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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

CENTCOM Briefing

Aired April 8, 2003 - 07:04   ET

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

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Want to bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr for the view from there. Barbara, the big question of the morning has been, Is Saddam Hussein alive or dead? With this bombing run yesterday, the president said a short time ago he doesn't know. Is there any way for the United States to find out?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: At this time, Carol, officials here are saying they aren't sure. They believe they had good intelligence yesterday, and they called in a B-1 bomber already that was in the skies over Baghdad on patrol. It dropped four 2,000- pound bombs on this neighborhood, this exclusive embassy neighborhood in Baghdad where they had intelligence. We see it here, the Mansour neighborhood. They had intelligence Saddam Hussein and his sons might be attending a meeting.

Now, apparently there was a great deal of damage through this neighborhood, as you can see from the pictures, but officials say -- there is just no confirmation yet. All of this likely to be a subject at the briefing, which is about to start -- Carol.

BRIG. GEN. VINCENT BROOKS, CENTCOM SPOKESMAN: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Nineteen days ago, coalition forces entered Iraq with a campaign plan to remove a regime, to liberate the Iraqi people from the grip of the regime and to begin the process of disarming Iraq. We remain on our plan, and the outcome is not in doubt. We continue to remember the brave young men and women who have lost their lives in this conflict to date, and we also remember their families.

I'd like to now update you on some of the things that have occurred over the last 24 hours. First, the coalition continues to exert pressure on the regime and on the forces that remain willing to fight for the regime. I have one weapons system video to show you today. This one is a recent close air support mission inside of Baghdad. In this particular image, you'll see that the regime has positioned heavy military equipment inside the capital city and also increased the risk to the population. But even in urban areas, the coalition forces make every possible effort to attack targets as precisely as we can.

This image is of a tank positioned in trees along the canal. The trees are difficult to see because of the spectrum of light that's being used. This is a close air support mission, unlike some of the other weapon systems videos that we've shown where there may not have been someone on the ground focusing it. In those other cases, the pilot identified the target. In close air support missions like these and all other air operations now occurring in and around Baghdad, it requires not only the pilot to be able to see the target, but someone on the ground that can see the target and identify it as well before any weapons are released.

Our coalition Special Operations Forces continue to make significant contributions to the campaign and are now conducting special operations in the north, the west, the east, the south and the center of Iraq.

In the north coalition Special Operations Forces in conjunction with Kurdish forces of northern Iraq are maintaining pressure on the Iraqi military forces in that area, while preventing their movement to Tikrit or Baghdad. In one engagement yesterday near Irbil in the north our Special Operations Forces, in conjunction with close air support, were able to destroy a force consisting of several armored personnel carriers, tanks and infantry. In another engagement, a similar engagement near Kirkuk, a special operations element defeated an armored counter attack destroying several tanks, trucks and armored personnel carriers.

In the west coalition Special Operations Forces continue to hold the important Hadifa Dam. We have talked about that before.

There's a smaller body of water just off to the side here that's the result of the dam and the Hadifa area nearby. Denying freedom of movement to regime forces and also denying use of areas that could be used for ballistic missile launches.

Unconventional warfare continues in other parts of Iraq.

The coalition's operational maneuver remains deliberate, focused and successful. The first area to highlight is Basra. Coalition forces under the leadership of the U.K. and supported by coalition Special Operations succeeded yesterday in reducing the final remaining concentrations of Baath Party officials and regime forces in Basra. The remaining pocket was in the old part of the city and it was cleared by forces during the night. And by the time the sun came up this morning there were reports of jubilation in the streets.

Now the hard task of preserving security and getting Iraq's second city moving forward into the future can proceed in earnest.

The capture of two more Baath Party officials near the town of az-Zubayr on the outskirts of Basra also reflects our ongoing efforts to rid the entire southern region of regime presence and influence.

The next area is near az-Sumala (ph). Coalition forces near az- Sumala (ph) continue to work in that area and the towns around it, eliminating any regime elements and also transitioning into humanitarian actions.

While water re-supply networks are still being reestablished, there are military units operating in that area that are providing purified water that they're generating from water purification systems to Sumala (ph) and Ar-Rutba, located about 25 kilometers to the north.

In An Najaf and Karbala, operations continue increasing security in those areas, and also eliminating any remaining regime elements that are present. There are combat operations ongoing east of Karbala.

The main focus of the operation continues to be, for the land component, in and around Baghdad. In the east, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force attacked across the Diala river, into the southeast corner of Baghdad, and then encountered forces, including T- 72 tanks, armored personnel carriers, other armored vehicles, surface- to-air missiles, artillery pieces, and numerous technical vehicles. These forces were encountered and destroyed, and they proceeded on their tack to seize the Rashid Airport, which you see identified by an airplane image in the lower right-hand corner of Baghdad.

In the west, 5th Corps remained in the center of Baghdad overnight, and also continued attacks this morning from the north and from the south, conducting operations inside of the heart of Baghdad. They also encountered a mixture of forces, including T-72 tanks, armored vehicles, technical vehicles and artillery pieces.

