April 3- Centcom Briefing
CENTCOM Operation Iraqi Freedom Briefing ~ 03 April 2003
BRIG. GEN. VINCENT BROOKS: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We are well into the 14th day since coalition forces entered Iraq. Our operations are achieving the desired effects, and our coalition soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines continue to make our nations proud.
As always, we remember those who have fallen, and their loved ones.
The coalition attacks against the regime remain effective throughout the country, and there is increasing evidence that the regime cannot control its forces or the Iraqi population in most of the country.
I have two products to show you from recent precision attacks against the regime.
The first one is a regime command and control facility in downtown Baghdad. The target was stuck on the 27th of March. This is an important facility that was used for military control and also civilian communications. The tower beside it is very obvious. That tower has a restaurant on top and a child care center at the base. We were well aware of that before we considered the attack of the target nearby. And it also illustrates the kinds of design the regime will go to to protect infrastructure that they know to be at risk. You can see the different impact points off to the side, and in the post- strike image what was hit. This area is completely unaffected, and only the desired target areas have damage. And there's a different degree of damage on each one of them, and that's by design by the weapons that were chosen.
The second image is a command and control facility also in Baghdad. This one was struck with 12 different impact points hit simultaneously. It occurred on the 29th of March. The post-image, please. It was an effective attack against that complex.
Our coalition special operations forces in northern Iraq coordinated very effective air attacks against the 15th Mechanized Division, a regular army unit. We've had communication with divisions along the green line and also provided information to them about the potential damage that will occur in the future.
Additionally, our special operations forces have enjoyed very good freedom of action, and have moved into a number of positions to deny regime movement along the road that joins Tikrit and Baghdad. There have been several skirmishes that have occurred in these areas, and the mission remains successful.
Special operations forces remain in control of the Hadithah Dam. I mentioned that we had seized that at yesterday's briefing to prevent its destruction and the release of certain water flow that would affect the down-river areas particularly near Karbala. This shows the dam itself. The town of Hadithah is just to the south of it. There have been repeated attacks against the force holding the dam by artillery and mortars, and we believe these are being shot by counter special operations units operating from the town of Hadithah. The coalition forces in place have been well-supported by close air support, and that has enabled them to hold the dam.
I have a short video that shows the initial seizure of the dam by special operations forces and some of the action that has occurred since that time. The initial assault did occur at night. Initial fires against known targets that were in the area. We have the entry inside the initial parts of the dam. This is a very robust structure that had 16 floors inside it and underground. The top of the dam, in daylight. This is what they can observe from the dam, and that is a counter-artillery strike.
More special operations raids against key regime locations continued in the last 24 hours as well. Last night, a special operations element raided the Tharthar Palace, on the outskirts of Baghdad. This is approximately 90 kilometers outside of Baghdad, roughly 56 miles. It is a known residence that is used by Saddam Hussein and his sons. The next clip I'll show you is part of the raid itself. There is footage from an aerial observation platform as well as a combat camera on the ground. In some cases, we've been able to join those two things together, so you'll see an action from the air, and the it's picked up on the ground, and vice versa.
They did take fire on entry from anti-aircraft artillery. Near the entry point of the compound itself, the helicopter was put down on the ground. And aerial gunship provided some support, as required. You can see the movement in the upper corner. Entering into the building, it was just blown open. The raid did not yield any regime leaders in this case, but documents were taken that will be valuable for intelligence, and they will be examined further. The raiding force did accomplish its mission, with no combat losses. And this illustrates the ability of this coalition to operate anywhere against any regime target.
The land component attack to destroy Republican Guard forces defending the outskirts of Baghdad continued throughout the day and is ongoing. We begin with actions by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, isolating the town of al-Kut, and continue their attacks west of An- Numaniyah. This is a zoom-in that shows just the relationship between the two. Al-Kut on the east side, the river as it goes along -- this is the Tigris River -- and Numaniyah. There is a road that runs along the northern side of the river, and by seizing that location and the space between it, the 1st MEF commander now has a number of maneuver options.
Fifth Corps penetrated the Karbala Gap, as we refer to it, and that's the narrow area between the town of Karbala and the Lake Razzaza which is off to the left side. You can see these marked on the map -- Karbala on the side, Lake Razzaza beyond it, and this is a narrow gap through which the 5th Corps forces had to push. It was defended by the Baghdad Division and elements of the Nebuchadnezzar Division. Most of those were arrayed in here and further up to the northwest.
In crossing through this area, the 5th Corps forces were able to seize a bridge intact over the Euphrates River. It was in fact rigged for demolition. They were able to remove the demolition, cross the bridge, and continue the attack. At this point, 5th Corps is conducting a deliberate attack toward Baghdad, carefully done, and developing the fight as opportunities emerge. They are also continuing raids against identified regime pockets in places where the regime no longer has control.
