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20 November 2004
See also Eyeballing the Iraq Kill and Maim Zone.
New York Times, November 20, 2004
By EDWARD WONG
Sahar Muhammad Abdullah,
Abdullah Ismail Khalif,
Marines treat woman (Sahar Muhammad Abdullah) for back wound,
Photos by Ashley Gilbertson for The New York Times
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Nov. 19 - The drive was supposed to take no more than 15 minutes, a quick dash across a few rubble-strewn blocks of Falluja to spirit Sahar Muhammad Abdullah, 23, and her family to safety in a house near a mosque.
But hundreds of feet short of their destination, the family stumbled into a company of marines who had transformed the mosque into a temporary fortress, with snipers and machine gunners perched on the roof. They spotted the gray car carrying the family, inching along.
A barrage of bullets followed. Minutes later, Ms. Abdullah's mother lay bloodied and dying in the rear seat, glass shards strewn about her. Ms. Abdullah, hit in the back by a bullet, collapsed into her mother's lap. Three men in the car were lightly wounded.
The family's journey ended there, and a much longer one began.
"There are days when I can't sleep at all," Ms. Abdullah said from a hospital bed in Baghdad. "I keep thinking of what happened to us." Her family has not yet told her that her mother is dead.
Ms. Abdullah spent two hours telling her tale, all the time wincing in pain. Dressed in a burgundy robe, she leaned over the bed occasionally to sip water through a straw. A cousin and an aunt who had fled Falluja weeks earlier tended to her, dabbing at her tears with tissues.
What befell Ms. Abdullah and her family on Nov. 12 is just one incident in which civilians were reported wounded or killed during the week-long Falluja offensive. While no neutral group has been able to enter the city to count casualties, officials of the International Red Cross in Baghdad estimate that as many as 800 civilians may have died.
Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, commander of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, said Thursday that he did not know of any civilian deaths.
The marines at the mosque, from Company B, First Battalion, Eighth Marines, had spent the morning of Nov. 12 fending off insurgent attacks, and they were operating under rules of engagement that said "unauthorized movement of civilian vehicles towards Marines may pose" a suicide bomb threat. The same rules tell marines to "spare civilians and civilian property, if possible."
Ms. Abdullah's family was not aware that American troops had stormed the Abdul Aziz Mosque, just blocks from their home in the Nazal neighborhood, and that battles were raging all around, she said.
They had hunkered down when American armor first rolled into Falluja on Nov. 8. They decided to wait out the invasion, she said, because the family had survived the aborted offensive last April. This assault would be no worse, they thought.
Ms. Abdullah's father died years ago. Her brother was arrested by the Americans this year, she said, because he happened to be near the site of a roadside bomb explosion. That left Ms. Abdullah and her mother, Khaluda Ismail Khalif.
Three men were staying at their home to guard against looters. They were Ms. Abdullah's uncle, Abdullah Ismail Khalif; his son, Alaa Muhammad; and a young neighbor, Muhammad Abdul Latif. As airstrikes pounded the city, the five huddled together to read from the Koran.
"We tried to calm each other and we tried to accept what God had in store for us," Ms. Abdullah said. "We'd beseech God to keep Falluja safe, to shield it from the bombings."
Electricity and water had been cut off. But the family had stored water and squirreled away some basic rations to cook at sunset each day to break the Ramadan fast.
"We prepared the food, but no one could eat, because of our dark spirits," Ms. Abdullah said.
Mujahedeen with Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenades darted from building to building. The explosions got louder and heavier by the day. One bomb destroyed the minaret of the Abdul Aziz Mosque, and another pulverized a neighboring house, shattering the windows in Ms. Abdullah's home.
"We were used to the bombing," Ms. Abdullah said. "But then we thought, 'If we're injured, who would treat us?' So we decided to move to a place where people could attend to us if that happened."
That meant driving to the house of Mr. Khalif, a few blocks away.
The family knew the Iraqi government had imposed a curfew on the city. Anyone moving in the streets could be shot. But they saw only mujahedeen outside, not Americans. Besides, "we thought if we get hit, we'll be martyrs," Ms. Abdullah said.
On Nov. 12, at 2:30 p.m., the five packed clothes and bags of food and piled into the car. The uncle drove. The neighbor, Mr. Latif, rode in the passenger seat holding a white towel out the window, Ms. Abdullah said. Gunfire rattled nearby, then died down.
"We had no idea what had happened to the blocks of houses next to us," Ms. Abdullah said. "We thought, 'We've never seen anything like this.' The car could barely move because of the debris in the streets."
