Background Briefing


Attributable to: Senior Defense Officials

Subject: Iraqi Troops

Wednesday, October 12, 1994 - 2:00 p.m.

Briefer: We continue to see today the same type of movement we saw yesterday, just more of it. Continuing evidence that the troops are continuing to be moved back to the north. I would say at this time that probably we can say that a majority of the troops that were moved south are now moving back to the north.

Q: Are you seeing movement of any of the units that were there before the buildup? Are they also moving? Are they staying stationary as they always have?

A: To the best that we have seen so far, they are staying where they are.

Q: Any indication where they're going? Are they returning to their...

A: It is really too early to tell where they are going. About half of the forces that moved down came from the Baghdad area. About half came from northern Iraq. They just haven't had time to get back, so it's hard to tell. The indications are they're going back home.

Q: Can you identify those divisions by name? Is this the Hammarabi Division? Which is which?

A: The two divisions?

Q: Yes, and which one is moving.

A: There are portions of both of the divisions that are moving.

Q: What about the third division that was heading down?

A: It has apparently stopped.

Q: About where has it stopped?

A: For the most part, it never really moved out. It was preparing to move and did not move. It was moving to the railhead, getting ready to move south and did not.

Q: How long will it take if they proceed at this pace, how long will it take to (inaudible)?

A: We believe that they're trying to move rapidly. It took them... Well, it will be several days before we know that they are actually going back to where they came from. It may be as long as a week before the whole force moves back.

Q: Does this change your deployment plans at all?

A: Our deployment and preparation for deployment continues as planned. Just a quick update on today's status... You've already shown this on television. You've got the George Washington that entered with two escorts into the Red Sea. It's proceeding south in the Red Sea to get on station. We had the Hewitt and the Leyte Gulf there on station. We had the Tripoli ARG with the Marines embarked, and you've already shown that on television. They're on station. We have the battalion task force that is closing in to Kuwait City. About half of it closes today and the remainder following shortly there behind. The assets are already in theater, Southern Watch aircraft. Aircraft flow continues. They're on schedule.

The only real new event today, and it was mentioned in the update by General Shalikashvili yesterday was that the possible deployment of One MEF Forward and a brigade of the 24th Mech, and that has been authorized by the Secretary of Defense as of this morning.

Q: (Inaudible)

A: One MEF forward out of Camp Pendleton and one brigade of the 24th Mech.

Q: How many people? The MEF...

A: The numbers were given out yesterday. I think it totals out, with some of their off-load preparation party and some command elements, just a little over 19,000. That's notionally about 18,000 but with those additional...

Q: Has there been any change in any deployment plans because of the indication that they're pulling back?

A: Not yet. It's constantly under consideration, and we're constantly watching the situation, that there has been no decision to terminate or anything of that nature at this time.

Q: When do you expect the troops that were authorized by the Secretary this morning to start to move?

A: They'll start to move fairly quickly because, as you can recall, the authorization for the pre-positioned ships, both Army pre-positioned ships and Marine pre-positioned ships, was given this past weekend. These are the troops that will fall in on that. They have already been preparing for deployment, but I don't have the exact time they're going to deploy.

Q: Do you have a date when you want to be up to a certain number in the region with all these troops there?

A: There's not a given date. We don't have a finite date that we've got to have this many forces in place. We have a flow chart and that's what we base the selection of those forces on, and their ability to close on that gear fairly rapidly. The exact time that's going to be closed, I can get that bigger than a bread basket or smaller than an elephant, but it's in a window that we would have, about seven to ten days after their arrival.

Q: Some of these air bases, their public affairs offices say, even the ones that have already been told to deploy, they say they're not going until the 18th or the 20th.

A: That could very well be true. There is a large number of aircraft that are already scheduled for deployment, over 600 aircraft. You've got a limited number of bases in theater that have to prepare to accept the arrival of these aircraft, so we're prioritizing the flow. The most critical aircraft, the fighter and attack aircraft. A certain amount of support aircraft all have to go in. That's all been prioritized by the CINC. That's going to flow in based on the ability of the receiving bases in theater to accept these aircraft. I can't dump them all and have no preparations for those people at this time, so it does take time to build up to that flow.

Q: Can you update the chart that Shali had yesterday?

A: I sure will. I'll give these to Colonel Icenogle and he can reproduce those.

Q: Iraq is saying they have completed the withdrawal. Given that, based on what you're saying, does this give you concern for their sincerity in pulling back?

A: If they have stopped pulling back... They said that yesterday in basic terms. It was not true. If we thought they were stopping, it would probably give us reason for concern, but they're continuing to move forces. So I think they realized that was for public consumption and not a fact.

Q: How many units were down there to begin with? The total number of forces. Do you expect them to move out as well? Is that part of what the demand is?