While this is ongoing, our maritime component continues to take steps to maintain the flow of humanitarian assistance supplies into Iraq. And it's currently focused on dredging parts of Korabdullah (ph) to make it a deeper draft for larger ships that carry increasing amounts of humanitarian support and assistance into Umm Qasr.

Our efforts to communicate with the Iraqi people on a variety of levels range from the radio and television broadcasts that we've spoken about before all the way down to physically handing out leaflets in populated areas. I'd like to show you a short video of U.K. and American forces handing out leaflets on the streets of az- Zubayr very recently. This was taken by one of our front-line camera systems and military system and broadcast from there a few days ago.

There's a closer image of the leaflet. This is what was actually produced and distributed by hand, and the message of the leaflet is really a future without the regime and steps that will be taken, leading up to the final comment down at the bottom that the coalition forces will only stay as long as is necessary to accomplish what we need to accomplish and then we leave Iraq in the hands of the Iraqi people. Daily our coalition forces take positive steps to ease the plight of the Iraqi people.

In this next image you'll see military civil affairs elements again operating with Free Iraqi forces, delivering medical supplies in this case. And the supplies being delivered are for the people of An Nasiriyah. The initial distribution is often done by hand and it's aimed at alleviating immediate needs of the communities encountered, and it also helps to communicate the coalition's intentions to assist the Iraqi people.

In the next images I'll show you a show video of members from the 82nd Airborne Division distributing humanitarian daily rations. These are the yellow ones. We're still eliminating those from our stocks, but we're delivering them by hand, not doing them by air drop, as you'll see inside of this image. Each one of these rations contains enough rations for an adult for one day in each bag, and they're used to augment the existing supplies.

Even as food and other rations are distributed in the field, there's more humanitarian assistance arriving in the ports in bulk. Yesterday, we had the arrival of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Ship Sir Percival (ph) in the port of Umm Qasr, and the following video shows you the off loading of those supplies, the humanitarian supplies intended for the people of Iraq.

The gentlemen in the yellow hats adn the reflective vests are Iraqi port workers who have returned to work and are working alongside coalition forces on a daily basis.

We interact on a number of levels. Certainly in the areas where combat has ceased, those areas that we would describe as liberated cities and town.

There still are challenges that are out there. Sometimes it's just working through the language and cultural barriers. And of course security remains a focus for us.

This video shows you some interactions along a street near Basra. It shows that the challenges are being overcome on a daily basis and that coalition forces in fact are being well received by many citizens of Iraq. And these positive and cooperative relations are improving with every day.

With that, ladies and gentlemen, I'll take your questions.

QUESTION: General, what can you tell us about this air strike targeting Iraqi leadership, presumably Saddam? And if you can go into the details, I understand that there is no coalition presence on the ground after this air strike. What's being done to determine who in fact was hit and how we're going to accomplish that?

BROOKS: As I've mentioned over a number of days throughout this conflict, we focus our actions directly against regime leadership, against regime command and control systems, against the things that protect the regime, whether it's air defense systems or whether it's forces, in an effort to eliminate the influence of the regime and its abilities to continue to conduct command and control.

We had credible information that indicated that there was a regime leadership meeting occurring yesterday. While it's not useful to get into any speculation on who might have been present at that meeting, what we will say is that we had an opportunity -- as we're said before, we respond to opportunities -- but we had an opportunity to attack that particular regime leadership meeting.

We believe that the attack was effective in causing destruction of that facility. As to who was inside and what their conditions are, it will take some time before we can make that full determination. But our efforts remained focused on regime leadership, whenever we find it and any remnants of command and control that might be exerted by any remaining portion of the regime, whether it's local- tactical, or whether it's on a larger scale.

QUESTION: I just want to follow that up.

BROOKS: Please.

QUESTION: It was my understanding that there was not a coalition presence on the ground, so this airstrike may have taken place, but remembers of the regime may have access to this site, Akabarcrymseme (ph), it might contaminated. How can you preserve it and make the determination later who, if anyone, was hit?

BROOKS: That's a very difficult challenge for us, and it's been a challenge throughout these operations. That's why we can't on a daily basis say exactly who was inside of a building that may have been attacked where we had credible operation. What we operate with is the information that leads us to it, and we are able in some cases to gather additional information after the strikes. But time will have to tell exactly how effective that particular strike was, and others that we've done as well.

QUESTION: Sir, could we get an update on the investigation into the second Baghdad market explosion? And the second question is, given the severity and the intensity of the bombardment in yesterday's building, is it possible that we may never know just who was inside that building, in terms of identification? Thank you, sir.

BROOKS: I don't have anything new to report on the Baghdad markets. What we found on these market explosions is there remains evidence that a number of things could have contributed to it. As with so many things, until we are in exactly the location where these incidents occurred, we can't make a full assessment and eliminate all possibilities. As to the results of this particular attack that occurred yesterday, like other places, it is possible that we may never be able to determine exactly who was present without some detailed forensic work. And that's one of the circumstances that we have to deal with as we go through this campaign.

