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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

Operation Iraqi Freedom

March 31, 2003

DoD News Briefing - 3/31/2003

MS. CLARKE: (In progress.) Good afternoon everybody. Significant progress continues in the coalition campaign in Iraq. Let me take just a couple of minutes to remind everyone of the eight mission objectives of Operation Iraqi Freedom, as Secretary Rumsfeld described just a week ago.

First, end the regime of Saddam Hussein; second, capture or drive out terrorists sheltered in Iraq; third, collect intelligence on terrorist networks; fourth, collect intelligence on Iraq's illicit weapons-of-mass-destruction activity; five, destroy the weapons of mass destruction, the systems and the facilities; sixth, secure Iraq's oil fields and natural resources for the Iraqi people; seven, end the sanctions and immediately deliver humanitarian relief; and the final objective, to help the Iraqi people transition to a non-threatening, representative form of self-government that preserves the territorial integrity of Iraq.

Our courageous men and women in uniform are moving forward with these goals. Each day we significantly reduce the ability of the enemy to command and control his forces. Within just a few short days, coalition troops have moved more than 200 miles through Iraq and are now close to Baghdad. Coalition forces in the region are growing more dominant on ground and in the air. And as part of the previously-planned force flow, more coalition personnel move in every day.

The 173rd has secured an Iraqi airfield in Kurdish territory that will be used additionally for drops of troops and equipment. Coalition forces have also secured Iraq's southern oil fields, saving them for the benefit of the Iraqi people. More than 600 oil wells now fall under coalition control. The Basra oil refinery, as General Brooks talked about this morning, one of the three refineries in the country, has also been secured by the coalition.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi regime, what's left of it, resorts to horrifying atrocities and violations of the laws of war. The flagrant cruelty will not make our forces give up and go home. They're quite wrong about that. As President Bush said yesterday, every Iraqi atrocity has confirmed the justice and the urgency of our cause.

The enemy poses as civilians to deceive coalition forces and ambush them. They fake surrenders to ambush them. They continue to place military assets in and around civilians. They use human shields, deliberately destroy or attempt to destroy the oil fields. And they use civilian vehicles, including ambulances, to transport their military.

While the enemy increases its inhumanity, we increase our humanitarian aid. The enemy mines ports and blocks the flow of aid. We remove the mines and let the aid flow. With the opening of the port of Umm Qasar, relief is now coming to thousands of impoverished families of southern Iraq. The British ship Sir Galahad has unloaded 200-plus tons of humanitarian aid. And in addition, two humanitarian convoys moved over land into the areas of Safwan and Umm Qasar yesterday.

As the military successes grow, so does the membership of the global coalition. Forty-nine nations now publicly support Operation Iraqi Freedom, and nearly a dozen more offer support and resources privately. We want our friends and allies around the world to know that we greatly appreciate their valuable assistance.

As President Bush said at the White House yesterday, the fierce fighting currently underway will require further courage and further sacrifice. Yet we know the outcome of this battle. The Iraqi regime will be removed from power. The Iraqi people will be freed.

And finally, before I turn things over to General McChrystal, there's been some talk lately and some observations in the early days. People seem to have been surprised at the brutality, at what the Iraqi regime is doing to some of their people. And on the one hand, it's hard to understand that. It has been so well-documented. It has been so well-reported for years what the regime has done to its own people.

And we're going to show you a couple of clips here. The first one is an Iraqi woman whose name is Zainab Al-Suwaj, whose teenage cousin was tortured by the regime. And following that is a small clip from a BBC program about the chemical weapon attack on the town of Halabja.

(Begin videotape.)

ZAINAB AL-SUWAJ: I have a 16-year-old cousin. She was in high school. And one day she wrote in her notes something against the government, "I don't like Saddam." So the teacher saw what she wrote, and so the police came and they took her to prison with her mother, father, uncles, sisters and brother and cousin and her aunt.

This is a letter I received from her after she's been released, and she was telling me about "the day that started the series of my torture."

