdad. We have chosen every one of those targets in Baghdad with great care. And the way in which they were struck was done with great precision and great care to save as many lives as possible. We deliberately didn't target some things because we didn't want them to be without power, without water, those sorts of things. We did not have the power grid as a target.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about any kind of humanitarian crisis...

CLARKE: That's why you see ever-increasing numbers of coalition forces bringing in ever-increasing amounts of humanitarian assistance. That's why you see us working so hard to demine the waterways, so we can get humanitarian assistance in.

And there is such a huge contrast between our approach to the people of Iraq, and the civilians of Iraq in particular, and the Iraqi regime. Every single day you see another demonstration of the care and the compassion of the coalition forces in what they're doing to protect the Iraqi people and protect them from the regime itself. There's absolutely no comparison.

So what you will see going forward is continued efforts to save and protect the Iraqi people from that regime.

Thank you.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The Pentagon briefing has now wrapped up. Victoria Clarke, the Pentagon press spokeswoman, and Major General Stanley McChrystal making the case that the war is moving ahead, significant progress. Although at the same time, the dangers for U.S. military personnel and coalition forces remain significant.

Two of the six Republican Guard Divisions now in their words, effectively non-capable -- effectively dead if you will, four others. It's a very confused situation. But overall, some of those other four Republican Guard Divisions, at least most of them, significantly degraded in the words of General McChrystal.

We're going to have much more on what the Pentagon is thinking on Sunday. I'll have a special interview on "LATE EDITION" with the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace. That will be this Sunday at noon Easter, 9 a.m. Pacific.


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