I want to highlight at this point the treatment that is extended by our forces on the battlefield. As our coalition forces advance, they do not overlook wounded Iraqi combatants. Medical attention is provided whenever it's possible. This next image shows you some medical treatment, emergency medical treatment being provided to a wounded Iraqi, who was stabilized before further evacuation. During this treatment, there was a report of an incoming missile. The medical treatment crews put on their protective masks to increase their protective posture, and continued to treat the patient.
The same thing applies to civilians that are encountered on the battlefield that require medical attention. One great example is the story of a child born in the battalion aid station of a Marine infantry battalion near Nasiriyah just yesterday.
Our maritime component continues its efforts to keep the waterways open, and as they did some patrolling yesterday along the Khor Abdullah, which remains a primary focus to ensure that humanitarian supplies can come in, they discovered a small boat that was beached along one of the banks. As the small boat was searched and inspected, they discovered first that there were booby traps on it, but also that there were weapons caches nearby in the surrounding area. Several weapons were found inside of this, and also a tunnel complex that joined these different caches one to another. Small arms, grenades, rocket-propelled grenades and launchers, gas masks and uniforms were found at these sites. An expanded search is ongoing.
We continue to deliver leaflet products throughout the country. Some are related to not interfering with coalition forces, and others are directed to specific units, informing them of the consequences already inflicted on some of their colleagues in different parts of the battlefield.
The coalition's efforts to preserve Iraq's future resources also continue on a daily basis, and I would highlight a few things. First, our oil engineers and ordinance disposal teams are continuing to make assessments in the Ramallah oil fields and the southern oil field region. As these assessments occur, throughout more and more of the oil field we discover new examples of intentional sabotage and destruction attempts by the regime. These efforts -- these attempts have not occurred recently, but what we're finding is the evidence of attempts that occurred before we came in.
The good news is there are only two wellheads on fire still, but there are more that will require repairs that we've discovered. And these next images show some examples of what we've found.
In this case, the regime placed an explosive charge on the wellhead and detonated it, and it separated one of the pipes from the wellhead. You can see in this one that there are some flange bolts that are bent over, and other ones that are just severed off. The connecting pipes are also broken. There's usually a joining piece here. And, as with many other places, there is electrical firing wire that's associated with the demolition.
Another image shows a different wellhead, and you can see how saboteurs tried to explosively rupture the wellhead at its base. That's one of the methods of trying to create the fire. You blow an explosive at the base of it, which causes then a secondary ignition of oil spray that comes up, and it remains on fire. And that's what we've seen in the two wellheads that are still burning. In this case, it did not succeed in breaking through the pipe, but did cause some damage. Explosive scarring is visible, and also the denting of the casing. This one will be fairly easily repaired, and there are some that have a little bit more damage than that. What I would also tell you is that about 12 feet if time fuse and 60 feet of wiring were recovered at this particular wellhead.
We've also seen some electronic firing devices that were recovered from some of the damaged wells. The next image shows that. Each one of these is an electronic device so that they could be triggered to fire at a later time. Fairly deliberate work, but it was not done very well, and we're thankful for that. The good news is the damage is done, but will require relatively minor repair compared to the potential damage that could have occurred if the attempts had been more thorough.
And I would at that the -- at the current time, we have Iraqi oil field workers that are being interviewed to begin work again, and they should be able to begin work potentially as early as next week, with pay.
Our civil affairs teams continue their efforts to make great progress wherever they do their work. For example, I reported that a children's school opened in Umm Qasr recently. The next photo here shows another school, this one near An Najaf, where civil affairs teams are orchestrating and assisting repairs, getting it cleaned up to get it put back into use. This is a school. Also in An Najaf, the coalition is providing fresh water and interfacing with the populace whenever they can.
In the background of this image, you can see a military -- what we call a water buffalo. It's a water container, and it has spigots on the outside of it. That is being used to provide water to the Iraqi population, and that's being carried in this case in a very large container. The response beyond that looks about like this.
The last thing I'll point is, first, in the wake of yesterday's operations near Najaf and -- (inaudible) -- operations to date, a prominent cleric, Grand Ayatollah Sistani (sp), who had been placed under house arrest by the regime for a considerable period of time, issued a fatwa. And it was done this morning, instructing the population to remain calm and to not interfere with coalition actions. We believe this is a very significant turning point, and yet another indicator that the Iraqi regime is approaching its end.
I'll take your questions now. Please.
Q (Inaudible) -- from Reuters. I wanted to ask you about the F-18 jet that was -- came down today. We've seen reports that it might have been hit by a Patriot missile. Can you tell us anything about that?
