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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

CENTCOM Briefing

Aired April 22, 2003 - 07:03   ET

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

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: General Brooks again at the podium in Qatar, Central Command, that briefing now underway.
BRIG. GEN. VINCENT BROOKS, CENTCOM: ... setting the conditions for a stable and free Iraq.

The coalition is working closely with Iraqi citizens, Iraqi workers, and humanitarian organizations. Dangers are still evident and there are continuing examples of lethal preparations being made by individuals who would seek instability instead of stability.

Our efforts to pursue regime leaders and to defeat regime pockets of resistance continue to prove successful. In the meantime, our forces are establishing presence throughout the country to better support those stability efforts that are ongoing.

Even as we proceed further away from decisive combat, we remember those who lost their lives in this cause and we also remember their loved ones.

In the last 24 hours, forces have begun moving into a better posture for establishing security and stability and in some cases they have encountered pockets of resistance. Near Mosul, in northern Iraq, and an air field just to the west of it, coalition forces yesterday took some direct small arms fire from a small and disorganized force. The force was repelled and it also moved away from the air field before any of them could be captured.

This reminds us that there still will be fire fights like this, not uncommon to stability operations in other places, and there will also be offensive action to defeat any of the elements that are identified who would seek to cause instability through force.

Our clearing operations in Baghdad continued as 5th Corps forces took over the entire city, expanding into the eastern area, formerly secured by 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

During an action to stop a looting, soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division discovered a significant amount of money behind a false wall. The amount is believed to be in excess of 600 million U.S. dollars, in $100 bills. This video clip shows the movement that followed the seizure.

These are $100 bills. They were moved on multiple pallets into a C-130 aircraft. Security was obviously a concern throughout. The items were moved to a secure location, transported by truck and placed into a secure warehouse, where law enforcement officials can have an examination of those particular items.

We do have an estimated amount now, since it must be counted after all of them are opened. Not all containers have been opened at this point. They will be protected throughout that period of time.

Over the last two days, coalition forces have taken two of the top 55 regime leaders into custody. The first is Jamal Mustafa Abdallah Sultan al-Tikriri, who was the deputy chief of Tribal Affairs Office and who we believe may have insights into the regime's inner circle. The second is Muhammad Hamza al-Zubaydi, a Baath Party commander, a former deputy prime minister and a key regime player with insights into regime decisions.

These captures raise the count to 11 of the 55 currently in coalition custody. And our coalition efforts continue in pursuing all former regime leaders that are not yet accounted for.

As the campaign continues and the situation changes, our operation also changes. Security, as I've mentioned, is one of the key areas of our current focus. While we work to make Iraq safe for Iraqis and others who are in country to help, it's clear that we continue to battle those who would rather see our peace efforts fail.

Coalition forces are finding or being guided to caches of improvised explosive devices, like the one I'm about to show you. This is an explosive vest recently found. Some of these vests are vests that are normally used to carry ammunition. Think we have some additional images of the vests. Explosives are inserted into the pockets or in some cases they're sewn actually into the fabric. This is the vest having been laid open.

One more please.

This is a little packet that is sewn into the fabric itself. It contains ball bearings to increase the amount of lethality when the explosion occurs.

We have found a number of these in several different locations.

At this point, we're over 800 that have been found in multiple finds.

In other cases, we find objects that would normally be used in a casual setting being converted into deadly devices. You see some marble-looking coffee tables. These tables are actually ladened with explosives and other materials that are intended to increase casualties and be more lethal when they're used. They're constructed with sophisticated electronic devices or timers, like you see in this case. This is a timing device that's in the top of that same container. It can be used to be detonated remotely or command detonated.

And the next one shows another device. Let's go to the next picture. Pretty sophisticated work that's being done.

The finding of such devices reinforces the reality that terrorist tactics and actions were certainly supported by the regime. Further, it reinforces the need for deliberate work to root out the terrorists that are still present in Iraq.

An additional aspect of establishing security entails working with citizens, and also, helping to establish police forces. Got a short video here of some coordination done with local police.

