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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Briefing

Aired April 16, 2003 - 13:01   ET

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

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHR: We're going to take you now to the Pentagon, where Tori Clarke and General McChrystal have just stepped up to the podium.
Let's listen in.

VICTORIA CLARKE, ASST. SECY. OF DEFENSE: Good afternoon everyone.

As President Bush said yesterday, the Iraqi regime is no more, Saddam Hussein is no longer the dictator and oppressor of the Iraqi people. But as the president also warned, there remain dangerous elements in the country who must be rooted out.

Coalition forces have taken Tikrit, Samra (ph) and al Qaim. Our forces are securing key infrastructure in Baghdad. We are increasing our patrols of the city to provide security. And British forces are patrolling in southern Iraq, including joint patrols with Iraqi citizens.

The picture continues to brighten in Iraq, but our troops are still putting their lives on the line and the work is dangerous. Several American soldiers were killed in the last few days, including, from the Marine Corps, Lance Corporal David E. Owens Jr. (ph), age 20, of Winchester, Virginia, and Corporal Armando A. Gonzales (ph), 25, from Hialeah, Florida. From the Army, Private First Class John E. Brown (ph), 21, of Troy, Alabama, Specialist Thomas A. Foley III (ph), 23, of Dresden, Tennessee, Specialist Richard A. Goward (ph), 32, of Midland, Michigan, Specialist Gil Mercado (ph), 25, Paterson, New Jersey, and Private First Class Joseph P. Myak (ph), 20, from Rock Springs, Wyoming.

And our thoughts and our prayers and condolences go out to their families and friends.

To rebuild Iraq, we are working with local leaders, clerics and ordinary civilians in towns across the country. Rebuilding is a major task, not just because of the war, but because of nearly three decades of neglect and devastation by the Hussein regime.

Local councils are forming to help rid cities and towns of regime remnants, and every day civilians are leading our troops to enemy caches of large weapons, ammunition, TNT, plastic explosives and homemade bombs. School after school after school is cleared by the weapons and ammunition stored there by Iraqi forces.

On a more positive note, every day more countries and organizations come to the aid of the Iraqi people. The Australian government will provide three planeloads of medical supplies to Baghdad.

Overall, Australia plans to spend $60 million for humanitarian aid. Over the weekend, two Kuwaiti air force C-130s flew into Baghdad International Airport with 24 tons of medical supplies for hospitals and health clinics in the city.

From Turkey, 1 million liters of water were delivered to Kirkuk. Repairs are being made there to the electrical and water systems.

From Spain, the ship Galacia (ph) delivered humanitarian aid, as well as military vehicles and supplies for troops.

And as the aid flows to many places throughout the country, more and more Iraqis are stepping forward to provide useful information and work with coalition forces on restoring police forces, providing electrical power, reopening schools and getting clean water flowing again.

CLARKE: We have a short video from Nasiriyah.

Thanks, Terry (ph).

Along with the material infrastructure of Iraq, a new political system is also being built. Yesterday, dozens of free Iraqis from in and out of the country from diverse religious, civil and ethnic groups met in Ur near An Nasiriyah. This was the first of many meetings as the Iraqi people begin to chart their future course free of the oppression of the Hussein dictatorship.

They talked about freedom and self-government in Iraq. They called for a country that respects the rule of law and diversity. They acknowledged that a lot of hard work lies ahead, and they called for the next meeting in just 10 days.

And we have a very short clip of this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: ... achieving this goal, that so many of you have talked to me about is, among other things, the Iraqis would like to live in a democratic and peaceful and secure country.

CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: But to rebuild a country and have (ph) to create a democracy.

CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: I don't want to take too long.

(CROSSTALK)

CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: ... a federalist (ph) solution within the context of...

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CLARKE: The coalition role in this process is simple: To create the conditions that the Iraqi people can rebuild their country. Our job is not to pick or choose leaders for factions, that is up to the Iraqi people.

Yesterday was only the first step, but an important one in the journey toward freedom and self-representation. Slowly but surely, the Iraqi people will build a government and a system that preserves its territorial integrity, uses resources to benefit the Iraqi people and is not a threat to the region or the world.

General?

MAJOR GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, VICE DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF MCCHRYSTAL: Thank you, Ms. Clarke.

I would also like to extend condolences to the families and friends of those servicemembers that Ms. Clarke just mentioned, that have been killed, as well as those that have been injured over the past few days.

I won't review any new operational details. However, I would like to reinforce Ms. Clarke's comments that all major combat operations are likely behind, the task faced by coalition members remain and difficult and potentially dangerous.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Torie, Abu Abbas, can you say who's holding him and explain the process with which you will -- his disposition to other agencies or...

