Saturday, October 28, 2006

Vinsent Barragan R.I.P.

My old friend Vinsent (known here as the Laird) died October 23rd. His pickup hit the back of a big-rig on the way to Vegas and he died on impact. He was 32.

I knew Vinse since we were juniors at Notre Dame high school in 1990. I don't really remember meeting Vinse, because at the time I started hanging around the gaming nerds I didn't realize we'd be tight for another 16 years. Looking back it doesn't seem that he changed all that much; he was a very mature guy at 17.

Vinse was a bold guy. As a security guard he had cause to shoot out the engine block of a pickup with a pistol--from the front. He would run field-work programs with 60 violent juvenile offenders single-handed--and The Bear did not get any trouble. He loved telling "war stories" about how he compelled obedience in the Hall and we were a willing audience.

Looking back I am glad I could help Vinse learn to live on his own, which is one of the very few things in life I did before Barragan. He lived with his mother and sister providing in-home care until he was 29. He was very devoted to both of his parents even after we moved out into our own suite, and later, his own condo. He was very proud to actually own a home, although learning to live with mortgage payments wore him out.

Now the condo looks like a furniture warehouse. I'm bagging and boxing my things and coordinating the move back to my folks over the next couple of weeks. And it hits me, that although I spent most of my time under that roof without Vinse actually there, it is near unbearable now that he's permanently gone. He won't come through the door and ask me to come with him as he shops. I never got that, being invited to go buy Dickies, but I understand now. When you commit as we both did, to being responsible for dozens of people as they sleep, you just don't get to go to the afternoon barbecue or watch the game at the bar. You have to pass on the weekend trip, because your day off comes midweek. Vinse could bitch to me about that, because I was in the same boat. Now all my close friends are in the 9-5 and I'm out of the loop.

I've been stoic around his mother and his girlfriend and the Notre Dame mafia coming in from all over the state. It's now that I'm back in the daily rut that it starts to really hurt.

We'll bury Vinse this Tuesday. Afterwards it's on us to keep in touch, keep meeting each other, plan the jaunt to Dodger Stadium, haul ourselves around the Inland Empire. After 16 years, the coordinator has stopped making pickup.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Pentagon Admits Defeat in Baghdad--Not

Here’s the whole of Maj. Gen Caldwell’s “admission”. I am excerpting a paragraph you will not read in any paper talking about an “admission of failure in Baghdad”. The entire transcript follows.

We did know during the month of Ramadan we would see an increase in extremist elements, insurgent activity targeted against coalition and Iraqi security forces, and in fact that's occurred. We talked about the fact that just in the three weeks before Ramadan and the three weeks into Ramadan, at least a 20 percent increase in the number of attacks that have occurred within the area there, Baghdad area. So we know that's happening.

We also know that coalition forces are out much more active in the city right now today than they were a month ago as we're continuing to try to clamp down on the sectarian violence that's occurring out there. We also realize that there is a midterm election that's taking place in the United States and that the extremist elements understand the power of the media; that if they can in fact produce additional casualties, that in fact is recognized and discussed in the press because everybody would like not to see anybody get killed in these operations, but that does occur.


Notice nobody present at the briefing thought to challenge Caldwell about his "admission of failure".
That decision was made by the editors back home, searching for a sound bite of bad news to trumpet.

On the first raid against Schweinfurt there was bad weather in England, and then-two-star general Curtis LeMay ordered his half the bomb force grounded til the weather cleared. The result was that our attack flew over Germany in two groups almost an hour apart. The first half did fairly well but the 2nd group caught hell from the alerted and reloaded Germans, and about 1/3 of the crews were casualties.

Army Air Corps decided we couldn't keep taking those losses--so to maintain the strategic goal of bombing German industry, the tactics were changed.

Thereafter throughout the war no air commander had authority to scrub a mission because of bad weather over his field. Planes left England in zero visibility rain and sleet. Planes collided or crashed, men died, but never in the sort of bloodbath that occurred over Schweinfurt.

That is the difference between rethinking operations and "staying the course"; and "admitting defeat". The Pentagon has not admitted defeat, and honest journalists would say as much. Honest journalism is an endangered species that dare not run in broad daylight, it seems.

Press Briefing, Oct. 19
Thursday, 19 October 2006
Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV
Spokesman, Multi-National Force - Iraq

IRAQ OPERATIONAL UPDATE BRIEFING BRIEFER: MAJOR GENERAL WILLIAM CALDWELL, USA, SPOKESMAN, MULTINATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ LOCATION: COMBINED PRESS INFORMATION CENTER, BAGHDAD, IRAQ TIME: 8:00 A.M. EDT DATE: THURSDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2006