(VIDEO TAPE PLAYED)

BROOKS: Our efforts in security also make it possible to have some events occur that would never have occurred under the regime. The next video shows a portion of the ongoing pilgrimage, with participants walking from An Najaf (ph) a few days ago.

That's just a short portion. I know that there have been a number of networks that have carried the pilgrimage as well, a very important event that's ongoing. The pilgrimage now has moved on to Karbala, adn there are estimates there are more than 1 million people participating in something that would not have been possible before. Adn thus far it has occurred without any significant incidents.

Our coalition efforts to restore and rehabilitate infrastructure are ongoing as another focus. These efforts are key to putting Iraq's future on the best possible footing.

Telecommunications are one aspect of the infrastructure to be restored. Service is available in some local areas but the countrywide system will require deliberate restoration in order to get it back up on line.

In the next images a coalition civil affairs team is meeting with telecommunications engineers to assess the Basra communication center.

Also, in infrastructure we focus on the oil system. Now oil system restoration will have an impact on the power and water industries and also on the economic development of Iraq. At the base level, workers are required. Iraq's professional and trained work force are returning to work all over the country, including in the oil industry.

In this image, an Iraqi contractor hired by the coalition to assist Iraqi oil workers in returning to work interviews a southern oil company worker inside of a small school near Basra. This interview occurred on the 16th of April.

On a larger countrywide level, the restoration of the entire system requires a thoughtful and technical approach. The coalition formed what we call Task Force RIO, and it stands for Restore Iraqi Oil. This task force was formed prior to the start of hostilities to address the challenge of restoring and rehabilitating the Iraqi oil system. This coalition task force organized the efforts to assess and extinguish the oil well fires and has made assessments as well as initial restoration actions in the southern and northern oil fields.

In the next video, you'll see a recent meeting between the task force commander, Engineer Brigadier General Bob Creer (ph), and Iraqi technicians for oil, water, electric, members of the Office of Humanitarian Assistance and Reconstruction, as well as contractors that are working for the coalition.

Let's go ahead and play the tape, please. This discussion addressed security for workers as well as money that might be used and the restoration of electrical power through the systems.

We continue to facilitate food distribution as well for the Iraqi people on several levels. In the next image, you'll see soldiers of the 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion from Greensboro, North Carolina, distributing rice to Iraqi people on the 19th of April.

Medical care remains an area of focus. The coalition provides medical care as required, and also enhances the medical care provided by the Iraqi medical system. A new field hospital opened on April 20, and we've got a short video of that hospital as it opened. This is a field hospital and has U.S. and Spanish health professionals working in it, and their resources committed. And it can provide care ranging from primary care to minor surgeries and X-rays.

Every day we find new evidence of the extraordinary disregard the former regime held for the Iraqi people. Coalition assessments and even media observations have seen the poor conditions of parts of the Iraqi medical system. Many hospitals and clinics suffer from a lack of local power, medical supplies and other needed items. The needed materials were available to the regime, but they were withheld from delivery.

On April 19, the 30th Medical Brigade, from Heidelberg, Germany, sent a team to assess the quantities of spare generators and parts that were found in warehouses operated by the Iraqi Ministry of Health. They found that available supplies and parts exceeded the coalition expectations and had been available since before the war. These are generators. We know we've been trying to move generators to a number of hospitals. They've been available. Although these certainly require some work and repair, they are available indeed.

Other supplies were also found at this warehouse in considerable numbers. As we've said, we believe that there are enough supplies here, certainly they've exceeded the coalition's expectations, but there are enough to make immediate impact on the condition of several medical facilities, and the coalition will facilitate delivery as soon as possible.

I think we have one more image. OK.

While there are many facilities that remain unsatisfactory, others are being brought back into service for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

The next image shows a hospital in Kirkuk. It has a clinic for women and children. It's clean and functional. The hospital recently reopened, and that was due to the efforts of coalition civil affairs teams in restoring electrical power and water to the city.