They rounded a corner by the mosque and saw the marines for the first time, crouching atop the roof, their guns pointed outward. Tanks had rammed through the mosque compound's outer wall, leaving large holes.
Mr. Khalif veered onto the street where he lived. The marines opened fire, Ms. Abdullah said. "I fell into my mother's lap and started screaming," she said.
The two younger men, barely injured, dashed into houses on either side of the street. Mr. Khalif stumbled from the driver's seat, the left side of his robe drenched in blood. He walked toward the mosque holding up the white towel.
Inside the main prayer room, word spread among the weary marines that some of their unit had just shot civilians. They had spent the morning repelling guerrilla assaults after seizing the mosque at dawn. Several marines and Iraqi soldiers raced out to check on the casualties, accompanied by a reporter and photographer for The New York Times.
"Don't shoot, don't shoot!" Mr. Khalif yelled in Arabic. "I have a family with me. There are women in the car."
"Just shoot him," two Iraqi soldiers said.
The Americans held off, and Mr. Khalif popped back around the corner. The troops walked toward him with an M-1 Abrams tank advancing in front. From the south, guerrillas fired a few rounds at them with Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades, then disappeared.
Ms. Abdullah's cousin and the neighbor emerged from hiding, their arms held high. The Iraqi soldiers shoved them to the ground and called them dogs, Ms. Abdullah said. An insurgent with a machine gun lay sprawled near the car, the top of his head blown off; it was unclear when he had been killed.
An Iraqi interpreter pulled Ms. Abdullah from the back seat.
"I told them, 'I want you to take out my mother, even if she's dead,' " she said.
A Marine lieutenant looked into the car and said the mother was no longer breathing. No one translated that. The troops led the others into the caretaker's room in the ruined mosque, where medics treated them.
They tried to remove the bullet from Ms. Abdullah's back without taking off her clothes.
"I forgot all my pain when I saw the condition of the mosque," Ms. Abdullah said. "I saw the Americans sitting on boxes full of Korans, and at that moment I wanted to grab one of them and kill him. I would have preferred to stay in the car bleeding rather than witness that scene."
"The Americans may have been sympathetic to me," she said, "but they slaughtered other people."
The marines took the wounded to a hospital outside Falluja, and ambulances brought them to Baghdad.
Mr. Khalif and his son have since recovered and departed for a village near Falluja to check on relatives, Ms. Abdullah said. She plans to stay with an aunt in Baghdad when she gets better.
As she finished telling her story, she turned her head toward the window and stared out across the city to the Tigris River, the air hazy in the fading afternoon light.
"I dream of my mother every night," she said. "We were at our home. But she wasn't O.K. She was pale, and there was nothing left of her."
Dexter Filkins and Ashley Gilbertson contributed reporting from Falluja for this article.
New York Times, November 20, 2004
By PETER STEINFELS
Warfare is so brutal that it is easy to understand the cynicism that doubts whether the words war and morality even belong in the same sentence.
That is not the way that the military looks at it, however. In the years since the war in Vietnam and revulsion at events like the My Lai massacre, leadership of the armed forces has probably been way ahead of civilian policy makers in giving heed to traditional standards of ethical conduct in battle. No one imagines that these standards will be perfectly observed in the heat of combat, but they provide precious barriers against the descent into utter inhumanity.
Most of this growing ethical concern has centered on sparing civilians. The principles are simple, even if observing them is not. First, civilian casualties must be an unavoidable side effect of military action, not an intended and purposeful part of it. Second, there must be some proportionality, however hard to define precisely, between the military objectives and the extent of civilian death and suffering.
World War II saw a breakdown of this kind of traditional distinction between enemy forces and civilian populations. The civilians were finally judged to be as liable to direct attack as the former. The bombings of Germany and Japan were extended not only to hit traditional military targets, but also to wreak widespread death and destruction on civilians in hopes of breaking the enemy's morale.
That wartime collapse of an ancient moral distinction carried over into cold war military planning, which often contemplated civilian deaths in the millions as a consequence of direct nuclear attacks or even biological warfare against population centers.
Attitudes have changed. One reason, admittedly, is the existence of more discriminating weaponry. Another reason is the sense that much of what distinguishes the legitimate uses of military power from terrorism hangs on the special moral consideration given civilians. It is true that in the 1991 Persian Gulf war or the intervention to block ethnic cleansing in Kosovo the destruction of dual-use public works like power plants and communications and transportation systems raised a new category of moral questions. But the postwar suffering of civilians that resulted would scarcely have gnawed at Western consciences to the extent it did had not the goal of sparing civilians become so vigorously affirmed.
