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Official Texts

February 16, 2001
DoD Press Conference on Iraq Air Strikes
(U.S. military says strikes needed for self-defense)

U.S. Marine Corps Lt. General Greg Newbold said 24 U.S. and British war planes attacked five Iraqi command and control installations February 16 to protect allied aircraft patrolling the southern no-fly zone in Iraq.

Briefing reporters in Washington February 16, Newbold said the attack had become necessary because the increasing frequency and sophistication of the Iraqi air defenses posed a growing threat to allied aircraft and their crews, who requested the attack.

"It reached the point where it was obvious to our forces that they had to conduct operations to safeguard those pilots and aircraft. As a matter of fact, it's essentially a self-defense measure in conducting the operation," Newbold said. He added that the targets were chosen because of the threat they posed to allied aircraft and because they were separated from populated areas.

The Iraqi targets were located north of the 33rd parallel, the northern border of the southern no-fly zone in Iraq, Newbold said. He added that the allied aircraft did not venture north of the 33rd parallel but released their weapons south of the 33rd parallel.

Newbold said the targets included radar facilities that can reach deeply into the southern no-fly zone, where allied aircraft ban Iraqi military planes and helicopters from flying.

The Marine Corps general said the international coalition opposed to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has carried out similar air strikes in the northern and southern no-fly zones since 1991.

"These strikes like this have occurred since the beginning of Operation Southern Watch and then Northern Watch, since 1991," Newbold said. "They are part and parcel to protecting our aircraft as they conduct the missions, and they do occur occasionally."

He said the allies achieved their goal of degrading the Iraqi air defenses and further air strikes are not planned immediately.

Following is a transcript of the Defense Department briefing by Newbold and Pentagon spokesman, Rear Admiral Craig Quigley:

(begin transcript) DoD News Briefing
Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory S. Newbold, Director of Operations, Joint Staff
Friday, February 16, 2001 -- 2:45 p.m. EST

(Special briefing on military action in Southern Iraq. Also participating: Rear Admiral Craig R. Quigley, DASD PA)

Adm. Quigley: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Earlier this afternoon coalition aircraft struck targets in southern Iraq, and I'm sure that many of you have questions on that. We have with us this afternoon the director for operations of the Joint Staff, Marine Corps Lieutenant General Greg Newbold. We'll walk you through some of the high points of that and take some of your questions. I will then follow up. He has only about 10 minutes or so here with us. And we'll follow up with additional questions, as best we can.

General? Gen. Newbold: Thank you. Good afternoon. I'm going to use times that relate to Washington, D.C., time. So when -- as I run through this, you can equate to what we have been doing here.

At about 11:20 this morning, military aircraft in the Central Command region conducted an operation over Iraq. By 12:30 Washington, D.C., time, they were over target and at that time began the recovery. And by about 1:40 our time, the aircraft had all cleared Iraqi airspace and were in the process of recovering to their stations.

The military operation was conducted because the Iraqi air defenses had been increasing both their frequency and the sophistication of their operations. Both the frequency and the more sophisticated command and control of their operations had yielded an increased threat to our aircraft and our crews.

It reached the point where it was obvious to our forces that they had to conduct operations to safeguard those pilots and aircraft. As a matter of fact, it's essentially a self-defense measure in conducting the operation.

We struck five command-and-control nodes north of the 33rd parallel with 24 strike aircraft, using standoff precision munitions. All indications we have are that the munitions and the strikes were conducted efficiently and effectively. We have no indications that there were any of the strikes that might have gone amiss. At no time did any aircraft go north of the 33rd parallel. And I would also note that all of these targets were picked because of the specific separation that they represented from non-military targets. Of course, the principal reason is that they posed a threat to U.S. aircraft.

On the slide [slides] you'll see over here is a depiction of the area coverage of these radar sites, and it should be pretty evident that the range of these radars reached deep into the Operation SOUTHERN WATCH area. And that was the reason that they posed such a threat.