GEN. CALDWELL: Good afternoon. "As-salaam aleikum." One year ago this past Sunday, Iraqis made a stirring display for democracy. Nearly 10 million people, more than 63 percent of the registered voters, cast their ballots in a referendum to approve the Iraqi constitution. This led the way to elections last December in which an overwhelming majority of the registered voters, or 11 million people, went to the polls to elect the members of the Council of Representatives.
Iraqis showed their desire for a government that would represent their interests and provide for their basic needs. Now that government is facing tough challenges. Quelling the violence is a top concern and one that the Iraqi government is striving persistently to address. Recently, Prime Minister Maliki announced the formation of a special committee to address the issue of militias, and he announced, as well, a ministerial committee to oversee reform of the security ministries. On Monday, the minister of Interior announced the reassignment of a number of its leaders within the national police. The decision to make changes was made solely by the Ministry of Interior. And we continue to applaud the difficult and challenging decisions they are making. Although the leadership at the division level has changed, the national police continue to prove itself as a capable and viable civil force. In fact, within 24 hours of the Ministry of Interior announcing the reassignment of a unit from the national police, it was deployed on very short notice to Balad to reinforce the local police in that area. The national police was received well by the town's leadership and is currently conducting operations and assisting the community there. The deployment is a solid display of the national police's ability to deploy nationwide to provide support and reinforcement to the local Iraqi police.

Violence and progress do coexist here in Iraq. The violence continues against security forces and innocent Iraqis during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Traditionally this is a time of great celebration; it has, instead, been a period of increased violence, not just this year, but during the past two years as well. The violence is indeed disheartening.

In Baghdad alone, we've seen a 22 percent increase in attacks during the first three weeks of Ramadan, as compared to the three weeks preceding Ramadan.

In Baghdad, Operation Together Forward has made a difference in the focus areas but has not met our overall expectations of sustaining a reduction in the levels of violence. We are working very closely with the government of Iraq to determine how to best to refocus our efforts.

In regards to this spike in violence during Ramadan, it's no coincidence that the surge in attacks against coalition forces and subsequent increase in U.S. casualty -- casualties coincide with our increased presence on the streets in Baghdad and the run-up to the American midterm elections. The enemy knows that killing innocent people and Americans will garner headlines and create a sense of frustration.

However, the coalition will not be deterred from establishing an Iraq that can provide for its own security and govern itself. That goal is achievable with a combination of both tough security measures by coalition and Iraqi security forces and a political process that recognizes that 11 or 12 million Iraqis voted for a unity government.

Towards that goal, the coalition continues to support and train an increasingly capable and determined Iraqi security force. This past weekend, Iraqi security forces independently successfully provided security for hundreds of thousands of Shi'a pilgrims who thronged the Iraqi city of Najaf in a peaceful commemoration of the death of the first imam. The event was carefully organized, with city services responding to the massive influx of pilgrims from all across Iraq and neighboring Iran.

Iraqi security forces set up and operated checkpoints and patrols throughout the Najaf province, ensuring the safe passage of these pilgrims. Their ceremony went off as planned, without any incidences, according to the Najaf provincial government officials.

This is the third holy pilgrimage in as many months that involved Iraqi security forces on their own planning and executing security for the movement of millions of worshipers here in this country.

Slide, please. This slide here, taken on October 9th, shows another example of a capable Iraqi security force. Local police in Tikrit, supported by the Iraqi army, conducted near-simultaneous raids against multiple business locations allegedly used as a major conduit for insurgents in the Tikrit area to transfer money from Syria to Iraq and to transfer profits from Tikrit area businesses to accounts in Syria. These funds, estimated to be in the millions of dollars per week, were used to finance insurgent operations, to include attacks against Iraqi civilians, as well as Iraqi and coalition security forces.

Tips from local Iraqi citizens and other intelligence sources led to this raid.




Slide and chart, please


The operation involved near-simultaneous raids on six separate locations in Tikrit, as depicted on this map.

Shown over here you can see up in the far north -- (technical difficulties due to microphone feedback) -- down here and to the south of the city. Five of the target sites were various businesses. One of the sites was a home of a business owner. These raids resulted in 16 individuals being detained. There were no injuries sustained by any civilians or coalition or security forces during these operations.

This operation did demonstrate the increased capabilities of the Iraqi security forces to target and combat insurgent activity. The fact that the local Iraqi citizens provided valuable intelligence information for this operation shows the resolve of the citizens to stop the illegal and violent activity that brings harm to their communities.

Last week, we talked about 30 caches being found in the Shakariyah or Al-Tariq (ph) area southwest of Baghdad.

If you could, next slide, please.

Operations there are still ongoing as part of a focused effort to deny this area as a safe haven to al Qaeda. Efforts have now at this point uncovered nearly 80 sizeable weapons and armament caches, and these blue dots represent the areas in which we have found up to now 80 different caches in that location, down in that low place. And again, it all started really with this truck, as we discussed last week, with a better picture of the blow-up bottom, the false bottom in the truck, once the gravel had been removed that you can see, that then led on to what is now still an ongoing operation that's been being conducted for almost 14 days.

Slide and chart, please.

Again, these are more pictures of the weapon systems that have been found so far. Of significance is an operation resulting in the discovery of 17 rigged and ready-to-use improvised explosive devices and various bomb-making materials, as you can see down here -- and it may be a little hard for you in this case -- down here in the ID material down in the bottom left corner of the pictures here. But as you can see, it's everything from sniper scopes to anti-aircraft machine guns, to mortars, to 500-pound bombs. It's a wide variety of equipment, armament, that in fact now has been removed.

