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Myers, Sanchez Press Briefing

Aired April 15, 2004 - 09:10   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's take you now live to Baghdad, where a news conference is about to get under way. We are expecting to hear from General Richard Myers, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Also Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. Let's listen in to what they have to say.

The pursuit of freedom and democracy for our Iraqi friends and the security of the entire Gulf region remains a high military priority.

U.S., coalition and Iraqi forces are committed to ending the attacks being made by the militia and thugs of Sadr and the last holdouts of Saddam's regime and foreign fighters.

The last day and a half, I've had a chance to meet with the Italian and Polish coalition commanders, American field commanders, and tonight I'll meet with Ambassador Bremer here in Baghdad.

I've also talked with some of our troops in the field. I've come away even more impressed with the spirit and resolve of our men and women in uniform and I think they are doing a superb job.

The United States and our coalition partners remain dedicated to building a free and democratic Iraq and defeating those who would turn Iraq into an oppressive, dictatorial regime run by fear and terror.

The United States is totally committed to standing by the Iraqi people. We will continue to maintain a strategic partnership with the Iraqi Governing Council, emerging provincial leaders, and we look forward to a free and democratic Iraq joining the family of free and peace-loving nations.

With that, we'll take a few questions.

QUESTION (through translator): My question is for General Myers. We heard that you are planning to bring in more forces to Iraq. Does it mean that you are going to engage in large-scale operations in Iraq?

MYERS: Thank you. And that's a good question.

General Abizaid and General Sanchez have asked for more capability, given the current security situation here in Iraq. MYERS: And that capability will, as in the past, be provided to our commanders in the field.

The duration for that additional capability to be here in Iraq is to be determined. It will depend on events here on the ground, but I think what it shows is our resolve to see this situation through.

Obviously, we've had for the last 10 days, two weeks, some significant security challenges not only to security but also to progress here in Iraq; challenges to the Transitional Administrative Law; challenges to the Iraqi people.

And the forces that are perpetrating these extremist and terrorist acts must be dealt with and General Sanchez has decided he needs some more capability to do that, and we will do that.

QUESTION: How can U.S. and allied forces bring sufficient force to bear to resolve the violence in Fallujah and the issue of Muqtada al-Sadr's militia without further inflaming the country?

MYERS: Clearly, we have -- in your question there, as you pointed out, we have two different situations.

The situation, by the way, in the south of Iraq, with the exception of An Najaf area and al-Sadr's forces there and the man himself, is relatively stable and has essentially returned to the condition it was before Sadr's militia and thugs started attacking not only coalition forces, but also killing Iraqi people, innocent men, women and children.

MYERS: As you know, Sadr is indicted by the Iraqi government for his alleged involvement in the murder of a fellow cleric and I think there's nobody that wants him brought to justice more than the Iraqi Governing Council and other Iraqi authorities.

Negotiations continue.

And this is not a question in either place, by the way, of sufficient military force. You can be assured that there is sufficient military force to deal with either the situation in Fallujah, what we're doing in the south around An Najaf. That is not the issue. And we will deal with it.

In Fallujah, as you know, there are negotiations ongoing as well right now and we'll have to see how they play out. I think we have to be prepared and prepare ourselves that there may be further military action in Fallujah. It's a situation where you have, clearly, some foreign fighters, former regime element members who, again, while the cease-fire is ongoing are attacking our Marines. The Marines are obeying the cease-fire, but they're being fired upon. They can return fire in self-defense which they do, but they're trying their best to follow the rules of the cease-fire.

Negotiations are ongoing. We'll have to see how they play out. They can't go on, I don't think, in my mind as a military man, forever. They have to -- at some point, somebody has to make a decision on what we're going to do and we certainly can't rule out the use of force there, again depending on how the negotiations go.


MYERS: Please.

SANCHEZ: ... let me add that part of the effort that we're taking here on the ground and in the country to communicate to the Iraqi people that this is not about the coalition forces against the Iraqi people is to clearly identify that there's a common thread between these two enemy forces that I'm encountering on the battlefield.

These are forces that are attacking the democratic institutions of the country; they're attacking the religious, the political and the security structures of this country in an effort to take it back toward an oppressive era. We're communicating that to the people.

There is an element of the former regime that is against us today.

SANCHEZ: There is an element of foreign fighters that is out there striking at the Iraqi people. And there's a terrorist element that has claimed responsibility for attacking the Iraqi people.

That's what we're facing and that's what we're working very hard to communicate to the Iraqi people, to the international community and clearly to the American public.