Yes, sir. Please.

QUESTION: Today, your plane hit Al Jazeera office in Baghdad. One of our colleagues was killed during the attack. The office of Abu Dhabi TV also hit, as well as the Palestine Hotel, where most of journalists are staying.

Do these attacks mean that you will intensify your military campaign against Baghdad and that you don't need the journalists to cover the bloodshed with will be taken by that?

Thank you.

BROOKS: If I may, let me begin by saying first that we regret the loss of life of the correspondents, and we extend our condolences to the family of your journalist and to the families of other journalists who have lost their lives throughout this conflict. It's most unfortunate, indeed.

We certainly know that we don't target journalists. That's just not something we do. We also know that the locations where the regime does its work, in many cases, will put civilians at risk, and we've talked about that day after day. The regime does not seem to want to change its methods of providing a higher degree of protection to journalists that, in many cases, we don't know where all journalists are on the battlefield. We certainly know where the embedded journalists are at any given time that are operating with our formations, and that was a conscious decision to take in embedded journalists.

There were some combat actions that also occurred at the Palestine Hotel. Initial reports indicate that the coalition force operating near the hotel took fire from the lobby of the hotel and returned fire, and any loss of life -- civilian loss of life or unintended consequences, again, we find most unfortunate and also undesirable. This is not something we seek to do. At the same time, we know that we're conducting combat operations inside of an urban area, an area where the regime has chosen to deliberately defend and not stand down, and we can only be reminded that the risk increases for the population as we do these operations, but we have to remain focused on our objective of removing this regime before there's greater loss of life.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: If I can continue on the point you made there. If you're claiming fire was coming from the lobby of the Palestine Hotel, why was this tank ground directed at an upper floor? And what does that kind of marksmanship or lack of it suggest about the risks to civilians as your forces penetrate further into Baghdad?

BROOKS: The response of fire is something that we always have to get more details as time goes on; of course, specifically, where the fire was returned and what was hit and where the fire came from. So I may have misspoken on exactly where the fire came from.

What I can tell you as to the marksmanship, there have been plenty of examples of very accurate marksmanship not only from air, but also from our systems on the ground, as we've conducted operations over time. We remain very confident in the capability of our crews and our folks that are doing the work on the ground, and we believe that where it is possible to avoid losses of civilian life, every effort will be taken.

We've seen examples of trying to protect mosques where fire came, and we did not have to return fire at that point in time to protect ourselves, and therefore we did not.

Circumstances change in different places, and the tactical decisions that are made can only be made by people on the ground.

So I don't have anything else that I can give you in real detail on that, and I appreciate the question. But we'll remain focused on trying to do the job as well as we can, without threatening the civilian population.

QUESTION: Follow-up on the Palestine. One comment. First of all, journalists inside the hotel say that there was no firing coming from the hotel.

And the second question is, did U.S. forces know that that was a media hotel?

BROOKS: What we know is that there are a number of places in downtown Baghdad where there are civilian populations who are at risk, and we know that there are practices by this regime to increase that risk deliberately, whether it's by positioning or whether it's by taking certain actions.

And we know that as we conduct operations inside of Baghdad we should anticipate attacks from unexpected locations, that some of the military actions might be unconventional in nature, whether it's the use of car bombs or whether it's ambushes, the use of snipers, or certainly the consistent pattern we've seen elsewhere of using civilians as shields.

It's too early to be able to say exactly what happened at that site, and so I don't want to get into a who says what happened. We don't know enough to be able to say that definitively, and, frankly, I don't know that anyone does, to have the whole picture. That's why we have to investigate these types of things and find out what the bottom line is. And when we find out, I think there'll be more information for us to pass.

QUESTION: On the strike against leadership targets, can you detail what you're doing to try and find out who was in that building, and also say whether you actually have coalition forces on the spot going through the rubble?

BROOKS: We have coalition forces that are operating in a variety of places inside of Baghdad and in a variety of different ways. In places where we can confirm on the ground the results of a strike, as in places where we've passed through and liberated, then there's more fidelity that we can gain on the precision of the strike and the actual results of the strike.

Until that can occur in every location, we certainly can't make full determinations of what has happened.

At this point in time, I'm not aware of anyone from coalition forces that have walked the site. When that's possible, we'll have more information about what exactly happened there. Until then, we can only go with things we can gain information on. And we believe the strike was effective in hitting the target, creating the desired effect, but we don't know all the circumstances of what happened to those who were contained inside.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. Two points. One, we know pretty well who the leading figures are in the Iraqi regime. Who do you think is actually in charge, if anybody, at the moment?

And secondly, as you take control of more areas of Baghdad, clearly with the continued fighting there are going to be civilian casualties, whatever the precision of the weaponry. There are all sorts of reports of hospitals being overloaded and so on. Are you taking any steps to provide large-scale medical facilities to deal with some of the casualties, particularly now that you hold some of the ground in the Iraqi capital?