"It was not enough for them to hit me by their hands and by the sticks until my skin started to break. And they also started using electrical shock on my fingertips and my lips and my nipples. Also they used to hang me from my feet, and they used to make me walk on broken glass. One day they took all of my clothes off and they threatened my parents that they are going to rape me.

"This torture lasted for 11 months. And after that they sentenced me to be in jail for three years. And it was not only me, but because of me, my aunt and her daughter, they sentenced to nine months in jail. My brothers they sentenced to six months. My uncles from my mother's side, they were seven months. And my uncles from my father's side, they've been killed. For my father, he was sentenced for 15 years."

(End of videotape.)

(Begin videotape of BBC program.)

NARRATOR: Halabja was bombed with a cocktail of mustard gas and the nerve agents tabun and sarin. On that day, up to 5,000 people were gassed. And this was not -- (inaudible). Forty other villages across northern Iraq were poisoned. Cancer and birth defects have shot up since the war crimes, and every home contains its own horror story.

(To village resident.) So what happened to this poor lady?

VILLAGER: She was hit by the chemicals and her face went red. It was itching so badly that she started scratching it and scratching it, which led to this. (Image of woman's scarred face.)

(End of videotape.)

MS. CLARKE: So it is hard to imagine that people don't know, as I said, about the brutality of this regime. It has been going on for decades. It has been well-documented and well-reported.

What I can't imagine is what it must be like to be the Iraqi people now and living in that kind of environment and living under that kind of fear and torture and knowing that if you, for instance, so much as wave at coalition forces when they go by, you will be hung.

So I think it is perfectly understandable why so many of these people are afraid to rise up against the regime at this time. When they are certain, when they are as certain as we are about the end of this regime, I'm confident that they will do so.


GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: Thank you, Ms. Clarke. I'd like to add my condolences for those four soldiers killed in the car bomb explosion near An Najaf today. Also two U.S. soldiers were killed and one was wounded in a fire fight in Afghanistan early today when they engaged enemy forces west of Kandahar. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families.

Operation Iraqi Freedom continues. More than 290,000 coalition forces are deployed in support of combat operations, more than a third of those inside Iraq. Our ground operations are progressing well. There continues to be sporadic resistance in the south. However, our supply lines are working well and we continue to re-supply our front-line forces.

The air campaign continues as well. We flew more than 1,000 sorties over Iraq yesterday, mostly against Iraqi regime and leadership targets, command and control, and Republican Guard divisions. Our forces have fired more than 675 Tomahawks and dropped more than 6,000 precision-guided munitions since operations began. We're continuing to degrade the Iraqi forces, particularly the Republican Guard Medina division.

I have three videos for you today. The first two are of F/A-18s dropping precision-guided munitions on the Al Taqatam airfield, damaging the runways and taxiways. While there's not been any Iraqi aircraft activity, this will help ensure we retain air supremacy. (Videos are shown.)

The last video is of an F-15 dropping precision-guided munitions on a leadership compound in Baghdad. (Video is shown.)

And with that, we'll take your questions.


Q: Torie, you mentioned that the flow of forces continues into Iraq. Do you have anything or does the general have anything on elements of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment going ahead of schedule or anything on additional forces going into the north?

MS. CLARKE: I'll make one comment and then the general can follow up. The secretary hasn't signed a deployment order for Iraq in probably close to two weeks, if not really two weeks. The forces are flowing exactly as they have been planned to flow for quite some time, the only significant difference at all being the Fourth ID.

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: The 2nd Light Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Polk, in fact, has been on orders. It's a Humvee-mounted cavalry element with aviation as well. There are discussions underway about potentially moving up part of its force to an earlier deployment. I'm not aware of the specific time line at this point.

Q: A portion -- half of it or most of it or --

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: I'm not sure exactly what the final decision will be, but it would be a portion of it.

Q: How about the north? Anything on northern Iraq? (Inaudible.)

MS. CLARKE: I'll have a general comment about the plan. Obviously it's up to General Franks to decide who moves where and at what pace. But the plan has always been built in such a way that it's scaleable. That probably isn't a real word, but it reflects the truth, which is a plan that is flexible and it can adjust up and down as needed. And that's what General Franks works with.