BRIG. GEN. BROOKS: We do have one FA-18 fighter and strike aircraft that is missing. We have a number of things that we are examining at this point in time. There were several actions that were ongoing during the night when it was reported missing, to include the reports of some surface-to-surface missile fires and also some surface-to-air missile fires in and around where that aircraft occurred. We have more examination to do at this point. It's too early for me to be able to determine what the cause was, but as that investigation is complete, we'll provide additional information.
Q General, Cammie (sp) McCormack, CBS News. Can you tell us what, as specifically as you can, will be behind the decision on when to enter Baghdad? And once that decision is made, what can the Iraqi forces defending the city and the world expect to see?
BRIG. GEN. BROOKS: Well, Cammie (sp), I certainly don't want to talk about the specifics of what the conditions will be and what the timing will be. What I can tell you is that first, General Franks is in command, and when General Franks believes it's time to take additional steps, he and his subordinate commanders will take those steps. We believe that we are operating in a way that we have control of the situation currently, but we are also cautiously optimistic. While we are having successes now, we still believe there's fighting ahead. We can't predict entirely what will occur next and how that fighting will unfold. So, the best thing we can do is be prepared, be alert to changing circumstances on the battlefield, see the opportunities as they develop, force the vulnerabilities to be exposed to us, and then take the appropriate action at the appropriate time.
Q Tom Mintier with CNN. I'd like to go back to the Special Operations flight into the palace. You said that you had indications that this was a palace that Saddam and his son were known to frequent. What kind of information did you have going into that raid that he might be there?
GEN. BROOKS: It would be inappropriate for me to talk about the specifics of some of our intelligence information and the specific timings of when we do operations.
We believed that we could have success going into this particular objective area. We also have some indications of where regime leaders move at a given time. And we have a variety of methods that we use to try to attack those regime leaders wherever possible or to attack their mechanisms that they would use for control in a variety of places.
On the left side, please. Mike.
Q In light of the special operations, your spokespeople say that the Special Operations people have infiltrated a number of command-and-control structures; they also said one on the palace on the outskirts of Baghdad. Could you provide us any more clarity as to the number of command-and-control structures that have been seized? How many of them are BaÕath Party headquarters? How many of them are palaces? The extent to which you can tell us what is controlled now by the Special Forces since they have infiltrated these structures.
GEN. BROOKS: The locations where we actually have our Special Forces, we have to be very careful about. Some of them I've exposed to you, like Haditha Dam, where we have Special Operations forces still in place. And so I wouldn't want to comment specifically where we have Special Forces.
We've said throughout that we have the ability to conduct special operations throughout the country. And we will continue to develop new opportunities for our Special Operations force and, in due time, conventional forces as well.
What we do know is that this regime expended a tremendous amount of the Iraqi resources on building opulent palaces for recreation and also for protection. Many of those have been attacked by some of our precision-guided munitions and our work over the last several weeks, to destroy them, to take them out of the command-and-control architecture, because in many cases they're backup locations for command and control. And so those have been attacked.
We have not occupied all of those. In many cases we've tried to render them unusable for command and control. And in many cases as well, if we have indications that there are regime leaders, we'll try to attack them while they're in there to ensure that the people as well as the physical structures are rendered incapable of command and control.
So that's an ongoing effort. I wouldn't want to get any more specific about where Special Operations are.
Second row, please.
Q (Inaudible) -- Washington Post. General, we understand elements of four Republican Guard divisions have been repositioning, moving forward to reinforce frontline Iraqi positions. Can you tell us a little bit more about that movement? Which units are being repositioned? Who are they reinforcing? And what does that tell you about the Iraqi strategy at this point?
GEN. BROOKS: As we've seen over a number of days, there are some repositionings that are occurring. Some of them occurred before we arrived at the close areas of Baghdad where we have current operations, and some of them were weeks ago we saw some repositioning.
It's difficult to determine exactly what decisions are being made, whether these are low-level commanders that are moving to the sound of the guns, whether they're moving on the regime themselves, or whether they're responding to the damages that have been inflicted on frontline forces by coalition actions.
Impossible to speculate on exactly what that means. What we do, though, is we read the circumstances and we make a determination of whether there's a new vulnerability that exists. Particularly moving forces are very vulnerable to our air operations and our precision attacks.
Things that we can see and meet on the ground, we have a variety of systems in the land forces that can address those targets as well. I think we have a fair awareness of movements that are ongoing, and we want to see what decisions are being made before we continue operations against them.
Q (Off mike.)
GEN. BROOKS: In a variety of areas. We see it around different parts of town. I wouldn't want to get too specific about that at this point.
Please. Let me go right here.
Q (Inaudible) -- Al Jazeera Satellite Channel. We've heard various reports throughout the day about coalition forces being about 10 to 20 kilometers on the outskirts of Baghdad, close to Saddam International Airport. Can you clarify that -- (inaudible)?