Weapons and ordnance caches are continually being discovered throughout Iraq. Iraqi security forces along with Marines out in the Al Anbar Province, recently detained more than 35 suspected insurgents and discovered more than seven weapons and ordnance caches from October 7th through the 13th, which yielded just over 11,300 pieces of weapons and ordnance, to include a significant amount of material that could potentially have been used in making improvised explosive devices.

Slide, please.

This photo depicts one of the ongoing operations that were conducted out there. This car in fact had been stripped down and was in the process of being converted into a vehicle-borne improved explosive device. The vehicle was discovered on October 12th just west of Ramadi. Four individuals were detained during that operation.

The discovery of weapons and ordnance caches in Iraq has increased at a steady rate over the past three months, particularly due to Operation Together Forward within the Baghdad area. If current trends continue, October will show a significant increase in caches discovered. From July through September, there were approximately 170, then 190, then 220 caches found, respectively. And that's between the period of July through September. Already this month 144 caches have been found.

A good number of weapons and caches are discovered by Iraqi security forces, and we attribute that to the fact they're normally knowledgeable in the area in which they're operating in, and their ever-improving professionalism and the skills which we see them displaying each and every day. Iraqi security forces continue to grow in numbers and capabilities and in their independence.

Currently, just over 312,000 Iraqi security forces have been trained and equipped by coalition forces. The actual number of forces available for duty is, of course, less than that due to the fact that Iraqi security forces have suffered a number of casualties and attrition over the past several years. As such, coalition forces are working with the government of Iraq to continue recruiting and training soldiers to address these attrition rates.

Slide, please.

And Al Anbar province is one of the most troublesome areas we have here in Iraq and also in al Qaeda's stronghold. A strong Iraqi security force is essential to control the insurgency and dislodge al Qaeda in Iraq from that location. In Habbaniya earlier this week, more than 700 Iraqi army recruits began a five-week basic military training course. The perspective soldiers began their first day of training by marching onto the Camp Habbaniya soccer field to hear from the commanding general of the 1st Iraqi Army Division, General Tariq, as pictured here in the display. Upon their completion of training, these new soldiers, many of whom are from outside Al Anbar province, will serve under General Tariq as part of the 1st Iraqi Army Division. These recruits are part of the national recruiting effort aimed at bringing in over 30,000 soldiers to the Al Anbar province by May of next year.

In addition, more than 600 Iraqi police recruits are scheduled to graduate this week, and several hundred more are due to begin training in the Al Anbar province. In February of this year, there were 14 active police stations in three of the nine districts throughout the Al Anbar province. These stations were manned by fewer than 3,800 policemen. Today there are 33 stations operating in eight districts throughout Al Anbar province with more than 8,000 trained Iraqi policemen.

From Anbar to Balad, to Kirkuk to Baghdad, Iraq's leadership is juggling an array of complicated issues, and the young Iraqi government is persevering to offer unique Iraqi solutions. The U.S. and coalition leadership commends this perseverance, while the Multinational Force-Iraq continues to assess and revise our strategy and tactics to support this government in an ever-changing and dynamic security environment.

And with that, I'll take whatever questions you all may have.

Yes, ma'am?

Q Hi. Louise Roug, LA Times. I was hoping you could shed a little bit more light on what was going on in Balad and your response, beginning by explaining, you know, how long it took between the fighting broke out and you guys responded.

GEN. CALDWELL: Sure.

(To staff) If you could, could you give me the back-up slide of Balad, please?

Generally, the timeline of events as they occurred in Balad was such that what we think probably precipitated this was the fact that on the 12th, an Iraqi army force did in fact engage and kill an al Qaeda in Iraq leader element -- person out there, which we think then precipitated, late on the evening of the 12th, early the morning of the 13th, the murder of what now appears to be 14 Shi'a that were killed or murdered out in that location. We do know that in retribution to that, we saw 23 -- or 26 Sunni killed the following day. And again, these numbers correspond to the locations on the map where approximately these events occurred. So the killing of the Shi'a members were up in this area here, and the Sunni down here.

As you know, the city is predominantly Shi'a and the surrounding area predominantly Sunni.

We do know on the 15th that all the leadership came together and convened a meeting -- the very first one that they did, that they did on their own, to start addressing the very issues which brought on that sectarian violence.

We know the following day there was some indirect fire that came into the town, which did kill one more Iraqi local national. And then there was a very large, significant meeting of just -- I want to say anywhere -- I've heard the number's anywhere from 600 to a thousand people that attended on the 18th, in which they continued to further address and talk about the issues that were confronting them out in that location.

When the incident occurred back here on the 13th, when it became known to us -- we, of course, are in support of the Iraqi security fores out there. As you know, the 4th Iraqi Army is operating independently, directly under the control of the Iraqi ground forces command. It does not take their command and control anymore from the coalition forces.

We stand ready to assist as requested. We in fact did hear about the incident that did occur on the 13th there. We did dispatch, based on the reports that occurred, a quick reaction force into the city to link up with and assist the local Iraqi security forces that were present at that time and offer whatever additional assets we could, which include at that time both overhead assets and some other intelligence-collecting assets. And we stayed ready to assist them and continue to help them. We continued patrolling actively from that point on with them and assisting them as they requested from us.

Q (Off mike.)

GEN. CALDWELL: Yes.

