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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

CENTCOM Briefing

Aired March 25, 2003 - 09:03   ET

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

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Now the CENTCOM briefing.
MAJ. GEN. VICTOR RENUART, CENTCOM SPOKESMAN: Good afternoon, everybody. Ladies and gentlemen.

I'm Major General Gene Renuart, and I'm the director of operations at U.S. Central Command.

We continue to progress with our operations in support of Iraqi freedom. Coalition forces are on plan to achieve our objectives, and we're doing so on our planned time line. As you all know, we've suffered some casualties in enemy action over the last 24 hours. And I just want to say that our hearts and prayers and thoughts go out to the families of each of those fallen heroes. We also send our thoughts and prayers to the families of those held captive by the Iraqis, and we repeat our demand -- we repeat our demand that the Iraqis follow all the provisions of the Geneva Convention with respect to safe treatment of these individuals, and we will honor each of those warriors by pressing the fight.

As many of your embedded correspondents have noted out in the field, it's a little bit ugly out there today. Weather has had an impact on the battlefield with high winds, with some rain, with some thunderstorms and that's occurred really throughout the country. So it's been not a terribly comfortable day on the battlefield. However, that hasn't stopped us.

Our precision all-weather weapon systems and an aggressive, integrated operations plan by our air and land components have allowed coalition forces to maintain and increase pressure on the regime on all fronts, even in the bad weather. This effective combination of air operations, direct land-based attack and precision special operations creates a synergy that is key to the coalition strategy.

The air component will fly over 1,400 combat and combat support missions over Iraq today, paying particular attention to the Iraqi republican guards while attacking surface-to-surface missiles in a time-sensitive fashion -- these missile systems that affect and threaten Kuwait and other neighbors in the region -- and they will also focus on key regime command and control facilities.

Let me make a point again today that we've made a number of times, but it is important. We continue to work very carefully to ensure that the most precise targeting possible is used. Later Brigadier General Vince Brooks will show you some of the evidence on a few video clips. But I want to stress that the message that we continue to pass by leaflet, by radio, by broadcast and by word of mouth every day is that the Iraqi people should stay at home, should remain calm, should avoid being in or close to any military formations, any military equipment or headquarters, or any building associated with the regime leadership, its command and control or communications. And maybe equally as importantly, to stay off the roads; don't get out in their vehicles and drive around. The battlefield is a very hazardous location, as many of you reporters have mentioned, and we must continue to ask all the civilians in Iraq to remain in their towns and homes because it's very difficult to guarantee their safety on this battlefield.

Our land forces continue to progress northward. We've had a few engagements over the last 24 hours in the vicinity of al-Nassiryah and al-Basra and, as you know, have suffered some casualties, but we've also inflicted more on the enemy and destroyed a number of their tanks, artillery pieces and troop formations. The bottom line is, we're on track, and we'll deal with these regular and irregular forces wherever we find them.

I want to make note of the UK forces today for their rapid progress in establishing security in the town of Umm Qasr, in the southern oil fields, and I would especially like to commend our coalition forces that have done such great work clearing the port side of Umm Qasr. The oil fields and the ports are real jewels of the Iraqi future, and we want to ensure that the rapid economic growth for millions of families occurs and is protected as we improve these facilities.

On that note, we're making very good progress extinguishing fires set by the regime's forces as they withdrew from the oil fields, and we believe we will continue to make very good progress at reestablishing the operational capability of those fields. We also believe that we'll be able to flow humanitarian aid into that port in a very short time and, in fact, we have ships already loading with humanitarian supplies donated by a number of different countries, and we hope to have them up the channels into the port within a very short number of days.

I'd like to go back to a mention of prisoners for just a minute and just say that we are constructing camps for the enemy prisoners of war that we've detained and have, in fact, been in discussions with the international committee, the Red Cross, to ensure that they will have full access to those facilities.

Our Maritime forces are hard at work supporting air operations, maintaining security to the Arabian Gulf for all shipping and completing the difficult task of demining Iraqi waters. They're even using some unique techniques. We have some specially trained dolphins that are out there helping us to determine where mines may be in the channels. Finally, our special operating forces from each of our coalition partners conduct missions throughout the country. These missions vary from reconnaissance to direct action to facilitation of humanitarian operations.

I want to close my statement by just saying to everyone, reminding all, that we remain completely focused, that we have the finest forces in the world formed into the best team I've seen in 32 years, but that should not lead anyone to believe that this will not be a hard fight, that it is not without significant risk on the battlefield. Prime Minister Howard of Australia a day or two ago said that difficult days and battles could lie ahead on the ground and in the air. I echo those comments, but I'm confident that the forces we have, the training they've received and the team we've built will ultimately take us to the liberation of the people of Iraq.