This evolution in attitude appears all to the good. Unfortunately, the recent debate about tallying civilian casualties in Iraq has raised questions about its seriousness.
Three weeks ago, The Lancet, the British medical journal, released a research team's findings that 100,000 or more civilians had probably died as a result of the war in Iraq. The study, formulated and conducted by researchers at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at the Johns Hopkins University and the College of Medicine at Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, involved a complex process of sampling households across Iraq to compare the numbers and causes of deaths before and after the invasion in March 2003.
The 100,000 estimate immediately came under attack. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of Britain questioned the methodology of the study and compared it with an Iraq Health Ministry figure that put civilian fatalities at less than 4,000. Other critics referred to the findings of the Iraq Body Count project, which has constructed a database of war-related civilian deaths from verified news media reports or official sources like hospitals and morgues.
That database recently placed civilian deaths somewhere between 14,429 and 16,579, the range arising largely from uncertainty about whether some victims were civilians or insurgents. But because of its stringent conditions for including deaths in the database, the project has quite explicitly said, "Our own total is certain to be an underestimate."
It has refrained from commenting on the 100,000 figure, except for noting that such a number "is on the scale of the death toll from Hiroshima" and, if accurate, has "serious implications."
Certainly, the Johns Hopkins study is rife with assumptions necessitated by the lack of basic census and mortality data in Iraq. The sampling also required numerous adjustments because of wartime dangers - and courage in carrying out the interviews. Accordingly, the results are presented with a good many qualifications.
Ultimately, the researchers are saying that these are the best estimates available and that better ones could be obtained if the occupying forces and the Iraqi authorities wanted them.
"This survey shows that with modest funds, four weeks and seven Iraqi team members willing to risk their lives, a useful measure of civilian deaths could be obtained," the researchers wrote in The Lancet. "There seems to be little excuse for occupying forces to not be able to provide more precise tallies" that could be confirmed by independent bodies like the International Red Cross or the World Health Organization.
What is Washington's response to this argument? The dismissive statement by the head of the United States Central Command, Gen. Tommy R. Franks of the Army, that "we don't do body counts" has been repeatedly quoted as more or less the final word on American policy. (An official at the Defense Department confirmed this week that American casualties were "as far as I know the only casualty information we track.") General Franks's dictum implies that the method, often disparaged as a measure of progress in Vietnam, is equally irrelevant or unreliable for measuring tragedy elsewhere.
Can this position withstand scrutiny? To a lot of ears, it sounds like a pharmaceutical company that swears it doesn't want to market drugs with dangerous side effects but then avoids the studies that might determine just how dangerous those side effects might be. What would one think of doctors who stressed the importance of combating fever but refused to take anyone's temperature?
To be sure, the morality of waging war in Iraq is not automatically resolved by establishing whether 4,000 civilians have died as a consequence or 17,000 or 100,000. But whether one figure or another is closer to the truth is surely relevant. Doesn't it mock any otherwise admirable moral concern for civilian losses not to want to find out?
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
Media contact: +1 (703) 697-5131 Public contact:
or +1 (703) 428-0711
Presenter: : Lieutenant General John Sattler, USMC, Commander, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, Fallujah, Iraq Thursday, November 18, 2004 11:05 a.m. EST
Defense Department Operational Update Briefing
To view briefing slides: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Nov2004/g041118-D-6570C.html
(Note: General Sattler is in Fallujah, Iraq, and participates by video teleconference.)
Under tight security, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld walks with Lt. Gen. John Sattler, right, as he heads for a "town hall' type meeting with the troops at the Al Asad Air Base in the western Iraqi desert, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2004. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Lieutenant Gen. John Sattler, commander of First Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Fallujah, poses outside Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2004. Sattler announced the Marines are investigating a report of unlawful use of force that resulted in the death of a wounded prisoner in Fallujah. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)
|General Sattler Biography|
MR. WHITMAN: Sir, thank you for joining us this morning. We know that you're very busy, and we know that you tried to do this yesterday and there were some weather problems and some technical problems. But we really appreciate you taking some time to give us an update on current operations there. And we know that you have some slides that we're printing out right now, and we'll get them to the press corps here. And we know that you have an opening overview that you want to give us, and then we'll get into the questions.
So with that, I'll turn it right over to you, sir.
GEN. SATTLER: Okay. Thank you very much and thank everyone for attending.
Bryan if you could kill the mike on that side -- I'm getting a feedback. (Technical adjustments.) Okay. That's good.
This is D plus 11 for Operation Al-Fajr. What I wanted to do is bring everybody up to speed, to give everyone an idea of the layout, where we stand right now within the city of Fallujah.