Yes, sir.

Q: How concerned are you about potential continued use of suicide bombings or car bombings against U.S. forces in Iraq? And specifically, what can you do to guard against this tactic?

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: We're very concerned about it. It looks and feels like terrorism. And what it requires is units to conduct force protection activities, which they're prepared and do all the time.

But clearly when you see a tactic like this, it requires strict adherence or adjustments to your tactics, techniques and procedures to ensure that places like checkpoints are not vulnerable. So it won't change our overall rules of engagement. It doesn't affect the operation at large. But to protect our soldiers, it clearly requires great care.

MS. CLARKE: (Mark?).

Q: Torie, it's been said several times from the podium that the only major change in the war plan was the lack of the Fourth ID from the very beginning. Why, when that change --

MS. CLARKE: Not the lack of -- from where and at what time.

Q: Right. But the sense seemed to have been that they were to have been in Turkey when the balloon went up, and were ready to go over. Instead they were coming around and coming up through Kuwait. Was there any thought given to delaying the start of the war until the Fourth ID was in Kuwait? Did anyone raise that as an issue?

MS. CLARKE: Not to my knowledge. Not to my knowledge.


Q: Do you have anything new on the first marketplace bombing?

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: We are continuing to investigate that bombing. As we said the other day, we thought there was a possibility either it could be a mistake or a mechanical error by one of our munitions or any other reason. But we don't have a hard conclusion yet.

Q: Is it correct that some new data has come in that's causing you to re-look at that whole situation, just to double-check and make sure?

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: Ma'am, they are continuing to collect data; that is correct. And so we are withholding a conclusion until we've got it all.

Q: General, yesterday General Myers said that the coalition essentially has 95 percent air supremacy. But Baghdad and a little north is still open. That F-15 strike was in Baghdad. Was there more of a sense that the air defenses are a little degraded?

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: Well, that's a great question. In fact they are degraded. We have -- we claim air supremacy for most of the country, except for a small part around Baghdad, but we fly effectively in Baghdad every day and night. The reason we don't claim air supremacy there is because they haven't been using all their early warning and fire control radars. They've been keeping them off to avoid them getting destroyed. So, until we actually destroy them, which is hard when they don't use them and keep moving, we respect that capability that they retain, and we don't claim air supremacy, but in fact we've been able to operate effectively.

Q: And if I could follow-up, what about -- how much of an effect is Saudi Arabia and Turkey now saying that cruise missiles cannot fly over their countries having on operations, or will it at all?

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: It won't have a big effect. In fact, one of the great things about where we're postured is the ability to target from a number of locations, to include the Tomahawk land attack missiles, so it really won't have a big effect.

Q: Could I have a follow-up?

MS. CLARKE: (Inaudible) -- right here.

Q: That cruise missile strike last night against the mall in Kuwait, are you doing anything to try to mitigate those any more? Are you increasing naval patrols? There was one report that it may have come from a boat offshore or something.

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: We are investigating where it came from and exactly what munition it was. We have a suspicion of what it was -- an Iraqi capability that we were aware that they have, and we're working both defensive and offensive ways to prevent that.

MS. CLARKE: Let's do Jim Manion.

Q: There was -- in the CENTCOM briefing they showed some video of a Ranger assault on a commando base in the west. Could you explain what that was all about? And also, how you're using the west to bring pressure on Baghdad? Are you using any of those airfields in the west for either assaults or air strikes?

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, I won't get into great detail, obviously. The -- first, about the Ranger assault, that was a command and control headquarters of an Iraqi element that was essentially trying to retain control in the west. It was a commando headquarters. And as you saw, the Rangers hit it on a completely blacked-out assault. Very effective. Got a lot of prisoners. What we're doing in the west could be called a lot of ways -- called a lot of things. It might be area denial. In a sense we have taken away from the Saddam Hussein regime the ability to call the west their own. We're doing it with a very small number of troops, leveraged with air power and intelligence, and we're denying him the ability to use traditional SCUD baskets. We're denying him the ability to maneuver there, to collect intelligence there, and doing it very economically.