And I'm sure you're aware, sir, that the Iraqis contest your attestation that you've inflicted heavy damage on the Republican Guard in the past few days. I was wondering if and when you can show us videos, combat footage of that, proof of that? Thank you.
GEN. BROOKS: Omar, first, the exact locations where our forces are currently engaged, I will not disclose here. We have some embedded media that are giving some indications of where operations are occurring. But, remember, those are only with certain units. And so our forces continue operations throughout the majority of the country, whether they're Special Operations or conventional forces. And those operations will continue.
We certainly are in close proximity of Baghdad. I wouldn't want to characterize exactly how close or how soon it will be that we will arrive at different points in Baghdad.
As to the damage inflicted on Republican Guard forces command and other organizations throughout the country, I think time will have to tell exactly what level of damage has been inflicted. It's not a precise science. It's more an art than a science in this case. But we believe we have conditions set well for our current operations.
And, as I mentioned, we remain cautiously optimistic. We don't think the fighting is over yet. And so there are still options available to the regime, including the use of weapons of mass destruction. We take that very seriously. We take it in a sober fashion, and at the same time we remain prepared to continue operations.
Q (Inaudible.) If, as the embeds are telling us, the forces are very close now to Baghdad, militarily how do you read that? How do you interpret the apparent ease with which they covered that ground?
And also, again, can you tell us what you think has happened to these Republican Guard divisions? You haven't met the opposition you expected. Have they been killed? Have they deserted? Have they melted away? Or are they preparing defensive positions inside Baghdad? Thank you.
GEN. BROOKS: Well, I think a lot of us would like to know the answer to that question. And as I said before, it's not a precise science. I think, frankly, that all the things you described are possibilities, and we think that there are realities in each one of them.
We know that we've inflicted some damage. There's no question about that. We know that there are some that have pulled out of position and tried to move in different places, whether it is melting away, as you stated, by choosing not to fight anymore, or whether it's repositioning. There is some movement that's ongoing.
Some of those movements have been attacked. We know that we had a bus, for example, near Al Kut this morning -- actually, just off to the west of it -- a bus that approached. And I believe the number was 53 members of the Republican Guard said, "We've had enough. We surrender." And so there are surrenders that are ongoing as well. We've captured enemy prisoners of war as a result of combat action.
All these dynamics are in play. And so we would not want to be overconfident at what we are seeing. There still, we believe, will be fighting ahead. We should be sober about our approach, and we will be.
Let me come back to the left. Please.
Q (Inaudible) -- Associated Press. Following up on this melting away, I mean, the fact that you have plowed through so much of the Republican Guard, have you begun encountering what we had expected would be the paramilitaries closer in to the ring of Baghdad? If not, are you concerned that this is some kind of a trap, that they're giving you an easy entry only to suck you into the capital, which is what they've said they were going to do?
And secondly, can you give us just a few more details on the palace raid? You said you didn't find any regime leaders. But was the palace completely empty? Did you find anyone there? What was the reception once you were actually physically in the building?
GEN. BROOKS: Well, let me start with the palace raid. As I mentioned, the force did take fire as it was coming in, so most of the defending work was done from outside and on the outside edges of the palace complex. We did not find any regime leaders inside of it, but we did find a considerable amount of information.
The regime moves from place to place. The regime leaders move from place to place. And we track them where we can, and we act on those pieces of information when we can. In this case we didn't find them, but that's all right, because there are other options that are ongoing. There are strikes that occur. And we're able to react in a very, very timely way.
As to what is inside of Baghdad, we'll see soon enough. There are a number of things that could be considered at this point. Has this regime expended all of its capability in other areas? Did they use too much of what they had against us? Well, one would have to speculate on that. We take that into consideration.
Have they pulled back into Baghdad to await our arrival? Well, we'd certainly take that into consideration and see if that is the case and look for information that tells us one way or another.
Any one of these potential options goes into prudent military planning, and then decisions are made based on what we begin to discover. We seek information for ourselves through our own processes that tell us what is in front of us; what's next. And that's an ongoing process.
I'm not going to characterize what we see right now or what we think is going to happen. We'll make decisions based on what we think is going to occur in the future and what we see right now.
Q (Inaudible.) General, could you describe a little more the situation with the Black Hawk helicopter which was allegedly lost? There was some confusion about the casualties. And also there were reports that it may have been downed with small arms fire. Is that possible at all, that such a modern helicopter is downed with small arms fire? Thanks.
GEN. BROOKS: We did have a Black Hawk helicopter that went down during operations yesterday evening. And, as with everything, we have to always dig for the facts first. What we know is that there were some initial reports, as all reports -- and your embedded media have seen them -- all initial reports we treat as suspect, because there's usually immediate information that requires further development.
