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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Central Command Briefing

Aired September 25, 2003 - 06:02   ET

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

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
LT. GEN. RICARDO SANCHEZ, U.S. ARMY: ... to make a lot of progress around the country. And during the last week, we achieved our objective of having over 1,000 schools rehabilitated in time for the school year to begin.

A great example of this is the work done by our 17th Field Artillery Brigade right here in Baghdad at the Al-Dawaya (ph) school. This school in the northern Baghdad governance was helped by our coalition soldiers, by repairing structural damage, electricity and water problems. Our soldiers installed an air conditioning system and playground equipment for the children, and there will be a total of about 480 schoolchildren that will benefit from these improvements.

And also, on the first day of school, our soldiers will provide essential school supplies for these kids, with each student receiving a bag of school supplies. And this unit will continue with renovating an additional five schools here in Baghdad.

In the area of our coalition efforts, the Spanish contingent assumed operational control from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Battalion in the An-Najaf (ph) area, and this completes the transition of authority of the Polish-led sector and gives us our second multinational division now in charge of the center-south region. We now have 30 countries, in addition to the United States, that are totally committed and working on the ground towards a safer Iraq.

In the area of civil military cooperation, Iraqi authorities and coalition forces continue to work towards recovery of artifacts that were looted during and in the immediate aftermath of the war. And this week, the Iraqi police and the 812th Military Police Company returned the 5,000-year-old Warka (ph) mask to the Iraqi National Museum. Coalition forces participated in this joint investigation that found this mask that had been stolen from the Iraqi museum. This artifact dates back to 3100 B.C. and is one of the first known marble sculptures from that time period.

In the area of security, we continue our close coordination with the Iraqi security structures and the Coalition Provisional Authority, and we continue to field Iraqi capacity to allow them to take over responsibility for their own internal security. And every day we make progress towards this goal.

This week in the 4th Division sector, we've continued with ICDC training, and, in fact, we've got Civil Defense Corps training going on just about all around the country, with the exception of one sector right now. And in the 4th I.D. zone, we graduated an additional 390 civil defense personnel. These trainees with their basic soldier skills will now contribute in providing security under the tactical control of our coalition forces in their zones.

In the area of reconstruction, I think you all remember, those of you that were here last week, I got some questions on bridges, and it was specifically on the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) bridge. And, ma'am, we've confirmed that mid-October is the date for the scheduled opening of that bridge.

And this week, I'd like to highlight another bridge project in the 4th Infantry Division zone, and this picture that you see up is the Al-Sandia (ph) Bridge immediately following the war. What our forces have done, with the help of the 308th Civil Affairs Brigade, we've repaired this 25-year-old bridge. And this allows 10,000 people to cross safely each day, and about a million and a half local Iraqis utilize that bridge on an annual basis. So, it brings back some normality to that part of Iraq.

We continue to make progress on all of the initiatives to bring back security and stability to the country. We continue our offensive operations against non-compliant forces, and we continue to help a free Iraq in assuming their responsibilities for their own defense.

With that, I will now open it up for your questions.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Rosalyn Russell (ph) from Reuters. In light of the death of Dr. Hashimi, is the coalition planning to take any specific further security measures to protect members of the Governing Council and the cabinet?

SANCHEZ: For some period of time now, well before the attack on Dr. Hashimi, we have been working with the Governing Council in enabling them to stand up their security detachments and providing them assistance in reviewing both their capability of their PSD's, and also have offered assessments of their areas. That work continues on a daily basis, and as a matter of fact there are some meetings that are going on today to try to ensure that they have adequate protection, and that work continues.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: My name is Mark Martinez (ph) for (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in Barcelona. In light of the -- recently, there are more and more civilians -- Iraqi civilians being injured or killed in engagements. There is certainly a general complaint that your rules of engagement are too focused on protecting American soldiers than Iraq, and maybe the Iraqi civilians are left out. Do you think -- are you thinking about reviewing your rules of engagement?

SANCHEZ: OK, I'm not exactly sure what you're referring to that is tied to rules of engagement.

QUESTION: Rules of engagement means, you know, your response to a particular action. In case there is an engagement, your response -- I mean...

SANCHEZ: Yes, I know what rules of engagement are, and I know what my rules of engagement are, but I'm not sure what the issue is that you're referring to.

QUESTION: Well, I mean...

SANCHEZ: Because the rules...