Let me now have Brigadier General Vince Brooks come up and run through a few notes and add some visuals.

BRIG. GEN. VINCE BROOKS, CENTCOM SPOKESMAN: Thank you, General Renuart.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

I'm going to give you an update again as I have for the last several days on how the operation is proceeding and I'll use a number of graphic images to help illustrate what it is we're referring to. I'll follow a similar pattern to what I've done in the last few days, where we talk about the different things we're focused on in the operation, many of them reiterating what General Renuart said, with some more detail, and then carrying you down to some conclusions toward the end.

I'll begin with, again, our efforts being focused on attacking the regime directly and aggressively and doing so with precision. The first images we'll bring up today are attacks against equipment and command locations. These are weapon systems videos.

The first one you see is a communications facility out in western Iraq, and there are actually going to be two bombs that come in. The first is at the cross hairs; the second that occurs almost simultaneously is the building to its right.

Roll the tape, please.

The next one is an armored personnel carrier in eastern Iraq. An artillery piece in a revetted position in eastern Iraq. A tank in a defensive position in central Iraq. A multiple rocket-launcher system in southeast Iraq, and the explosion in this case occurs when the video goes black. Equally effective are our strikes against regime targets and the key command/control communications and information nodes.

As I've done before, I'll show you some before and after images. Again, I'd focus on the precision that we use. We only destroy or damage the things we need to in order to achieve the desired effect.

The first image is a military headquarters building. This is in the northeast of Baghdad. The targeted structures are just above the T-intersection at the bottom and they're highlighted with the blue arrows.

And the post-strike, please?

After the strike, if you look closely again at the blue arrows, just above the road, you'll find that there are four destruction points; the center of the longest building is completely destroyed, and then the two of them, side-by-side.

The second set of images shows a water treatment plant in northwest Iraq.

I might say in this case, the regime deliberately put the plant and the residents of the surrounding area at risk by constructing a building to hide short-range ballistic missiles near the plant. The blue arrow shows the location of this building. In the post-strike image only the hide site is destroyed.

The side-by-side comparison, please.

Our coalition special operations forces do, indeed, continue to conduct a full array of missions, including last night's parachute assault in the hours of darkness to seize a desert landing strip, and this short video shows the jump. I'll describe some of the action of what you're seeing. This is being filmed by an escort aircraft that was part of the package. Exiting the aircraft. We had a combat camera team inside the aircraft to give you an insight into what happens on a jump out of the back ramp, and then the completion of the operation -- they continue their mission.

Our land forces continued their advance north of al-Nasiriya and defeated them in the attack north of al-Basra.

Let's bring up the map, please.

You see them highlighted here, and the zoom map shows a closer image of the areas we're referring to. Let me highlight the attack that occurred north of al-Basra. There are some things that are worthy of note.

The attack began with the arrival of several tanks which were repelled. Shortly after the battle was joined, a civilian bus with people in civilian clothes and several civilian vehicles joined the battle. Out of those vehicles came Fedayeen Saddam in civilian clothes with weapons. The attack was repelled.

We're beginning to see trenches filled with oil being ignited in the city of Baghdad. I'll show you one first and describe it. At the blue arrows at the bottom along the road and in several places, ringing all of Baghdad, also up in the north and some in southern areas, as well, trenches have been dug, filled with oil and prepared to be ignited. We're not certain what the purpose would be, but certainly you see here that the ignition has begun already. Unfortunately, this shows that the regime is very willing to destroy Iraq's resources to protect itself.

Our coalition Maritime forces continued clearing the Korabella (ph), and that will open the way for the very important humanitarian supplies to flow in here very, very soon. They also continued to counter ongoing regime efforts to mine the North Arabian Gulf waters clandestinely. I would highlight that yesterday an Iraqi dow (ph), a civilian vessel, was intercepted in the North Arabian Gulf. Upon closer inspection, it was found to be a mine layer; mines on board. It was subsequently destroyed.

Our efforts to communicate with the Iraqi people and the Iraqi military continue. We're currently broadcasting on five different radio frequencies 24 hours a day, and have been doing so since the 17th of February. This is life-saving information that's being broadcast, as it has been the whole time. Additionally, I mentioned to you our leaflet effort yesterday. Last night alone 120,000 more leaflets were dropped.

I'll show you an example of two leaflets that have been dropped that express the importance of not using weapons of mass destruction, nor supporting the use of weapons of mass destruction. The first one -- and these are actual leaflets -- the first one says basically that we can see any movements and any attempts to use the weapons of mass destruction and that that should be avoided because there will be accountability. The second one is a reminder that no one benefits from the use of weapons of mass destruction.