BROOKS: We have not been certain for a very long time of who is in charge of this regime. What we've seen is that the regime leadership structure has been fragmented. We've seen that the ability for the regime to communicate instructions has been disrupted. We've seen that the application of authority has been interfered with on a number of occasions by coalition action. And we're not certain exactly who's in charge at this point in time.

What we do know is there are still pockets of regime leadership, whether they be local-level Baath Party officials, or whether they are unit commanders of military formations that still exist, or whether they are the higher-level leadership figures that were part of the regime and remain part of the regime. As we identify them, we have opportunities to try to reduce their capability to still command and control, whether that's by direct attack, by any other sort of action, affecting their communications, whatever it might be to prevent them from maintaining any degree of control.

We do know indeed that as we are conducting military operations in an urban area that the potential for casualties increases. Our approach to that, however, with regard to encountering casualties that occur on the battlefield, has not changed. We've established temporary hospitals, field hospitals, or used our own tactical aid stations, throughout this combat operation whenever we encounter civilians or wounded Iraqi soldiers, and provide medical treatment to them on the spot, sometimes for a longer-term basis. In some cases, we've had some Iraqi soldiers that have been taken into our custody, that ultimately become prisoners of war, that may be evacuated to a hospital ship and receive medical care where it is available.

So that will continue as we have more forces operating in and around Baghdad. Those forces have a medical capability. And if we encounter civilians that are wounded in our actions, regardless of what caused them, we'll provide as much relief as we can, and that will continue.

Please?

QUESTION: I want to return to the subject of the attack on a leadership meeting. There are reports today that the CIA passed along this information and 45 minutes later there was actual bombing. Was that information phoned through the headquarters here? And can you tell us in general terms the source of that information?

BROOKS: I can't help you very much on that at all. We have a number of methods that we use to gain information, a wide array, and it's just not useful to describe what a particular source is. Generally speaking, for anything that we conduct operations against, a single source is never adequate. So there are always multiple sources that tell us we may have something here that is worthy of conducting a military action against. When we're satisfied that that is true, when we believe we can make positive identification of that target area, we make specific decisions; what weapon should be used, how should we deliver it, what is the potential consequence to areas in and around it.

Even while we have what we call a "time sensitive opportunity," where it may be fleeting in time, it has to be addressed, if it's going to be addressed at all, rather quickly, we still take the same deliberate process of deciding what happens to the area around it; how can we mitigate the affects, should we choose a different weapon, should we have it detonate a different way, should we aim at a specific spot, should we approach the target in a different way with the delivery system. All these types of things are considerations that go into every attack like that. It's done in a way that is, frankly, unparalleled. There is no one else that does it like this, with this degree of precision and deliberateness.

So that's how it works. We take whatever information we have, we make sure that it's corroborated, that we're satisfied with the quality of the target, then we make other decisions on how to attack it and we try to do that in a way that achieves the desired affect.

Yes, sir, please?

QUESTION: Today is a journalist's day -- three attacks against three journalists within some few hours. Why you don't order your forces to avoid the buildings where there are journalists doing their job?

BROOKS: First, we don't every place that a journalist is operating on the battlefield. We know only those journalists that are operating with us, and we have always said that the area for combat operations is a very dangerous place indeed, and certainly there should be no surprise in anyone's mind that eventually operations were going to close on Baghdad. And that's ongoing, as we speak.

We always regret the loss of any civilian lives: the journalists, non-combatants, people who are used as shields. And we do everything we can to avoid that when we have knowledge of it. There is intermingling that happens, though, on the battlefield. And I don't have enough information to say exactly how the dynamics of the battlefield came together today, but we can be certain of those -- this coalition does not target journalists. And so anything that happens as a result of our fire or other fires would always be considered as an accident, and we will look into the circumstances that contributed to it. Where we have responsibility, we'll accept that responsibility.

QUESTION: General Brooks (UNINTELLIGIBLE). At the weekend, you -- or forces broke slightly with the policy of not giving figures for casualties, and, indeed, I think first Colonel Perkins (ph) said had been 1,000 casualties in the incursion on Saturday and then that figure was revised upwards to between 2,000 and 3,000.

Can you tell us how many casualties you estimate there have been since then, how many of those were Iraqi forces and how many were civilians? And just for the record, my colleague from Reuters I think asked you whether you knew that the Palestine Hotel was a center for journalists. Could you just confirm that you did?

BROOKS: Firstly, the number of casualties is a figure that can never be completely well determined. And so, as I have stated on previous days, I'm not going to speculate on exactly how many have been killed on either side. And I'm not going to try to characterize the full dimension of that.

We know that there have been losses of life. We know that many families have been affected by this, on both sides. We know that we've seen people forced into situations by the regime that cause a loss of life, of civilian non-combatants in some cases. We know that many have been wounded as a result of combat action, intended or unintended. And certainly from the regime's perspective, we can't guess whether it was intended or unintended. From the coalition's perspective, we always know that it is unintended.