The investigation of that is ongoing. We believe we do have some casualties as a result of that. We don't think it was a result of hostile fire. But more will be developed as time goes on, and we'll let you know when we have more to talk about.
In the second row, please.
Q (Inaudible.) The British defense secretary said this morning there were 9,000 prisoners of war. Is he right? And, if so, how did that number go up so quickly in just a couple of days?
GEN. BROOKS: Well, I didn't hear the report. And I know there are different numbers out there. I think that within the coalition we'll examine all of our numbers and provide a report out. I'm certainly not going to position myself to argue with the minister of defense.
Yes, please -- back there.
Q Jonathan Marcus (sp), BBC. Yesterday you showed us this film of an unexplained explosion in a civilian area in Baghdad. Today briefers here have been talking about the possibility of some sort of alleged plot by the Iraqis to place bombs in Shiite areas of Baghdad.
Could you say a little bit more about what you're getting at here? There seem to be nudges and hints and winks, as it were. You're suggesting that the Iraqis are setting about putting explosives in their own capital. Could you say a bit more about what evidence you have to base this on?
GEN. BROOKS: What we have is a -- we've used this term a number of times -- a mosaic of information. We have bridges rigged for demolition. The first ones rigged separate Saddam City, a Shiah neighborhood, from the regime. We have fights that are happening outside of mosques, the most important ones in Shiah Islam.
We have a variety of pieces of evidence out there, like the explosion that's unaccounted for beside a mosque, like indications of command posts that move into or underneath of mosques in some cases, using schools, using hospitals. We have examples of the regime pushing people out in front so that they can be caught in a crossfire, and then there's an opportunity to say the coalition is doing something that is immoral or unjust.
We have this pattern that emerges, and that includes information of what might happen from a variety of sources, particularly explosions that will happen in certain areas that have no apparent connection, in our view, to coalition action, but often are accompanied by an accusation of some sort by the regime.
So I'll let you draw your own conclusion as to what might be ongoing here and what the real picture of the mosaic is. We have our view, and we believe that the population should be concerned about the regime, as it really is justified in having been for many decades.
Q (Inaudible.) We're hearing reports that U.S. forces have begun to arm some Shiite tribal leaders to the south to help stabilize their villages and also potentially defend themselves against the regime. Is this true? What can you tell us about this?
And also, a couple of days ago you mentioned that you captured an Iraqi general, with no mention of who, where, when, how. Can you tell us anything more about that?
GEN. BROOKS: First, unconventional war, as we describe it, occurs throughout the country. We make contact with a variety of leaders who are against this regime. And there are far more than I would even hope to begin to number at this point, and more emerge every day.
The actions we take with them, we have to be very careful about discussing. And so I'm not going to characterize specifically what we do to try to organize, assist, guide, or even work with different organizations and different groups that emerge.
The second part of your question I'm happy to answer if you prompt me one more time on it.
Q (Inaudible) -- general.
GEN. BROOKS: Okay. We have a number of senior leaders that have been taken into our custody through combat action, through surrenders, through voluntarily coming into our lines. Information is gained from each of them, and we then act on that information.
The one I referred to the other day was a senior military officer, and he had information that was of value to us. We've begun to act on that. And with each one of these actions, more information emerges. It's too early for us to talk about who that is or what information is given us.
And similarly, it's too early to talk about information we've gathered from other leaders. But there's a clear pattern out there that not all the leaders of military forces were loyal to the regime. That's what I would leave with you.
Off to the far right, please.
Q (Inaudible.) Can you confirm that military vehicles were shipped into northern Iraq via Turkey? And while we're still in the area, can you give us an update on what was described as a major terrorist training facility up there? Is there anything to be said about that? Thank you.
GEN. BROOKS: First, we have Special Operations that are doing work in northern Iraq. We've been doing that for some period of time. Those outfits, like all of the military outfits, require support. And so there are support packages that have been moved in through a variety of means.
It's inappropriate at this point to describe exactly how they got there, because the methods that we use to deliver forces are then exposed to risk and a variety of other things. So I'm not going to characterize specifically how they got in place.
The terrorist camp in northern Iraq also -- as General Franks mentioned, it is a massive complex. And while we directed some initial combat action against it to destroy much of the facilities, we also moved forces into place, coalition forces and also Peshmerga, as I mentioned yesterday, to try to get a closer look at what's on the ground, to do a detailed examination of different areas, to look through the remains of what has been damaged and see what evidence there might be to tell us who was there, what actions they may have been involved in.
There are caves associated with these complexes. There are outlying villages that are associated with this. And work continues in that area to find more information. Again, it's premature to talk about what it is we've found. When that time comes for us to reveal what we've found, that will come out.
Right beside you, please.
