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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

CENTCOM Briefing

Aired April 14, 2003 - 07:06   ET

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

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
BRIGADIER GENERAL VINCE BROOKS, CENTCOM SPOKESMAN: ....throughout the country and concentrating efforts on security and stability.

Gradually, the indications of everyday life are returning in Iraq, and Iraqis are adjusting to the freedom from the tyranny of the regime.

Today, the coalition is operating throughout Iraq to remove the final remnants of the regime from any ares of influence.

The free Iraqi people are making their voices heard and seeking an end to bloodshed and the removal of foreign fighters who put the population at risk.

Concurrently, the coalition is focused on creating conditions for long-term stability throughout the country and establishing systemic and infrastructural bases for life in a free and democratic Iraq.

Even as hope shines brightly, we continue to remember those who gave their lives in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and we remember their families.

Our Special Operations forces are creating ever-expanding contacts with local leaders throughout the country, but particularly in the north and in the west. Their presence in the northern areas of Mosul, Irbil and Kirkuk were reinforced yesterday by the increasing commitment of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, adn also by the arrival of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Operations remain focused on locating regime leaders adn searching key regime facilities. Special Operations forces and conventional forces expanded throughout the northern oil fields and have now secured all of the northern oil fields.

Assessments continue, with the active cooperation of the Iraqi oil workers.

Recently, Special Operations forces near Haditha dam, an area that we've spoken about on a number of occasions, location of intense combat in recent weeks, met with oil workers and firefighters to organize an effort to extinguish an oil stabilization plant fire that was triggered by the regime over a week ago.

Close cooperation between the coalition and the Iraqis resulted in the fire being extinguished as the following video shows.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

Even on the same hose, coalition forces and Iraqis are getting the job done as they are throughout the country. There are many similar examples throughout the country of coalition forces and Iraqis interacting to repair damage at infrastructure or to simply restore capability to different parts of the country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

And I would add that at this point the remaining fire that was in the southern oil field has been extinguished, and that all oil fields within Iraq now fall within areas secured by the coalition.

There is one well that we discovered in recent days in the north, a well fire that is still burning, and that will be addressed as soon as we can do so.

Special Operations Forces in the Baghdad area are supporting the efforts of the land component as they continue their work, and as with all military outfits throughout Iraq, these Special Operations Forces in Baghdad also provide any assistance they can to the Iraqi people.

Recently, two Iraqi brothers approached a Special Operations medical team on the outskirts of Baghdad. In this case, the brothers asked the medical team if there was anything that the medics could do for their sister who was suffering from cancer and had no medication. The Special Forces medics gave what medicines they could to try to provide some relief, and they earned the respect and thanks from the brothers for at least making an attempt to provide some relief to their sister. As I've said before, scenes like these are repeated everywhere throughout places where the coalition is conducting its work.

Our maneuver operations are similarly focused on eliminating any potential remnants of the regime leadership or forces within Baghdad and they are in north of Baghdad. The land components sent a Marine task force to attack from Baghdad to Tikrit within the last 24 hours.

In this attack, toward Tikrit, the force met little resistance in the towns of Baqubah on the east side of the Tigris River and Samara. And I'll just point those out again. Baqubah on the eastern side of the Tigris River, along the Diala (ph), and Samara along the Tigris River, further to the west.

The attack continued yesterday, and its first efforts were to isolate Tikrit from the south, from the west, and also from the north, as well as a key bridge in the center of town that crosses the Tigris River. This morning, the attack entered Tikrit, securing the presidential palace there and also beginning the search for any remaining regime supporters. And this is really the only significant combat action that occurred within the last 24 hours.

Elsewhere, coalition land forces are actively engaged in setting the conditions for a stable Iraq. Among the challenges are disposing of all the materiel of war purchased and stored by the regime for the use in the defense of Baghdad.

As coalition forces move to secure more power stations, water facilities and hospitals in several zones of the city, they often uncover or are guided to significant amounts of ammunition, weapons, aircraft and vehicles used by the regime.

In one example, coalition forces found 12 surface-to-air missiles and six VIP helicopters near a Baath Party headquarters building. Other examples include 51 Iraqi trucks that were loaded with ammunition, several buildings and bunkers, also loaded with ammunition, with many more truck loads' worth that would need to be moved and disposed of. And this is artillery ammunition, tank ammunition and missiles.