CLARKE: Not really. We're looking at the legal issues and possibilities, and have nothing to say right now.

QUESTION: Can you say where he is or who's holding him?

CLARKE: No. But I take you back to the military objectives that the secretary and the chairman laid out in the first days of this war; and one of them is to root out the terrorists that have found sanction and harbor in Iraq. And clearly, this is a piece of that.

QUESTION: Is there any evidence or indication that he was responsible for any terrorist activity or supporting terrorist activity while he was in Iraq, or is the U.S. interest in him primarily because of previous terrorist activities?

CLARKE: I think it is because of a patterns of behavior, but in terms of Iraq specific, don't have information for you.

QUESTION: We gather he was turned back at the border trying to cross over to Syria. Is that some indication that Syria is cooperating now with the United States or doing its bidding?

CLARKE: I've only read press reports. I don't have any more information than that about what he was doing before they got him.

QUESTION: Does the Pentagon plan to take any captured terrorists to Guantanamo Bay?

CLARKE: There are no plans at this time.

QUESTION: What do you know about ...

CLARKE: We almost could have ended it. I saw an opening.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Two entirely different subjects.

CLARKE: Oh, no. We will come back to you. One question on one subject, and then ...

QUESTION: Oh, OK. Well, in that case the question's for you. And it's not on the war. Franklin Graham is scheduled to be here on Friday to lead Good Friday prayers at the Pentagon, and some Muslim workers here at the Pentagon have objected to his appearance here at the Pentagon, saying that he's a controversial figure, that his movement champions converting Muslims to Christianity and that he has publicly criticized Islam on television.

So I'm wondering if you can tell me whether or not the Pentagon is rethinking Franklin Graham's appearance here, and whether or not the Pentagon feels he's an appropriate person to have here to lead Good Friday prayers?

CLARKE: I just found out today that he had been -- I read the press reports and heard that he had been invited. And I think it's important to remember that the Pentagon chaplain's office invites speakers and religious leaders from all sorts of different places, representing all sorts of different faiths and organizations. And it is a policy of openness and inclusiveness.

I think we clearly have demonstrated from what the U.S. military has done over the last quite a few years how committed we are to fighting fights to protect people, to protect their right to practice their faith.

You know, those who would like to say some of the things we're doing are war against Muslims. Clearly it's (inaudible). You start with Kuwait, you go to Kosovo, Bosnia, Somalia, Afghanistan -- what we are doing now. Clearly we're doing this to the benefit of Muslim people. So then if you get a good sense of what the Pentagon's approach to this is, specifically about his appearance on Friday, I'd direct you to the Army.

QUESTION: General McChrystal, you've said that major combat operations are over. You've said that there are pockets of resistance. Can you talk about combat operations currently now and if across the board, the U.S. is generally moving to Phase Four (ph) stabilization? MCCHRYSTAL: I think the characterization of Phase Four (ph) would be up to General Franks making a recommendation to the secretary of defense. But clearly we are moving towards support and stability in many areas of the country already. The combat operations that remain, there are some parts of the country we have not moved into at all. We just recently sent major elements into Ar Ramadi, into Al- Kayim.

MCCHRYSTAL: We still have a small city to the north of Tikrit that has not been, not seen any presence of coalition forces at this point. So they're potential in those locations for some fights or at least in Bahgee (ph) for fights. But most areas we are transitioning to going after the pockets of death squads towards dealing with those elements that want to rise up and cause threats to either the new Iraq or to coalition forces. So I think it's transitioning fairly rapidly to support and stability.

QUESTION: So is it accurate to say that there is sort of a backfill in places that now that you pass by on your way to Baghdad?

MCCHRYSTAL: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, can you describe a little bit about what we're hearing about the idea of redeploying the troops with the marines in the north and the army in the south, what's the thinking behind that and how that runs?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sure, I like to take it from the larger sense first in terms of shaping the force and we talked a little bit about this the last time.

What's happening right now is that General Franks has the authority to redeploy forces that are already in theatre when he no longer needs them, and that has been ongoing now for several days. He's redeployed -- begun the redeployment of at least two air carrier battle groups, a number of strike aircrafts, and the expectation is that he will continue to shape that part of the force down as those requirements go away.

He will continue to shape by modifying whatever the force flow in any way he wants to have the appropriate forces that come in. As you know, we've got the first armored division -- the third armored calvary regimen -- still arriving, the fourth infantry division is on the ground in its entirety now. And we are shaping some of the force packages.

I believe you've seen the announcement that the first calvary division is not being deployed at this point, but we are deploying some of the elements from that force package -- some of the water elements, some of the military police elements because they match General Franks' requirement for the future.

