CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
British Defense Secretary Press Conference
Aired April 7, 2003 - 06:16 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: To London right now, Geoff Hoon is now talking, British Defense Minister.
Let's listen in.
GEOFF HOON, BRITISH DEFENSE SECRETARY: ... each day sufficient for some 160,000 people. U.K. troops have delivered around 170,000 sets of rations to people in southeastern Iraq.
But the regime's resistance is not necessarily at an end. In Baghdad itself, as in other urban areas, coalition forces may well face a difficult and dangerous period of (INAUDIBLE) the remnants of Iraqi forces and particularly the various groups of irregulars, thugs and fanatics who hang on to the coattails of the regime. And a number of Iraqi formations outside Baghdad may yet need to be defeated if they do not capitulate first. What is clear is that Saddam Hussein's regime is coming to an end and a better future is in sight for the Iraqi people.
I will now take your questions.
QUESTION: Craig (ph) from Sky News. You mentioned the number of British casualties. How many Iraqi casualties and how many American casualties have there been as far as you know?
HOON: I don't have the up-to-date figures for American casualties. I'm sure that they can be made available to you.
HOON: As far as Iraqi casualties, we can only estimate the numbers. As I have indicated all along, we have gone to extraordinary lengths to minimize the number of civilian casualties and that effort continues today. But as far as their military losses are concerned, all I can say is that I anticipate, sadly, that they have been substantial.
QUESTION: Libby Wiener, ITV News. How would you describe the British successes in Basra overnight? And what is your message to the troops who are still fighting out there today?
HOON: Well I think they would choose (ph) a tremendous about (ph) given the constraints that have been placed upon them, both to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties, as well as not take unnecessary risks for their own safety. And I think that the operations that they've conducted a very long period of time have been absolutely tremendous.
What really happened over the weekend is that they continued this process of testing out the resistance by the militia forces based in Basra and simply found that that resistance was crumbling and therefore sought to take advantage of it in a military way by establishing themselves firmly in the center of Basra and that process continues.
QUESTION: You proud of the troops?
HOON: I'm enormously proud of them. They've done a fantastic job in very difficult circumstances.
QUESTION: Do we -- do we have any good intelligence at all about the whereabouts now of Saddam Hussein and his sons? And do we now have confirmation one way or the other about the reports of the death of "Chemical Ali," please?
HOON: Well we are -- we are still not sure of the location of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Hussein or his sons. There are reports beginning to come in as to the whereabouts of some of those three.
As far as Ali Hassan Al-Majeed is concerned, we have some strong indications that he was killed in the raid conducted on Friday night. But I can't yet absolutely confirm the fact that he is dead. But that will certainly my best judgement in the situation.
QUESTION: Do you have some strong indications -- some indications beginning to come in, sorry, about Saddam -- the whereabouts of Saddam and his...
HOON: No, no, I said that in relation to Ali Hassan Al-Majeed.
HOON: What I said is that there are indications as to the whereabouts of the three, but obviously, at this stage, they cannot be confirmed.
QUESTION: Have you been surprised that chemical and biological weapons have not so far been used from the Iraqi side, particularly now that the coalition forces have reached the central Baghdad? Do you think the threat is now just...
HOON: I've been relieved. I don't think we can say that the threat has now absolutely disappeared. But certainly it was always part of our military campaign plan to move so quickly as to make the use of chemical and biological weapons very difficult for the regime, and that does appear to have been successful.
QUESTION: Is that -- is there any indication you find about chemical weapons or...
HOON: Well we continue... QUESTION: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?
HOON: We continue to see indications. The one that I've most heavily relied on to date is the fact that Iraqi -- some Iraqi forces have been issued with protective equipment. And since neither the United States nor the United Kingdom has any kind of chemical or biological weapons, that protective equipment could only be designed to protect Iraqi forces against their own use of chemical weapons. I think that's perhaps the strongest indication of them all (ph).
QUESTION: You said that the British troops are there to stay in Basra. That presumably is as long (INAUDIBLE) secure. What about the move to an interim authority, do you think that we actually need U.N. backing and a U.N. resolution for the interim authority?
HOON: Let me say this as far as British troops are concerned. Obviously it's important when I say that they're there to stay to give confidence to the people in Basra who are beginning to see signs of that real confidence now. They have been understandably concerned over many weeks about the prospect of coalition forces abandoning them to their fate at the hands of the regime. That will not happen, and they will stay there as long as it takes to provide the necessary security to people in and around Basra and in other parts of the southern area for which we are responsible.
As far as the future is concerned, as the Prime Minister has said, and I heartily endorse this on behalf of the Minister of Defense, our troops will remain there only as long as is necessary and indeed not a day longer.
But as far as U.N. support is concerned, it's absolutely clear that we want to see U.N. authority for the operations there in exactly the way that we did in operations in Afghanistan. But as far as maintaining security in the immediate aftermath of the conflict, it is obviously right and at best that that should be carried out by those forces on the ground who are aware of the security threat, who are aware of the risks and who are in the best position to safeguard people and indeed themselves.
HEMMER: All right, Geoff Hoon there speaking with reporters in London. A few things coming out. That strong indications, he said, that "Chemical Ali" was killed in this raid on his home about two-and- a-half days ago. But as to the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein or his tow sons, not sure of the location for either one. Geoff Hoon again talking about the ongoing conflict in Iraq and also the situation in Basra, indicating again with this British tanks rolling into the town yesterday, on Sunday, that they are -- quote -- "in Basra to stay," his words there in London.
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