Q (Off mike.)

GEN. CALDWELL: The QRF responded -- and the first QRF force went into the city on the 13th. And again, this was not at the request of the Iraq security forces.

At that point, they still did not make a former request for any additional forces or assistance. We did provide aerial overhead assets to give them some better vision about what was going on throughout the city and the surrounding area. But otherwise, they were handling the situation themselves at that point.

Q I'm a little bit confused about that, actually, because you're just saying that the forces there are autonomous and need to -- you know, need to make -- they need to make a formal request for your assistance.

GEN. CALDWELL: That's correct.

Q And yet you said that you dispatched the QRF to --

GEN. CALDWELL: Yes, we heard that -- we had heard that there was -- we had heard through some different sources that something happened in the city, and so we went into the city to find the Iraqi security forces to see if there was any assistance we could provide. We had received some reports of some Iraqis having been murdered, so we went into the city with our QRF, which stands ready to assist, to see if they needed any help or assistance.

Q And how big was the QRF?

GEN. CALDWELL: I have to get back you the exact size. As I understand, not more than a platoon size, but I'll have to verify that for you.

Yeah, Ellen.

Q Ellen Knickmeyer with The Washington Post. When the QRF went in and talked to the Iraqi security forces and asked if they needed help, what did they say? Did they ask for help then? When did the American forces actually start doing something, if they did get involved, to try to stop the violence. And also when did -- you said this far the dispatch of national police from Baghdad, when did that start coming in and how did they do as far -- in containing the violence, because local people say that the national police actually helped Shi'a militias in driving out the Sunni families.

GEN. CALDWELL: Ellen, I have not drilled down into the individual unit tactics up there. We would be glad to get that information for you. We can in fact get that from the unit up there. I don't have it quite down to that detail. I was more focused on, one, did they ever in fact request our assistance? No, they did not. Two, did we go into the city anyway after we heard reports that there was some killings going on? We did, and we are there in offering any assistance we could have to them, which they only wanted was some better understanding what was out in the city, which we used by using our aerial assets overhead to provide them some information.

I'd have to get the details exactly what numbers remained in the city, but it was just the QRF that was responding to provide assistance at that point.

Q So the QRF never actually did anything to kind of get physically involved in stopping whatever killing was going on already and tracking down Sunni families?

GEN. CALDWELL: I'll have to go back and ask. I did not talk specifically to the QRF commander. I talked to the battalion commander just a little while ago. But I'd have to go back and ask some more particulars. But we'll be glad to get that for you -- those specifics.

Q Okay.

GEN. CALDWELL: But again, I think that one thing to understand, this was an Iraqi-led effort. I think what's probably most notable, and I think people shouldn't overlook the fact is the fact that you've got the leadership up there in (Salahuddin ?) and in Balad coming together on the 15th, realizing that they wanted to take control and regain, you know, leadership inside their city and outside their city, and that's in fact what they did.

They brought all kinds of different elements together, both Sunni and Shi'a. They brought in the -- from the provincial governor to the deputy governor down to the city council members, they brought in some sheikhs from the local area. I mean it was a fairly good crowd there that got together on the 15th somewhere -- I don't know the exact number, but I know there was at least 30 or 40 people that immediately came together, which said we're going to stop the sectarian violence, we're not going to allow this cycle to start up up here in this area. And they, in fact, have been able to that very thing, which I think is extremely commendable on the part of watching the leadership in the local area take control of the situation, which is exactly what you would hope and want to see happen up there. And then they had a much larger conference just here on the 18th, which involved hundreds of people coming together and pledging their commitment that they will not allow sectarian violence to start up in that area, and that they're going to work together and they're going to form committees and they're going to have a dialogue to preclude this from happening again.

Yes, ma'am?

Q Nancy Youssef from McClatchy Newspapers. Is this experience in Balad, the fact that the Quick Reaction Force had to come out not because they were requested, but because they saw what was happening, and the subsequent events, is that all a further sign that perhaps the Iraqi forces can't stop sectarian violence that could quickly fuel what some are calling an emergence of war? That is, are communities being handed over to the Iraqi forces too quickly?

GEN. CALDWELL: No, I would not say that at all. In fact, the Quick Reaction Force was not aware of anything specifically, it only received anecdotal reporting. And so in an effort to go ahead and immediately see if we can provide any assistance, went into the city to see if there was something in fact going on that they could provide assistance with. Again, this was an Iraqi-led operation. They're the ones who ultimately brought the situation under control. They're the ones who helped facilitate all these meetings between all the various groups, from very senior people from the governor all the way down to sheikhs in the area, to the city council and everybody else. It was not done by coalition forces. This was totally an Iraqi-led and executed operation.

You are going to have incidents of violence occur. The question is, how does somebody respond to it, and how quickly can they quell it and bring it back under control. And in fact, here they proved that they had the ability, even though we had a tit-for-tat all occur in about a 36-hour period, to start bringing the situation back under control.

And we have not seen that cycle repeat itself at this point.

Q (Off mike.)

GEN. CALDWELL: Yes.

Q But to sort of continue on Ellen's point, residents there on both sides would argue that had it not been for the presence of the coalition forces, it could have escalated even further. (Off mike.)