We continue our efforts as well to preserve and ensure Iraqi's future. There's a video clip I would like to show you of the movement of some humanitarian daily rations to a forward location. This is away from this area and has been moved to a forward location. A C-130 flew in carrying a plane-load of humanitarian daily rations to be used as soon as we can get them moved in, load them up and move them out. So they'll be ready to go as soon as we have the requirement.

We also continue to find other indications of the regime's intentions. I mentioned yesterday that we find equipment located at places that we think they should not be located, and we wonder why they would be. The next image I'll show you is a MiG 23 fighter jet that's been towed into a cemetery near Balad Airfield north of Baghdad. Inside of the yellow dotted line to the left, you see the ends of the runway and places were aircraft would normally be stored inside of bunkers. About 4,000 feet to the right, as is indicated on this image, in a small box you see cemetery. In the blow-up, you see the MiG 23 in the corner of the cemetery. The arrow points to the tail end of the aircraft and the nose is to the right.

Finally, I'd like to give an update on the operations in the Rumeila oil field. Of course, the assessment team did go in yesterday and took a close look. One of the things it found was the image you're about to see. This is one of the well heads in the southern Rumeila oil field. It was rigged for demolition. It was detonated, and it did not ignite. As we arrived, we noticed plenty of evidence of what the intentions were.

First, you can see the charred well head right in the center; blasting wire is still inside of the position. And the good news is, it did not catch on fire. So this is one that we don't have to put out. We're continuing to work on the seven that remain.

Sir?

RENUART: OK. I'd like to go ahead and take questions.

Yes, ma'am? QUESTION: I'd like an update, please, on the situation in al- Nasiriya; you mentioned there were casualties in that region.

The Iraq information minister said eight in an area south of al- Nassiryah. Is that what you were referring, like specific numbers?

Also, you speak a lot about the precision of the weapons. I'm wondering if you have noticed any jamming efforts by the Iraqis to jam any of your satellite-guided missiles? The White House yesterday mentioned the sale of some GPS jamming equipment. Have you experienced any of that so far?

RENUART: Let me go to your second question first maybe, and then I'll come back to the first question.

We have noticed some attempts by the Iraqis to use a GPS jamming system that they have procured from another nation. Actually, we have been able to identify the location of each of those jammers, and I'm happy to report that we have destroyed all six of those jammers in the last two nights' airstrikes. As to have they had an affect on us? I'm also pleased to say they had no affect on us. In fact, we destroyed one of the GPS jammers with a GPS weapon. Ironic.

Let me go back to your first question real quick. We did have the Marines involved in combat operations in the al-Nasiriya area. They were involved in a fire fight with a combination of regular and irregular forces. We did suffer some casualties there, and I'd like to not confirm numbers because we are still ensuring that proper notifications have been done. We have had some casualties and we'll confirm those as soon as we know that that's been complete.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Our embeds are telling us that there's now a new procedure for dealing with Iraqis who appear to be surrendering. Can you talk a little bit about that, if there is any procedure in dealing with these people?

RENUART: Well, I think the procedures that we have for all of our forces have remained consistent. The intent is to not cause harm to any civilians. I think that as a result of some of the really terroristic use of people dressed in civilian clothes who threaten our forces, that all the commanders in the field are exercising extreme caution any time they come upon a force that is -- or a group of people that appear to be civilians until they are able to verify the identities. And I think it's just really more caution than it is really changed procedures. I think they briefed each of the commanders to ensure that they're careful how they react.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Are you declaring Iraq a no-drive zone, and what does that say about your reluctance to incur civilian casualties?

RENUART: Well, I didn't make a statement that said it's a no- drive zone. What I did was actually continue to remind the people of Iraq with the same message we have used; that the battlefield extends across the country now. We have forces in all parts of the country, and that it's really not safe for the Iraqi people to try to leave the cities and drive away to avoid danger. We feel it's much better for them to remain in their homes, remain in their towns, remain in their villages.

I'd also just add that because of the behavior of these paramilitary organizations that we've seen, it certainly causes us great concern when we see buses and pickup trucks driving in an area where there's no reason for civilians to be driving. And we have not taken any step to declare a no-drive zone, but really for the safety of the Iraqi people, we would encourage them not to be out on the roads at all.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: I'd like to ask you to comment on two aspects of the campaign that got a lot of attention before it started. The first, shock and awe. I think there's a little bit of a sense that some of these paramilitary forces are not particularly shocked or awed at this point and are still pretty aggressive. What do you think has been the status of the bombing campaign and the value of that on those folks?

And the second being the northern front. As best we can tell, there really isn't a northern front, except for some bombing going on around Mosul and Kirkuk. There doesn't seem to be any significant ground forces up there. Is that allowing Saddam to focus all of his attention to the south, and perhaps make things a little tougher?