If the camera will turn over here to the map, obviously we commenced the attack -- we cordoned off the entire city with a combination of Iraqi security forces and coalition forces. We then commenced the attack by securing the peninsula and the hospital, which was being used for command and control at the tip of the peninsula. That was taken down by Iraqi commando forces.
The next day, after the sun had set, we commenced the attack, coming in from the north, both the northwest and the northeast. And we continued the attack till we seized what we call here -- this is MSR Michigan.
We continued the attack down towards the south, in the same direction, with a north-to-south axis, with two regiments, reinforced with two Army battalions. And then we completed the attack phase approximately two, three days ago.
What we've been doing for the past number of days is actual -- searching and clearing each individual house and each individual building. And that's being done by a combination of Iraqi security forces, in conjunction with soldiers, Marines and sailors, with close air support from both Marines, sailors, Army rotary wing close air support and airmen from the U.S. Air Force.
Where we stand today:
We are ubiquitous throughout the entire town. We have stood up our Civil/Military Operations Center. That's the center that will project humanitarian assistance and bring construction on into the town as we reinvigorate the town of Fallujah. The CMOC is stood up. We are working very closely with the Iraqi interim government as they continue to press ministries forward as we do the evaluations within the town concerning the water, the sewage, the electrical grid and basic essential services for the people of Fallujah.
The town is not quite secure at this point. Late this evening right before sunset, down in the southwestern sector of the town, Marines were clearing the building in conjunction with Iraqi security partners when they came under fire. They moved up; they responded proportionally; the enemy refused to surrender; they engaged that house with tank main gun fire. When the Marines and the Iraqi security forces moved forward towards the house, the insurgents continued to fire.
I'm sad to report that we had one Marine killed and one of our Iraqi security partners killed with him; one Marine and one Iraqi soldier wounded. We were able to reattack the house, and the insurgents inside that house have in fact been silenced at this point.
Tomorrow we will continue to work and evaluate the electrical grid. We'll continue to evaluate the water. We have uncovered the Fallujan water plant. It appears that we will be able to get that functioning sometime within the next 48 to 72 hours.
The plant itself is in very good condition, but the water distribution, the pipes that run throughout the town have sustained some damage. But we're doing work-arounds with that, a combination of Navy Seabees, Army engineers, Marine engineers, working, as I mentioned before, with the ministries, the Iraqi ministers.
As far as opening the town, that will be condition based. The town must be secure before we can let the Fallujan people start to move back in. Secure not only means searching each and every house to pick up and eliminate the caches of ordnance, of weapons, of improvised explosive devices that are rigged like booby-traps in many of the houses we've gone into; we also have to ensure before we turn the electric power on that downed lines that may be hot, that may cause harm to either our service members, the Iraqi security forces or the returning Fallujans, have in fact been -- that problem has in fact been corrected.
So it will take some time, but we've already commenced. We've commenced the cleanup operation utilizing mainly our own soldiers and the Iraqi soldiers. Once the environment is secure enough, we already have contracts that are in place that will be awarded. We have started to move humanitarian assistance into the town.
And what I'd like to do now is go to the slides I have. Please put the camera on the slides.
The first slide. This is one of the mosques that we uncovered while coming through Fallujah, one of the many that were stockpiled with caches of explosives, weapons and improvised explosive device- making material. You can see a suicide vest that is being modeled by one of the Iraqi warriors up here in the top left-hand corner, another suicide vest inside the mosque again down in the lower left-hand corner.
Iraqi security forces doing the outer cordon while Iraqi forces went inside to secure the actual mosque. A sniper rifle inside the mosque. One of their techniques has been to get into the minarets in proximity or right against the mosque and put effective long-range fire on our advancing forces. This is the type sniper rifle that they have been using, and an AK-47 here on the floor, also inside the mosque.
Could I have the next slide, please?
[DoD combined the slides into three images.]
Some of the artillery rounds that they're utilizing, they'll daisy-chain a number of these together and make an improvised explosive device. We've uncovered literally hundreds of these inside the town, and our warriors have been able to find them prior to them going off, and we've been able to use our explosive ordnance disposal teams to in some cases disarm and in some cases blow those in place.
You can see black powder for bomb-making material up here in this corner, and over here blocks of explosives plus det cord. And you see a battery here to utilize to put the electoral charge in to go and set the improvised explosive device off. A lot of detonation cord here. That gives them a long stand-off distance, so from their perception that they can safely detonate the improvised explosive device when our forces are close and that we would not in fact be able to catch them in advance or after.