Despite these challenges, the coalition is working diligently and is contributing significant assets to restore function and to distribute aid in Baghdad. We've contributed considerable assistance in helping Iraqis restore the power and water service that ended when Baghdad was still under regime control and that was destroyed by the regime forces as they fought our coalition.

The land component has organized several engineer teams to assess and facilitate restoration of services throughout the country. In Baghdad, two very important locations are the power plant that services all of western and southern Baghdad and also the water treatment plant in the south of Baghdad that provides safe water to the communities.

And those are highlighted, to the west and just south of the bend in the Tigris River.

In the following photos that I'll show you, coalition military engineers have met with senior Iraqi power industry officials and electrical engineers to find the best way to restore power to the city. Again, these are military engineers as they do their work.

And meetings like this one are happening at lower levels as well, with military-civil affairs teams or even operational commanders throughout the country in places where the lack of power undermines the supply of water and puts the population at risk.

Citizens are becoming more active throughout all areas of Iraq in helping to restore order and to start free Iraq on a path toward a positive future. And I have just a few examples.

First, joint patrols have been initiated and roughly 200 police volunteers joined with coalition forces to start patrolling Basra. And this is an effort to assist in quelling any looting or any other civil unrest.

In other areas, tribal leaders are establishing coalitions of multiple tribes. And this is the foundation for local governance in cities in the north and in the west.

In Karbala, as an example, town leaders have established a local police force with, again, over 200 volunteers, provided them with uniforms. They have 10 vehicles that are marked as police vehicles, and they're taking efforts to try to get some degree of control and stability establish themselves. And we applaud their efforts. And these efforts continue to multiply throughout the country.

Electric power and water power remain the key needs, however. During the repair period, coalition forces continue to provide military support wherever possible. I have some recent photos of coordination done between Marines and the water purification experts near the town of An Nasiriyah. In this case, Marines and sailors worked with the local Iraqis to try to repair this generation plant.

In areas where we can't immediately repair the water infrastructure, we continue to use military assets and resources to provide a substitute.

In areas where we can't immediately repair the water infrastructure, we continue to use military assets and resources to provide a substitute and this is a short video of some more water purification operations, in this case near Tallil Airfield.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

Virtually any water source can be used to generate pure water. It's a pretty well developed system. We have operators who are skilled at how to make that happen. And it gets pumped freshly into water trucks for transport.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

We continue our efforts to reestablish reliable medical care throughout Iraq. Several hospitals have been secured by coalition operations recently, and as we go to those locations and we find patients that require care that cannot be adequately provided at some of these facilities, the patients are either transferred to other Iraqi hospitals or moved to military medical facilities. The U.S. Naval ship, Comfort, for example, now has over 100 noncombatants abroad receiving medical care in the most modern medical facility we have available to us.

While medical supplies are flowing in from a variety of countries and organizations, the coalition is also pushing medical supplies. In some cases, the supplies come from stocks planned for use in caring for coalition casualties but, at this point, they're no longer required in the same number.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

The next video is of coalition members using existing military resources to push medical assets into Iraq. They inventoried what they had, realized they had some access capacity and began to load them into boxes. The boxes were then taken to helicopters abroad ship offshore, flown to a place to be transported onto trucks, moved by trucks to aircraft and then flown in by C-130s at night into Baghdad International to be pushed into hospitals that have needs and that have been accessed as having those needs. In addition to moving supplies, we are also facility repair to the existing health care system. I've got several images to show you here of some meetings that occurred between civil affairs soldiers, working with medical staffs; in this case in An Diwaniyah. They're making assessments to improve the hospital and the medical care system there. In addition, to medical resupply and repair to the infrastructure, the coalition still provides immediate medical care when it's required.

This immediate care is only a part of the coalition's daily interaction with the people of free Iraq, and it contributes greatly to establishing conditions of stability and security for the future of Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

QUESTION: Sir, I'd like to ask a question about the volunteers who have come into Iraq who have been attacking your forces in various places, especially in and around Baghdad. Do you have an estimate of how many there are, how long they might able to continue operation? And how are you going to seek them out or is it just a case of waiting to come under attack and then trying to find out more about them and how much of a threat it is? Thank you.

BROOKS: We find that these volunteers claim that they are here in Iraq to protect the Iraqi people, but the Iraqi people continue to inform us that they don't require such protection. And so the first method of eliminating this existing threat is with the assistance of the Iraqi people. And in many cases they notify us where they think there may be pockets, where weapons may be stored, where there may be some untoward activity or where disruption and threats may occur.