RENUART: I'd say, first, on the aspect of how the enemy forces view our campaign, I think for those people that have been subjected to the attacks that we've been launching over the past number of nights that there is a fair amount of awe there, being at the receiving end of that is significant. On the other hand, we did not underestimate that the Iraqis would have a force that's capable of fighting on the battlefield. And so, we believe that we are moving on on the plan, on our time line, and we feel comfortable that we'll continue to move rapidly along the time that General Franks has set in his strategy.

With respect to the northern front, I'd say that one of the real gauges of how we're doing is the fact that the Kurds remain in relative stability. We continue to work with those folks. I think you may have seen a press conference yesterday where we have a U.S. officer in, dealing directly in coordination with the Kurdish population, as well as the Turks, in order to fuse together a secure environment there. And we continue to focus military power where it's required in the northern area.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: You said at the beginning that despite the weather, you were able to maintain an increased pressure on those republican guard divisions around Baghdad. Does the fact that you have these ferocious sandstorms make it more difficult for you to fly the Apaches, which are a key part of that softening out process? And does the fact that those divisions appear to be scattered about rather than classically arranged -- scattered about, perhaps, close to civilian areas -- mean that this is a very laborious process? How long do you think it'll take to achieve our objectives?

RENUART: Well, I'm not really going to talk about how long I think it'll take. But I will tell you that, certainly, the weather, the blowing sand and dust and winds do effect the Apaches. But as I mentioned earlier in my comments, this is an integrated synergistic approach and we have the flexibility to be able to refocus additional air power who can use the kinds of precision weapons that aren't hampered by the weather in order to continue to strike these targets.

In terms of forces being spread out, certainly they are displayed in a wide area. On the other hand, we have the most sophisticated intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance in the world, and it is working well to give us those locations and allowing us to continue to target. So while we may not have helicopter pressure or ground pressure at a particular point on the battlefield, we continue to balance special operating force and air operations on that force.

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: General, you've, in the last couple of days, been telling us a lot about irregular forces and Fedayeen, and throughout we've been hearing a lot about the psychological operations. Can you tell us if there are any messages being tailored specifically to them? And since you've told us to encourage civilians to stay in their homes, how do you give them reassurance when they see dangers around them, including the infiltration of these Fedayeen and other very mercenary groups that are getting close to civilians?

RENUART: Well, I think it's important -- and you make a great point -- that these irregular forces are terrorizing their own people. An anecdotal point in an event a day or two ago where we were able to strike a headquarters location for some of these forces, it was a noticeable change in the local community almost immediately because these people, who have been really threatening families and terrorizing them, had been eliminated. So pocket-by-pocket, piece-by- piece, we will continue to address those units as we move along.

As to messages, really our messages are focused on the people of Iraq to try to preserve their safety and security as best we can and to reassure them that we are coming, and they just need to stay safe and we'll get to them.

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: Every day we see Iraqi civilians and children die under the attack of war planes and their homes destroyed. And here you demonstrate for us pictures about the -- showed that you attack a specific position of Iraqi army. What do you say about that?

RENUART: Well, I think it's important for all of us to continue to remember that warfare, even in it's most precise fashion, is not absolute. There are errors that occur. There are human errors. There are mechanical problems that occur with weapons. And so, some percentage of the weapons we use will err from their target. There's no doubt about that. And that's part of the reason I mentioned the message that we passed before, is to try to keep people in their homes so that we can reduce the possibility of injuring anyone. It is a tragedy to see the children that are injured, and we continue to try to minimize that, but I can't tell you that nothing bad will happen. That's why we continue to ask folks to stay at home.

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: It sounds like you've made some good progress on the oil fields in the south, but that you might have a problem once you get to Baghdad. Could you tell us what your plan is to secure the oil fields?

RENUART: Don't think there's any oil fields in Baghdad.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

RENUART: I see. OK. The ones we showed you here today. That brings up a good point.

You saw the second picture, the image sort of from the ground in color and all that black smoke that was being burned. I would say that those oil fires burning are more a hazard to the people living in Baghdad than they are an impediment for us to conduct operations. And so, we really are not -- there's not a tactical problem on the battlefield as a result of those trenches.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: General, this campaign seems to have been designed to bring about the collapse of the regime. At this point, day six, what signs, if any, do you have that this is going to happen?

RENUART: Well, I think our plan from the beginning was not designed to make it in two days. It was designed to be rapid, synergistic, but to follow a time line. And we had every expectation that the regime would not disappear and crumble. It's not about a particular person. It is about an organization that has for 30-some years ruled in fear and terror in this country. It takes detailed work to get to that problem, and we'll continue that on our time line, and I think everybody's very comfortable with that.

QUESTION: The Iraq army has announced today there was a suicide bombing in Al Faw. Can you tell us about that?