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SANCHEZ: If I may answer, and then you can follow up. My rules of engagement are fairly clear to my soldiers that whenever we get engaged or we feel that there is a self-defense threat, we will respond with the necessary level of force. If we are engaged by enemy forces, we will bring to bear the maximum amount of combat power that is necessary to defeat that enemy force, wherever that enemy force is located. We constantly review our rules of engagement given the environments that we're operating in and that process continues on a daily basis.

QUESTION: And just engage in those cases where there are checkpoints in which, you know, maybe the people -- Iraqis haven't seen the particular checkpoint and you have -- the way that your respond to this action?

SANCHEZ: Yes, we have reviewed our rules of engagement for operations around checkpoints. And we have those procedures in place that allow for warning shots before we take aim and shoot deadly fire at the vehicles that we may think are either attempting to bypass our control points or are attempting to harm our soldiers. So those rules of engagement are well in place and they have been trained.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Anthony Shadid with the "Washington Post." General, do you think the -- I know it's impressionist at this point, but the bombing at the hotel that houses NBC, is your sense, do you have a sense that targets may have been broadened or that journalists may have come under the same threat that we've seen other groups come under?

SANCHEZ: I think at this point it's still a little bit early to tell what the objectives are. I think it is -- in my judgement it is clear that these terrorist elements are attempting to truly achieve a terrorist objective by targeting an international community and targeting the Iraqi people and also targeting, of course, coalition forces. Whether this attack is specifically against the press there in that hotel or not is a little bit uncertain at this point and I couldn't give you that answer.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: I would like to ask you, I am afraid that the enemy would make use of this question. Can I ask the question, and we need a map, after -- can I ask you the question after the press conference -- sir?

SANCHEZ: Yes, of course.

QUESTION: The Minister of Defense was arrested and they declared that -- they declared that they made a kind of negotiation with the coalition forces. Will he be -- I mean the minister will be dealt with in the same way? Has arrested or another way? Thank you -- sir.

SANCHEZ: The question is tied to the arrest of the Minister of Defense whether we are going to treat him as we have other prisoners. There were no negotiations with the Minister of Defense. What we did is there was a letter sent to him that offered treatment according to his rank and stature if he surrendered to the coalition forces. And it also told him that we would be cognizant of his physical requirements, his medical needs and that we would properly take care of his medical needs once he was in custody.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, you've been listening to Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. He is the commander of the ground forces, U.S. ground forces, in Iraq, giving an update on the situation there where more violence has broken out. In particular, among many incidents, a bombing at a hotel where NBC News based its operations.

CNN's Michael Holmes is standing by in Baghdad.

And, Michael, I know you have been listening in on the news conference. The Lt. Gen. was asked whether he thought that the terrorists have changed the rules of engagement on the ground, whether they are now widening their targets beyond just U.S. soldiers but the media, in general. Your thoughts on what he had to say.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well he's absolutely right in that this happened a matter of hours ago. No one knows 100 percent for sure who the target was. But what I can tell you is this. This hotel that was bombed only houses NBC. There are no other guests there, and so those who were inside the hotel certainly felt that they had been the targets of the attack.

Now this bomb was not a large bomb, but apparently it was fairly well put together. And when it went off between that white generator behind me and the wall, it blew in a lower part of the wall, killing a Somali night manager who was sleeping on the other side. It also blew out the windows on the first and second stories, and that's exactly where the NBC staffers were sleeping. A sound engineer had a bad cut on his right forearm and some other minor cuts. Certainly the NBC people we spoke to felt very lucky there weren't more injured from this bomb.

Although it was small, it did do a fair amount of damage. Windows for 50 meters away from here, some windows were shattered. So certainly it was enough to rattle the media. Still, nobody knows 100 percent whether they were the targets, but it's hard to see who else would have been -- Carol.

LIN: Well, Michael, in the time that you have spent there, I mean what does this bombing tell you about the nature of targets in general and what might happen next?

HOLMES: It's impossible to know what would happen next, but as we heard pointed out there in that news conference, the targets have varied. It used to be, of course it was U.S. soldiers pretty much alone, but in the last few weeks, we've seen a senior cleric killed. We've seen religious leaders targeted. We've seen Iraqi police targeted and of course the death now of an Iraqi politician, one of only three women on the Iraqi governing council. She was shot last Saturday, ambushed as she left her home, and she died. Dr. Akila al- Hashimi killed as she was heading out of her house.

So pretty much the targets are very wide at the moment. And I know that many journalists feel that they are always going to be potential targets because some elements of those who were doing the damage around Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq see the media as Western targets if you like -- Carol.

LIN: All right. Thank you very much. Michael Holmes reporting live from Baghdad.

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