We don't have a good number as to how many there are, but we do know that they don't have a place in the future of Iraq. And we rely first and most importantly on the Iraqi people to help us rid Iraq of such violent young men. In this case we're finding that they're all men.

Where we do find them, they're well armed. We think that some of the explosive vests were meant for them. And in the over 300 vests we found there were indications that some had already been removed. Up to 80 were not accounted for.

And so we certainly recognize that there are still threats. Even though there's not organized regime resistance, there are individuals who may be willing to carry on acts of violence and acts of terrorism without regard to any ideology or any national cause.

And so we'd like to see that gotten rid of. We're not just waiting to be attacked by any means. As we continue our efforts through different zones of Baghdad, with the assistance of the Iraqi population, we're looking for people just like this, as well as any remnants of the regime that might still be present. QUESTION: First, how many cards do you still have in your deck? And secondly, we're getting reports that 18 Kuwaitis may have been found by coalition forces inside Iraq from the '91 Gulf War. Do you have any information on that or your deck of cards?

BROOKS: The card deck is still full, however, we do continue to identify people who no longer are in play. So in this case that will continue to go on. There are a number of cases where we have unconfirmed information on some of the 55 that were identified as key regime figures that we're seeking. We don't have confirmation on who's alive or dead in some cases, and as time goes on and we're able to do detailed examinations of locations and get more information from the Iraqi population, we think that the number of cards that are in the deck for play will continue to reduce.

There are certainly reports that a number of prisoners are still somewhere in Iraq from previous conflicts, not only the '90-'91 Gulf War, but also the Iran-Iraq War before that. We don't have any information to confirm at this point, although we do still hear of reports that remain unconfirmed.

We have an interest in their liberation as well, and their repatriation. And we certainly know that their governments have an interest in that also, and our efforts continue to follow leads that come up on anyone that is still missing or unaccounted for.

QUESTION: But have you located anyone?

BROOKS: I'm not aware that we have located any at this point. I don't have any reports that would indicate that.

QUESTION: You said you'd secured the presidential palace in Tikrit, as well as a bridge. Can you give us any details on what you found there. Were there Republican Guards holed up in the palace trying to keep it from you? So, some more details on the resistance in Tikrit.

And also just a technical question regarding Geneva Conventions and your operations. In the area where coalition troops are operating, do you consider yourselves to be, in a legal term, the occupying power and thus bound by certain obligations under Geneva?

BROOKS: First, the operations in the Tikrit area. There was less resistance than we anticipated. We certainly knew that it was an area that was very important to the regime leadership. And we also had indications that there might still be a presence of military force there, Special Republican Guard, and potentially mixed with some other formations.

There is equipment in the area, but there was not much resistance. And so as the forces began to move in, they were successful in isolating. And I should add that this came after a period of focused operational fires over the last several weeks. As I've mentioned, we were not ignoring Tikrit by any means. In fact, we had a number of air operations that occurred in and around Tikrit, with great effect. We also had information operations ongoing, and there was also a Special Operations raid about 48 hours ago that included an armored formation, the very same one that I showed you crossing the Haditha dam a few days ago. So they crossed Haditha dam, a day later, they attacked, to an airfield just west of Tikrit. The primary force, though, is the one that just arrived within the last 24 hours.

And so much of the shaping of the battle has been successful and it occurred over time. We did not find any forces that were defending the presidential palace. At least, no reports that I've seen have indicated that there was any significant resistance at the palace.

And we're now beginning to interact with people inside of the community to see exactly what the conditions are there. If there are any regime leaders, we think they may help us find them. And we can also get Tikrit now on the path toward whatever the future is going to be.

On the Geneva responsibilities, it's still a bit premature for me to declare what our status is. I think that will come here in coming days. And what we do know is that we have responsibilities already as a force that has entered. The specific references to occupying power are very precise and very legalistic. And I'm not really in the best position to be able to give you information on that. We'll give you some more as time goes on, as it relates to that specific concern.

QUESTION: At this point, though, you wouldn't consider yourself an occupying power, even though some people might?

BROOKS: There is a view toward that. Right now, we're still a liberating force, and that's how we're approaching our operations. Much of what we're doing is collaborative with the Iraqi population, as I've described. And while there may be a number of similarities to what the Geneva Convention describes, that's not a category that we have stated publicly at this point. Whether that changes over time needs to be seen, and what final legalistic declarations we make will be forthcoming in the next several days.