A: That's a policy question of what the demand is. You'd have to ask them what limits have been placed on it. The forces that were there previously have not been moved.

Q: How many were there?

A: There were seven divisions there previously.

Q: How does that translate into human beings?

A: I'm not going to get into a body count.

Q: Is it 10,000 per division?

A: That's a rough number if a division is fully manned. Some of these are not fully manned positions. That's why we've tried to stay away from the numbers. You've used the numbers. I don't think we've released any numbers, and we've tried not to do that. Some of the different divisions are manned at different strengths.

Q: (Inaudible) talking on background on Sunday. That's where we got the figure. He gave us the top number there of 85,000. So you're not doing anything that somebody else hasn't already done if you tell us how many were in that base force.

A: I gave you the number of divisions that were there.

Q: But if they're only ten percent manned...

A: They're not ten percent manned, but I don't have a specific manning number for those divisions.

Q: You said it includes seven divisions, but there are only three divisions camped on the border, (inaudible) by two Republican Guards. Your seven divisions, that must be a broader area...

A: I'm talking about the two corps that are south of the 36th.

Q: When you say there is evidence that they are moving at what you would regard as a fast pace, an accelerated pace, is that because of what you see or because of what you hear? Have they been told to move it?

A: I do not know what their orders are. Just from all the indications we have, they are moving things... They appear to be moving things as rapidly as they can. It's a very difficult task to move that much equipment. A lot of it moved by rail, a lot of it moved by road. But to move that much equipment. It doesn't look like they're wasting any time in trying to move the equipment.

Q: Can you give us some idea of what it is they're exactly moving? We were given before that there were upwards of almost 700 artillery pieces, 1000 tanks...

A: The numbers that we gave you before, the increased numbers that were moving down, that is the equipment that we would expect... That's what we would expect to be moved out of that are.

Q: Do you have any idea... That's what you're seeing moving?

A: Yes. And when you were given those numbers, that's what we thought had moved into the area, and as best we can measure, that's what's happening. As I say, a lot of what we know is that it may not be where it was before, so we're trying to determine exactly where it's going. But we have no indication of it doing anything but being taken back where it was.

Q: So they're not leaving heavy, top-of-the-line equipment behind with these lesser divisions or anything like that?

A: Not to our knowledge.

Q: The forces being left behind, they're basically garrison troops. Are they a threat of invasion at all?

A: There is always the threat from those forces that they could do a type of a raid, but an invasion, I would say not an invasion. But certainly they have forces there that could... You have a very sparsely manned border area with border posts on it. So there's always a threat there.

Q: ...this deployment going at the current rate, at what time do you think the reserve call-up...

A: The current forces that we have required right now, I don't envision the requirement for reserve call up with the current deployment schedule.

Q: (Inaudible)

A: On the far right of the chart where you talk about the alerting... When you get into the high end of the scale there, absolutely, that would require... And if you saw on that, when you're talking about, if you build to a corps level organization you're going to require a significant (inaudible).

Q: Did the Secretary's order this morning, does that mean the entire MEF is definitely going, or just...

A: It is not the entire MEF. The entire MEF would be much more... I'm not sure how many people are familiar with the Marine Corps structure and the way it has been in the past. We used to have MEFs and then MEBs which is a Marine Expeditionary Brigade as you saw during Desert Storm. We had both 4th MEB and 5th MEB out there. They've done away with that terminology, saved some spaces in headquarters elements. What they do now is they take a MEB size organization, call it the MEF forward. When they need to cut that force out of the MEF, that's what they deploy. That's notionally somewhere around 17,000, 18,000 people. They can tailor that. That's the part that's deploying. It will be centered around a Marine Air Group, that's task organized. A Marine regiment. But there will definitely be 18,000 Marines going. If it turns out to be 17,099...

Q: (Inaudible)

A: They were already on alert. I don't have when their first sorties are scheduled to fly...

Q: Today or...

A: The order was issued today. I would think that... Probably within 48 hours certainly they'll be on the road.

Q: ...until today, according to the schedule that MARAD put out. So the ships will take five days to get to the Med.

A: The ships are already deployed. The ships are underway. That's the reason I think the Chairman was talking about he had some time to make that decision. The troops will fly in, the ships are sailing in, so they marry up at the pier.

Q: What do you see as the biggest threat at this hour?

A: If the troops are... This is my own personal opinion. This is the intel on threat assessment, but I guess I probably ought to defer to you, ____, but right now there's every indication that they are withdrawing. But when you've got just a small movement of withdrawing, the situation could change politically very quickly, and he could stop that and turn them right back around. I think that's probably the biggest threat.

Q: ...a major problem here. Yesterday on the ground forces chart, for example, (inaudible) said you had 36,000 people planned for deployment. Today you have three. What happened?