And again, down here, more detonation devices. Some of the detonation devices are remotely controlled for these improvised explosive devices.
Next slide, please.
Humanitarian assistance was a question that's been asked multiple times. This is one of the outlying towns on the outskirts of Fallujah -- I take that back; this is actually inside Fallujah where Regimental Combat Team 7, which is operating over on the eastern side of the city, they are in fact providing -- pushing forward, along with the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government, both food and water. There is a large shortage, obviously, of potable water inside the town, and we're ensuring that is covered right now -- till we get the water plant running -- with bottled water. But a combination of U.S., but led by the Iraqi security forces as we distribute the food and the water.
Next slide, please.
This is a slide of an outlying town called Habbaniya, which is out towards the west of Fallujah, about halfway between Fallujah and Ramadi. We came across approximately -- somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 dislocated civilians that had moved themselves, prior to the conflict starting, out to an old camp with hard stands and hard shelters inside of Habbaniya. The Iraqi government, again, pushed out humanitarian assistance in the form of food and water. We're also taking a look now -- we've already moved about 1,500 blankets, and we're looking at additional blankets as it does tend to get a little bit cold here in the evening. And you can see by the pictures the food -- Iraqi policemen, Iraqi National Guardman here, Iraqi National Guard, and the recipients of the humanitarian effort.
Next slide, please.
This is an idea of the improvised explosive devices that we're encountering -- artillery shells wired to a detonation system. As the Marines, the soldiers and the sailors move through the town, they have to be extremely careful. We have had some of our warriors killed as they've entered a building, humanely attempting to clear that building, only in some cases to have one of these improvised explosive devices go off. So we're very cautious, very careful. You can see the amount of ammunition found, ammunition and more ammunition, radio transmitters to detonate improvised explosive devices.
Next slide, please.
This is the National Islamic Resistance operations center located in Fallujah. In the basement, I believe this picture will speak for itself. You can see the bloodstained walls and surfaces down in the basement and the tools for what appears to be some type of a torture chamber. You can also see racks of improvised explosive device-making material. And you can also see computers up in this area, where we believe those computers are being exploited, that it appears that they would take films of their deeds and they would go up and mass-produce those discs to be distributed throughout the world. Down here, more black powder, and here improvised explosive device-making material in the form of detonation cord, et cetera.
Next slide, please.
Okay, and that's the last slide.
Before I take your questions, I would like to close my statement by saying -- by making a clear statement here concerning the alleged violation of the Law of Land Warfare. We have a procedure in place. It's time-tested and it's very precise on what can be discussed and what cannot be discussed when an investigation is under way. Based on my position as the commanding general, anything that I say, voice an opinion, or comment concerning the investigation could unintentionally influence the investigation or potential witnesses. Therefore, other than the statement that we've already made and to assure everyone that the investigation is moving forward, I will not comment on the investigation.
May I have your questions, please?
MR. WHITMAN: General, thank you very much for that informative update.
Let's go to Reuters here first.
Q General Sattler, this is Will Dunham with Reuters. Can you say what's the earliest possible you think the town could be reopened to residents who have been displaced? And could you also just give us an update of U.S., Iraqi security forces and enemy casualties?
GEN. SATTLER: Okay, Will, the actual opening of the time will be -- it will be event-driven. It won't be time-driven, obviously. The final decision -- Prime Minister Allawi is the one who imposed the curfew, the prime minister is the one who restricted all vehicular movement of civilian vehicles inside Fallujah, and the prime minister is the one who imposed the existing curfew. We will make a recommendation to the prime minister once we feel it is fairly safe and fairly secure. It's never going to be total, but once we hit those conditions for safety reasons and security reasons, we will make that recommendation.
The intent now by the Iraqi government is to phase the citizens of Fallujah back in. In other words, we will probably start up in the northern sector where we came in and commenced the fighting. As we clear each and every house of the materials which I just showed you up on these charts, once we've cleared each and every house in a sector, then the Iraqi government will make the notification for residents from that particular sector that they are, in fact, encouraged to return. We will also ensure that we have humanitarian assistance in place if, in fact, the electricity cannot come up fast enough, and we'll ensure that we have sufficient food and water.
So I don't want to speculate on that time, except to say that we're really leaning hard forward on it. We do have some contracts in place that once we get the contractors into town, it will expedite that. But it will take -- it will take some time.
And the second part of the question had to do with casualties. As we stand right now, we've had 51 coalition warriors who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in this fight. The Iraqis have had eight. As far as wounded in action, we've had a little bit over -- approximately 425 who have been wounded, but those numbers will continue to come in from the wounded because many Marines, soldiers and sailors have been treated at their local aid station and then went right back into the fight again, and those reports will catch up with us over time. And the Iraqi security forces now have 43 Iraqis wounded.
