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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Kimmitt, Senor Hold News Briefing

Aired November 30, 2003 - 09:08   ET

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

CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN ANCHOR: You know, we have been telling you this morning that we are waiting on the news press who are coming out of Baghdad. And that's taking place right now. Let's listen in to what they have to say.
DAN SENOR, COALITION PROVISIONAL AUTHORITY: Good afternoon. General Kimmitt has a brief opening statement, after which we will be happy to take your questions -- General Kimmitt.

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. MILITARY SPOKESMAN: Thank you. Good afternoon.

Coalition military forces express our condolences to the citizens of Spain and Japan for the loss of their countrymen to terrorist activities in Iraq. At the specific request of the governments involved, we are referring all questions regarding these incidents to the appropriate Spanish and Japanese ministries. Those telephone numbers are available in the coalition press information center.

Coalition forces remain on the offensive against anti-coalition elements, while also continuing stability and support operations to enable the restoration of a free Iraq. In the past 24 hours, the coalition conducted 1,682 patrols, 25 raids, and captured 72 anti- coalition suspects. There were 11 military engagements across the area of operations, although the number of attacks on soft targets and civilians continues to rise.

In the north, the 101st Airborne Division continues Operation Eagle Curtain in intelligence-based raids, cordons and searches. Forces conducted 311 patrols, four cordon and knock operations, and detained eight individuals during the past 24 hours.

Forces conducting a cordon and knock in central Mosul targeted a Saddam Fedayeen operative. The individual was not located at the residence, but the residents led coalition forces to the target's location, where the target was detained.

Yesterday, an Iraqi citizen notified the division of a booby trap concealed near a supply route in north Mosul. Soldiers discovered a second booby trap in central Mosul in (UNINTELLIGIBLE). All were destroyed without injury to troops.

Additionally, citizens continue to turn in weapons and ammunition to the coalition. Yesterday, 31 hand grenades, nine RPG launchers, nine rounds, one complete mortar, 20 mortar rounds and nine heavy machine guns were handed over to the 101st in the north. These incidents point to the significant increase in intelligence provided by Iraqi citizens.

As but one example, the number of tips provided to our divisions on weapons and tips leading to the capture of wanted persons has increased from 25 in July of this year to over 152 in November. Two significant examples of civil military progress occurred in Al Sulaimaniya yesterday. General Schlosser (ph) joined the dean of Al Sulaimaniya University in the opening of an Internet center established by coalition signal troops, while General Petreas joined Minister Barham Salih at the opening of the regional airfield rebuilt by coalition engineers.

Additionally, coalition forces and local Iraqis will celebrate the opening of Holler International Airfield (ph) tomorrow. And media are welcomed to attend that ceremony.

In the north, 427 personnel also graduated from the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps training course in Al Sulaimaniya. This will bring the total number of defense corps members to over 3,500 in that zone, and approximately 12,700 defense corps members working today throughout Iraq. Additionally, 182 more members will graduate tomorrow morning in Mosul.

In the north central zone, coalition forces continue Operation Ivy Cyclone, conducting 238 patrols and capturing 25 individuals for suspected involvement in anti-coalition activities. Yesterday afternoon, forces conducted two raids near Kirkuk to capture targets suspected of producing and distributing anti-coalition material. Seven personnel were captured, and anti-coalition propaganda, DVDs and weapons were seized.

Yesterday morning near Balad, one civilian contractor, a citizen of Colombia, was killed, and two associates were wounded when attackers using small caliber weapons fired on a convoy. One other item for the northeast zone of operations.

There were erroneous press reports concerning an incident in Baquba. On 27 November, a coalition patrol observed two individuals digging 20 feet from the side of the road north of Baquba. The patrol engaged the two men, but they escaped. The patrol cleared the area and discovered a deceased girl, 10 to 12 years of age. The girl had been dead for an undetermined period of time.

The patrol informed the Iraqi police service and assessed that the two men were attempting to bury the body. The Iraqi police service and military police initiated an investigation and transported the remains to the Baquba General Hospital morgue. Later, investigators returning to the scene discovered the remains of a second young girl in the same area. These incidents are under investigation by both the Iraqi police service and by coalition military investigators.

In Baghdad, coalition forces conducted 508 patrols in other offensive operations against individuals suspected of ties to Saddam Fedayeen and other anti-coalition forces. Based on a tip from a local Iraqi, the force captured a target suspected in the downing of the CH- 47 helicopter in Fallujah on 2 November. Throughout the zone, forces have experienced an increase in the number of voluntary turn-in or the dumping invisible points of outlawed weapons and munitions. Over the past 24 hours, 11 mortar rounds, three RPG rounds, nine mortar fuses, two grenades, 14 tank rounds and four -- three mortar tubes were turned in. Like in the north, a new Iraqi Civil Defense Corps class started today with 350 trainees.

In the west, coalition troops conducted five offensive operations, 168 patrols, including joint patrols with the Iraqi border guard and Iraqi police, and cleared two weapons caches. During these operations, two U.S. soldiers were killed in action and one was wounded. One enemy was killed and nine were captured.