We had some awareness of how the Palestine Hotel might be used, and that there are a variety of activities that occur there.

There are many places throughout Baghdad, and all who are not part of the regime should be aware that the regime uses places like the Palestine Hotel for other regime purposes. And in doing so they try to achieve a degree of protection from the other activities that are ongoing there.

So we are certainly aware of those types of places and we've tried to mitigate the risk wherever we can. In some cases the risk cannot be driven to zero.

QUESTION: There are reports that some American troops are recommending that journalists or civilians in places like the Palestine Hotel hang white sheets. Given the fact that you believe the regime uses that hotel, would you concur with that recommendation?

And secondly, can you tell us more about the Rasheed Airport, the circumstances, it's operational value, things like that?

BROOKS: First on the images of surrender and protection, unfortunately we've found ourselves in a situation where, as those appear on the battlefield, often they are used by regime death squads, Baath Party members or other regime-related forces to masquerade combat activity.

Anything that would help to highlight I think would be useful, but we'd still have to take it with a degree of caution and skepticism, given the fact that we are now operating in the heart of the regime and the regime practices to protect itself in its last days we expect to be more extreme than ever.

And so while that might be useful and helpful, I can't say that it would completely solve the problem at this point in time in terms of who's at risk. Frankly, the best method is to identify themselves and move out of harm's way, and that's a very difficult circumstance now that the battle has been joined inside of Baghdad.

As to the Rasheed Airport, that's an area also that provides some military advantage and also deprives the regime from being able to use it to depart. It's on the southeast side of the city, between the Diala River and the Tigris River. That corner is militarily significant and that is just one of the many operating areas that we will conduct our tactical operations through.

Since operations are continuing I don't want to characterize much more than that, but the forces did enter the airport location this morning and are still doing work to increase the degree of security and control over top of that facility.

There was resistance, most of it leading to it, and there's also resistance beyond it. Since reports are still coming in from ongoing action we don't have the full scope of it. But the force I described earlier of T-72 tanks, some artillery systems, some armored personnel carriers were associated with preventing a crossing of the river. That was defeated. Our 1st Marine Expeditionary Force succeeded in crossing the Diala River and proceeded on its attack from there.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: Let me be the one with the responsibility for asking the daily question about weapons of mass destruction. Reports again suggesting that the suspicious site near Karbala has now been discounted. Is that true, and have any other sites yielded anything of interest so far in that regard. And just going back to the question of the Palestine Hotel, Pentagon officials warned news agency weeks before this conflict began that they shouldn't be there.

Are we now seeing your forces, if you like, compelled to open fire on buildings that they know are occupied by journalists. And unlike the mosques, the sacred sites in other cities, does the presence of a large number of Western journalists not represent something that would cause your commanders to pause?

BROOKS: Well, first on the -- and forgive me, I called your name wrong, Paul (ph). First on the weapons of mass destruction sites, the one particular one that you're referring to was found east of Karbala. It did have some preliminary testing done that indicated, potentially, the presence of some agents. We have a number of mechanisms that we use to try to be certain before we say, "Yes, we found some weapons mass destruction."

The initial indications were it could potentially be, and these were done by things like I described yesterday, the Fox chemical reconnaissance system that has some onboard capability to do testing and analysis. More detailed testing and analysis is required. That's ongoing. Some samples have been moved, and we don't know enough at this point to say it should be discounted, or that indeed we found some weapons of mass destruction available for use. So at this point, we're simply remaining waiting until we have additional information.

Yes, warnings had been issued before, and they continue to be issued. Even now as we speak, there's certainly a warning that Baghdad is a dangerous location for anyone that is present in there, and that the regime continues to put them at deliberate risk. And our combat actions also increase the risk. When we have a known location that is used for multiple purposes, including regime purposes, command and control or otherwise, and certainly when we potentially take fire from those locations, decisions have to be made at a very low tactical level.

I think in all cases mosques, other buildings, hotels, things that are, obviously -- at least, apparently not military facilities, there's a decision that has to be made always on a tactical level, and where appropriate, there should be as proportional a response as is necessary to eliminate that threat. That again, also, is a decision made by a tactical leader on the ground. And we have to look into the circumstances to find out more about those decisions that were made, but the action occurs when the action occurs and everything thereafter is speculative or investigative.

That's where we stand at this point on that issue. We certainly pay attention to it. We don't target journalists. We certainly believe in having open access to journalism here, at other locations and inside of our formations, and any loss of life that came as a result of combat action is regrettable.

Yes, sir, please?

QUESTION: I know that it's difficult for you to quantify the loss of life on the Iraqi side, but CENTCOM has been helpful in the past in describing the number of tanks destroyed and armored vehicles. Can you talk about the destruction of those tanks during the last 48 hours of operations in Baghdad? And also, can you elaborate too a little bit on the fighting east of Karbala?