I'm going to show you next two examples of these types of radar. Tall King is the first one. And let's go to the second one. And all of the radars struck generally have ranges that can reach out extensively -- you saw the range represented on the map -- but covered our aircraft not long after they have entered Iraqi airspace on missions, on nearly a daily basis.

Q: Are these surveillance only, General? Gen. Newbold: Surveillance radar, but what they do is they then allow the Iraqi air defenses to coordinate their activities, and it was obvious to us that on nearly a daily basis they were posing an increased risk. So in order to continue to accomplish our mission and avoid the loss of aircraft, we had really no choice in this but to conduct the strike.

Q: Had these radars just been established. Are they newly -- Gen. Newbold: They've been accumulating over time. Generally, they have tried to used their radars south of the 33rd parallel, but as they do that and they use them to oppose our missions and to conduct attacks on our aircraft, over time, they've lost their ability to do so, as we've struck their radars and their air defense systems. So they have moved into what essentially they believe is a safe haven north of the 33rd parallel.

Q: How far from Baghdad were the strikes? Gen. Newbold: Generally, the systems were between five and 20 miles. But again, I'd like to emphasize that we know precisely where they're located, and each one of them is in the middle of an unoccupied area, and were picked for that reason.

Q: Are there any restrictions for U.S. or British planes to remain in the no-fly zone? And is striking outside, above the 33rd parallel, in any way a change of policy or tactics by the United States?

Gen. Newbold: On the policy issues, you'd of course have to ask a policymaker, but from a military perspective, it makes eminent sense for us to conduct the missions as far as we can from their missile systems and from their radars, and that's why we did it from the standoff.

Q: Then why did you make a point of saying that none of the aircraft crossed the 33rd Parallel?

Gen. Newbold: I think the point in saying that they didn't cross the 33rd Parallel is really to indicate the distance from Baghdad, the fact that we are aware of our general zone of operations for these things in routine operations are south of the 33rd.

Q: What kind of resistance did American aircraft encounter during this? And can you give us any idea of what British aircraft did in the strike?

The first question, as far as Iraqi attempts to interdict our strikes, we have heard that there were anti-aircraft artillery fired and some surface-to-air missiles which we believe were fired ballistically, which means without the benefit of guidance, which makes it a little safer to those who shoot them.

Q: And British aircraft in the strike? Oh. British aircraft cooperated with us in the strike. I would prefer not to get into which aircraft struck which targets, though.

Q: General, can you -- Q: There's a real important trend that has been going on here. Can you describe the trend of their increasing ability to go after American aircraft? Have there been more missiles fired in January, for example, than there had been in the months before?

Gen. Newbold: It's a good question. Yes, is the answer to both of those, in January and up to this point in time in February, frequency, meaning how many systems fired -- a broad arrange of systems -- and on a daily basis how many times they've fired. And, of course, they were getting closer and closer to our aircraft.

Q: Well, to follow up on that, and then a question. Have there been any close misses to the Iraqis being successful in trying to shoot down U.S. aircraft?

Gen. Newbold: No close misses, but the pilots are able to observe either the missile plumes or the bursting of the anti-aircraft fire when they're close enough to aircraft to see.

Q: In a follow up, can you explain to us, was it simply these two radar sites, or was it only the five targets north of the 33? And was more than just two radars involved? Was there part of the command and control system that was hit?

Gen. Newbold: If you'll look at the slide, five targets -- one of them was south of the 33rd parallel. And of those targets north of the 33rd parallel, they represent a variety of radar systems. But command and control nodes, not just radar that were above the 33rd.

(Cross talk.) Gen. Newbold: You haven't had your hand up for a while. Q: Was this an entirely CENTCOM-generated mission? Is it something that you all -- or that CENTCOM handled by itself, or was it influenced by the White House? Did they -- did the White House ask you to --

Gen. Newbold: I can tell you with certainty that this -- it was a military operation, emanating out of the forces that fly the mission on a daily basis. It was a request from them which came up to us.