Soldiers conducting two simultaneous cordon and searches in Iscondaria (ph) captured two targets, a former Iraqi intelligence officer believed to be responsible for killing pro-coalition Iraqis, and a reported Wahhabist who coordinated and supported anti-coalition activities.

As part of Operation Rifle Blitz, coalition forces established three checkpoints and conducted numerous dismounted and mounted patrols in the Al Kayin (ph) area. Two enemy personnel were captured, and personnel -- 182 personnel lacking passports or documentation were refused entry into Iraq. Two soldiers were killed, and one seriously wounded, when their convoy was ambushed and attacked with rocket- propelled grenades and small arms fires east of Husbayah (ph) yesterday.

In multinational division central south, coalition forces conducted 116 patrols and detained 148 personnel later deported to Iran. The coalition discovered a roadside bomb in Asuariah (ph). The bomb consisted of two artillery shells linked together and was destroyed by an Iraqi Civil Defense Corps team.

Finally, in the southeast zone, coalition forces conducted 237 patrols, detaining six personnel. Five were captured for smuggling operations at a diesel fuel pipeline west of Basra.

That concludes our opening statements. We are happy to take your questions -- Jane?

JANE ARRAF, CNN BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: Thank you. Jane Arraf, CNN.

General Kimmitt, those attacks on the Spanish and Japanese personnel seem to be bolder than the attacks we have been seeing. Can you tell us anything more about those and whether you do think it might be a change in tactics?

KIMMITT: In terms of the tactics, we have said for the last couple of weeks that we see the enemy starting to attack soft targets, Iraqi targets, rather than military targets. We think this is a change on the part of the enemy.

He realizes that attacking a military target will probably lead to his death or capture. And going against soft targets is probably an easier way to achieve what the enemy is trying to achieve. He's attempting to intimidate the people of Iraq, and he's attempting to try to break the will of the coalition. He will be unsuccessful in both.

SENOR: Yes, I would just add that they clearly are targeting coalition members in an effort to intimidate all allies from operating within Iraq and discouraging our participation in the reconstruction of Iraq. The enemies, the former regime elements and the foreign terrorists, recognize that the stakes are high. And that's the basis of these targets regardless of whether or not the tactics shift. And we recognize the stakes are high, too.

The important point here, as tragic as these incidents were, both the Japanese government and Spanish government have made strong statements they intend to continue to be engaged in the reconstruction of Iraq. I'll quote a senior official from the Japanese government who said, "Our view that we should not yield to terrorism will not change as a result of this."

Next question -- yes?

QUESTION: James Hider (ph) of "The Times." Dan, are you now considering direct elections for the interim government after Ayatollah Sistani last week voiced his objections to the plan whereby regional caucuses would nominate an interim government?

SENOR: On November 15, the coalition signed what we believe is a very important agreement with the Governing Council, a political agreement that outlines principles and a framework for the political process going forward for an interim -- what we call a basic law, and the transitional assembly.

It outlines a process. And we are now working on the issues related to the implementation of the process. We intend to honor the agreement we signed.

Yes?

QUESTION: Steve Cubby (ph) from AFP. General, the attack on the Spanish was clearly a carefully prepared ambush that had been prepared in advance. Are you confident that you have got operational security as you look ahead to this troop restructuring that is being done through the Christmas period in which I understand the number of American troops is being reduced and the number of Iraqi auxiliaries and Iraqi contractors are being increased? Isn't the ambush on the Spanish again evidence that there is a big security risk in doing that?

KIMMITT: Well, we have a responsibility to provide for a safe and secure environment in Iraq. We take that mission seriously. We use every opportunity, every piece of actionable intelligence to go after those that would kill or injury innocent civilians. And during the period, the upcoming period, we feel confident that we have the capability on the ground to accomplish that mission. QUESTION: On the issue of -- it was a prior planned ambush. There was clearly a leak of intelligence to the insurgents ahead of time. Someone must have told them. Are you confident that you have got the security within your own operation?

KIMMITT: Well, I'm not sure that's clear at all, that there is a distinct linkage between the ambush on the ground and prior knowledge. This could have been any enemy that saw a soft target and saw an opportunity to shoot at either a coalition vehicle, at a private vehicle, or at a military vehicle. I'm not sure those linkages have been established. And if you have any information on that, we would certainly appreciate that so we can go after the perpetrators of that crime.

SENOR: Yes?

QUESTION: Peter Grester (ph) from BBC. You have been saying that you seem -- that the insurgency is changing its tactics, moving away from the military, and that the attacks on the military are reducing. Is that correct? Is that the way you see it?

KIMMITT: Yes.

SENOR: That is correct.

QUESTION: This month, by your figures alone, some 68 American troops have died. That's almost double any other month since the end of -- since Baghdad fell. And even if you take away the helicopter deaths, the Chinook and the Black Hawks, you still wind up with as much if not more than the highest month so far. How can you stand there and say that with a straight face?

KIMMITT: Say what with a straight face, that the number of engagements -- quantitatively, the number of engagements that we are seeing on a day-to-day basis is going down. We saw it as high earlier this month as 47 in a single day. Today, we had 11.