MYERS: If I may, let me just -- General Sanchez is absolutely right: That is the common thread. And the common thread is epitomized perhaps by the Zarqawi letter of a month or so ago, where the sole intent is to stop progress here in Iraq toward an Iraq where Iraqi people can make their own determination on their way forward and where the rights of everybody in Iraq are respected no matter whether the majority or minority.

And the common thread is among these groups, whether Fallujah or the militia that has supported Sadr, is to try to interrupt that process. And if they have to kill innocent Iraqi men, women and children, they'll do that. Certainly they'll attack the coalition. They'll do other things that extremists and terrorists do, and it just can't be permitted.

QUESTION: How much of the aggression that you're encountering is deep-seated within communities and how much is more so on the fringes of these communities? How would you typify the aggression as you're finding it in the past couple of weeks?

MYERS: The aggression -- one more time? You're saying...

QUESTION: How much of the aggression that your troops are coming up against -- is it deep-seated within communities or are you finding that it's more on the fringes of communities?

MYERS: No. It's -- in the south, the aggression was clearly by this group that supported Muqtada al-Sadr, and whether you call them militia or thugs or whatever you want to call them. But it was very small groups.

And I think the fact that towns like Al Kut, Nasariyah, Basra, have been quickly stabilized and returned essentially to normal indicates that they were very small forces and not -- and they did not enjoy the support of the Iraqi people in general.

This was not a Shia uprising. Sadr is a marginalized figure and he's being marginalized more and more every day by his own actions.

When the Iraqi people know the full story of how he used his militia to kill Iraqis, I think they'll understand -- if they don't now -- they'll understand that point.

No, this was not an uprising. This was not a popular resistance against the coalition.

MYERS: This was a few hundred people in various cities trying to, through fear and terror, have their way with the local populace, with the local governance, with the local police and so on. And given they're willing to use essentially any act -- any terrorist act to incite fear and terror in the local populace and local governance, they can be somewhat effective. And that's why it takes military force and General Sanchez's force and our coalition partners to work against that.

QUESTION: General Myers, there have been a lot of press reports lately saying that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld forbade the military advisers from asking for an increase in troop strength here in Iraq. While you, obviously, were a part of all the deliberations, did the secretary in any way tell his military commanders that they couldn't ask for more troops?

MYERS: The secretary of defense asked a lot of very tough questions, very fair questions.

He has never, to my knowledge, ever denied or even set a troop strength limit on any of our operations, be they in Afghanistan, be they major combat in Iraq, or be they the current situation here. In fact, he has, I think, as I recall -- since I stand next to him quite often on the podium there in the Pentagon -- all he said that he would support the field commanders and their needs and those are the facts.

In terms of what General Abizaid needs to do his work, whether Afghanistan or here, or other combatant commanders or General Sanchez, those requests are always carefully looked at and, to my knowledge, we've always provided the forces that the field commanders think that they need.

And it's not -- you know, it's something that is also discussed among the U.S. Joints Chiefs of Staff. We look at that as well, all of the service chiefs sitting as the Joints Chiefs of Staff.

And I don't know how those stories continue to perpetuate because they're absolutely untrue. SANCHEZ: Sir, if I may, as a commander here in Iraq for just about 11 months now, there has never ever been any direction from my higher headquarters that forbade us or kept us from asking for additional forces. When we have needed those forces, we have asked for them in that time frame and we've received the support that was necessary for us to execute our mission here on the ground.

QUESTION: General Myers, could you tell us a little bit about the substance of your discussions with Generals Abizaid and Sanchez and with Generals Dempsey and Corelli (ph) earlier today; specifically, what you discussed in terms -- the impressions that you came away with in terms of the changing nature of the security challenge in Iraq, especially between now and the approach of sovereignty -- the sovereignty transition on June 30th; and also on the issue of looking forward, how the changing nature of the insurgency will affect the third phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the timing of the next wave of troops that are expected to be coming to Iraq in autumn?

MYERS: You are just like the Pentagon workers. You can work three questions into -- was that three or four questions?

(UNKNOWN): At least three, sir.

MYERS: Well, a lot of the discussions with the field commanders and General Abizaid and General Sanchez were very operational in nature, so I can't go into those.

But what I wanted to get a sense of was how they see the current ground situation, what the morale of the men and women in the armed forces, what do they need from us back in Washington, what can we provide that we aren't providing. And, indeed, we did talk a lot about the transition as we go from here through 30 June and continue that transition.

I think we all know, clearly our Iraqi partners understand very clearly, that on 30 June, the security situation isn't going to change overnight. We're going to have whatever security situation we have on 30 June; on 1 July it's going to be very similar to what was there on midnight on 30 June.

MYERS: Our job is to make sure we have the right force posture with our coalition partners, that we have the right relationships with Iraqi security forces.