Q A follow-up, General. The 51 you mentioned, is that U.S. deaths? You said coalition. Is that U.S.?
GEN. SATTLER: Yes, the 51 is a combination of Marines, sailors and soldiers.
Q Julian Barnes with U.S. News. A fairly large number of houses were either destroyed or damaged in the attack on Fallujah. What's the plan in terms of helping people repair those houses or compensate them as citizens flow back into the city?
GEN. SATTLER: As in the case of Najaf, after the fighting in Najaf was completed, we put into place a claims process where each and every individual would have someone -- they would bring forward the fact that they had damage to their business or to their residence. We would go out and do an assessment, and then a claims officer would adjudicate that claim on the spot and that individual, Iraqi, would in fact be paid for the damage so that he or she could go ahead and commence fixing the damage immediately. So that process is in place. The Iraqi government has made the money available. And we will commence that process as soon as we let the Fallujan citizens back into the town.
Each and every house that was damaged was either targeted because there were troops in contact, meaning that we were taking fire from that particular house or particular business, or in fact it was being utilized -- and we had evidence that it was being utilized to store weapons, to store ammunition in advance.
And I'll be honest also, in some of the cases as we clear through the town house by house, some of these caches are very unstable. We have no intention of risking life or limb to go ahead and move them outside. In some cases, if you stored ordnance in your home or it was stored in your home, some of those will in fact be blown in place for safety reasons. But once again, we can always rebuild a house, but we can't bring a warrior back to life.
MR. WHITMAN: Let's go here to Pauline.
Q Pauline Jelinek of the Associated Press. General, there are reports that as you've done your clearing operations you've turned up more insurgent -- quite a number more of insurgent casualties than previously thought. Can you give us an update on insurgents killed? And has that in any way changed your thinking on what might have been there before the operation?
GEN. SATTLER: Well, obviously, the mission was to go ahead and alleviate (sic) Fallujah as either a perceived or an actual safe haven for the terrorists to operate from. Our intent when we went in was to ensure that we cleared the entire town, that there would be no no-go areas within the town, that we'd clear it from north to south, east to west. And in this particular case we're actually doing a secondary and a tertiary sweep through each and every house.
A number of fighters have been killed. I don't want to speculate on that number. Many of them have already been buried, some are still in the rubble. We're in the process of -- Mortuary Affairs is in the process now of picking those bodies up. We're obviously screening them for intelligence purposes. We're taking anything that might be able to be used for tactical reasons over tonight, the next day or as we continue our offensive operations. So I will not speculate. A number of 1,200 has been thrown out multiple times. I would say that that's probably a safe number.
We have now interned, I guess as detainees now we have just a little bit over a thousand, about 1,025. And as we screen the detainees, those who were military-age men, "wrong place, wrong time," and we can verify that, we are -- after we go through the question and answering of them, we've released a little bit over 150 of those already. So the process will take time. The numbers re fairly large. It's not easy to do because of -- for multiple reasons. But we're leaning forward on that.
MR. WHITMAN: Let's go here.
Q Yes. General, this is Vince Crawley with the Army and Marine Corps Times papers. As the battle began, there were estimates that as many as half the citizens of Fallujah had remained in the town. Do you have a better picture of how many civilians are there, where the refugees are staying; and is that a stable location for them; as well as what were the casualties among bystanders?
GEN. SATTLER: I'll start with the first part. We weren't sure the estimates as to who was in the town when we commenced the operation, because obviously we didn't have anyone in town before we made our forcible entry. We have not seen many families at all, throughout the operation or even now as we go through the search and clear phase. Those who have come forward are in fact being escorted. There's a number of locations at mosques and up at the train station where we take some of the dislocated civilians.
We also have found, as I already mentioned, out in Habbaniyah a place where approximately 1,500 to 2,000 moved before the conflict actually started. We dropped a lot of pamphlets, a lot of informational-type pamphlets, prior to the attack. Everyone in the town knew that the fight -- that the Iraqi government continued and continued to try to come up with some negotiated settlement. The folks with-inside Fallujah realized that was not going to happen.
Our assessment is that many -- many of the residents moved out to go with friends and relatives at other parts around the country. Whether that was up to Mosul and to Baghdad, up to Ramadi or out to the west or down to the south and southeast, we're not sure. But we have been searching the local towns in proximity to Fallujah to ensure that there is not a humanitarian crisis, and up to this point we have not found pockets of dislocated civilians who have taken refuge in large groups where they need that type of assistance. But we will continue to look. So our assessment is that they went out and they moved out on their own in advance to stay with friends and relatives.