Q: Did President Bush sign off on it? Gen. Newbold: Any time we fly a mission like this, it's required to be briefed all the way up through the national command authorities.

Q: So you talked about the increased networking of the command and control system?

Gen. Newbold: Yes. Q: Is there also an equivalent increase in SA-6 activity, both in quantity and sophistication of the missiles themselves that were posing a threat?

Gen. Newbold: You've asked about a specific system, the SA-6. What I'd prefer to say is that it's generally the range of systems which are both surface-to-air missiles, something like an unguided missile system, and the anti-aircraft artillery -- (off mike).

Q: General, can you tell -- a three-part question if I may , and first of all -- or four -- (laughter).

Gen. Newbold: I'll give you a one-part answer, but you can just -- (laughter).

Q: Okay, first of all, who is supplying Iraq with these radars, if you know? Secondly, did you go after any tactical targets such as AAA or such as surface-to-air missile sites on this particular strike? And third, were any of the command and control nodes hardened, and did you have to use any kind of bunker-buster or ordinates to take out -- (off mike)?

Gen. Newbold: I'm sorry, I actually don't know the source of the radars, because even though they may be produced by a particular country, they can come from a variety of sources.

I probably won't get into the one on bunker-busting; I'd just as soon stay away from that one. And your second question --

Q: Were there any tactical targets, such as AAA sites or surface-to-air missile sites and any of the command and control --

Gen. Newbold: No -- (Cross talk.) Q: General, was this handled -- Q: I didn't hear the answer. Just a minute. Gen. Newbold: Your question was were there other tactical targets, like surface-to-air missiles, and the answer is no.

Q: General, are you saying that this was handled exactly like all of the many fairly routine strikes that have been going on in northern and southern Iraq in terms of command and control -- that the decision was made at the operational level, the operation was carried out and then it was briefed afterwards back up the chain of command? Is that how these have been handled all along, or is there something special about this one, as opposed to these other strikes that have been going on rather routinely?

Gen. Newbold: The first point of clarification is no decision was made at a tactical level on this strike. The recommendation and the source of the recommendation was at the tactical level, and that's the way it should be. I would tell you that these strikes like this have occurred since the beginning of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH and then NORTHERN WATCH, since 1991. They are not routine, but they are part and parcel to protecting our aircraft as they conduct the missions, and they do occur occasionally.

Q: General, were any of these sites struck in December of '98 in DESERT FOX and rebuilt? I mean, do you get any sense that he is rebuilding his command and control and AAA?

Gen. Newbold: The precise sites, I can't say. I will tell you that strikes like this were conducted in '98. And I -- I'd have to get back to you on whether these were targets that might have been part and parcel -- [An Numaniyah control station was stuck during Operation DESERT FOX].

Q: General, what about rebuilding? Q: Do you anticipate the need for more military strikes, or do you think you've accomplished all you needed to accomplish with today's actions?

Gen. Newbold: We think we've accomplished what we were looking for; in this sense, to degrade, disrupt the ability of the Iraqi air defenses to coordinate attacks against our aircraft. But as you know, this a cyclic affair, and --

Q: But it's not likely we'll have more strikes soon? Gen. Newbold: We don't anticipate strikes like this soon. Of course, in the course of our daily operations, as you know, we're shot at fairly routinely.

Q: General, you say that -- I'm sorry, you've talked about increased activity along the 33rd. Are we talking about an increase in numbers of anti-aircraft sites, of surface-to-air missile sites, of radar sites? And if so, is Iraq in the business of acquiring additional armaments, additional capabilities? And why this spike in the last six weeks that we've seen? Also, it appears, according to your graphic, that one of the sites was north of Baghdad. Is that right?