A: Let me verify the chart. I hope I grabbed the right one. (Pause) Somebody has given me the wrong charts. These are all bogus then, every one of these.

I will tell you that... I counted this as I walked up here and I assumed that they're very close to yesterday's. That is bogus. Somebody is completely off on that. I think what somebody has tried to do, from what I'm looking at, just conjecture, is that at the time this was built they still had not released the order. I think somebody said gee, if the order is not released, let's delete that. Yesterday we said it's going to go and we knew it was going to go, but some young action officer said let's delete it. If you put that back in, it's right back accurate. I'll take care of that. I'm sorry.

I said give me the charts, because I know the personnel numbers, and I grabbed it on the way out. So if you can collect up all of those I will correct them and get it back to you.

Q: The consideration of a possible exclusion zone. Can you tell us, first of all, is there any particular terminology that you're using to refer to this, even in the planning stages? Is it called an exclusion zone, is it...

A: I don't do the strategy and policy. In the north of Iraq there was an exclusion zone. We had a significant number of troops on the ground up there after, initially after the war. That was declared an exclusion zone.

Q: To protect the Kurds?

A: To protect the Kurds. That still exists. In the south, we have never had an exclusion zone other than the 32 degree no-fly zone. There is no ground exclusion zone. The policy discussions that are ongoing, I am not aware of anyone mentioning putting a ground exclusion zone in there, per se. I haven't heard that term used.

Q: Have you heard any term used?

A: I'm not the one to discuss policy and strategy, but I do know there's discussions on...

Q: Is there any mileage figure, any kind of vague estimate you can give us of how far back would major mechanized forces have to be in order to give you a heads-up...

A: We're not talking about a lot of distance here. Forces can move, the road system going south is good, the rail lines are good. That will be a policy decision they'll come up with where they will try and draw a line, I think, if they decide to do that.

Q: ...some of these units were able to appreciate, say from above Baghdad down south within several days. Hundreds of miles very quickly...

A: Oh, yes. Particularly using rail transport. It's about a 24 hour trip by train from the northern part of Iraq down to the south, getting a division loaded up...

Q: On their destination, their story is that the troops are going somewhere else to practice, but your indications are that they're going back to Baghdad...

A: That is our assessment right now that that is what is happening, and we have nothing to believe anything else. To get back to the question what's the most dangerous, is that they would play a shell game, and we don't know where all these troops are going yet. That's where it will take us time, to find out exactly where they're going.

Q: Speaking of shells, have you seen any evidence of our old friends the SCUDs? What kind of radar light-ups are you getting in any of these zones? Since we're all aficionados of painting things or not painting things...

A: The area we're talking about is part of the no-fly zone in the south. We haven't seen any indications of violating any of the restrictions that were put on them for the no-fly zone, so they have not done...

Q: The radars are on but they're not painting? Is that correct? You've seen activity at the radar sites.

A: But not a lot.

Q: ...pick up the troop movements and if it was not as soon as they began, why was there a delay?

A: Some of the information was picked up almost as soon as it began, but a small movement is not terribly unusual. So it took awhile to understand the magnitude of what was going on, and the distances, and exactly where the forces were being moved to. But forces move in and out of garrison to do exercises all the time. So it's quite easy to go back in hindsight and say this is where it all began, but not necessarily in real time to make that assessment.

Q: ...staffing or no-fly zone patrols, though. And they were constantly looking, they were not...

A: ...continued as it has for an extended period of time. We've made no adjustments in magnitude of Operation Southern Watch in a good while. It's ops normal.

Q: And they routinely report troop movements?

A: They report from tactical reconnaissance what they get when it's read out.

Q: Can you elaborate a little bit more on what you see in terms of the pull-back in terms of the numbers, types of things, things you're actually getting on trains and moving out? They're loading up trains?

A: Yes.

Q: Can you give us a sense of how much quantity...

A: I would really prefer not to. We are seeing elements of all but one of the brigades moving out. Some of those we believe... You understand that when you see a tank move from one place and a tank shows up in another place, that some of that is assessment that that's the same tank or the same brigade or the same battalion that is moving. But we feel that we're seeing elements of about half of the force loading up elements of. That doesn't mean the whole force is loading up, but elements of. Other elements, we know they have moved, but we don't know yet where they've gone.

Q: And this is half the buildup force that you're talking about, not half of the...

A: I'm saying elements of half of the buildup force. I'm taking that down to building blocks of regiments.

Q: Have you seen the trains actually moving?

A: We believe the trains are moving, yes.

Q: And that includes tanks, artillery, APCs? They're loading up all those things on the trains?

A: Yes.

Q: Just to clarify, it's your assessment that at this point they were returning to where they came from?