The second part of the question is that some sources are saying that in Basra you have changed the plan; that your forces which have been going out of the city are going back into Basra.

Are you planning to fight in Basra street by street? Thanks.

RENUART: Well, let me go to your second question and just say that I'd like to not talk about how we will specifically fight anywhere on the battlefield. I think Basra has always been a key objective for us in order to return security to the city. As you know, the regime cut off water, has taken away some of the natural resources in the city. And that has become a real humanitarian concern for us.

I'm happy to say that the Red Cross has been able to restore about 40 percent of the city to usable water. And we continue to have donations by many countries in the region to begin to move water in there.

As to operations in Basra, our focus is really to return security. There are pockets of these almost terrorist-type forces that...

(AUDIO GAP)

RENUART: ... to root out those individual pockets so that we can secure the city and allow Basra to return to normal life.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: First of all, sir, are you suffering from any kind of an intelligence failure in underestimating the kind of resistance that you are facing? And can you clarify the issue of Basra being declared the military objective? Should we expect a major assault on the city?

Thank you.

RENUART: I think first you have to be clear on your second point, that objectives don't mean necessarily targets. They mean that it's your strategy to gain control of that particular area.

And in the case of Basra, there will be some elements in the city that will be military targets; those key resistance areas, these Fedayeen, these Special Republican Guard forces, Ba'ath Party forces that are fighting.

But our intent is not to siege the city for sure. Our intent is to attempt to return security to the city as rapidly as we can and root out those forces that would fight in the city and use the residents of the city as shields and try to create targets.

Now, when I lost my hair I lost my memory, so if you could repeat your first question for me please?

QUESTION: Are you suffering from any kind of military intelligence failure in the...

RENUART: With respect to how the Iraqi regime or Iraqi forces would fight?

QUESTION: Yes.

RENUART: Absolutely not. I think our intelligence estimates have been pretty accurate. We expected the Iraqi regime to fight. We didn't expect that it would be any kind of an easy operation. And so, I think we'll just continue with the plan as it stands today.

QUESTION: Yesterday General Franks said that the goal was -- that they were going to fight this war -- you were going to fight this war on your terms. Instead, you are sort of being drawn into facing guerrilla resistance, you are being drawn into the streets of An Nasiriya and possibly Basra. How is this on your terms?

RENUART: Well, I'm not sure I would say we're being drawn into fights that are not on our terms.

One of the important aspects has been to very rapidly establish a threat to the Republican Guard division, because they are so key to Saddam's success. And so, as we push forward, we have tried to very rapidly position forces in a position that would have that effect.

We understood absolutely from the beginning that we would still have to, in each of the major city areas in the south reestablish some security. And we understood that there would be forces that would attempt to keep us from doing that.

We do not believe that that's the feeling of the people in the cities, and that rather they are being held hostage by these very small elements. And as I said, we'll get to them one at a time and stay on plan.

QUESTION: There's widespread fear in northern Iraq amongst the Kurds that they could face a chemical weapons attack eventually by Saddam Hussein. What comfort can you give them? What kind of protection are the coalition forces intending to give them to prevent such an attack?

RENUART: Well, I think, first of all, the ability that we've exercised so far to target those units that are capable of delivering chemical munitions has been very important for us. Things like frog (ph and abibeal (ph) and Al-Samoud surface-to-surface missiles, astros (ph), multiple launch rocket systems have been key targets for us in the areas occupied by the regular army units and the Republican Guard units in the north.

So I think the first point is, we are spending a fair amount of energy up there and trying to attack and destroy those things that will most immediately affect them.

In addition, we have forces that are in and amongst and with the Kurds. And that continues to provide them a degree of security that I think they're comfortable with.

And as I mentioned, we have our coordination cell up there actively working to ensure that their security needs, those things that do threaten them are addressed in our strategic targeting process.

QUESTION: General, the Basra situation, Kofi Annan has expressed anxiety about the humanitarian situation there. Can you give us any information about that? And also, before the conflict, we were expecting that the Shi'ites would be, you know, less disposed to fight because of the hostility with the Sunni -- the alleged hostility with the Sunni elements in Iraq. Do you believe that has failed to materialize? Thank you.

RENUART: Well, let me answer your first question, and then I'm going to get clarification on your second, because I'm not sure I understood it.

With respect to Basra, as I mentioned earlier, we too believe that it's been a real crisis, a humanitarian issue that has been caused by the Iraqi regime. And so, as I mentioned I think a minute ago, our intent is to try to reduce that humanitarian situation very rapidly.

The most pressing requirement was for water. And we're beginning to see that flow. We have an additional water pipeline that will be run into Umm Qasr port. And then we'll begin trucking water up into Basra as soon as we are able to get it into neighborhoods and into water plants.

So I'm hopeful that we'll get the water flowing into Basra very rapidly.