Most importantly, every day more Iraqis are receiving the needed care and they have a chance at a better future.

With that, ladies and gentlemen, I'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Can you tell us about the cease-fire that apparently has been reached with the People's Mujahedeen (ph)? Can you confirm whether it's true or not?

BROOKS: We've had some encounters of various sorts with the People's Mujahedeen (ph). We know that there was a presence inside of Iraq and had been for some time. Initially, some of our actions involved targeting them with lethal fires. There were some movements and some negotiations that were undertaken by our coalition Special Operations forces.

At this point, a cease-fire is in effect, and some of the People's Mujahedeen (ph) have moved into what can best be described as assembly areas, in a noncombat formation. They do have combat equipment, but in a noncombat formation.

That's unfolding at this time, and we still have some work to do to bring that all to a closure. But it is, in fact, an ongoing action.

QUESTION: On the Mujahedeen (ph), can you speak about what would become of the fighters? You spoke last week about the possible capitulation or surrender. The Muja (ph) is considered a terrorist organization by the State Department. So, you know, could you let them just melt away or do you have to treat them as enemy POWs and deal with them as terrorists?

And can you speak about the role of the INC in the capture of these two from the list of 55? They claim to have been involved in the capture. Have indeed these guys been handed over to you from the INC?

Thanks.

BROOKS: We certainly know that the United States has maintained the MEK (ph), as we describe it, on the terrorist list, and they still are. So until that changes, we view them that way.

However, there's discussion that's ongoing right now to determine exactly what the condition and what the status will be and how we'll handle them. It's premature for me to describe exactly what that will be at this point.

As for the Iraqi National Congress, we've certainly been working with them throughout this operation. They did play a role in the handover of Jamal Mustafa, and that was a useful role that they played. I don't want to characterize it too precisely and too specifically since they've already proven that they have some access that's of value to the coalition. And we certainly appreciate their efforts in that regard.

QUESTION: And the latest one, Zubaydi? BROOKS: I don't know that there was any involvement of the INC in that particular case. I certainly know there was involvement in the other one that I described that occurred yesterday.

QUESTION: General, I have two questions. The first is, just now you mentioned you found -- the coalition forces found $600 million behind a false wall. Can you tell us how this money will be used, for the rebuilding of Iraq or for paying for the war bill?

My second question is, can you tell us how many children in Baghdad now have access to clean water?

Thank you.

BROOKS: The money that I showed is first to be secured and examined by law enforcement officials to determine, first, whether it's real money. It could be counterfeit money. We certainly can't tell that at the level where the soldiers secured and moved it.

So examination by law enforcement officials. Perhaps determining where it came from, who might have been involved in its production, its movement, what its intended uses might have been -- any number of questions have to be answered first.

So the immediate priority is secure it until law enforcement officials can examine it. And then, let them do their work.

Afterwards decisions will be made depending on what it is we actually have. We certainly wouldn't want to distribute false money. But there will be other decisions that are made if it indeed is $600 million in U.S. currency. This command will not make the determination about how that will be used, so I would defer that question to a later time as we have more information.

As to the people who have access to fresh water, you mentioned children, but everyone is part of our concern. We have ongoing efforts to try to make it possible for water to flow throughout the country. And we've had some great success in the last several days at restoring power.

Restoring natural gas lines, I described a few days ago. What happens when natural gas is restored from Kirkuk to Mosul, and how that then goes to an electrical power dam, which then can provide power to Bayji, which then can provide power through Tikrit or straight into Baghdad.

At the same time we have work that's happening in Basra. We already know that we've gotten the water increased in Basra to well above the pre-war level and that effort continues to provide more and more people access to it. Other areas as well throughout the country, whether we're providing reverse osmosis water purification done through military means or whether we're trucking in the water supplies that have been ongoing for a number of days through water distribution points like the one in Umm Qasr.

Those efforts are ongoing everywhere. Some of that goes into Baghdad as well. There are packaged products that go into Baghdad and have come in by flights, flown by coalition, but donated by others.