BROOKS: What I will tell you is, again, it's always difficult to get an accurate accounting of exactly what happened as a result of that combat action or what may have preceded it with air attacks in advance of an operation. For the most part, the encounters that we're seeing are formations that have somewhere between 20 and 60 vehicles, generally speaking. That's what the numbers tend to come out to be. And often, all of those vehicles are destroyed -- any vehicles that are encountered.

Sometimes there are also technical vehicles that are added to that, in the tens, twenties or thirties in some cases. Those that encounter our forces, especially ones that are firing or have weapons on them or are trying to flee are engaged by direct fire systems. And so, the degree of destruction varies on a daily basis. I really don't want to characterize it. I think it doesn't help the action that's happening out there.

When threats appear, they're dealt with in a military fashion. There's discriminating fire that's provided and, unfortunately, lives are lost as a result of that on both sides and that's probably where I'd want to stay on it.

QUESTION: And the fighting east of Karbala?

BROOKS: The fighting east of Karbala is to eliminate some pockets that remained in place as we penetrated the defensive lines of the Republican Guard Forces Command. We have awareness that there still are some elements there that appear to remain loyal to the regime, and we'll conduct operations to reduce those pockets, as we are in other places where we find any regime forces that remain.

Since it's an ongoing operation, I don't want to characterize it much more than that.

QUESTION: We see a lot of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of Iraqi civilian died. And everybody know the majority of Iraqi official buildings exist between civilian area. So did you intend to continue your strategy while a lot of people died? And what's your priority here, the building or the people and their right to be safe?

BROOKS: Thanks for the question. We certainly want the Iraqi population to be as safe as they possibly can, and we have demonstrated that throughout all parts of the country where we've conducted operations, trying to take very deliberate efforts everywhere we can to minimize the loss of life and certainly being aware of and trying to protect as much as we can sacred sites, religious sites, archaeological sites, places that are significant to the rich culture and heritage of the people of Iraq. And we've done that on a consistent basis.

I've also showed you images over the last several days of the regime positioning combat systems, communication systems, artillery systems directly beside buildings in populated areas. And so there will be some circumstances, as we've stated, where it becomes virtually unavoidable to prevent some degree of destruction.

The priority clearly remains focusing on the military target that may be associated with that and trying wherever possible to minimize any secondary damages that occur. That will not change. It has not changed. And we believe we're doing the best we can to try to get that job done.

We would ask that the Iraqi population try to understand, and in due time we can try to seek to pass on condolences to those whose lives were lost. We don't know what the number is. We don't know what the cause is. But we know that there are some that have lost their life in this and we regret that.

QUESTION: Nineteen days into the war and five or so, six days into Baghdad, can you give us an assessment of what you think is left of the conventional Iraqi resistance? Sort of chemical threats aside, do you think you've seen the worst of what they can throw at the coalition in terms of organization, weaponry and will?

BROOKS: I think that there are still some options available to whatever portion of the regime remains. We've seen a lot of forces that we've encountered on the outskirts of town where we think that was a significant defensive line from, if you will, from Karbala across Al Kut where the Republican Guard forces command was arrayed.

Most of those have been destroyed, and we have not seen a movement of those forces into Baghdad. We've encountered some forces along the closer parts of Baghdad, from about where Baghdad International Airport is located, around to the corners where we're conducting operations on the east. There are indications that these are Special Republican Guard, but there are also some indications there might be some regular army equipment mixed in, and certainly some paramilitaries are mixed in.

So the closer we get, the fewer conventional forces remain to be seen. There are still some. There are still artillery systems, for example, that are positioned in different places inside of town that can be brought to bear. There are still rockets in parts of the surrounding area that we have not moved through yet that pose a continuing there. And there are any number of unconventional options available to this regime and certain -- according to its practices thus far, we expect to encounter those inside of Baghdad as we come closer to removing the remaining vestiges of the regime.

We remain focused on it. We remain deliberate in our actions. And as we continue our work in and around Baghdad, we're seeking those types of things to remove them from the hands of the regime. We're taking away the military options.

Sir. I haven't gone to you before, so we'll take you. Please.

QUESTION: Could you comment on this A-10 Warthog plane that went down today? Was it shot down?

BROOKS: We had one A-10 aircraft conducting a close air support mission at low altitude in support of ground troops in contact and we believe that it was hit by surface-to-air missile fire. The pilot was immediately recovered and is safely back in coalition control.

Please?

QUESTION: We haven't talked a lot about Tikrit. I was wondering if you could tell us what indications you have that some of the forces might be -- some of the Iraqi forces might be massing up there trying to reconstitute or that regime leaders have fled there?

BROOKS: Well, Tikrit is one of the areas we know that is a stronghold for the regime leadership, and we know that there are any number of command and control related facilities in Tikrit. We know that there have been forces that originally we're defending in and around Tikrit, although those moved to the south and have been involved in combat actions before this time. Tikrit has not escaped our interest nor has it escaped our targeting. There are ongoing actions against command and control facilities in Tikrit to make it not something that's available to the regime. And I'll leave it at that since operations are ongoing.