With respect to the humanitarian aid, a number of nongovernmental organizations are already gathered together in a humanitarian assistance coordination cell in Kuwait. And they are leaning very far forward to bring that aid into Umm Qasr, Asubayr (ph) and into Basra just as soon as we possibly can.

So that's a very critical focus of our strategy, is to be able to provide that aid at the same time that we fracture and destroy the regime.

Now, let me go back to your question about the Shi'a. It sounded like you were asking me that, were we surprised that the Shi'a weren't fighting. Is that...

QUESTION: One of the expectations that we heard about before the conflict was that, given the historic tension between the Shi'a and the Sunnis, that the Shi'a would not rally to the regime. But given what we are hearing about resistance, has this failed to materialize, has this prediction failed to materialize?

RENUART: No, I don't think so. I think, as I mentioned a little bit ago, the vast majority of the Shi'a in the country of Iraq have been oppressed by the regime. And they've been in that situation for a number of years.

I think that there is -- they feel a threat to their security by these Ba'ath Party, Special Republican Guard, Fedayeen troops as they are terrorizing the neighborhoods. I think their first concern is for their families and their safety. And as they begin to feel that we begin to neutralize some of these elements of fear in their cities, they will come around very quickly. And in fact we've seen that in a couple locations already, a noticeable change when we've eliminated one of those.

QUESTION: What lessons have you learned or what didn't you expect from the kind of street fighting that you've seen so far? And how might that be applied to what lies ahead in Baghdad?

And as a follow-up, do human shields work? Will your troops shoot at Iraqi soldiers who are using them?

RENUART: Well, human shields are a cowardly way to act on a battlefield. And I think that we have trained our forces well enough to understand when and where human shields might be used and how to respond on the battlefield. So I'm comfortable that we will not put our troops in a position where we would disregard the safety of any noncombatants out there.

There are times, as you've seen in some of the videos, where the Iraq regime is placing military equipment, whether it's an airplane or a surface-to-air missile system or what have you, in and around schools, hospitals and facilities that are of significant religious importance. And we have very clear guidance to our people not to engage those things, although the Iraqis endanger them by merely placing with them.

So I believe our troops are trained to deal with those situations on the battlefield. And in the cases where we've seen some of that, have been successful doing that.

QUESTION: Can you comment on the presence and competence of Polish (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in southern Iraq, the fact which was hidden to the Polish society by Polish government?

RENUART: Well, I don't know if it was hidden by the Polish government or not.

I am pleased to say that we have had wonderful support from the Polish military, and that has been very welcome on the battlefield.

Each nation in the coalition has its own desires for how much or how little publicity it gets. But I am pleased to say that we have some absolutely superb Polish military participating very actively, and doing it wonderfully.

QUESTION: I wonder if you can give a sense, even a critique about the ways in which you see the media at this point misreporting the progress of the war. Or, on the other hand, if you see that the media is generally giving an accurate picture that would be interesting to know, too.

RENUART: I think that was a setup question.

(LAUGHTER)

RENUART: I think the media is reality. I mean, I don't say that in that it's necessarily always the true picture because the media is a snapshot of what it sees at that point. But it is in each of our societies, free societies have the media and we allow it to report. We may not always agree with what the report is. I think that's the case in any nation.

In terms of bringing the media onto the battlefield, I think this has been really a historic event. Certainly during World War II, we had some great media reporters, Ernie Pyles and those kinds of folks who did wonderful work out in the battlefield describing the fight, but it took six months for their stories to get back in press.

The challenge we have is the immediacy that the media has to report. And because of that capability sometimes the report is taking just in the very narrow frame that it's seen, and so we have to understand that.

But I don't think that the media has had an adverse affect. I think most of the commanders who have embedded correspondents out there with them are very comfortable with them. I think they've been supportive of them. And so I think this has been something we've had to adapt to, but I think we've adapted pretty well. And we'll continue to have the media with us.

QUESTION: Could I ask your estimate of the Iraqi military casualties until now?

RENUART: Boy, you know, I really could not tell you. Obviously, a lot of our air strikes are in places where we do not have military forces to actually do that kind of accounting work. So it would be unfair of me to make any assessment really of Iraqi casualties.

QUESTION: You mentioned the bombing of the Republican Guard. Is there any sign that the bombing is having any of the desired effect on the guard? And I'm just curious, what would determine when you might launch a full-scale attack on them? Would that be determined by casualty rates that you see on their part, for example, or something like that?

RENUART: First, I think we're having a substantial effect. There are a number of pieces, as you saw here, tanks and artillery pieces and those sorts of things being destroyed. That's happening in hundreds of sorties every day.