Q Paul Martin from World News. Could we ask you what indications you're having now of who's in charge in Baghdad? Is it President Hussein? Is it one of his sons? Or is it some other general? And what intelligence do you have or that you can reveal to us about the kind of communications going on between them? What does it indicate to you, sir?
GEN. BROOKS: We can't tell who's in charge. I don't think the Iraqi people can tell who's in charge either. And we have indications that the Iraqi forces don't know who's in charge.
We are able to observe communications having been degraded. We're able to see things that would indicate that there is not a coherent unified structure giving orders. And we have not seen the faces of some of the people you described in a considerably long time, and we don't believe the Iraqi people have seen them either.
So I wouldn't want to speculate as to what their condition is. And we certainly cannot speculate as to who really is in charge.
Okay, let me go to the second row.
Q (Inaudible) -- Los Angeles Times. Last night a Red Cross worker described a fairly horrific scene in Hillah. And you put out a release shortly after that saying that you were investigating that. What has that investigation shown so far?
GEN. BROOKS: I don't have any kind of update on that at this point. We've certainly heard the reports. If they're true, then we'll examine that to see what may have contributed to the cause. We don't even know if the report is true at this point. So I don't have any update to provide you.
Q (Inaudible) -- follow up on that. Was there any U.S. aircraft or artillery (or even?) cluster bombs in that area at the time that the casualties were reported? And why is the U.S. military using cluster bombs there or elsewhere?
GEN. BROOKS: I don't think we know enough at this point to say exactly what may have contributed to this report. We don't have a factual basis to even begin from at the current time.
The munitions we choose to use at a given time are related to a tactical purpose. We have a number of munitions that are available to us on the ground, in the air, and things that are delivered even from ground to ground. So all these things are tactical choices that are made to achieve a specific effect at a given time. And that's probably as far as I need to go about that.
Second row, please.
Q (Inaudible) -- from the Sun in London. If I could ask you to give us some indication of the numbers of enemy forces still in action, if you like. So far as we've been told, only three Republican Guard divisions have been taken out of action, effectively.
But presumably they have had hundreds of thousands of soldiers who, for all intents and purposes, we don't know where they are. Are you saying that there are still several hundred thousand Republican Guard and special Republican Guard in Baghdad?
GEN. BROOKS: It's really not possible to account for every soldier in the Iraqi formation, and that includes forces we've encountered. Some may have gone back to their homes. Some have moved to fight another day. Some were destroyed by combat action. Some are in our possession. Some are just flat unaccounted for.
And so I can't give you a number as to what is still out there. We examine military capability where we see it appearing on the battlefield. If we see something that looks like a coherent formation, we make an assessment of where that is and what strength it might have, and also what vulnerabilities it might have. And then we seek to address that, or bypass it in some cases.
We know that there are still a number of forces on the battlefield that have not been joined significantly in battle. And what choices they'll make, we don't know. Some of them may still be looking for an opportunity to surrender if they can get the regime away from their formations; in the north is an example.
We know that there are leaders that would be willing to change their association and not be focused on the regime. But they also have members of the regime, BaÕath Party leaders and others, that are there to ensure that they don't break; they don't leave the line. How long that will last, we'll have to see. We know that that's still out there.
So there are a variety of dynamics on the battlefield right now that make it very difficult to account for everybody.
Second row, please.
Q (Inaudible) -- USA Today. Can you tell me what becomes of the Republican Guard who surrender, like the 53 who surrendered yesterday? Are they taken prisoner of war or are they allowed to put down their arms and return home?
GEN. BROOKS: Generally speaking, forces we've already engaged in combat with, when any of the combatants come into our possession, they're treated as enemy prisoners of war. That's the general convention.
There have been some cases where we deemed it was appropriate, when someone no longer had a choice or desire to fight, and we sent them back to their homes, particularly in the early days.
The forces we're engaging with now and the circumstances that we're encountering, they're treated as enemy prisoners of war. And then we have later opportunities to determine different status, if it's appropriate.
Q What are those different statuses?
GEN. BROOKS: There are a number of things that are out there. There is -- there's really an Article 5 tribunal on it. I'd ask you to go back and look into the details of what that means.
Okay, in the back, please.
Q (Off mike) -- Telemundo network. And I need to find out the number of POWs taken so far by the regime. Any news on the transportation unit that was shown on TV, and also if the Red Cross, International Red Cross, has made any attempts to contact them? Thank you.
GEN. BROOKS: Well, there's controversy surrounding our POW numbers today, so I am going to be very careful about that. But we certainly are over 4,000 -- I can leave it at that point. And we have a good grip on what that is, and we'll sort out what the differences are in reporting.
The transportation unit that was on the battlefield -- I assume you are referring to the one that PFC Lynch was from. We are still gathering more and more information to find out what the circumstances were surrounding that particular outfit and the combat it was involved in. That story is not complete yet. It will be a long time before it is complete.