GEN. CALDWELL: I'd have to go back and ask the ground force commander himself if he really feels that was the case. I have not asked him. But that was not the impression I got.

We went in just to help provide assistance. We weren't the ones in any kind of large preponderance of force that taking charge of the situation. It was the Iraqis -- it was the Iraqi police, with the national police and the Iraqi army, that in fact take charge of the situation up there.

Yes, sir?

Q Paul Schemm, AFP. Slightly off-topic, there was a Shi'ite leader, a member of Muqtada Sadr's movement, that was arrested a few days ago. I think his name was Sheikh Mazen al-Saedi or something to that extent. He was apparently involved in death squad activity that killed hundreds of Sunnis, as the U.S. had figured out, according to their intelligence, and so he was arrested. Then there was a bit of a furor about it, and then Maliki ordered him to be released, which he was, subsequently released, though privately members of the U.S. military have said this is one of these people driving this sectarian conflict we're seeing.

And my question to you is, obviously we understand that the prime minister doesn't want the U.S. military going into Sadr City to address the militia thing there, and you do have -- but you do have your targeted operations. How can you try to stop these -- this sectarian killing if the prime minister does not allow you to arrest the people involved with them? Thanks.

GEN. CALDWELL: Well, in fact the prime minister actually has given us tremendous leeway in being able to conduct operations in support of specific targets. But we recognize the fact that we're here at the request of a sovereign nation, and anything we do in this nation, we do need to clear with the prime minister, I mean, and the government officials. I mean, we're not an autonomous operation here. We're here at their request. We're operating as guests in this country. Any kind of left and right limits that the prime minister wants to impose upon us, we need to abide by. I mean, this is his nation, after all. It's not ours.

And so what you heard was exactly correct. On October 17th, in the early morning hours, there was a raid conducted. There were several people detained, of which -- the sheikh was one of them.

And he was released the next day at the request of the prime minister, and so that did happen.

Q But my question is: Would these --

STAFF: (Off mike.)

Q Is this making your job more difficult? And do you think you can actually succeed in your stated objectives if the prime minister doesn't let you arrest people?

GEN. CALDWELL: Well, I think what you have to realize, the prime minister is working at a much higher level. He's working at a national level dealing with strategic issues. He's engaged in a lot of dialogues that are going on at this point, and for us to second guess him and to try to ascertain why he did or did not make a particular decision, we have to respect the right of, one, he is the elected official, he is the prime minister of this nation, and that if he makes that decision, he has a lot of other information which we probably are not privy to in making that determination.

So the sheikh just before he was released did acknowledge the fact that he understood why he had been detained, because of involvement in suspicious activity, and that he signed a conditional release promising to support the government of Iraq and disavow future acts of violence as he was released.

Yes, sir.

Q Kirk Semple from The New York Times. Can you shed any light on the discussions that led to the sheikh's release or the conditions for his release?

GEN. CALDWELL: I think to get anything further I'd probably just refer you back to the government of Iraq because they're the ones we were responding to the prime minister's request, he was released. The sheikh did sign a conditional waiver as he was released, and probably beyond that, I should just let the government of Iraq take and answer those questions.

Yes, ma'am.

Q Yes. I'm from Slovenia TV. So if I go on with that question, just if coalition forces always react on request of the government, which is Shi'a-led government, doesn't that mean that actually coalition forces have already taken the side in that sectarian fight? I mean, how is it then possible to protect Sunni civilians if you always react on the government's request, which is Shi'a and is to some extent obviously protecting the Shi'a militias, which are killing Sunni civilians?

GEN. CALDWELL: Well, first of all, what I'd tell you is the coalition forces here are operating independently of any particular sect. If somebody is operating outside of the law conducting illegal activities, then they're targeted by the coalition forces


Q (Off mike) --

GEN. CALDWELL: Pardon?

Q And then released by the government.

GEN. CALDWELL: If somebody is released like in this case by the government, that's a decision by the prime minister, and we have to respect that decision. And I'd have to refer you back to the government of Iraq as to why that decision was made specifically


Q (Off mike.)

GEN. CALDWELL: That's something I'll have to refer you back to the government of Iraq. I mean, they're an independent, sovereign nation. They made the decision to release him. That's a decision really I just -- I need to let you take up with them and talk to them about it, if I could.

Yes, ma'am.

Q If I could take one more stab at it, after U.S. soldiers risked their lives and went in an did this operation, what reasons did the prime minister give the coalition forces as to why this man should be released?

GEN. CALDWELL: I was not involved in the discussions with the prime minister.

I'm not privy to what was said at that point in time. I really would have to refer you back to the government of Iraq and let you ask that question to them as to why they wanted him released. But the request was made by the prime minister, and we acknowledged that and did as he requested.

Yes, sir?

Q Bruno Roeber from ABC News. Following up on that, I just wonder what your intelligence was that gave rise to him being detained in the first place. I also have a follow-up question about Operation Together Forward.

GEN. CALDWELL: We conducted those operations based on suspicious activity that he was conducting, illegal activities, and involved in and perhaps in charge of some illegal activities. And so that's why that operation was conducted.