And I'm sorry. I know that was a three-part question, but I can't remember the second part.
Q Casualties among the civilians.
GEN. SATTLER: Casualties among the civilians. We have treated probably somewhere in the area of 25 to 30 who have been injured. I don't have -- we did not have any that have gotten up to me -- that we have actually any civilians that have been killed during the fighting. But once again, we're still moving through the town and there's a number of buildings that are in fact rubbled. But I can honestly say at this point, I know of none that were killed and only a handful that have been treated. We treat those right at our medical facility, and then the Iraqi interim government made ambulances available and doctors available, so there is a procedure for the civilians to be moved into the Iraqi medical system.
MR. WHITMAN: Nick over here.
Q General, Nick Simeone with Voice of America Radio. Are you concerned that insurgents are going to slip back into Fallujah once you move on to other areas of the country and the Iraqis are in control there? And if so, how will you prevent that?
GEN. SATTLER: Well, obviously we were concerned before we conducted or commenced the operation that we knew that we had to not only do the kinetic phase, which we're still in at this point, but once the kinetic phase was completed, the civil affairs, humanitarian assistance and reconstruction phase was critical. Also what is critical is the reestablishment of the Iraqi security forces in the town of Fallujah. This not only means the brave warriors who have fought side by side with us, but a follow-on echelon of Iraqi security forces in the form of Iraqi police so that we can turn civil law over to those who do civil law for a business.
We will not move out too early. We will stay in proximity, as close as necessary, to ensure that the rule of law is in fact maintained after we've reestablished it. We will move out as the Iraqi security structure takes hold. And we will move as far as we possibly can away, but until they are completely prepared and they ask us to leave in total, we will stay at arm's length so that if, in fact, we have to come back into town with a quick reaction force or to shore up any force anywhere in the town, we'll be prepared to do that.
MR. WHITMAN: Let's go over to Craig, and then I think Gregg had one, too.
Q General, Craig Gordon from Newsday. Kind of a follow-up to that question. Again, do you envision any particular timeline for when you think that the Iraqi security forces will be able to take over security inside Fallujah and Marines can effectively move to this arm's length position? And if I can, a second question. You said the town is not quite secure, I believe was your words. I think we were told on Monday that we -- that you folks thought it was 100 percent secure. I don't know if that's just a wording thing or if there actually has been a change in the security posture in the town.
GEN. SATTLER: It's been a long day. Probably the word I should have used is the town is secure. Any time you have ubiquitous presence from north to south, east to west, I would say you'd have to call that town secure, and that's what we have right now. But as far as safe goes, until we get through every house, as I indicated today, down in the south -- we have to ensure that all the weapons -- that those who return unarmed with the hopes of finding weapons, finding IED-making materials, finding the ability or the capability inside the town to go ahead and wreak havoc, to continue to intimidate, we have to ensure that all that's gone, all that's removed.
At the same time we're doing this, we're also purging the town of those who may have stayed behind and those who want to fight to the death, who want to just hide out, lay low, so that they can in fact disrupt the reconstruction and the reestablishment of essential services.
So the town is -- of Fallujah is secure. But we're in that search-and-clear phase, which will make it safe. And as I mentioned, "relatively safe" is the best word. We will then turn that relatively safe town over, over a period of time, to the Iraqi security forces.
There will also be an Iraqi government. We're not going to govern the town. The Iraqi interim government is already leaning forward to ensure that Iraqi leadership in the form of governance will in facts move into Fallujah to assist -- they will be the ones that will direct. They will make the calls as to what sections of the town open. And they will be the ones who will tell us when they feel a sector is relatively secure, so that we can in fact move back to that local security at hands length.
Q General --
MR. WHITMAN: We'll take about two more from here, and then I think you have some reporters there, General, that we want to have some questions.
Greg and then Martha will finish on this --
Q Yeah. I'm Greg Kelly from Fox News. When you start making the solatia payments, I think by the end of this week, how concerned are you that some of that money could wind its way back to insurgents? What safeguards do you have in that regard?
And do you have any information about Margaret Hassan's body actually being found inside Fallujah? Prime Minister Howard said she was found in Fallujah. Is that the case?
GEN. SATTLER: I'll go ahead and answer the solatia payment portion and the reconstruction payments and the remuneration for damages that were incurred. It'll be a very thorough process. It has to be very thorough. You'll have to go to the building, show where the damage was. An assessment will be made so we don't inflate the money to pay for vehicles that have been destroyed or houses that have in fact been destroyed.