Please?

QUESTION: I'd like to take you back again to the Palestine Hotel and the other two incidents from this morning. You said you may have misspoke about fire coming from the lobby. I believe that the local commander on the ground was saying that he was taking RPGs from the roof. Also, on the other two buildings that were struck this morning nearly nine hours ago, were you taking fire from those ground targets? We seem to get information on the Wathog three hours ago that it was taken down by surface-to-air, but no real information about the two targets from this morning nine hours ago.

BROOKS: I should always be careful about trying to characterize actions that happened on the ground in a fire-fight when those reports have not come up. The report of a pilot is different than a report of something that happens on the ground in a fire-fight. In many cases we engage actions to try to go and get the pilot right away, and that becomes a significant event that's visible even at this level of the command.

Things that happen at a fire-fight are much more confused and are also much slower in coming in detail because every fire-fight that happens out there, obviously, with the amount of combat action that occurs, we're not going to get a report on every fire-fight that happens. This one is, obviously, an item of interest, and there's information that's flowing in right now, so I can't characterize exactly where they received fire from. Any comment I made earlier was premature. And so, at this point it's best for me to wait for additional information to come in.

Please?

QUESTION: General, considering the increase of military pressure on the regime, do you see any defection of Iraqi officials, and do you also see some fighting in between the paramilitary units?

They had a long history of bloody fights in between units created by Saddam Hussein.

BROOKS: We're not seeing defections of people who are loyal to the regime, that are members of the Baath party. We have captured a number, but we have not seen defections as you describe it. We have seen military commanders depart their post or express a willingness to cease fighting. That's happened in a number of cases, but not the ones who are the most loyal to the regime, the party officials, the leaders of regime death squads, not in those cases.

And the second half of your question?

QUESTION: Paramilitary units -- the Iraqi paramilitary units, do you see any fighting between the units?

BROOKS: We're not seeing fighting between paramilitary units, and it's too early to determine exactly what may happen amongst other military units that are out there. There are some indications that there are some problems inside of some of the unit formations, and that has yet to develop and I probably should not discuss it any further at this point, since we don't know.

Let me go in the back, over here, please.

QUESTION: Does the coalition actually possess any DNA for Saddam Hussein and his family. Will that be the only means that you'll justify whether you've in fact got him or not? And secondly, there's a team of Australian commandos out here at the moment that are tenacious urban fighters. Will you bring them into the battle in Baghdad?

BROOKS: Well, I don't want to characterize what information we have that might identify any remains that we encounter anywhere on the battlefield. That simply would not be appropriate to discuss.

And any questions about Australian forces in detail, about specific units, you probably should talk to the Australians.

OK. Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Thank you. Would you characterize an on-the-ground assessment of the strike in An Mansur (ph) as a priority, and what, if any, resistance do you expect in challenging you to get to that site to conduct an investigation.

BROOKS: Well, the focus of our operations is not to conduct investigations at particular places where a strike occurred. We are operating inside of Baghdad and may well move to that site. That's a tactical commander's decision, and something I'm not aware of at this point in time. What we can characterize is that when we see something that would provide us a fleeting moment of opportunity, related to regime leadership or regime command and control, we'll try to attack that as quickly as we possibly can, given all the other parameters that I've described -- we have good confirmation that we think the target is what we say it is, we have eyes that can observe the operation, either from air or ground, depending on what the delivery system is going to be, and that we can do so in such a way that mitigates potential damage that is unintended. That will continue to be the case.

As to seeing what it is on the ground, I'm not sure when that's going to happen, whether we'd have some resistance on that or not. We've already fought inside of Baghdad. We've been successful in moving at a variety of places inside of Baghdad, and we believe we still have reasonable freedom of action. It doesn't mean it will be uncontested, but we are able to move in places of our time and choosing inside of Baghdad, and I think that will continue.

Let me all the way in the back row, please.

QUESTION: You talked about the coming few days. How can you guarantee the safety of the journalists? What's the procedures you can just tell the journalists in the Palestine Hotel? Tell them to just stay in the hotel, don't move out? And what's the procedures which you can do in the future to guarantee the safety of them?

BROOKS: The procedures remain as they are right now. First, we don't target journalists deliberately -- not now, not ever. So I can talk about the future in that particular case.

We certainly know that the journalists that are with us have responsibility for their own safety, but they are inherently safe when they stay with a unit -- or there's a higher degree, I should say. They're not inherently safe, because it's a dangerous business and they're moving with forces that are in danger.

Journalists that are moving on the battlefield we don't know about, we don't know where they are in some cases. Some of them are operating independently in a very, very dangerous and often contested area. And so we would certainly again express our concern for those who are choosing to do so that they're putting themselves at risk.