QUESTION: You just mentioned a moment ago the presence, or the belief, that some long-term prisoners of war are present in Iraq. Do you have any reason to be hopeful that Michael Speicher would be among them?

And on the subject of the prisoners of war who were recently rescued, how did they get separated, with Pfc. Lynch being found further south than the group of seven?

BROOKS: We remain hopeful that we can recover our missing warrior, who has been gone since the Gulf War. We don't have any additional information. Any leads that would be available, we would certainly follow and try to restore him back to U.S. control.

Indications of others from previous battles as well, there's indications and information out there. The governments that are associated with this are also looking for their people and have expressed an interest in their return if we certainly find them. And we would expect to repatriate them if we do encounter them.

We don't have anything that leads us to anything concrete at this point, but we remain open to additional information.

As to the recovery of POWs, I really don't know at this point how the separation may have occurred and why Pfc. Lynch was kept in Nasiriyah and the others moved to different areas. That we have to find by asking questions, and that kind of questioning is ongoing right now, to get more information about the circumstances under which they were captured and how they were treated, where they were moved, anything else we can find.

That's why it's one of the very important steps, after we get a good medical assessment of the conditions of anyone that's been returned to U.S. military control, that we also find out what they know. These are our warriors out there and they have information that will be of value to us. And all that's ongoing right now.

QUESTION: Since General Franks indicated that the U.S. possesses the DNA of Saddam Hussein, has any testing of remains begun? Have any remains been recovered from the restaurant site? And does DNA also exist for his sons, or is the testing such, because he's the father, might they be able to extrapolate if they were to find remains of the sons?

BROOKS: I think we have the forensic ability to confirm any number of members of the family that are related by blood. At this point, we are doing examinations of a variety of sites. That is deliberate work that has to happen. We refer to it as site exploitation, but what we're talking about is doing detailed examination and searches.

That work's ongoing.

BROOKS: We don't have any confirmations at this point to report on any of the family members, but if we are able to confirm any of them, I think that we'll be able to connect the dots to other pieces of information through different sites.

This is something that will be an ongoing action. There will be others as well that we want to confirm. In some cases, it joins that piece of information that's forensic with other information that is provided by either intelligence or provided by Iraqi population citizens. And so, all of it gets put together to tell us whether or not we were effective and exactly who may be remaining alive or not. We don't have anything to report at this point.

There was a second half of your question on that.

QUESTION: I asked about being able to identify the sons, which you answered. But have you, in fact, recovered any remains from any sites that you believed were targets of regime leaders? So do you have remains upon which to use this DNA?

BROOKS: I don't have any reports of that at this point, whether or not we recovered it. I know that work is ongoing, and unless there's some significant find that we corroborate right away, I wouldn't hear about that until the sensitive site is completely examined and explored. There are a number of other things we look for there as well. There's documents we look for, there are computer hard drives we might be looking for -- anything that might give us a deeper insight into the regime, not just into the regime leaders themselves.

QUESTION: General, if as you say, you're trying to remove all the symbols of the regime, what steps are you taking to give Iraqi a new currency, and remove the notes from circulation that have Saddam Hussein's picture on them?

BROOKS: That's a great question, and this is one of the things that will develop over time also. We certainly know that the notes have images of the previous regime. Right now there is not a new currency in use. And so, there is a need for paying people that have returned back to work. There's a need for some sort of currency that provides exchange. And I think in due time, as more active work occurs with the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance and as the Iraqis themselves organize themselves for an interim government, we'll see any of these questions start to get answered.

Right now it's not going to be imposed by Central Command, but we'll certainly play a role as it gets introduced. Yes, please?

QUESTION: Talking about Tikrit, if it is falling steadily as you have just described, how far you are from telling us that, at least militarily, this is over?

BROOKS: Well, it remains a difficult thing to say, and I would tell you that we know that there are still some places where we have not accounted for all military activity. There are also places inside of the country that we have not physically gone to yet, and that has to be done. But clearly, we are at a point where the decisive military operations that were focused on removing the regime, destroying its capability, removing its ability to threaten neighboring countries, our coalition forces or our own countries, that work is coming to a close. But military work is not at a close, and even potential for combat action is not yet over. It'll be much more localized when it occurs, it will not be on a widespread scale and it certainly won't be in response to any organized regime effort.