MS. CLARKE: And I'd just remind you of those maps that General Myers showed yesterday. They showed increasing amounts of Iraq of which Saddam Hussein has lost control. It doesn't mean there won't be pockets. It doesn't mean there won't be individual problems in some of those areas, but every day he is losing more control over the country.

Q: Are you using the airfields in the west, the ones that you have captured?

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, I couldn't discuss actually what we're using. Clearly we are denying the regime their use.

Q: Where was that, by the way? Except west.

MS. CLARKE: In the west.

Q: Can you be any more specific?

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, the Rangers are operating out there in small groups, and it would be unfair to them to give a specific location.

Q: Can you update us on the situation with Tomahawk firings from the Red Sea and the eastern Med? General Renuart suggested that there were some avenues in Saudi. I wasn't clear whether we were still shooting through quicker avenues in Saudi or if those firings have stopped altogether? And do we know what the problem is with these missiles?

MS. CLARKE: I'd go back to what's a pretty sound policy on our part, which is letting other countries describe what goes on. But we have such good support from so many different countries that we have a lot of tools at our disposal.


Q: Victoria, I have a couple of questions, but one follow-on on the Tomahawk. The tenor of the briefing this morning on Tomahawks indicated that the problem with Saudi in the path, that some of them were malfunctioning and possibly putting the Saudis at threat. Are they malfunctioning? How many have you lost? And do you have any idea what the malfunction is? And I have another question after that.

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: Yes sir. I will give you what I know, and I think it's pretty accurate. I believe we've had a total of about seven Tomahawks not make it to their target -- some sort of mechanical malfunction. We actually have had less than a one percent failure rate, a number of Tomahawks that we've launched, not make it to their targets, so it's been very, very high in terms of success.

One of the things I'd stress is, like many of our other precision munitions, when a Tomahawk is launched, the warhead itself is not active until close to the target. So when these missiles ground themselves, essentially they bury themselves in the ground or breakup. They don't explode. The warhead doesn't explode.

Q: And in the case of these that you've lost, none of them exploded?

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: To my knowledge, none of them exploded.

Q: The other question -- I had one more -- the Brits found some artillery shells that were unmarked near Basra. They said they could possibly be chemical. Have you had any feedback in the analysis on this? Have you yet found anything -- weapons of mass destruction?

MS. CLARKE: I don't have anything on that, but I'd just -- I'd just the question as an opportunity to again manage expectations. We are fighting a war, and we're ending the regime, which is one of our primary objectives, and obviously finding and destroying the WMD is an important objective as well, but it will take time. This regime has been the best at hiding things and dispersing it in small amounts to many, many different places. So just try to manage expectations on that front.


Q: Now there's a -- there was a strike or some kind of an explosion in a market yesterday in Baghdad. We haven't heard anything from the Pentagon yet about that. Do you have any idea of what that was? And are you investigating it?

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, I do not. I heard about that just before this. I'd like to get more information and then come back.

MS. CLARKE: No -- (inaudible) -- right here.

Q: To follow on specifically from that, those were very powerful video clips that you showed at the beginning of the briefing. In any sense were they used to counteract the images that are being seen of civilian deaths and casualties which, despite what you're saying, everyone in the Arab world and many beyond will assume were caused by coalition forces?

MS. CLARKE: A couple of things. We go to, as you know, we go to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian casualties. The overarching strategy, if you will, of the entire plan, is to do it as quickly as possible, but balance that against our strong desire to have as few casualties as possible. That was my decision to use those clips. I have met some of these people and I've heard their stories, and I was just struck in the last couple of days hearing some people say "Well, aren't you surprised by the brutality of the Iraqi regime? You know, this is something you didn't expect." How could anyone be surprised? There is report after report, news story after news story, documentation by the human rights organizations for years about the atrocities of this regime. And it's not ad hoc stuff -- it's policy, it's bureaucracy, using rape as an instrument of your policy on a regular basis.