Q I'm sorry, I missed the beginning of your briefing, so this may have been covered. I just wondered if you'd give us a sort of status report on Operation Together Forward and perhaps talk about the quite heavy casualties that have been taken and why this might be the case, and if you could identify whether there's a difference of threat by insurgents that might account for this as well.

GEN. CALDWELL: Well, we do know that -- we did talk briefly about in the opening statement that we have, in fact, taken more casualties the month -- as you know, at this point we've had 73 coalition forces soldiers killed during this month as of this morning, which is higher -- on a much higher glide path than we normally experience.

We did know during the month of Ramadan we would see an increase in extremist elements, insurgent activity targeted against coalition and Iraqi security forces, and in fact that's occurred. We talked about the fact that just in the three weeks before Ramadan and the three weeks into Ramadan, at least a 20 percent increase in the number of attacks that have occurred within the area there, Baghdad area. So we know that's happening.

We also know that coalition forces are out much more active in the city right now today than they were a month ago as we're continuing to try to clamp down on the sectarian violence that's occurring out there. We also realize that there is a midterm election that's taking place in the United States and that the extremist elements understand the power of the media; that if they can in fact produce additional casualties, that in fact is recognized and discussed in the press because everybody would like not to see anybody get killed in these operations, but that does occur.

And so there's a combination of those factors out there that are occurring right now.

Q In respect to that, sir, are there any particular threats that you're facing now, I mean difference of tactics by insurgents and militia that account for the high number of casualties, or is it simply that you're out there and therefore you're more of a target?

GEN. CALDWELL: Well, there's no question we're out there and we're much more of a target, but we also know that there has been a much more considered effort to specifically target coalition and Iraqi security forces. We do normally track number of attacks per day and where those attacks are focused against versus civilian -- civilian- type targets or security-force targets, and there has been a steady increase in the number of attacks specifically against security forces and away from civilian targets. Now, it doesn't necessarily mean the effectiveness has increased proportionally, but there has been an increase in the overall numbers of casualties, obviously, as we're seeing, because of that.

Q Do you see this as a Tet offensive? I mean, as per President Bush's comments yesterday.

GEN. CALDWELL: I think we're getting far beyond my realm to start making analogies back to Vietnam War. But I would tell you that we're obviously very concerned about what we're seeing in the city. We're taking a lot of time to go back and look at the whole Baghdad security plan. We're asking ourselves if the conditions under which it was first devised and planned still exist today or have the conditions changed and therefore a modification to that plan needs to be made.

We are never going to -- everything stays very dynamic in this type of environment, and it's clear that the conditions under which we started are probably not the same today. And so it does require some modifications of the plan. And there is an intense amount of ongoing discussion and briefings that are being held at both the government of Iraq level and at our level, to specifically address these facets.

Yes, sir?

Q (Through interpreter.) From Samariyah (sp), tens of Iraqis are killed by insurgents and the militias which operate in the streets in Baghdad and in the Iraqi cities. And the Iraqi government cannot stop these attacks. What's the attitude of the multinational force towards these attacks?

GEN. CALDWELL: Your question, if I have it correct, is, what's our attitude towards the number of attacks that are occurring against civilians within the city of Baghdad? Is that correct?

Q (Through interpreter.) Yes, this is my question.

GEN. CALDWELL: Oh, okay.

All right. Thank you.

Well, obviously we're extremely concerned about the civilian casualties, the Iraqi civilian casualties that are occurring inside the city of Baghdad. I mean, the whole Baghdad security plan was initially focused specifically in those areas where the highest number of sectarian violence was occurring within the city. That's why those areas were picked by the prime minister. And the Iraqi security forces and the coalition forces have focused in those areas in order to bring down the violence, because those did have the highest number of murders and executions that were occurring within the city. And as it has spread to other parts of the city, we do stay very concerned.

And therefore that's the reason you see us stating that the original conditions under which we formulated this plan may not be the same as they are today, and therefore any adjustments that may need to be made are in fact ongoing in discussions and deliberations, and we'll make the adjustments accordingly here, because we are concerned. I mean, the loss of any innocent life is just terrible. You never want to see any innocent Iraqi civilian lose their life because some extremist element or insurgent element, in order to do something sensational, takes a vehicle IED or something specifically targeting civilians. And so we are very concerned about and remain concerned about that.

Yes, ma'am?

Q In terms of the attacks against U.S. forces, who is doing the killing?

I mean, in the past, when we've seen spikes, it was very clear that it was sort of -- in the past, it was a Sunni-led insurgency. Now, when you talk to U.S. officers, they say, well, the majority of the attacks are committed by the Mahdi Army. What's your assessment? Who's killing the U.S. troops?

GEN. CALDWELL: Obviously, we're looking at that one very, very closely, and we're going through the whole targeting analysis of where our coalition forces have been both killed and wounded, what activities are going on and what's the predominant sect that exists within that area and could the source of that be. That's something we're looking at very carefully. We're not ready -- I wouldn't be ready to comment on that today, but we've had ongoing discussion.

We've seen a tremendous pushback by some Sunni extremist elements, some al Qaeda elements recently in some of the areas we're operating, where we've probably taken more of our casualties than in other areas. But we're in fact mapping that out and looking at very closely. But if I had to give you an initial indication, I'd say it's mostly in the Sunni areas where we've found the extremists operating and al Qaeda elements operating.