MCCHRYSTAL: I would expect that as he goes into the stability operation, he would divide it into sectors: a marine sector, an army or fifth core sector, and then any other -- the coalition forces operating as he sees fit. And then within those sectors operate again in each specific area where then a sector is required. And he'll have special operations forces available through and throughout to augment and compliment regular forces.

QUESTION: There have been instances in Mosul now for 3 days running where civilians have been shot apparently by U.S. troops. Can you explain what's been going on there, and has this been an instance of lack of fire discipline on the part of the troops and maybe an example of the kinds of problems they're going to be facing as they stabilize the country?

MCCHRYSTAL: I've seen the reports and the articles about the incidents. I'm not prepared to judge on either side whether it's a lack of fire discipline or what was the cause. I would say it highlights the complexity of the situation.

In the first case, which I'm more familiar with, clearly there was a crowd (ph) at some point, there were shots, initially warning shots, and then lethal shots fired by both sides or at least effective fire fired by both sides. And it shows the incredible complexity of dealing in a situation where we have service people trying to bring stability to an area and having elements of whatever party or group trying to oppose that.

QUESTION: Do you know if there's been any steps taken to tighten up or at least to -- any additional instructions given to the marines so that this kind of an incident is minimized?

CLARKE: Let me jump in here, and then you can finish up. Again, people look at one incident. If you look at the last few weeks -- the extraordinary care, the great caution to protect civilians that the U.S. and coalition forces have employed have been extraordinary, and day after day, example after example of going to great lengths to spare civilian lives. So that's the appropriate way to look at this. This is an incident, they're still looking into the details.

QUESTION: To follow up on this question about the care taken to minimize civilian casualties. We're getting reports that some unexploded cluster bomb munitions have been showing up in and around Baghdad. And human rights groups have been complaining that the use of these weapons, particularly in populated areas, presents an indiscriminate risk to civilians.

Can you just respond to that? First of all, have cluster bombs been used in populated areas? And does that present a risk to civilians that perhaps should be looked at?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, I don't know. I cannot categorically state whether or not they've been used. It is my understanding that they have not been used in any populated areas.

But, clearly, I'd have to get more information to know that. I will tell you that the care which was taken in targeting throughout this campaign, the right munition for the right target, has been unprecedented. And so in every case, I would tell you, scrutiny and care in every phase of it was the governing factor.

QUESTION: I'm not sure that I understood your earlier responses on the issue of Syria and whether or not you feel that there might be some mild progress of any kind being made as far as the U.S. government is concerned.

Are you seeing things in terms of actions or talk from the Syrians that might alter the U.S. government's posture slightly toward it?

CLARKE: I haven't seen anything.

QUESTION: And second issue is leadership. Do you have any sense that large numbers of the former government of Iraq's leadership is still in Iraq in some way, shape or form?

Do you think that many of them have left? Do you have any sense that they might still be roaming around?

CLARKE: Well, we've gotten some of them, which is a good sign, and that's part, one of the most important parts of our military objectives. You hear rumors, you hear speculation, obviously it's a top concern for us, so we'll keep a close eye on where we think they might be and try to get them. I have not heard of large numbers getting out of the country.

QUESTION: In his last press conference before the war President Bush said that what Saddam Hussein had needed to do in order to avoid war was to disarm, and that if military operation were necessary the purpose of them would be to disarm the Iraqi regime.

That's the only objective he mentioned. I almost get the feeling tat there is kind of an effort now to refocus the operation toward other goals, such as restoring democracy or human rights.

In your view was the purpose of this war to disarm the Iraqi regime?

CLARKE: Oh, I think that the president and the secretary of defense and the secretary of state and others made it very, very clear repeatedly, we consider Iraq a real threat, the Iraqi regime a threat to us, to our friends and allies, to the region.

We said it was important to end the regime so we can find and destroy the WMD. We think it is very, very important that it is a country that respects its ethnic diversity, that's not a threat, it's not invading its neighbors, it's not firing missiles into its neighbors.

I think we made it very clear what the priorities are.

CLARKE: At the end of the day it is about stopping a very real and growing threat, what was then a growing threat to the region and the world. I pushed back slightly on how you phrased it. We're not imposing anything, we're creating the conditions so the Iraqi people themselves can have a better life, so they can have a system that's more representative, so they can have a country that does not have and use WMD.

It's a very important distinction, but it's one we try to make repeatedly.

QUESTION: But it would be wrong to conclude that you're de- emphasizing disarmament as the purpose...

(INTERRUPTED BY LIVE EVENT)

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