BROOKS: And so it's a transition point that we're in right now.

As we've said before, there are a number of objectives to this campaign, and all of those objectives have to be attained before we say the mission is accomplished, the victory is complete and we can proceed on with other responsibilities we have.

It's been said a number of times also that we'll stay as long as it takes to get the job done and no longer.

And so we're on the path to that right now. It's an important transition point that we're at, but we still have much more work to do.

QUESTION: As you know, there has been a significant gap in coverage of this war between the Arab and Western media. At this point in the war, do you have any thoughts on the implications of this? And what have you done to bridge this gap? Thank you.

BROOKS: Sometimes what you present depends on what your perspective is, and we certainly have done a number of things, not the least of which is kept an open forum like this and other places for all of the world's media. That's the first and most important step.

We didn't restrict that at all. We kept it open and continue to do so even now.

But every organization represented inside of here has a different perspective. And so I don't know that it's really a disconnect between the Western media and Arab media. I think it may be a perspective difference on how you look at the same picture.

In due time, I think that, as the influences of the regime having now been removed, there's an opportunity for free press, truly free press, inside of Iraq at least. And we hold out a great deal of hope that that in fact will be what occurs from here.

We've seen a number of things that indicate that there's a chance, a bright chance for the future on this.

We also know that we've also communicated facts as we know them throughout, and that's our first and most important responsibility to do so, and we'll continue to do so as time goes on.

QUESTION: General, would you tell us if American army find any Kuwaiti prisoner of war from the first Gulf War or any information about them?

BROOKS: Well, sir, unfortunately, I cannot report that we have found any at this point. We certainly remain very interested in accounting for anyone that has been left unaccounted in previous wars. And we know that Kuwaiti government would like to have them returned.

That's something that's been important to this command, not the coalition, but this command since that time. We remain focused on trying to accomplish that if we can, with whatever information we gain. But right now I don't have any positive news to provide you on that.

QUESTION: The Republican Guard didn't even put up a fight in Tikrit. What is your military assessment of that? And is it perhaps because you have cut a deal with some of their leaders?

BROOKS: Well, the first military assessment is that we were effective in our operations. We intended to remove a capability to command and control so those that would issue orders could not do so, and they did not do so.

We made efforts to isolate units so that they could not be linked to other operations and might not even know what was going on in other operations. We were successful in doing that. We attacked their capability directly and physically destroyed some of their assets that might be used in combat operations. We were effective in doing that.

We also attacked their will through a number of means. First, all the items that I just laid out, that has an impact on the will of those who might choose to fight. We also communicated with them directly by leaflets, telling them that it was in their best interest to not fight for a dying regime. We were effective in that.

Any one of these I could go to. And then we also, as we had access to leaders, we spoke to them and said, "You need to make a choice here, because we're going to continue the combat operations until the capability is destroyed, the regime is destroyed." And we were clear about that and very forthright.

And so there were no deals that were cut, but there was clear communication that occurred between commanders that had choices. Those that made the choices will have an opportunity to live another day. Those who did not did not survive the operations. That's my assessment.

QUESTION: On that subject, where have they all disappeared to, all these Republican Guard? And how are these tens of thousands of people who were, you know, at the heart of Saddam's army going to sort of be integrated back in, what role are they going to have in the future? You know, where have they gone, what are they going to do?

Second question, on the oil. Especially in the north, it seems it could be back in operation very soon. Could you give us some kind of estimate on the time scale of when you think Iraq might be able to begin exporting oil again?

BROOKS: Well, we saw a number of people walk off the battlefield, from the earliest days of the war until the very last days. The fall of the formations in the north were perhaps the most recent example of that. But in other places we didn't see, places we didn't have a camera, it happened there as well.

So where are they now? In some cases there may be some leaders who are in hiding, and I believe that in due time they'll be retrieved. And if there's a need to bring them to justice -- for example, if they were involved in gassing their fellow citizens some years back -- then they'll be held accountable for that. If they were involved in mistreatment of prisoners of war who were in their possession, they'll be held accountable.

But many others were simply part of a regime that they didn't believe in. And we've seen that type of jubilation as the regime disappeared throughout the country. So their role is whatever they choose to be their role in the future. We've set the conditions for the Iraqis to determine what their destination and their destiny is going to be throughout the future.