A: We're seeing nothing to indicate anything else. But again, we don't really know that. That is...

Q: That is the indication at this point? That they're heading back where they came from?

A: We don't see anything else. We don't see any evidence that they've moved from one garrison area, one deployment area to another deployment area, that they might be playing a game out there yet. But again, only time will tell as we look in other areas and we can determine that.

Q: (Inaudible) You said you saw half of them running up but you saw other already moved?

Q: Elements of all but one brigade are either moving or...

A: At least portions of all but one brigade have moved.

Q: Have moved.

A: Right. And about half the total force, we think it's gone to rail heads.

Q: Half have gone to rail heads and how much has moved?

A: You mean actually moved out of the area?

Q: Yes.

A: I do not know that. I honestly do not know how much has moved out of the area.

Q: So half is the outside number of what it looks...

A: I'm still not talking about half the force. Elements of the brigade to give us an indication that that force is moving. You may only have half a battalion or a battalion that (inaudible)on one single train, so it takes awhile to move this force. To move 440 tanks takes awhile.

Q: At least half the force is moving out.

A: Yes.

Q: That would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 troops?

A: Again, we have tried strenuously not to get into numbers of troops and I'm not going to do that.

Q: Well, 440 tanks.. Those were the number of additional tanks?

A: Yes.

Q: Where are they going, half the force, moving out?

A: Again, shown at the rail head...

Q: But are they actually moving some place on trains somewhere?

A: Yes, the trains head north when they leave. That's the direction. The rail line terminates down there. You don't go south from down there.

Q: Are the trains moving yet?

A: We know that some trains have left the depot. Trains cannot go south from that location.

Q: How much longer will this flow, if it continues as it is continuing, how long can it continue before you come to a point where you say gee, do we really need to send all our forces into the Gulf? What is the point where you might...

A: That's a policy decision. I can tell you how long... It's going to take a number of days before we could feel confident to say that we knew the force was really pulling out.

Q: Now that you have seen this force come down with relative speed and retreat with relative speed, what does this say about the ability of this particular fighting force to fight. This was a smashed army as of three year ago. It's not smashed now. It moved out rather smartly. What is your assessment of this?

A: It at least loads itself on trains and moves from one location to another. (Laughter)

Q: What else do you know about this?

A: You have to understand that what we're talking about is two Republican Guard divisions. We're talking about the top of the line force that he has. The best equipment that he has, the best personnel, the most highly trained personnel. We're watching the top of the line move.

Q: Any indication of the morale or readiness or fighting ability of those two top of the line divisions?

A: Certainly nothing we've picked up in any...

Q: You keep referring to them as the elite Republic Guard. Are they elite or are they just sort of average in terms of fighting forces...

A: They're certainly elite in the Iraqi model because they're given the best equipment, they're taken care of the best, and so that probably defines the eliteness of that force as being able to take care...

Q: In terms of stacking up to any army around the world, how do they stack up?

A: ...fighting force.

Q: ...exit strategy for U.S. forces?

A: I have not.

Q: Do you have a tentative exit strategy for U.S. forces going over there?

A: Certainly we have an exit strategy. We can just reverse the flow and cancel the deployment orders, but it's a little bit premature to be talking about coming out right now. The policy decisions that I think are in work, there's intelligence assessment that is in work. This is a situation in transition. I think that once we get more clarity on that transition, we'll be much more prepared to talk about termination.

Q: ...numbers again from this morning. Eighteen thousand Marines and how many from the 24th? All remaining.

A: The total ground troops was somewhere around 36,000. I think it was 17,000-something and 19,000-something. That comes to just a little over 36,000 is what we're looking for. Ground forces. Then you take that and add the headquarters elements and the air forces and other support elements, it came up to around 44,000. Yesterday's slide that you had which was correct, by the way, which I took the time to verify, that is correct. The only real changes that should have been made today were the minor numbers of people who arrived in the last 24 hours. Everything else in those two...

Q: ...signed today.

A: Which was already in the planned deployment based on the (inaudible) yesterday.

Q: All of this is the 24th Mech here?

A: You could throw in a few cats and dogs, a small SF elements, things of that nature.

Q: (Inaudible)

A: That's right.

Q: A clarification, on these units moving out, are they all related to the Republican Guard units?

A: Yes.

Q: The Hammarabi and (inaudible) divisions?

A: The two Republican Guard divisions that are down there.

Q: The one brigade that hasn't moved, can you tell us where that is?

A: Where it is? It's the one furthest to the north.

Q: How far north is that on the general map?

A: I'm trying to visualize it in my mind, quite honestly. They were all deployed below Basrah, and it's the one furthest to the north.

Q: Are they Republican Guards?

A: Yes, they're all Republican Guards.