Yes, sir.

Q So we've seen a steady increase in the number of attacks against military targets. What sort of trends have you noticed in attacks against civilian targets over the same time period, say, the last two months, three months?

GEN. CALDWELL: Over the last three months, it's been extremely different. I would say over the last month, there's almost been a steady number of attacks staying fairly consistent that we see against civilian targets, maybe a slight decline. But it's been very steadily increasing against the security forces.

Before that, it was different. We found a much higher number of attacks against civilian targets. About a month -- I'd say back in the August time frame, the majority of attacks were focused against civilian targets. And, of course, the challenge you have is when an attack gets focused against a civilian target, they're not protected like security forces are. You know, they're not behind barriers. They're not wearing the military kit that we all wear, from helmets to body armor and everything else. So if they specifically target a civilian target, you're normally going to find a higher number of casualties that result as a -- from that incident than you would against security forces.

So we continue to look at it, but the numbers are about steady over the last month in terms of going after civilian targets but steadily increasing against security forces.

Q But what about from August to September, for instance? Was there a drop-off in the number of attacks against civilian targets?

GEN. CALDWELL: I would have to go back and look. I don't recall there being a drop-off from the August-September time frame.

I'd say in August through early September is about the same. Then after early September is when we started seeing a drop. But I'd have -- we'd have to go back and look, and we can give you that trending analysis.

Yes, sir.

Q Christian Karl (sp), Newsweek. General, I was just wondering, could you give us a formulation of coalition policy towards the Mahdi Army? What precisely is the policy? Can it be formulated concisely?

Thank you.

GEN. CALDWELL: What I would tell you is that, you know, if you listen -- again, I think we talked about it a little last week -- as General Thurman said, there's probably 23 different militias that exist in some shape or form within the city of Baghdad and the Baghdad province.

And our philosophy is, and the policy that we follow is, if in fact we find persons or groups of persons operating outside of the law, then in fact they're targeted by coalition forces. I mean, it's a pretty straightforward policy. Irrespective of who they may or may not attribute some sort of membership to, it doesn't matter to us.

Yes?

Q General, I've got some numbers questions. Let's see, how many attacks are taking -- well, from mid-summer, a couple of weeks ago -- or last week you said there had been a 43 percent increase. And then there's another 22 percent increase. Does that mean there's been a 65 percent increase on U.S. attacks -- I mean on U.S. forces, coalition forces, since mid-summer?

And I've got a couple of more numbers questions. The other one is, exactly what are the daily number of attacks on U.S. forces, if you could compare that to the last quarter.

And the other one is, there's 135 (thousand) trained Iraqi security forces now, but you said there's a significant number gone because of attrition and casualties. Could you give us an idea of how many are actually capable right now, how many the Iraqi government has at its disposal today?

GEN. CALDWELL: I'd have to go back and get you the exact number of attacks. I did not look at it again just before I came out and what it was looking like in the months of August/September. But I'll be glad to give you the trending and tell you exactly from July through this part of October what it looks like in terms of numbers, whether we're -- we are seeing an increase in the number of overall attacks, but how much percentage, I'll come back to you with and tell you, picking a start point of June or July and tell you where it's gone over the last couple of months. We'll provide that to you.

Number of attacks -- again -- last quarter, I'll have to go back and see what the trending data shows again on that one too. I'm not sure offhand. I don't have that right here with me.

And in terms of the number of forces, like we said, the number of Iraqi security forces that we've trained and equipped, you know, if you listened, again, to the briefings by General Peterson just before he left, you know, he talked about the fact that they had about 4,000 casualties killed in action in the police forces, another 8,000 wounded, probably unable to continue service. You're going to find some comparable kind of statistics, obviously, in the army forces too. So there's probably about, right now, 25,000 that we had trained and equipped that today are no longer currently serving in the Iraqi security forces.

Therefore, you find in beginning of October, the individual replacement system that started up with 10,000 soldiers going into that, which will go over training and be available for the force here sometime in the late November timeframe. It's a five-week training program, with the week beforehand with their in-processing, all the administrative stuff, and then a week at the end. So it's about a seven-week time period. And the first group of 10,000 began the 2nd of October and will be complete sometime in late November with that training. So that will be the first 10,000 replacement.

There's already 20,000 more that have signed up. We'll put the next group through December and January, and then the next group through in February and March.

Yes, sir?

Q Yeah, this morning in Mosul there were reports of about 10 incidents over a three-hour period -- indirect fire, small-arms fire, including three to four suicide car bombs, and several targeted coalition forces. I was curious if you had figures on coalition casualties from that, and also maybe an analysis of it, what's going on there? And any further information about that.

GEN. CALDWELL: What I do know from -- and again, I stress this is first reports. I've stood up here before with first reports and they've been quite different a day later.

But the first report coming in is that, so far, there's been six suicide vehicle IEDs, three targeted at Iraqi police stations, and two were targeted at coalition force patrols, against Stryker patrols, two different Stryker patrols that were operating in the city. We know that at this point there are some local national and Iraqi security force casualties from these. We don't have exact good figures at this point. We do know that four to six indirect fire strikes also occurred against Iraqi police targets in the vicinity of those police stations. We know the governor of Nineveh has declared the city under curfew at this point, and has directed the Iraqi police to close all checkpoints and bridges into and out of the city.