And when I say Iraqi security forces, to me that means everything from the police, new Iraqi army, civil defense corps, facilities protection corps, border guard and so on.

That we have the right relationship, that we are an integrated team providing security for Iraqi people, that we have continued to build up the equipping of the Iraqi security forces, that we continue to train Iraqi security forces.

So we talked about a lot of those items making sure that our understanding of the issues was the same as it was here in-theater and that we can take back whatever request they have for additional resources.

I think it's a measure of U.S. resolve to understand that we are looking at the next rotation of forces into Iraq, for that matter into theater, into Afghanistan, and actually looking at the rotation after that. And we take planning assumptions we get from General Abizaid and we start to work on those.

The current hold that we have on some forces here that are currently scheduled to rotate will not have a big impact on those next two rotations. It may be if they ask that we send additional forces and it could accelerate some of those forces coming into theater. In some cases, it will have no impact.

But those are the kind of issues that we talked about and we wrestled with.

QUESTION (through translator): In your last statement on the Gulf, you have pointed your fingers accusing Iran and Syria. Do you have evidence that the security situation here is due to foreign hands that came here to start these troubles?

MYERS: Well, certainly, there's a lot of evidence.

And I think the letter that I mentioned earlier by Zarqawi, who we believe is here in Iraq, who is clearly a -- he's not an Iraqi. In fact, he's a Jordanian. But he's an extremist of the first order, allied very closely with al Qaeda, brings his own organization here and is willing to facilitate other extremists in Iraq to thwart progress.

He's the one that said, you know, "We're not having much luck against the coalition so perhaps what we ought to do, what we should do is create a civil war, Sunni-on-Shia violence; maybe we can incite that sort of violence." That's the kind of individual.

There are other foreign fighters. We know for a fact that a lot of them find their way into Iraq through Syria, for sure. I mean, we know that. The ones we've captured, the ones we've detained; we know how they get here. I think to some extent the same thing happens on the Iranian border as well.

The one thing we ought to say about all of this is the realization that with the very clear challenges that the Iraqi people have in building a better Iraq for all Iraqi citizens, the last thing you need is influence from neighboring countries trying to promote or protect their own self-interest. That is clearly just not acceptable and yet it goes on.

MYERS: We have lots of intelligence that we follow on those matters and we take action where appropriate.

And I just need to reiterate, this is a big challenge for the Iraqi people. We need to give them -- the international community needs to give them the best chance they can to be successful. And clearly, outside influence that is focused on their own self-interest, in terms of other countries, is just not appropriate. QUESTION (through translator): General Myers, you have talked a lot about the U.S. strategies in counterterrorism. And after one year, we have more terrorist attacks and the security situation in Iraq has deteriorated. Could you please tell us where the failure is in the U.S. strategy that did not succeed in dealing with terrorism in Iraq?

The second question is for General Sanchez. The statement that you made with General John Abizaid in one of your press conferences and you talked about the capture and killing of Muqtada al-Sadr. I'm wondering if killing Muqtada al-Sadr -- is it because of his involvement in the assassination of al-Khoei or is it because he has a militia?

If it's for the first one, he is still accused and there is no judgment against him. And if it's because of his forming of his militia, that's a political issue and you need to talk to him, because you're talking to the peshmerga people and to the Badr militia people.

MYERS: I would characterize what we're seeing right now perhaps as more a symptom of the success we're having here in Iraq. We have a Transitional Administrative Law. We have the Iraqi Governing Council. We have the U.N. -- and I think Mr. Brahimi made a statement yesterday talking about the way forward as the United Nations saw it -- involved here in Iraq.

We've had lots of success here in Iraq, and we have a pretty clear path for how we're going to transition to Iraqi sovereignty and how there'll be phases of that transition through the constitution, national elections and so on.

MYERS: And I think it's that success which is driving the current situation, because there are those extremists that don't want that success. They see this as a test of wills, a test of resolve against those who believe in freedom and self-determination, against those who prefer a regime like we saw previously in Afghanistan, or perhaps a regime like we saw previously in Iraq.

And I think it's their frustration that has generated a lot of the situation we've seen now as well.

I would also point out that it was the fact that the coalition shut down Sadr's newspaper, captured one of his lieutenants, because of the way they were inciting violence against coalition forces, against Iraqis, that we took that action. We knew there might be consequences. And so part of that is because of our, I would say, offensive actions against those threats to the regime. It got to the point where it just couldn't be tolerated any longer.

In Fallujah, we know what started the event out there, but Fallujah was an issue that was going to have to be dealt with sooner or later in any case, in my military opinion.