Former soldiers are part of that. And I think that as time goes on, we'll get more information about those that were tainted and require more attention, and perhaps those that can make a useful contribution to the free Iraq of the future.

The second half of your question?

QUESTION: Oil...

BROOKS: Yes, was about oil. And you mentioned the north. We should be under no misconceptions that while we kept things successfully intact, without a lot of destruction, that there's still -- it's not going to happen right away. Let me put it like that.

What must first happen is an assessment in each one of these areas. As we found in the south, once we had access to the oil fields, we found that there were some things that were damaged that we couldn't see from a distance.

We also then looked to see how well can the facilities run when they're brought back up. What work might be required? Any repair work? Are there any breaks in the line? Can things run to their normal capacity? And we found that there's some work that needs to be done there. And the good news is, Kuwaiti oil workers -- I'm sorry, Iraqi oil workers, as well as Kuwaiti oil workers for that matter -- helped us make that assessment and have been active in helping us get the fields restored.

In the north, we find that the conditions that the fields, and some of the key structures of the oil fields were under, was better than in the south. They were put into safe modes, for example, in a way that is closer to standards than we would expect.

And so there may indeed be less repair or less work that has to be done in the north, but that assessment's ongoing.

Even in the best cases, we think it's weeks before we're back to getting into business of running oil. Everything has to be put into a safe mode, evaluated, cleared of any potential ordnance or explosives that might still be out there, assessed as part of a whole system, and then assessed item by item before we can go on. And if there's modernization that needs to happen, and there probably will be, because frankly the oil system has been neglected by the regime for a number of years.

The potential of the oil fields and oil structure in Iraq is much greater than the reality of how it's been operating for decades. And we think that can be restored over time, but it will take time to do that.

QUESTION: Sir, in your encounters with Syrian fighters, are you noticing that they're operating amongst themselves in sort of one- or two-man groups, or are they part of larger components of remnants of the Republican Guard units. And how, in your encounters with them, are they -- are they engaging a specific kind of attack against coalition forces.

And my second question is, sir, if you were a resident of Israel, almost a month now into this war, would you still bring a gas mask to work every day? BROOKS: Well, first, the foreign fighters we're seeing, and some of them are Syrian, some of them are indicated from other countries, as we've seen throughout the conflict, we've seen the whole gamut. Early on, they were mixed in and amongst the regime death squads that might have been joined with regular army forces, that might have been joined with Republican Guard. And there were some foreign fighters present in some of those early engagements. Many of them were soundly defeated and had severe losses inflicted on their formations.

In other places, we've seen them in groups of 10 to 20, as the last holdouts on areas, ambush points. In other cases, we've seen what appear to be just foreign fighters, as in the Imam Al-Adham (ph) mosque incident a few days ago. A lot of foreign fighters there. Several hundred were killed. Some were captured. And this is where we get some of our information.

We also see individuals who are willing to attack the coalition as individuals, wearing either the explosive vests, or the unfortunate shooting we had a few days ago at a checkpoint at point-blank range. Someone walked up and literally fired on a Marine. Foreign papers, in this case, we suspect Syrian.

And so as we see these different circumstances out there, the full range of tactics are being applied. The best way to describe it right now, though, is the tactics are tactics of terrorists, and the people perpetrating them are, at the very best, mercenaries who have been paid to come into Iraq. And they're not contributing to stability. They're not protecting the Iraqi people at are. In fact, they put the people at risk and contribute to instability, and there's no role for them in the future of Iraq.

The second part of your question, I can't completely project myself into that. We certainly know that there have been some statements made and changes of threat conditions within Israel. Those are decisions for governments and members of the civil society to decide for themselves.

What we know is that we were effective in preventing firing on that country or other neighboring countries. We did have firings on Kuwait. We weren't completely successful in that regard, but our operations eventually moved that threat away.

There were a total of 18 missile firings that we know of throughout this operation, all of them directed toward Kuwait or toward coalition forces as they moved through the southern desert.

And we were successful at destroying many of those, preventing them from firing again, moved back the line where they could fire. And in a very short period of time, we got Kuwait out of range. And then eventually we got our forces out of range as well.

So the best I can assess is that we were successful in that objective of not letting the regime expand the conflict by threatening its neighbors. And that's a good news story, we believe.