There is effort to bring the power systems back on. We know that we have the southern part of Baghdad powered again, with the power having been restored. We have six other locations throughout Baghdad that can provide power on a somewhat sporadic, but nevertheless available basis.

And all of these tie back into the water system. I don't know the exact amount of who has access to water right now in Baghdad. It's a growing number with every day that goes by and with every effort we make to restore the power.

And that will certainly increase as time goes on.

QUESTION: I've got a couple questions about WMD.

There was a report in the New York Times yesterday suggesting that one of the MET teams had made some progress, received some leads. I wonder if you can comment on that.

And then I'm trying to better understand how the MET teams work. Do they do all the field analysis or do they send it back here for further analysis? And do you know how many of the teams in Iraq are actually dedicated specifically to WMD? I'm just trying to better understand the system in place, if CENTCOM's a clearing house for that info. How does it work?

BROOKS: Well, let me give you some of that.

First, we continue to receive more and more bits of information. Some of this comes from individuals that we take into our custody. Some of it is offered freely by citizens that have some piece of information.

As I've mentioned before, we did organize for what we call site exploitation, which means that we have teams that have been dedicated solely to that purpose. The METs, the mobile exploitation teams, are only one example of that. And I'll come back to what they are and how they are configured in just a moment.

But with each piece of information we go and we pursue, see if there's something there that's worthy of further examination. It may be in some cases that tactical units receive the information first; someone that's local or someone that's taken into custody says, "I have something I think you ought to see." And they'll take a tactical unit to a location and begin an initial examination.

All of our tactical units have the ability to do some initial detection of chemicals, and they use their equipment, which is very sensitive but nevertheless doesn't provide full confirmation of what an agent might be.

If there's something that requires further examination as a result of these initial finds, or something that looks suspicious, or some papers perhaps that might indicate they're associated with a chemical, biological or other weapon of mass effect program, then more examination will occur.

When there's a suspected agent involved, I mean a chemical or biological agent involved, we may commit additional assets.

For example, there are some mobile systems we have. A chemical reconnaissance vehicle that's common to several of our units has the ability to do some on-board testing to try to narrow down what the agent might potentially be. That's happened in several cases. In some of those cases, we've found at a later time that the materials were dual use. They could've been used in a weapons program. They might also have been used in an agricultural program. And the quantities and substances were not something that would indicate weaponization.

There's yet another layer, and that's where these teams come in. We have teams that have been organized that have a variety of embedded capabilities. They're what we call interagency teams. So there might be someone that has expertise in nuclear, somebody that has expertise in chemical, someone that has expertise in biological, someone that has expertise in weapons, themselves, someone that has expertise in artillery systems. All these things, they're task-organized, and if there's something that's suspected that may not be part of that team, we'll find the expertise, add it to the team, and then put the team in place.

It is mobile -- what that means is that it can go to a variety of places in the country where we happen to find pieces of information. We've done a number of those at this point. Some of them have been to sites that we before the way anticipated might still be involved in a weapons of mass destruction program. We know that in the past they have been. But they haven't been examined in all cases. We've been to a number of those, as we worked our way through the western desert, as we approached closer to Baghdad, as we took control of some depots and facilities like air fields.

Beyond that, as we find these additional bits of information that would indicate that things are buried, hidden, dispersed, disassembled -- all these types of information that we're currently receiving -- we go off on what is referred to as an ad hoc search, something that wasn't pre-planned, but something nevertheless we can respond to. In reality, for every one of the ones we have planned we're finding two or three more that require an ad hoc search.

And so, that work is ongoing, it's very deliberate. We don't get excited about it at the first indication. You've probably noticed that by now. And the reason is because it requires detailed examination.

When the mobile exploitation teams find something that's worthy of further examination from their part, that exceeds their technical ability or that requires further verification, they can be evacuated to the United States for a more detailed examination. And we've had some cases of that thus far. There have been some cases of that where we've had some samples, for example, that have been taken back for further examination. And that's where we get the confirmation that, yes, it might be chemical, but it might be dual use as well. And so this is a very deliberate process. The most important part of it, frankly, is that with every day that goes by, we get more and more information. We have more pieces of the puzzle being revealed to us. And, given some of the players we are currently taking into our custody, and those we continue to seek, we remain confident that we'll find the evidence of the program that's been in place in Iraq for some time.