Gen. Newbold: Let me start with the first one and make sure I'm clear on this. It was not the number of systems that posed the threat, it was that the systems in place were firing more frequently and they were more accurate because they were coordinated. And there was one target just north of Baghdad, as is shown there.

Q: So these sites that you hit were designed to cut down on their ability to coordinate and synchronize their efforts against U.S. and British aircraft patrolling the southern no-fly zone.

Gen. Newbold: I should have had you giving the brief. (Laughter.) That's precisely right. (Laughter.)

Q: And do we see the same sort of activity taking place in the north, or is this southern-no-fly-zone specific? Gen. Newbold: This one is southern-no-fly-zone specific, although increased activity up north.

Q: General, in terms of the fact that you've noted increasing sophistication in the way that Iraq has been engaging U.S. aircraft, any ideas how the Iraqis developed these new tactics? Are they taking lessons learned from Kosovo? Are they being briefed by the Serbs, who defended against us in Kosovo? Where did these new tactics come from?

Gen. Newbold: I don't really -- I can't answer that question because I don't know. I would tell you that there are exchanges of information. I don't think this is a matter of improved tactics so much as it is improved command and control.

Staff: Just one or two more, please, ladies and gentlemen. Q: General, can you be clear on one thing? These were preemptive strikes as opposed to aircraft were painted and the U.S. struck back; is that correct?

Gen. Newbold: No. These are in direct response to Iraqi actions over a cumulative period of time over the past two months, where their actions have increased -- provided an increasing threat to our aircraft.

Q: How about today, though? Were U.S. planes painted and then you fought back, or was this a planned strike --

Gen. Newbold: No, this was a carefully planned, orchestrated strike. Q: General, because this -- Gen. Newbold: Let me -- the gentleman in back has had his hand up for --

Q: Thank you, General. Sir, aren't you concerned, sir, that strikes like this might increase the hostility toward the U.S. and its military presence in the area? And are you taking any additional precautions to avoid that?

Gen. Newbold: Yes. The aircraft do that routinely. They change their plan on a daily basis to ensure that they are at minimum risk to the aircraft. And our preference wouldn't -- I can guarantee you, would not be to strike. Our preference is to conduct SOUTHERN WATCH, to monitor Iraqi activities that threaten their neighbors, like Kuwait. And it's only in response to the firing at the U.S. and coalition aircraft that they get into responding to this.

Q: Thank you, General. Q: General, one question. Because this was different, did you have to get Saudi Arabia's permission?

Q: Thank you, General. (General Newbold departs.) Adm. Quigley: I'll wait just a second here. Are there any follow-on questions I can possibly help with? Barbara? Q: Yes. Adm. Quigley: Why did I think -- Q: Because the parameters of this strike were slightly different, did you seek or receive Saudi Arabia's permission before you launched it? Did you inform them of it?

Adm. Quigley: Not that I'm aware of, no. Q: When did the president approve this? Q: Admiral? Adm. Quigley: Yes? Q: Has there been a change in threat condition levels in the area? Adm. Quigley: No, not that I'm aware of. Not that I'm aware of. Q: Were these carrier-based airplanes that carried out the strike? Adm. Quigley: Some were indeed. Both carrier-based and land-based, yes.

Q: The Harry S Truman? Based on Harry S -- Adm. Quigley: Harry S Truman is the carrier in the Gulf at the point, yes, by --

Q: And Craig, is the type of aircraft, type of weapon -- can you give us any --

Adm. Quigley: These were both sea-based and land-based strike aircraft from a variety of installations in the region, firing long- range, precision-guided weapons.

Q: So they were -- Adm. Quigley: That's the most detail I can provide. I'm sorry. Q: (Off mike) -- stand-off -- Adm. Quigley: Different types of stand-off weapons, yes, Chris --

Q: Why can't you say -- Adm. Quigley: -- but precision-guided, stand-off weapons. Q: Why can't you just say what they are? Adm. Quigley: Because if the Iraqis now know precisely how effective this strike was, and if they could somehow figure out, knowing the weapon that was fired, how effective this weapon system was, and they could possibly devise a way to counter it, it would reduce our possible effectiveness on future such strikes. Any sort of advantage that we could possibly provide to the Iraqis in that type, we're just going to try everything we can to not do that.