QUESTION: There's been evidence of a number of foreign fighters from a variety of different countries, from Morocco, some from Libya, some even from Malaysia, a whole host of countries. Why do you only talk about Syrians?

BROOKS: I think because we're seeing them in the greatest density. And certainly in recent days we've seen people with papers from Syria as well, identification documents and what have you.

We have a seen a number of countries, as you've stated, and there may well still be representatives from additional countries that are out there.

We also know that there were attempts to enter from Syria and some recruiting occurred in Syria. While we suspect that may well have been Iraqi intelligence service doing that work, it still came from that direction. That's why we keep referring to Syria. It's just the role that Syria has been involved in in this case.

Now, whether it's something done by governments, we don't know. And that's really for our government to determine. There have certainly been communications at governmental level from capital to capital, and that's not something I need to comment on at this point from this command.

QUESTION: I'd like to know what's your engagement with the civilian in Tikrit. And my second question is, are we going to expect to see another American flag cover Saddam's statue in Tikrit?

BROOKS: Let me talk to the first part, and then I'll come back to the second.

Our engagement in Tikrit with the population is like it is everywhere else. We very quickly transitioned from combat operations that are focused and lethal to interacting with people that want to interact with us.

I'll give you an example. Now, this is not in Tikrit, but just south of Tikrit. As the Marine forces began to advance forward in the town of Samara, they had two fights. One was with about a platoon- sized element, which was destroyed by the Marine force. They advanced, had contact with another platoon-sized element and destroyed it.

Shortly thereafter, the Marines took up temporary positions and some of the townspeople came out with roses and greeted them. They were warmly received. And shortly thereafter the guards that were holding the prisoners of war came forward and said, "We've got something to show you."

We've transitioned very quickly because we're a highly disciplined force. We're a very capable force. And so I suspect that our operations in Tikrit and our interactions will continue to be like that.

As the people of Tikrit want to interact with us, we'll exchange information, we'll talk to them, and we'll also treat them with respect. If we find there are some regime leaders in there, they will be taken into our custody, but the people of the city remain treated with respect.

As to your question about the flag, I don't believe you've seen that circumstance yet, you've not seen a flag flown, and so I wouldn't want to speculate as to what would happen, but I think our soldiers and Marines are disciplined. We've talked about that before. And since it hasn't occurred, it's probably not something to speculate on.

QUESTION: When you look back to your expectations 25 days ago, at the outset of this, did you think -- you've said you're on plan every single day, but was the plan to be rolling into Tikrit virtually unopposed 25 days later?

Did you expect to be almost militarily finished within a month? I mean, are you way ahead of schedule or behind? How would you characterize where you are in terms of your expectations before you knew what kind of level of resistance, or not, that you'd meet throughout?

BROOKS: Well, we did say continually that we were on plan. We're still on plan. We are.

(LAUGHTER)

And what I have to specify is, at the operational level, as General Franks has emphasized a number of times, and as I've certainly said and General Renuart said, and General Abizaid, when you lay out a plan, it has certain objectives that are to be accomplished, and those objectives are accomplished by certain combinations of action. Sometimes they're sequential. Other times, they're done simultaneously. The dynamics below that at the tactical level are subject to the various circumstances that are encountered on the battlefield. Opportunities emerge, they're acted on. Conditions occur and we create new opportunities, and those opportunities are then acted on.

The enemy gets a vote that you can't always predict. You may see tactics used that were considered but arrive in a more dense way. There may be fights that occurred in areas where you didn't expect them. There may be some areas where you expected a fight and none occurs.

And so the plan that we refer to at the coalition force headquarters talks about what actions are necessary, what conditions must be set for us to say we've accomplished what we're after.

And absolutely we're on plan, and we remain on plan, because part of our plan is also to transition from decisive combat operations into a focus on stability, support and setting the conditions for the Iraqi people to choose their destiny. That's right on plan.

How that will form, what actions we'll see, there will be a number of dynamics that cannot be completely predicted, but they'll be responded to. Some will be consistent with what we anticipated.

You mentioned time. We believed that our decisive operations campaign would be measured in weeks, not months. And we believe we're consistent with that. That was the design from the front. The arrival of additional forces to either reinforce on the battlefield or to relieve forces on the battlefield was part of the plan. It's right on track.

And so I certainly reinforce what my boss has said on a number of occasions, that the plan was sound from the start, the plan is working and we remain on plan.

Ladies and gentlemen, thanks very much.

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