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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

U.S. Military News Conference on Samarra Ambushes

Aired December 1, 2003 - 06:08   ET

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

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: We want to head live to Samarra, Iraq. The news conference has begun at the Bracksfield Morra (ph) military base in Samarra. We believe Colonel Fredrick Rudesheim, from the 3rd Brigade Combat team, the commander, is speaking, as well Lieutenant Colonel Gonzalez (ph) with the 116th Armored Battalion.
Let's listen.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

COL. FREDRICK RUDESHEIM, U.S. ARMY: We'll turn it over to some questions, and as appropriate, we'll shift to whoever can answer the question the best.

I'd like to say up front there are some things that we're not going to respond to. We're not going to talk about ongoing operations. We're not going to talk about anything that would endanger our soldiers as we continue to conduct military operations in this area. So just bear that in mind, please.

Yesterday afternoon -- it actually started at about 1100, as we approached the afternoon, we had two Iraqi currency exchange convoys that were intended to go to two separate banks. So, this was not an unperceived event. We knew that we were going into these banks, and we had prepared escorts for both of these.

We had an operation to go into both banks, and we'll get into some of those details. But from start to finish, from going into the area, going into Samarra proper and going to both bank locations -- which we tend to refer to as Bank East and Bank West -- it was about 2 hours and 45 minutes from start to finish. And in those 2 hours and 45 minutes, there was a lot of things -- there were a lot of things that happened.

We had an operations order. We prepared for this. This is not the first time we've had Iraqi currency exchange deliveries to these banks. And we had to be prepared for any contingencies.

During this operation, we had about 100 soldiers. And at the -- I'm going to give you some round figures. We had maybe six tanks, four Bradleys, four upper armored humvees and then some other assorted humvee vehicles that were involved in the operation, along with two platoons of infantry that rode in the Bradleys that went into the -- into the city.

As far as the specifics of the contacts, in general terms, and because I want to go to the specifics, I will turn the specifics over to both Col. Gonzalez and then the company commander who actually was the immediate command and control for the operation, that would be Captain Debanay (ph).

As we went into both of these locations, and it varies from one to the other, contact occurred. It was initiated by attackers. It started initially with some small arms. But throughout the course of the attacks in both locations, they involved small arms, they involved rocket-propelled grenades and they involved mortars.

Now it is our belief that this was a coordinated effort. It would hard -- it would be hard to say otherwise. Knowing that we were going in to have to do the Iraqi currency exchange, it was our belief that we had attackers prepared to ambush both of these convoys as they went in or as they went out. And a contact, in fact, occurred in both places, OK.

So with that, I have given you really the outline of what happened. And I'd like to then take some questions. We will take questions for about 15 minutes. And I'll try to moderate, turn them over to anybody that I think could answer the question best.

Yes -- sir.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

RUDESHEIM: Well, first of all, we put together the absolute best picture that we could. Because one of the things we did right after the contact, we don't wait, we bring all those involved in, and Col. Gonzalez can address this further, if you like, and we actually had interviews with everybody that was involved. And this is -- this is so that we understand immediately, while it is still fresh in people's minds, what happened and who was involved. And that's how we put together the casualty figures that we came up with.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

RUDESHEIM: OK, certainly we don't know the specifics of who they were. That would be very hard to tell. We are getting that information now based on some of the individuals that we captured. As far as how many goes, goes back to the -- what I said previously, and that is by having talked to the individuals that were on the ground and involved in the contact, that gave us a sense of who was -- who was engaged and how many were killed.

Now could some of those, in fact, have been wounded rather than killed? That's yet to be seen. As far as whatever reports you are getting out of the local hospital, I would caution you, again, that our terrorists, the adversary that we face in this area will not bring all casualties to the local hospitals. And so suffice it to say, this is going to be, I think, a difficult picture to put together for the coming days. But we're continuing to work it as well.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

RUDESHEIM: Well let me turn it over to Captain Debanay. And, Andy (ph), if you would talk to that, please. CAPT. ANDY DEBANAY, U.S. ARMY: I believe their report was they were observed wearing Fedayeen-style clothing. What we have seen is they wear darker clothing and they wrap their faces with the head wrap or a scarf in order to conceal their face. And that's what we reported, they were dressed in the Fedayeen-style garb.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

RUDESHEIM: OK. I'm going to turn that over to Captain Debanay one more time. But let me -- let me set the stage by telling you this. We were going in to -- we were going in to two specific locations. And so having done that, the attacks were localized around those locations and then the avenues of ingress and egress, all right.

Go ahead -- Andy.

DEBANAY: As far as the nature of the enemy force we faced, we believe it was -- they split their force in half, as well, and had a well-planned attack against each bank site. And we think we were looking at anywhere from 30 to 40 individuals at each bank site. And they had broken themselves down into squad and team sized elements so they could attack each bank from all sides. And they also had ambush points set up on routes into and out of the city. And they had pre- positioned explosives, IEDs on our route that we take into the city typically.

Do you want me to talk about the (INAUDIBLE)?

RUDESHEIM: No. Did that answer your -- did that answer your question?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE).

RUDESHEIM: Yes, please go ahead.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

RUDESHEIM: Go ahead -- Andy.

DEBANAY: Yes. They were -- they were -- had a mixture of guys moving in cars. What they typically do is they move a couple back alleyways back off the main street that we are positioned on. And they use cover of the buildings to reposition and take shots at us. And you know we seen them -- yesterday we saw everything from the orange and white taxis that you typically see in-country, to BMWs, to white Toyota pickup trucks. And they were using those vehicles to reposition in the back alleys and so they could vary up their firing locations against us.