It could be dealt with through negotiations, through appropriate strategy for that region. The folks out there decided they would choose a different path, and so they attacked some civilian security personnel and we know the rest of the story there.

SANCHEZ: Let's not forget what started this operation against Muqtada al-Sadr.

Yes, the newspapers were shut down and his lieutenant was arrested.

SANCHEZ: But the real trigger was his attack on the Iraqi institutions. The main event was his attack on the civil defense corps in Najaf, the take-down of and occupation of all of the police stations in Najaf and the government buildings in the city of Najaf, which quickly spread across the entire southern part of the country to include Baghdad.

Muqtada al-Sadr has a warrant for his arrest for the murder of al-Khoei, yes. And if he is captured -- when he's captured -- he will be tried under Iraqi courts.

And let's not make any mistake here about how we got down this path and where we are today. The mission that I assigned to my forces was in fact what you stated: It's to kill or capture and to eliminate the Sadr elements' influence across the country.

QUESTION: How involved is the coalition in negotiations both in Najaf and in Fallujah? And if you're doing it by proxy, what are the negotiating points that you're willing to work on?

MYERS: I don't know totally the answer to your question. If I did, I don't think would be the kind of thing we'd want to put on the table right here.

I don't know if you want to provide any more detail on that.

But I think that there's involvement by many folks to include Iraqi officials, as well. I think we'll just let it -- there's multiple channels.

QUESTION: Just to follow up, there's a lot, as you would say, disinformation out there, so we're just curious to know what are the areas that we're talking about.

MYERS: The one thing I think we can say is that Ambassador Bremer is deeply involved and Iraqi officials are deeply involved with him in this effort.

There are other groups -- less official status and so forth -- that are trying to help.

QUESTION: In the actual negotiations?

MYERS: I think I'll just leave it there.

QUESTION: We've discussed Fallujah and the Sadr situation as, kind of, the two fronts, as it were -- the two aspects here -- but I'm curious if, General, you've found in your visit any change in the issues of supply lines, control of the roads, and if that has changed, from your perspective -- if that would require additional troops over and above the ones that have been requisitioned or whether or not that's already in the calculation for the forces that you think are needed now in the field.

MYERS: The answer is that those lines of communication, the supply routes, were part of the calculation that General Sanchez made and General Abizaid made when they made their requests for additional capability.

MYERS: So it's woven in there.

QUESTION (through translator): You have visited Iraq now. I wanted to ask you this question. The events in Fallujah have brought me 25 years back when I saw a movie where hundreds of kids are being killed, native Indians, and I would like to know if the commander believes in a day of repentance. I want to ask you as a human being and not as a military commander, do you believe in the day of the judgments for the killing of those that happened in Fallujah? What would be your response?

MYERS: My response is that, since major combat operations began in Iraq, I don't think there's ever in the history of warfare -- and warfare by its nature is not kind, it's cruel, it's very, very cruel make no mistake about it. But in the history of warfare, there has never been a more humane campaign than the one waged by coalition forces started on March 19th of last year and through today. And that goes for the operations in Fallujah.

As we saw in major combat operations, as you see today, coalition forces -- not just U.S. forces, but Italian forces, Polish forces, all the many members of the coalition -- often put themselves in harm's way rather than putting innocent civilians in harm's way. They do it time after time after time.

Make no mistake about it, our coalition forces, U.S. forces are the most fierce fighters, I think, in the world; the most courageous. But they also have the most compassion, and they bring the kind of values that I think you're hinting at there as well.

MYERS: Combat is very dirty business, but I can assure you that, whether it's 1 MEF in Fallujah or the coalition in the center-south region or U.S. forces here in Baghdad, that something they think about all the time is how to avoid hurting any innocent civilians. That's uppermost in their mind.

It apparently wasn't uppermost in the mind of Sadr in An Najaf when they lobbed mortars into the city, killing innocent Iraqis. It's certainly not in the minds of those that are fighting in Fallujah against the Marines. We have seen instances in Nazariyah, and I think others as well, where women and children were used -- early in the morning -- 5 o'clock in the morning, women and children were used as shields. That tells you as lot about the character of this enemy. It tells you a lot about the noble cause that the coalition is about here.

And I think most people who look at this, you know, with any degree of scrutiny will understand that coalition forces under General Sanchez's leadership are being as compassionate and as careful as they can be.

Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You've been listening to General Richard Myers. Also, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez joining him in a news conference this morning.

General Myers started with a short statement, saying that he was very impressed with the spirit and resolve of the troops in Iraq. And also said that the U.S. is totally committed to standing by the Iraqi people. He took many questions, of course, on the recent state of violence in Iraq, and outside of Iraq in Fallujah as well.


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