So just -- what I try to do sometimes is when there are things like that kicking around, people seeming to have a hard time understanding them, I try to make it clear.

Q: We have some reports from our GI's in the filed that they are down to one MRE a day and very little water. They're concerned about that, and they want to know how long the situation is going to go on.

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: Yes ma'am. And that's into the wider -- are we having a re-supply problem is really the issue. And I know that if it's Private McChyrstal out there and he doesn't get all the MREs he wants, then there's a re-supply problem for one person at least.

MS. CLARKE: When he wants it.

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: Yes, exactly. The big answer is no there is not a re-supply problem. The lines of communication -- I've checked this -- are flowing, and the what we call class one, three and five, or water, food and munitions, are getting forward in the quantities they need.

The thing to remember is logistics on the battlefield is like circulation in your body, and it starts from the heart and it goes out through big arteries, and it finally has to go down essentially to every cell. And if the analogy is the Marine or the soldier in a foxhole is the cell, getting all of that to work perfectly every time, when in fact you're moving your logistics, you're moving your units forward, you're doing all the things on the battlefield, is always a challenge.

Now, we'll work through that. You know, our troops are trained, and I think you'll find that those young people are moving on and they'll -- it will catch up with them very quickly, if in fact that's at all widespread. So, in the macro sense, I think it's working very well.

MS. CLARKE: And I'd say two things. There is no indication that that is widespread at all. I was talking to a couple of people this morning about this. There are many advantages to the imbedding program. There are also some challenges. One reporter may have heard one person say "I haven't gotten my second or third MRE of the day yet," and that gets back, and it gets back very quickly. And that's on a not so serious issue, but on small on large issues, because of the volume and velocity of the reporting coming directly from the field, we all have to take a breath sometimes and say "Okay, is this representative of a broader picture, or is this an individual incident?"

Q: (Inaudible) -- is this -- (inaudible) --

MS. CLARKE: (Inaudible) --

Q: -- out in the field, or don't you know?

MS. CLARKE: I don't know if it's one guy --

Q: How many soldiers are down to one meal a day in the -- (inaudible) --

MS. CLARKE: I have seen one report of a soldier who said he had an MRE. I have seen one report. There is no indication of any widespread problems whatsoever. And again, if you do step back and take a look at the bigger picture, if you will, the forces continue to make extraordinary progress. I heard somebody talking about this this morning, saying, you know, if I were Saddam Hussein and I was waking up today -- if he's waking up today -- and the world's most awesome military was 15 miles from my doorstep, I think those people have made some pretty significant progress, and you don't do that without having all the adequate logistics working the way they ought to work.

Q: Do you have any information about the Marines who were classified as DUSTWUN (Duty Station Whereabouts Unknown) the other day? What were the conditions of that? I mean, was it fierce fighting? How did they go missing?

MS. CLARKE: I'm not sure what incident you're talking about.

Q: It was the Marines near An Nasiriyah, I believe seven or eight of them, the Marines out of North Carolina, they were classified as DUSTWUN.

MS. CLARKE: I know we have some numbers that are classified as DUSTWUN. I'm not familiar with the particular incident you're talking about.


Q: Also at An Nasiriyah, General Renuart confirmed reports of troops buried in shallow graves there, and that forensic investigators were going there. Can you give us any more information about that?

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, I can give you what we know. In fact, the Marines advancing did find a shallow grave with some remains in them. We're not sure who it is at this point. We've got a mortuary affairs element that's gone up with a forensic element, and they'll be able to identify. Until we do identify, obviously we'll take great care in not notifying erroneously.

MS. CLARKE: Let's go back here.

Q: General, could you talk about the -- yesterday General Myers mentioned that Republican Guard divisions south of Baghdad had been moving. Can you talk a little bit about any movement among the Hammurabi or the Medina divisions?

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: I can. I can't talk about exactly where they are. What we see is what we call survivability moves, not major repositioning of a strategy on the battlefield -- at least that's what it looks like. And survivability is to avoid the air power that we've been bringing against them, which has been taking them apart, sort of piece by piece.