Q: If I could just follow up on that point, though, why does that rule only seem to apply to strikes in Iraq, but didn't, for instance, apply to the NATO strikes in Yugoslavia where -- in 1998 you didn't -- in 1999 you didn't disclose types of weapons in Iraq. But then when those same weapons were used in a combat situation in Yugoslavia, you did disclose the weapons. Why the -- why is it inconsistent with the policy?

Adm. Quigley: I think you're looking at a much longer-duration effort in SOUTHERN WATCH and NORTHERN WATCH, Jamie. I have a possibility of deriving some sort of benefit of knowing what type of weapon that the coalition would use against me. I may not be able to devise a way to defeat it or to reduce its effectiveness somehow on the first strike or the third or the fifth, but if it's a long- duration activity, like SOUTHERN WATCH and NORTHERN WATCH, I could get there eventually.

Any sort of advantage that we could possibly provide to the Iraqis in that regard, we're just going to try everything we can to not do that. If it's more of a tactical situation, which was the situation in the Balkans, okay, during the Kosovo operations, that is much more of a real time situation where I'm employing weapons. You just can't possibly devise a counter to those weapons in the very short time that is available to defensive system. But in a longer-time horizon here, that's a possibility. We think it's an increased possibility and we're just not going to take that risk.

Q: Craig -- Q: Do you have any numbers for us on the increase of SAM firings -- magnitude, descriptively, over the last couple of months?

Adm. Quigley: I think we do. Yeah, I don't have them with me, John, but I think we do. But we have seen a significant increase in the January-February time frame, and the systems that were struck today that General Newbold described very much contributed to that, we believe. And we hope that we will have significantly degraded his ability to coordinate that air defense system [there have been 65 provocations this year consisting of 51 AAA and 14 SAM incidents; there were 221 provocations during 2000].

Q: Quickly, within just two hours two hours of this strike, how is it that you come to the conclusion that the strikes were both effective and efficient?

How is it that you've concluded your bomb damage assessment so quickly?

Adm. Quigley: Well, we don't have the bomb damage assessment, Barbara -- I should be quick to point that out -- and we won't for quite some time, and to the level of detail that you all would expect. But you do have an immediate indication as to whether or not your standoff ordnance guided properly, or if you lost the signal and it didn't guide properly. So you know if the weapons you used performed as they should.

And as General Newbold described, these targets were chosen very specifically for two principal reasons. One is their effectiveness against coalition aircraft in the southern no-fly zone and, two, their location apart from populated areas. So if I don't have an indication that the weapon somehow malfunctioned, then I really do need to hold off before I am too specific on my battle damage assessment. But all the initial looks say it looks pretty good.

Q: Do you have any indication that, given the targets you struck, those parts of the Iraqi air defense system have gone dark now? Adm. Quigley: I don't have that level of detail in this close to real time. I'm sorry.

Ivan? Q: Craig, the aircraft engaging in this strike today, were these the tactical aircraft that are normally used in Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, or were there also manned bombers from, say, Europe and CONUS -- B-1s, B2s and --

Adm. Quigley: No. These were aircraft that you see normally operating in Operation SOUTHERN WATCH and in that part of the world. Otto?

Q: The general said 24 strike aircraft. Are we to assume that the total air package was larger than that, given the number of support aircraft?

Adm. Quigley: Yes. Yes. And I am not going to be able to be specific about that, either. I will say that there was a considerably larger total package of aircraft, but that provided jamming, electronic counter-measures, suppression of any enemy air defense missions, command and control -- those sorts of activities that would support the 24. The 24 were the ones that launched the weapons. There were a larger number of aircraft that performed other missions.