Additionally, they had pre-positioned personnel on rooftops and behind walls. If you know of, all the buildings here have a flat rooftop with a wall that they can kind of hide behind. And we saw a number on all sides from each bank that they had pre-positioned there.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

RUDESHEIM: I really have no information on that, Nick (ph), none whatsoever.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

RUDESHEIM: There was actually a second -- I won't characterize it as second contact, but a separate contact that occurred with an engineer element that also happened to be operating in Samarra. And it -- actually, passing through would be more accurate. And we, because anybody that comes through Samarra comes up on our radio frequency and lets us know they are operating there, we had had this contact.

They had actually withdrawn from the banks having -- and I want to make this point very clear -- successfully delivered the Iraq dinar. They, in both cases, even amidst a lot of confusion and a lot of gunfire, they completed the Iraqi dinar exchange and then they withdrew. As they were -- as they were withdrawing, we had actually gone to a point just outside of the significant urban area of Samarra when we got this call.

Ryan, do you want to address that about when we had the call from the engineers?

LT. COL. RYAN GONZALEZ, U.S. ARMY: Yes, early on we had an indication that the engineers were passing by. They had paused in their operation to allow us to continue the operation that we had going on with the dinar exchange. After that operation, we got another confirmation that they were in contact with a black BMW speeding away from the contact they had just faced at the east bank. That engineer element received fire from this BMW. They, in fact, engaged that BMW, took some EPWs, injured and non-injured, away from that scene and recovered numerous RPGs, AK-47s and things of that nature.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

GONZALEZ: They were not near the mosque and the hospital. That -- no, they were further south into the center of town.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

RUDESHEIM: No. They're further south than the center of town.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

RUDESHEIM: The bank, what we call the Was Bank (ph), is just south of the Golden Mosque.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

RUDESHEIM: Andy may have some of that. All I know is the Golden Mosque, just south.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ANDY: No, we were out of the city at -- we were back here around that time. RUDESHEIM: I can't respond to that. Yes, any time we talk to a head speaker.

ANDY: Yes, as far as anything happening at 17:00 hours yesterday, we were already out of the city by then, had no forces, friendly forces, operating downtown.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ANDY: Roger. When we finally pulled out of the city, it was after 16:00 hours. But...

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

RUDESHEIM: We did -- we've been in this city for about five and a half months. And in that time we've made a lot of, a lot of friends, Iraqi friends. We have stood up city council. We've worked very closely with the Iraqi police, the Samarra Iraqi police, with the Iraqi civil defense corps that is -- they're all recruited from this immediate area.

We have, we have talked about, on numerous occasions, to anybody that we can speak to, and all those aforementioned are part of those that deliver that message that says we're here to turn control of Samarra -- in a microcosm, Samarra is just what we're doing throughout Iraq, and that is working to turn control of Samarra over to legitimate local authorities such as the Iraqi police and in cooperation with the ICDC, the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.

Now, the other message we have is if attacked, attacks are not just on coalition. Attacks, in our view, are attacks against freedom loving Iraqis that want to move on with life vis those that are trying to drag them back to something akin to the former regime. And we find that a very appealing message to many of those in Samarra.

What we hear is that the people of Samarra are fed up with these Fedayeen or the terrorists, because you can have actually a number of groups that can be working in concert. But they're fed up with them. And we have reports, too, that they're very unhappy with -- as far as even, going as far as attacking some of the funerals of those that were killed in yesterday's attack. Now, that's anecdotal more than specific, but the thing is that now I -- we are going to continue to work as hard as we have for the last five and a half months to gain the respect of the Iraqi people, and, more importantly, to turn control of the City of Samarra, to return control of the City of Samarra to the Iraqi police and to the ICDC. And that's been our effort all along.

In fact, I will tell you that for Ramadan, we made a significant effort to withdraw from the city to allow both the Iraqi police and the ICDC to be the principal force within the city. And that seemed to work. It seemed to work.

And we've also withdrawn some of our positions from much closer in the city where we had -- we'd garrisoned some of our units to further out so that we weren't as close to the urban area as we were before.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

RUDESHEIM: OK, I'll say something -- I'll respond to you and then I'll let Captain Debonai (ph) talk to you about that.

As I've said, it's, it was a coordinated attack. It was coordinated most likely on a couple of levels. One is we know they're coming in the city. Therefore we can have multiple attacks both at the banks, because that was a given location that they knew we'd go to, and the routes that we most likely would use going in and out.

Now, how does that compare? What it tells me is -- at least in the City of Samarra, that there -- and it bore out by the number of enemy casualties that we had -- that there was, at least for this specific period of time, a concerted effort by the enemy to try to do a -- deal a significant blow to coalition forces.

This was not done in a, you know, last minute planning effort. This was done in a concerted fashion.

Now, we're going to have to follow-up very, very carefully on the information that we're getting from detainees and we're going to continue to take the fight to this enemy because, again, you know, we are going to work to restore control of Samarra to the Iraqis. And I think that's the most significant contact we have had to date in the City of Samarra. And we're going to have to respond accordingly.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

RUDESHEIM: OK, let me respond to what I can.

First of all, Dexter, I'm not going to tell you how much money they were delivering, OK? They were delivering a significant amount of money. It was the Iraqi, you know, currency exchange delivery.

And on the second point, I have no direct information on that and so I can get with you afterwards and talk to you about that. But I, as far as your question about the Kurdish...

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

RUDESHEIM: Yes. Got it. I don't have any direct information on that and I'd have to get back to you on what I could find.

COSTELLO: All right, we're going to step away.

This is a live press conference from Samarra, where coordinated attacks over the weekend took the lives of 54 Iraqi insurgents. And they attacked two U.S. convoys. The convoys, the soldiers in the convoys fought back. Fifty-four were killed. I believe eight were taken captured and five U.S. soldiers were injured in the attacks, but no U.S. soldiers died.

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