MS. CLARKE: We'll do Thelma, and if Rick has one, he'll be the last question.

Q: I wanted to ask a question about this troop strength, but you just said something about the bodies in the shallow graves. I wondered if you could elaborate, not revealing who or what -- who or what service they might be with -- is there any indication they might have been executed, or any indication of any war crime that might have been imposed on these bodies, just from looking at the bodies? And then I do have a question on troop strength.

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: Ma'am, I have not seen the report yet, so I just don't know.

Q: Okay. And on troop strength, Torie, you were saying that Secretary Rumsfeld hadn't signed any deployment order in the last two weeks. Is he about --

MS. CLARKE: On Iraq.

Q: On Iraq. Right. Is he about to sign one on Iraq? And what about -- any more on Reserves or Guard that should be bracing for any more call-ups?

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: On the first one, which I'd like to address -- the reason that's important is because -- I've been working on this plan for months now, in fact, this force flow was determined months ago, to include the order of forces moving and when they would go, and deployment orders were signed before we even we sure that we would have to have hostilities. So, all of those were identified in the pipeline. So, if anybody takes an inference that this is reinforcements based upon what's happened in the first week of the war, that would be incorrect.

Q: Well, you see, the reason I asked that is, of course, that Torie had said that the plans is of course a flexible one that's scalable.


Q: And now I wondered if the scale is such that you think you need to request more forces?

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: No. Exactly -- what we did was we set into place a plan that had a flow of forces that came along that could be turned off, because to get a unit ready and to work all their transportation, what you do is you get them ready to move, and then if in fact the situation doesn't require them, you turn that unit off, you stop their deployment. So, that's the way this deployment's billed.

Q: Any turning on coming up?

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: They're all turned on until they're turned off.


Q: Two questions. First, on this Apache operation of the 101st, that sent several dozen Apaches. Do we have any results? What was the objective there? And what was the result of that mission?

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: Certainly. That was 40-plus Apaches, in what we call a "deep attack" operation, and they are designed to work with other arms, primarily fixed wing and artillery, to help disrupt and destroy a unit before we close with close combat with them. In fact, that was the mission last night. They were going after the Medina Division. They did get some battle damage assessment on that -- I don't have the exact numbers. And that is just another phase in us taking the Medina Division down in strength.

Q: Any approximate numbers?

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: Not that I'd want to put out here, sir.

Q: Okay. And the second question -- we've heard so much about the great achievement of these forces rushing 200 miles up to stand off against the Republican Guards. But what was the purpose to rush so quickly northward to outrace supply lines, and then sit in place for four or five days? What was the strategic or tactical value of doing that, when in fact they haven't been pressing the battle?

MS. CLARKE: I'll push back on your characterization, because it sounded like you were saying that's how we've described it. That's not how we've described it. What we've --

Q: Well, that's the --

MS. CLARKE: What we've said all along is that we want to end this regime as quickly as possible with the fewest number of casualties. What we have also said is the truth, which is these ground forces have made extraordinary progress in a very short period of time. We have -- as I said before, Saddam Hussein has lost an awful lot of control over his country. You look at what goes on in the air, you look at what's going on in the seas that they have mined -- we are making remarkable progress, and that's a good thing. Not to underestimate the challenges that lie ahead -- it could get very, very tough lying ahead. But I just push back on your use of words, because I don't think they're accurate, and I don't think that's how we've described it.

Q: Was there a psychological aspect to having these troops move up so quickly, with apparently no intent to press the battle immediately against the Republican Guards?

GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: Well, the intent was always to press the fight against each element, the Republican Guards being one, when the conditions have been met. So, we intend to fight each element of the Republican Guards when in fact they're at the strength we want to conduct ground combat with them.

MS. CLARKE: And -- but -- and I'll just say one more thing and then we're done. As I said before, if I were Saddam Hussein, if -- we don't know, is he alive or dead? -- but if I were Saddam Hussein, and whatever is left of that leadership, and in one week you had the world's most awesome military and coalition forces as far away from Baghdad as Middleburg is from here, then I'd be pretty nervous.

Thank you.