And that's just the first report I was given just prior to coming out here. But that's about all I know right now at the moment.

Q You know nothing about vehicles, U.S. -- (off mike) -- vehicles or anything?

GEN. CALDWELL: It does not give me any specifics here on that. It does not mention any coalition force casualties at this point, but I just don't know. All it says is some local national and Iraqi security force casualties. But we're still getting good figures at this point.

Q Is this part of this national attempt to target coalition forces? Sorry, I was just wondering if we could -- if there's an analysis on what's happened so far. GEN. CALDWELL: Yeah. Well, obviously, having just occurred, I don't know of any analysis that's been done on it right yet. But I mean, clearly, this is a very deliberate attempt to go after security forces. I mean, when you target three Iraqi police stations and two coalition force patrols that are operating in the city, you're clearly targeting security forces and not civilians. So -- but I don't have any further analysis to give you right at the moment. It's just a first spot report coming in.

Okay, anything -- yes, sir?

Q Ivan Bellivatiya (ph) from Reuters. Can you shed any light on what happened in Ramadi yesterday?

We have some correspondents in the city telling us that dozens of gunmen who said they were from the Shura Mujahideen Council sort of marched in downtown Ramadi under the nose of the Iraqi security forces. And I was wondering if you have any -- know any information as to what's the situation in Ramadi.

GEN. CALDWELL: I do not. I have not heard those reports, am not aware of that. But we'll go back and check. It very well could have come in; I just didn't -- it may not have been significant in terms of coming up on the significant actions board, but it could have been, in fact, a report that was received. And we'll go back and look at it and get back to you


STAFF: Sir, we have time for one more question.

GEN. CALDWELL: Okay. Anything else? Yes, sir?

Q I just wondered, back to Operation Together Forward again, is there a change in the pattern of attacks against civilian targets in areas that you have, as it were, cleared? Any change? I mean, is it that in Sunni areas that they are now more vulnerable to attacks by Shi'a militia after you've moved through those areas?

GEN. CALDWELL: There is no question in the focus areas where we in fact conducted operations, we have seen an increase occurring in the number of sectarian violence in those areas. We find the insurgent elements, the extremists, are in fact punching back hard. They're trying to get back into those areas. We're constantly going back in and doing clearing operations again. We've just recently done it in Dura one more time because of the fact that we saw a rise occurring again in the sectarian violence there.

So you are correct, they are punching back hard. We do see incidents occurring just outside the focus areas, clearly an attempt to get into them. It's something we continue to watch and work real closely.

Okay.

Q Can I just ask a quick follow-up? When did you return to Dura?

GEN. CALDWELL: I would have to get the exact days. It was just very recently, though.

Q In the last week or the last --

GEN. CALDWELL: Yeah, I was going to say, it's within the last week. But I'd have to go back and -- we could get you the exact days we just went back in there for you on that one.

Okay.

Q (Off mike) -- follow-up, why do you think in those areas there is an increase in sectarian violence? Is it because households have been disarmed or --

GEN. CALDWELL: Well, no. In fact, Ellen, every household's authorized to have a weapon in their home with some magazines of ammunition. So I mean, there's no disarming going on across the city like that unless they have excess weapons in the homes and they take the excess out.

But we see as a deliberate attempt -- this has been a government of Iraq's initiative. The prime minister has said that this is the model in which he's trying to take to clear the city of the violence, the extremism that's occurred. And so if you want to in fact discredit the government and show that they have an inability to bring security and safety to the city, you would in fact go target the focus areas, and we think that's exactly why it's occurring.

We realize that every time we stand up here and brief and talk about it, it's just as much announcing to somebody, here's the area where we're operating. If you want to go back and try to discredit this government, go strike those areas. So that's why we think there's a lot of that occurring.

Okay. Thank you very much.

END.


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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Strange

Blogger seems to have dropped a post or two this month.

It's been really sporadic blogging for me, since I'm supposed to be studying for the paralegal courses.

Republicans seem dispirited heading into November. Amazing to me how many smart and experienced people thought ordinary Republicans would not give a damn how well government worked. Running to win a majority of both chambers of Congress on purely negative arguments was supposed to motivate the American people? I warned about this two years ago. If we could be suckered into complacency, we'd have become Clinton Democrats long ago.

The truly sad thing for America is that I believe the Republicans will pull it off, and then we'll have to limp towards the real beating in 2008, when we can lose the Triple Crown of House, Senate, and White House.

That's not what I want. What I want is for my party to develop a real commitment towards effectively governing the United States...without immediately promoting a phony sense of angst about the metaphysical uncertainty of Truth. Try reading your campaign literature from 2000 and 2002 and 2004, and use that as a guide.

Iraq continues to roil and boil. The defeatists in the press continue to ignore the fact that our guys are bringing the fight to the enemy, or that Ramadan is usually a time of greater violence. Instead they are shocked, shocked that US casualties are up. It must mean we've lost the war!

Dear Sweet Jesus, deliver us from ourselves.