Q: Twenty-four American and British? Adm. Quigley: Twenty-four American and British, yes. Pam? Q: How did that package compare to the ones that are normally used in these strikes? I think there have been nine strikes so far this year. So how did those earlier strikes stack --

Adm. Quigley: This is larger than any of the ones that were earlier this year. They typically are not --

Q: Twice as large? Three times as large? Adm. Quigley: I'd have to go check the numbers, but this is definitely larger than a one that you see -- And keep in mind, this is something that we reserve the right to do. It isn't necessarily a tit-for-tat in SOUTHERN WATCH.

And this is a perfect example of that. We assess these systems as being complementary and additive to the air defense capability of the Iraqis in the SOUTHERN WATCH no-fly zone. So this wasn't something that happened today or yesterday, this was cumulative over a period of time, but contributed significantly to the effectiveness of those air defense systems. And that's why this was a very deliberate, planned procedure.

Q: Can you clarify the approval? Was this from -- Adm. Quigley: Yeah, let me take another whack at that. CINCCENT started this process. Okay? The commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command started this process, made a recommendation up through the chain of command. Ultimately that recommendation was approved --

Q: By the president. Adm. Quigley: -- by the president. Q: When? Q: When? Q: General Franks made the recommendation -- Adm. Quigley: Within the past few days, ultimately by the president. The recommendation has been working its way up the chain of command for some time with the requisite level of detail to make sure that all the seniors in the chain of command understood the details, understood the parameters, understood what was being asked for here. And ultimately, that was approved by the president.

Yes? Q: Why would this mission have to be signed off on by the president, when strikes that occur weekly, if not more often, are done without the president having to sign off?

Adm. Quigley: We have said that we would take on targets that would contribute to the effectiveness of the Iraqi air defense system in SOUTHERN WATCH and NORTHERN WATCH. But typically, those targets that we engage are in the SOUTHERN WATCH or NORTHERN WATCH zones; in other words, south of 33 or north of 36. This was not. This was different. We've done this before, but it is not like we normally do it.

Q: When was the last -- (inaudible) -- Q: (Inaudible) -- standing authorization to strike targets under the rules of engagement in the southern and northern no-fly zones, but when going north of the southern no-fly zone or south of the northern no-fly zone, that's exceptional enough where it requires presidential authority?

Adm. Quigley: Let me try to put that another way, if I could. There are different rules of engagement -- the rules of engagement describe a different process, depending on the sort of option that you would like to embark upon. And this was one of those that is a different set of circumstances rather than the ones that you have seen either Central Command or European Command do on a much more regular basis in NORTHERN WATCH or SOUTHERN WATCH. So in accordance with the rules that we put in place and have been approved up the chain of command on a variety of these packages, this process had a -- or this procedure had a different process in accordance with those rules of engagement. So you say, what am I about to embark on here? What am I going to ask permission to do? What are the procedures that I have in place to do that? And then I go about doing it.

And the answer to your question is, in SOUTHERN WATCH the last time we went north of 33 was DESERT FOX in December of '98. The last time we went south of 36 was September or October of '99. So it has been done before, but it's been a while.

Barbara? Q: If this has been going on for six weeks, this change of pace of Iraqi activity, what made you decide to go today? Why did you wait so long? And did you want to get this done especially before the secretary of State traveled to the Gulf?

Adm. Quigley: I'm not going to get into the tactical reasons. There is a variety of factors that go into the selection of exactly what time you do this, and date, and things of that sort, but I'm sorry, I can't provide those.

Q: Secretary Rumsfeld -- Adm. Quigley: I need to leave. Let me take one more question. Yes, sir?

Q: To what extent was this a message sent by a new president to indicate there's no policy change, no softening in U.S. attitude -- Adm. Quigley: This was done for the military purposes that General Newbold described.

Q: Craig, one final thing. Adm. Quigley: Thank you. (end transcript)

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