And your third question was what?
Q Has the Red Cross made any attempts --
GEN. BROOKS: Okay --
Q -- to get in contact with them?
GEN. BROOKS: I can't speak for the Red Cross. There have been reports provided to us from the Red Cross that say they've made contact with coalition prisoners of war in possession of the regime. We continue to reiterate that the regime is responsible for the treatment of any held prisoners of war, and we expect them to treat our prisoners of war the same way we are treating prisoners that we have taken into our custody.
In the back, please?
Q Ivan -- (inaudible) -- Looking at the military operations reminds me with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon 1982. Are you taking in your consideration the Israeli experience, (taking ?) any Israeli advice at all, or any -- (inaudible) -- working in the field? And are you going to surround the capital and keep bombing the city, that city, and waiting for a collapse in the regime?
GEN. BROOKS: Well this operation is unique in military history, and so we focus on the design of this operation. We take into account the realities of this operation. We take into account the circumstances that led to this operation. And we designed the operation to be what it is, and that's ongoing. All lessons from military history are considered, our own experience and the experience of others as we consider what we are going to do.
I would like to work against the characterization you described on bombing the city of Baghdad. I have shown you day after day that our attacks against anything in Baghdad are precision attacks. Every attack that has occurred has been a precision attack against a specific regime structure or against a military complex, something that has military relevance. Unlike previous wars in history, there is no bombing of a city, there is no bombing of a population. It hasn't happened in this case. Now, the regime has some different evidence in terms of what they have been doing to their own population, and we have concern about that. But as for our actions in the coalition, this is unlike any war in history.
Q Kathy Shen (ph) with Phoenix Satellite TV from Hong Kong. If the plan to take down Baghdad didn't succeed, and the coalition would have to retreat, and without giving a detailed description of the location, where would the coalition troops retreat to, since most of the cities around Baghdad are only partially secure -- not completely taken by U.S. led force? Thank you.
GEN. BROOKS: Well, that's a highly speculative question, and you will not get a speculative answer. Right now we are on plan, and we are doing fine. So I am not even going to consider what it is you ask.
Q (Off mike) -- with CBC News, Canada. Just to go back to the leadership question, and given the special operation targeting of a palace used by Saddam Hussein and his sons, does that mean that you think that Saddam Hussein is alive?
GEN. BROOKS: What we know is these regime palaces have protection and command and control opportunities for a number of members of the regime. We have stated from the start, from the outset, that this is not about any single individual. It remains that way. This is about a regime that has oppressed its people for decades. This is about a regime that marches people out in front of military formations. This is about a regime that takes people they consider to be military forces, put them in civilian clothes, and have them attacked from buses. That's what this is about.
So while that complex may or may not have had regime leaders in it, we certainly focus on the structures of the regime and those that might be in power, whoever that happens to be at this point in time.
Let me go in the third row, or fourth row, excuse me.
Q I'm Michael Mazzan (ph). I am here representing an organization called the Committee to Protect Journalists. And we are concerned about two missing members of the ITN News crew where Terry Lloyd got killed in the Basra area. And it's believed that that was -- that they were caught in crossfire between U.S. and Iraqi forces. And those two are still missing. And the wife of Fred Nerac, who was the cameraman, has appealed to the U.S. government and military to do an investigation. Do you know if the U.S. military is investigating that, or undertaking any efforts to locate those two people?
GEN. BROOKS: We have heard the reports, and we certainly regret the loss of any lives, journalists included, on the battlefield. (Laughter.) But in this case what I would tell you, in all seriousness, is that the reports we have is that they were in an area that was involved in combat. We don't know the circumstances surrounding the lack of accountability for them at this point in time or what their circumstances are. We take the -- we take the concerns seriously, and we are looking into it. And that's about as much as I can tell you at this point in time.
Q (Off mike) -- BBC French Service. From the initial debriefing of soldier Jessica Lynch, do you know if there were any signs of torture in the area of An Nasiriyah Hospital?
GEN. BROOKS: I am not aware of any information, but I don't have all the reports from her initial debrief. And so I really don't know. We didn't see indications of torture structures within the building, but there's still additional examination that is ongoing. I believe some media crews have been taken to the building to take a look for themselves as well.
As time goes on we will determine more and more. We certainly know that from what we have already seen by images that were televised that our prisoners of war were not treated in a way that we would expect them to be treated. What we will find out about this case is yet to be completely told.
Yes, sir, in the back?
Q Jack Kelly (ph) of Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Have you made any progress in identifying the 11 bodies found in and near the hospital where Jessica was recovered?
GEN. BROOKS: That also is an ongoing piece of work. It takes a little bit of time to get good, solid information. We do know that we evacuated the -- what we think is the remains of 11 persons, and there are a number of additional steps that have to be taken to do a real detailed pathological testing. Some of the remains will be moved to Dover, in the United States, to do a detailed examination. That process is ongoing, and we will find out more as the work is done -- that very complicated activity.