Where we have knowledge of that, I think we can do what we can to try to prevent injuring journalists and any other noncombatants. That remains consistent as well. But we can only deal with what we know in this case. That's how I'd address that.

QUESTION: You mentioned earlier elements of the 5th Corps came down from the north -- I'd like some more details of that -- into Baghdad itself. What kind of resistance did you face? And do you get the sense that the Iraqis had drawn some of their lines to the south to prevent you from coming up, and did you have an easier time of it getting in from the north?

And second question. Reports of some looting in Basra from these first few days of British control. I'm wondering if you're anticipating that will be repeated in Baghdad, perhaps even on a larger scale, just because it's Baghdad, what you're going to do differently to prevent this looting from occurring, or is it at least so far in Basra a kind of a reasonable amount of, you know, just release of this pent-up frustration, as the British commander said yesterday, that that was, you know, in time they'll be able to restore law and order but for now it's just frustration, people acting out.

Thanks.

BROOKS: The first question talks about the approach to Baghdad from the north. There were some forces that were encountered. We have the ability to operate and conduct actions at times and places of our choosing. We had awareness of forces that were positioned in the north. Those forces were attacked. That opened up an opportunity for us to continue operations on a different line toward the center of Baghdad from a different direction.

I'm not going to characterize where we're going to go at any given time. These are, again, tactical decisions that are made. They're focused at the same objective and they're opportunistic in their nature. So tactical action in the north against the force that may have been defending in the north may open a hole in the north. That opportunity may be taken; maybe it's not. There are things that happen on the battlefield like that that our commanders are very skillful at creating and then taking advantage of. So that will be the case as we continue.

The second half of your question was...

(CROSSTALK)

BROOKS: Well, let's go to the second half of your question.

QUESTION: Basra looting. BROOKS: Looting.

QUESTION: What are you going to do in Baghdad to prevent this?

BROOKS: There have been some reports of looting in cities that have been initially liberated. I wouldn't want to speculate as to why the population, in some cases, is making that choice. We know that there is often in liberated areas a vacuum in terms of control, especially when you've had as tight a grip as this regime has had on its people for so long. When that's pulled out of the way, humans make decisions about what they're going to do next and what opportunities may be presented to them.

I think as time goes on more law and order will be established, ideally that goes by way of the Iraqi populations taking care of themselves. That's how we see this, not something that's a military control over top of all people, and this will settle down as time goes on. It's not unexpected. We might see it anywhere where there's a temporary vacuum that forms and law and order is pulled away.

QUESTION: So you're expecting this in Baghdad as well?

BROOKS: I think anywhere that we have circumstances like this and there is a removal of structures of control there will be decisions that are made by members of the population. We would certainly discourage that, but I can't be certain that it won't happen in this case.

Please?

QUESTION: What efforts has central command made to ascertain the number of civilian casualties to date in Iraq? If you have got some preliminary figures, why aren't you releasing them? And if not, why haven't you made a concerted effort to ascertain how many civilians have died in this war, which is, after all, one of its most important aspects and something we have heard very, very little about?

BROOKS: Our approach to civilians on the battlefield is one of concern first and, secondly, effort to try to prevent impact of any sort. We can never guarantee that there would be civilians that are completely free from the hazards of battle in and around the area. All we can be certain of is our approach. We can't be certain even after an action how many may have died, how many may have been wounded, other than those we encounter.

And of course, there will be reports that come in from members of the population that we encounter that tell us things; those can't always be confirmed. There may be reports of dead that can't be accounted for. And so, it's very imprecise. Suffice it to say, where we have knowledge, then that we can know. Causes we can't know; whether something occurred by way of coalition action, unintended or regime action by way of murder. We certainly have seen that type of thing happen.

It's just something we cannot get our arms around at this point. It will take time, and I don't think in any case of recorded history of warfare that the full knowledge of all casualties and all secondary effects has ever been gained, and I don't anticipate that will happen here. That's the nature of the approach.

Right now our focus is on removing the regime, doing the best we can to protect the Iraqi people and deliver liberation to them in areas where the regime has been removed, and we'll continue on that thrust to try to get that job done.

I think we have time for one more question. Please?

QUESTION: The armored raid into Baghdad yesterday, rather than being a hit-and-run, it seems to be a hit-and-stay. As the coalition makes its presence felt in Baghdad, are we likely to see more instances in which troops move to an area and then end up staying there and piecemeal establish a presence around the city?

BROOKS: I think you can anticipate that there will be a combination of actions. There will be some actions that go into a location and we stay operations from there. There will be some operations perhaps that go into a location and then leave. There will be some operations that go into a location we reinforce. In some cases we will clear enemy resistance. In other cases we'll seize a site. The full combination of that is what creates the tactical operations in that objective area, and those are tactical decisions that are made. Again, they're very opportunistic: what can we get from this, what happens via that location, what should we do about it. These decisions will be made by our commanders out there on the ground and you'll see a variety of combinations to try to get it done.

Thanks very much, ladies and gentlemen. Have a good day.

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