QUESTION: Questions on two topics. One, could you discuss the level of threat at suicide attacks, particularly in comparison to when some of the deadly attacks occurred out at the check points, and whether any lessons learned have been applied to manning and rules of engagement, and so forth, at manning of the check points?

And secondly, since Iraq has been -- areas of responsibility has been divided among the military branches, how might that affect unit rotations, what type of units are brought in, and ultimately whether there's any short-term plans to bring some of the units that have been serving the longest, such as 3rd ID, back home any time soon.

Thank you.

BROOKS: Let me address the first part of your question.

From what I showed you today -- the suicide vest that we found and the reports of the presence of people who want to destabilize, not seek stability -- we remain concerned about the potential for suicide attacks. It's very clear the capability exists.

Have we retrieved all of the vests that there are? We don't know. There's certainly no way to know that. We know that there's someone who's been producing, importing and using those types of vests.

How we found every improvised explosive device that there is in Baghdad or elsewhere around Iraq? Impossible to say. We know that there's someone who produces them, distributes them and intended, at least, to use the ones that we found.

And because of that, we remain vigilant in our work. It's not a matter of just standing on the street and observing things. Our work must be offensive in its orientation, which means you got to go find the places, like the ones you saw, where these things might be located, to prevent their use.

Now, those actions are ongoing. So that's one of the first and most important lessons that has been applied. And that's not a new lesson. That didn't come from this operation.

As to rules of engagement on the check points and other places, we have learning organizations, and they learn by everything that occurs, everything they're involved in, the things that went well, the things that didn't go as well as they wanted, and more importantly, what can be done to either sustain those or to improve those. That's an embedded part of our current military culture, and it applies even to combat operations. So adjustments are usually made down at the tactical level, whether it's the standoff distance or where you put sandbags, how much wire you put out, what you use to canalize or channelize the movement of vehicles that might approach. As you've seen, we've had some success in driving down the frequency of vehicular improvised explosive devices.

At the same time, we are not disengaging ourselves from the population. In fact, we're engaging with them in a number of ways. And so that requires us to be alert and conscious, but it also requires us to maintain a degree of force protection that prevents an easy attack against coalition forces.

Now, you mentioned unit rotations and what decisions might be made in that regard. It's still certainly rather early to talk about that for all units. At the same time, we've made some adjustments to try to build the composition of the force in such a way that it matches what our current mission needs are and what we anticipate will be our mission needs in the near future. Some of our aircraft, for example, have been relocated from operating in this area of responsibility back to other bases, home bases back in the United States or in other countries.

There'll be some additional adjustments that occur over time. Some of our maritime component has relocated either to different parts of the world where they have additional responsibilities or back to home ports, if they've been deployed for an extended period.

At the same time, we increase much of our presence on the ground, and that's required to be able to expand the physical presence that's required to create the conditions of stability and to provide security as required. And so, you see a different flow happening with many of the land component forces.

The forces that are flowing in right now were always part of the plan, they were always part of the calculation. And, in fact, we have stopped the flow of some that we don't anticipate will be required from the original plan.

As to times for rotation, we're doing examination right now to see what should be the sequence of moving out, what size the force should be, who should come out first. And those will decisions that are made not just here at Central Command, but also in conjunction with our national commands for all coalition forces. And it will take some time as we go through that. We're alert on it, we're watching it, and that continues.

HEMMER: General Brooks at Central Command in Qatar talking about the latest right now in the war on Iraq and what is happening on the ground there. One of the headlines from this, another one of the list of 55 turned over, U.S. custody right now. Described as the nine of clubs, the former chief of tribal affairs, which brings a total of eight of the 55 now in U.S. custody. We'll keep a close eye on what's happening at Central Command.

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