Do we hit every target? Like I said, there's a few numbers of those bombs that don't go where they are. Are they well hidden? Sometimes they are and it's harder to be exactly, you may hit 20 feet away and it may not fully destroy that target.

On the other hand, the repetitive nature of our air operations allows us to continue to revisit targets that we believe we have not killed.

And I think what you'll see in the end is that, many of those tank revetments are filled with junk right now because of the precision and the ability of the air power.

Now to go to your second point: When will we decide that it's enough, it's time? The land component commander has a series of discussions with his corps commanders in the field. He briefs General Franks on his plan. And as a command element, they'll make a decision that a force is depleted to a point or its vulnerable at a point that it would allow that attack to commence. And that's done repeatedly at the squad level all the way up to the corps level on the battlefield.

QUESTION: You talk about and you show humanitarian meals ready to be distributed. How concerned are you -- I know that there were some POWs that were taken from a maintenance unit, which is a rear echelon unit -- about moving humanitarian workers in to distribute these meals? What kind of time frame do you have for putting these humanitarian meals out of a warehouse, off of an airplane and into someone's hand who needs them?

RENUART: Well, I think you make a great point, and that is, making sure that we have reasonably good security to get those rations out, but we also have put a certain number of those kinds of rations with our field units. So if a unit comes upon immediate need, they can help if that's required.

And certainly as we establish more and more security moving up from Umm Qasr to Zubayr to Basra, we will begin to flow that stuff forward as the local commander on the battlefield, in coordination with our humanitarian assistance coordination cell, has established -- or has met the parameters, if you will, that seem to be a safe environment.

QUESTION: You talked about those in Kuwait ready to offer humanitarian assistance.

RENUART: Yes.

QUESTION: When will you allow them to come out of Kuwait into southern Iraq?

RENUART: I think much of it is their decision when they feel that the area is secure enough. But we will continue very rapidly to try to make the area as secure as we think it needs to be to get them there.

QUESTION: Sir, Brigadier General Brooks said moments ago that the coalition is attacking and would continue to attack the Iraqi regime directly and aggressively. Why is it therefore that the Iraqi regime is still allowed or is still broadcasting what some might call its propaganda? Why haven't you attacked those facilities and taken them out?

And sir, is it true that the Ministry of Defense building in Baghdad has yet to be taken out?

Thank you.

RENUART: Well, first of all, I'm not going to talk about what we target and when. I'd just say that our targeting plan is just about exactly where General Franks wanted it to be. And we'll continue to work through those elements that we require in order to affect the regime command-and-control and communication while minimizing the damage to the people. QUESTION: But the propaganda that they're issuing (OFF-MIKE) yesterday the Iraqi soldiers on the ground shooting in the water, doesn't that hurt your, you know, push toward freedom in Iraq?

RENUART: I don't believe it affects us in a negative way. I think people around the world understand that it is, in fact, what you've describe it as and not necessarily reality.

I think that certainly there are some who would believe everything that they see on the television, but I think, as we talk to leaders around the region, as we talk to leaders around the world, it doesn't seem to be a message that's taking as much as some might think.

QUESTION: Australia has a relatively small contingent here taking part in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Have you been impressed by their capability?

(LAUGHTER)

RENUART: Absolutely.

(LAUGHTER)

RENUAT: No, actually, my good friend, General Maury McNarn (ph), their senior commander here, we chat daily, and I have said to him on a number of occasions how absolutely impressed.

And that really, truly, honestly, I mentioned the Polish, I mentioned the U.K., and certainly the Australians and other nations who are contributing in many ways.

No nation has given us a second team. We have the first team of every nation in the coalition participating and aggressively accomplishing their missions. The Australians contributing both in the air, on the ground and at sea.

And I think one of the great coalition stories, as we conducted operations in the gulf oil platform and the Al-Faw peninsula, was a task force that began commanded by an Australian officer afloat, transitioned to U.S. and Australian divers ashore, transitioned to U.S. military on the ground, transitioned to U.K. forces as they flowed in. So each nation in a fashion was involved in a very well- integrated coalition effort. It's seamless, it truly is.

QUESTION: Can you report now of any findings, any evidence of weapons of mass destruction?

RENUART: This is a question that's asked every day. Do you ask it every day?

QUESTION: Yes.

RENUART: OK. I can't give you confirmation of any reports at this point. I will say that we continue to do site exploitations of a number of sites. As you know, as we move forward, we uncover a number of sites that we may have been concerned about in the past. I think as we move closer into the Baghdad area -- Baghdad is really the heart of the regime, and I would expect that they would hold their most valuable treasures close to their heart. And I think as we get closer to Baghdad we will see more of those sites that we will continue to exploit.

But we've been doing that as the forces move forward. We have continued to develop information that we found and to interview key leaders that we've detained on the battlefield and are developing that information to lead us to more sites.