Let me go right here, sir.
Q (Off mike) -- from AFP. Do you have any information about al Jazeera reporters' expulsion from Baghdad? And how do you feel about that?
GEN. BROOKS: The al Jazeera report about what? I didn't catch that portion of your question.
Q Do you have any information about the al Jazeera reporters' expulsion from Baghdad?
GEN. BROOKS: Well, I think that's a --
Q And how do you feel about that?
GEN. BROOKS: I think that's a matter for the al Jazeera network and whoever ejected them. I don't know if it was regime leaders who rejected them, or the minister of information who rejected them. But that certainly is an issue for al Jazeera to deal with and not this command.
Q Pete Smallowitz from Knight Ridder. You mention that special forces last night and took documents. Can you, without getting too specific, can you give us a sense of the number of locations they went into around Iraq last night, and what else -- what kinds of locations they were and what else they might have found?
GEN. BROOKS: We did a number of things in a variety of areas to regime complexes. What I'll tell you about is the types of work done last night. In some cases we raided with conventional forces into BaÕath Party headquarters that had been identified. That happened in, as I recall, two different locations last night. In some cases we destroyed BaÕath headquarters, the Iraqi intelligence service meetings in progress, terrorist groups. It's wherever we find these types of targets emerging that we will direct our efforts to attack and destroy those. In other cases, like the Tharthar (ph) Palace. It was a physical raid that went into the complex.
Another example is an operation that occurred near H-3 airfield, where we went into -- the location, I am sorry, was in Mudsasas (ph), in the southwest part of the Iraqi desert -- went into this complex and found a number of bottles. Some of them wee marked in strange ways, and we are doing further examination on that. All over the country we conduct operations. We have good freedom of access at this point to apply our forces, conventional or unconventional forces, in a way that we see fit, to gather more information, to limit the capabilities of the regime to command and control its forces and its structures, and also to make it clear to the Iraqi people that the end is near for this organization.
I'll take one more question.
Q (Off mike)?
GEN. BROOKS: I think we'll have more information here in the next few days and we can talk about that some more.
Yes, please, Kelly?
Q Hello, general, Kelly O'Donnell from NBC. You described the comments of the grand ayatollah as a significant turning point. To what extent did the U.S. or U.S. allies facilitate, encourage, participate in his comments. Is he under protection now, and are there others who are being encouraged to make similar statements?
GEN. BROOKS: We believe that the grand ayatollah's statement was his statement, and it has been pushed out to the Iraqi population. We think it was a courageous statement also, because we know that he has certainly been under threat by this regime for a considerable period of time.
We are seeing evidence of other religious leaders that have had enough of this regime, and in due time we believe that they will also speak out.
We have to always bear in mind that because there are still elements of the regime, and because of the methods that they have used for so long, there is not a careless willingness for people to just step out and say things that might lead to their death. It's very, very serious. We recognize that. And so any steps, like this one taken by the ayatollah, are very, very courageous and bold, we believe.
Q Are you protecting him?
GEN. BROOKS: I don't want to go too specifically into what his condition is, where he is located or what circumstances he is under right now. It just wouldn't be appropriate.
Q (Off mike) -- two-pronged approach to Baghdad on the west and the east. What about at the center, back to Hillah again? We are hearing very little from there. Are you meeting greater resistance there? Are you stalled there? And looking further back down the supply line, how would you characterize the level of resistance at places like Najaf and Nasiriyah? Are you close to being in a position to free up troops from there to move forward again?
GEN. BROOKS: What we are finding is as we continue our movements and our operations, we are having effectiveness again causing the population to assist us more, especially in areas we have already passed through -- Najaf, Nasiriyah, Basra, Umm Qasr -- all these areas that we can follow the pathway of the operation up the map. That's very positive and encouraging.
As it relates to forces, we have forces available to be used, as the commander sees fit to use them, at any time. The center area, as you've described it, is also influenced by our operations. We have good freedom of action inside of them. As you saw in the early days, we choose where we are going to fight. We chose where we are going to apply our military force. And so we may decide to bypass an area at a given time, or bypass a unit at a given time to achieve what it is we are after now. And then we'll deal with that problem later.
As you have seen as well in some circumstances, leaving formations alone may cause them to melt. There's a dynamic that also occurs when people realize their side is losing. And we take that into account. We don't take it for granted, but we do take into account. And so in this case, as we continue our advance with the two corps, that does not mean two separate lines that are not joined by fires, the ability to maneuver, security, and a number of other things that we have in place. And we're doing fine. We are on plan, and we remain very confident in the outcome of our operations.
Thank you very much.