Now, every one of those attacks that injuries American military or Iraqi civilians is a tragedy to the individual. It's a tragedy to their family, and it's a tragedy to their relatives. But in terms of objective numbers on the number of engagements, those have shown a downward trend as the enemy has decided, rather than going after the military, at this point he seems to be shifting to a strategy of going against softer targets, such as neutrals and civilians.

Yes?

QUESTION: Thanks. Mark Stone (ph), ABC. General, do you think that there is some coordination between the enemy, as you call it? Are they going to be coordinating between north and south in order to carry out these attacks, or is it still willy-nilly?

KIMMITT: Well, we have seen some patterns at different times, such as simultaneous demonstrations in different parts of the countries that would sometimes suggest that there is some coordination, some linkage. But at this point, our analysts indicate to us those are weak at best. And the analysts who are working on this question day and night still don't believe they are seeing any central direction for these activities, that most of them are small cellular type.

Are there linkages between families? Are there linkages between organizations? Are there linkages among former regime elements? That's what we are trying to find out. But we just haven't come to a firm conclusion on that.

QUESTION: But you would admit that they are becoming more sophisticated?

KIMMITT: We have said over the last couple of weeks this is a clever adaptive enemy who will try something new at different times. But he also is facing a clever adaptive enemy himself. And we quickly learned his techniques. We get intelligence that we develop ourselves or from the people of Iraq, and we'll strike at the time and place of our choosing against those that will try to kill American coalition military and innocent Iraqis as well.

QUESTION: Sorry, can I follow it with one last clarification? Can you just clarify how many U.S. soldiers were killed in the last 24 hours? Was it two up near the Syrian border and two near Ramadi, or was it just two?

KIMMITT: We'll get you that exact number. I don't have that number. We don't typically collect those numbers to be able to sort of talk about them on a time-by-time period.

QUESTION: You mentioned just earlier on...

KIMMITT: I mentioned individual vignettes. I don't know if that was the full number over the past. I believe it was. But let's talk afterwards and we'll get you the exact number.

SENOR: Yes?

QUESTION: Hi. Maureen Fan (ph) of Knight Ridder. I'm wondering, with these recent attacks with the Spanish and the Japanese, they are not in the Sunni Triangle. And you previously were saying that that's where most of this was concentrated. Are you concerned about the increase in violence outside of this area? What does that tell you?

KIMMITT: Well, we remain concerned about violence anywhere in Iraq. We have a responsibility for the entirety of Iraq.

We have seen some attacks that are going out of the patterned area of the Sunni, the Ba'athists, the FRE Triangle, but what we do is -- we are not concerned about that. We continue to focus our intelligence out of that area to try to find out why that is happening, where it's happening from, and who is responsible for it.

SENOR: And I would just add that regardless of where the attacks take place, the anecdotal and statistical survey information we continue to see remains the same. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis say three things. One, we're grateful for the liberation; two, we don't want you to leave. We don't want the -- the majority of Iraqis don't want the coalition to leave until the security situation improves and the country is passed over to some stable democratic environment.

And three, they want the security improved. That's what we are hearing from the overwhelming majority of Iraqis. So while there may be attacks in different parts of the country, it doesn't detract from the facts that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis are grateful for their liberation and want us to finish the job.

Yes?

QUESTION: Lordis Navarro (ph), AP Broadcast. Yesterday, journalists who came across the scene where the seven Spaniards were killed saw Iraqis celebrating the deaths of these soldiers. What does that tell you about some of the attitudes towards the coalition? And are you really -- have you already lost perhaps hearts and minds?

SENOR: I would repeat what I just said. The overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people are grateful for the liberation and they don't want us to leave. There will be isolated pockets of events like the one you just described. But they are just that, isolated pockets. They do not represent the mindset and the attitude of the overwhelming majority of Iraqis.

QUESTION: Alan Cypress (ph), "Washington Post." General, what details can you provide us about the attack on two foreigners, apparently South Korean contractors who were seriously injured near Tikrit? And additionally, what other details can you provide us about the two American servicemen who were killed yesterday?

KIMMITT: On the -- we were starting to receive reports as I left headquarters that there was an incident noted that had had been reported that there may have been personnel contractors from South Korea involved. We don't have the full report yet. I think it would be premature to start talking about that.

With regards to -- we had yesterday an attack on a convoy from the 3rd Armored Cavalry regiment that was picking up some resupply, heading back to their home base in the 82nd Airborne Division area. This was a large convoy. It received ground fire, RPG.

Our soldiers were killed. Some more injured. But they drove off the attackers. They got the wounded to a military hospital. We think most of those wounded will be returned to duty.

CALLAWAY: You have been listening to Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, along with Dan Senor of the Coalition Provisional Authority, giving the update on military activity, coalition activity during the last 24 hours, and also answering a lot of questions about the four separate attacks on coalition forces that took place yesterday and took at least a dozen lives, as you heard.

American troops were among the casualties, including a civilian official for a U.S. contractor. But also, seven Spanish intelligence agents and two Japanese diplomats. And we heard the general begin his comments by giving condolences to those two countries. We will continue to follow the story for you and bring updates on the situation in Iraq as they develop.

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