QUESTION: How do you expect to make a distinction between military operations and humanitarian aid operations? And I ask you this question because organizations like Oxfam have said it's not wise to move in humanitarian aid in one hand while carrying a gun in the other.

RENUART: You know, for quite some time in Afghanistan we have integrated military operations and humanitarian aid extremely successfully. I'd point out that in the first about 70 days of operations in Afghanistan we allowed the international organizations to deliver more humanitarian aid than they had in the previous six years. So there is a way to integrate the two.

Clearly there is a security concern. And we continue to work very actively with each of the organizations through this fusion cell that I've described. And we have one forming in Turkey and one in Jordan to help fuse and feed the humanitarian assistance into the country.

I think we have become well-trained as military forces in the ability to integrate that humanitarian assistance, but allowing them to continue to keep a line between aid and the military.

I think I have time for one more question.

QUESTION: Yesterday the Iraqi information minister vow for more dark days to come for the British and U.S. troops. So I wonder has the coalition force encountered the so-called dark days yet? And what is the hardest battle that coalition has fought so far in the past six days in terms of your approach to the designated time line?

Thank you.

RENUART: That's a great question. I think the dark days are probably coming for the dark side. And Saddam's regime has more dark days ahead than we do.

Certainly there will be days when we had casualties. And we've seen that in a number of cases over the last couple of days. No battle is without casualties.

But that does not change the resolve of our forces, of our commander, of our national leaders. And we have to ensure that we keep our focus on those objectives.

And I've had the opportunity to talk to many of our young soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marine out deployed in the field over the last week to 10 days. I can assure you that the moral is absolutely sky-high. They know it's a hard job. They know it's difficult. But I think they have so far displayed great courage, great enthusiasm, great focus, and they will continue to serve us proudly to get to that final objective. And in the end, to quote General Franks, we will win.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

ZAHN: And with that, the CENTCOM briefing has been wrapped up. Some quick headlines from the briefing, the general telling us that they cannot confirm reports of weapons of mass destruction yet. Declaring the campaign on track. The general acknowledged that weather is having an impact on the battlefield, perhaps slowing things down, but he said ultimately, 1400 sorties are expected to be flown today. The general also saying that command forces are expected to hit targets in Basra, but no plans to besiege the city. And finally it talked about the success, the command has had in destroying all six of reported Iraqi GPS jamming systems.

We're going to get greater context on that from David Grange. First, we will get back to Bill in Kuwait City to run through some of what we learned here this morning -- Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Paula, hello again. One of the things I find quite interesting, we continue to see the evidence anyway on the coalition side about the number of oil ditches being dug around the capital city of Baghdad. And clearly, there is evidence now of this oil being set on fire. Let's talk with David Grange, the general at the CNN center, about this. I'm curious to know at some point, be it by land or by air, how much of a hindrance could this be for the coalition?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, the smoke, Bill, obviously used for obscurence on the battlefield will affect some types of delivery systems of aircraft. But there are aircraft and munitions that can get around this challenge and there's techniques to mark targets and deliver munitions regardless of the smoke.

HEMMER: They did not talk a lot about the Republican Guard, especially the Medina Corps gathered south of Baghdad. But they did talk about the questions about the change in strategy really from the British perspective in the southeastern town of Basra. Your interpretation of how that strategy change, now that the Brits have said this is essentially a legitimate military target in certain aspects of that town?

GRANGE: Right. If we can go to some satellite coverage of Basra area and Umm Qasr, can we do that? If not - here we go. That's the target system. If you -- the strategy that's going to take place in the Basra area, is that it's going to be the whole -- the city will be controlled. It's surrounded. You have a key airport to the northwest of the city. You have some major roads that go into the Basra area. The coalition forces will secure those areas, they'll have overwatch in those areas, so if enemy forces identifiable come out, they can be engaged. Anyone that comes out, they can search then those people.

Here's a satellite photograph. If we can go ahead and scope down on Basra and Umm Qasr. It's the same type of issue in both places. These are the two areas that we're referring to. Can you get a little closer on that, please?

There you go. Basra. In the Basra area, what you'll see is a built-up area that we're going into right now. You'll have coalition forces that will control certain areas. As an example, they'll have a position, let's say right here, up here, down by this, here, by an airfield, let's say. They'll control access into the city. And then at the same time, what they'll do is, they'll go ahead and they'll go in and actually hit a site in the city, but not clear the entire city. And that is going to be dependent on intelligence that gives them good targets. Part of that challenge will be to get the people to support them on that information. And if they don't get the people to support them in the town of Basra, it will be hard for the coalition to do that. But I think that's going to happen, Bill.

HEMMER: All right, David Grange, thanks, retired brigadier general at the CNN Center. We will check in again, a bit later today.

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