For restitution for injury or for death to innocent civilians, that'll follow the exact same criteria. It'll be heavily vetted, and it will be controlled.
There's always the chance that if you pay out payments that either, A, the individual is disingenuous and will take that money and go off and attempt to procure additional materials of war to bring back into the town. But I believe that we have a solid procedure in place that'll be methodical. It'll be thorough, and it'll be done in conjunction or in support, in our case, of the Iraqi government. So that's point one.
I am not aware of any particular bodies that we have found from the enemy side. There are some that we would certainly like to find, some who said they would fight us to the death, and we would -- and if that's their decision, that we would be more justified in accommodating that.
I do not know of any bodies. Therefore, I don't want to speculate on that. But if in fact we find that's true, I'll provide that later.
Q General, Martha Raddatz from ABC. There are reports that a Zarqawi headquarters was located in Fallujah. Can you tell us any detail about what was found in there and also if there was any evidence that he was actually there?
GEN. SATTLER: We have found a number of headquarters, command and control cells. We found a number of ledgers, which we're in the process of exploiting right now, that list individuals, that list fighters from other countries, other parts of the globe, not just immediately surrounding the country of Iraq. I can't go into that because we're in the process of exploiting those.
We would not -- I cannot stand here and tell you that we found the command and control house or building where Zarqawi went ahead and orchestrated and dealt this VBIEDs, his suicide VBIEDs, and the other death and destruction that he has spread throughout the country of Iraq. We will continue to look for that. If in fact we do find it, our intent would be to exploit that information and hopefully turn that into actual intelligence to go ahead and continue to breathe down his neck and bring him to justice.
Those who may have gotten away -- those who left early, the cowards that they are that fired this town up and left those behind to die and moved on -- those individuals will be pursued. We will continue to pursue them. We will continue to follow all leads, and we will stay hot after them until they are, in fact, captured, or possibly that they die in violent military action.
Q There was a report from -- a major made some comments, saying that in one of these houses there were actual letters from Zarqawi to his lieutenants and -- to lieutenants. Can you comment on that since -- and I'm sorry, I don't have his name with me -- a major has already commented on that?
GEN. SATTLER: I think we had two folks speaking at the same time, so we didn't -- this will be the last question. If you could please repeat it, and then we'll turn the attention to the media that are here within the room, please.
Q Okay. Sorry, General Sattler. I was just following up.
A major from the MEF has already commented on some letters that were apparently found, apparently from Zarqawi to his lieutenants. Can you comment on that? Do you know anything about that, as long as he has already gone on the record saying that?
GEN. SATTLER: I'm looking around the room, and the intelligence officer is not here. I get briefed two or three times a day on anything that we pick up or any leads that we might have, and I can honestly say I am not familiar with that. But I can also say that I'm going to check on it as soon as I get back to my office.
MR. WHITMAN: Now we should be able to listen in on questions coming from Baghdad.
Q (Off mike.)
GEN. SATTLER: You know, I know for a fact, at least the briefing that I had -- and I was, of course, out there yesterday, down in that sector -- that there was heavy fighting down there, very heavy fighting. Very well-armed, flak jackets, helmets, not the same type of insurgents we fought further up into the north. The thought was that they had fallen back and that they were continuing to fall back, but that the defenses were oriented towards the south and they were oriented towards the southeast because after our prepatory operations that we did for time, they were convinced that's the way we would come. The fighting I mentioned, where we had the Marine killed and the Iraqi warrior killed and one each wounded, was down in that area.
I do not have -- and I don't want to speculate. I will get that information and bring it up to the next press conference, but I am not aware of that second -- or the second report, keeping in mind they come in at the battalion up to the division before they get up to the MEF. So I do not have that intel report right now.
Q Babak Dehghanpisheh from Newsweek. With the fighting spreading in recent days to other cities, like Mosul in the north and Baqubah, what overall effect do you think this operation has had on the insurgency? I mean, do you think this was sort of a last stand, a major blow to them, or was it really just a matter of, you know, clearing the space out for them?
GEN. SATTLER: Based on some of the records that we've been able -- and ledgers we've been able to uncover, we feel right now that we have, as I mentioned, broken the back of the insurgency and we have taken away this safe haven.
If you're running an organization and you lose your method -- your location and your means for command and control, you lose your lieutenants, which we have taken out of the Zarqawi network over the course of the last almost three months on a very precise basis. But now -- and you also lose the turf where you're operating, the town that you feel comfortable moving about in, where you know your way about, now you're scattered; you're scattered, you've been flushed from your hideout, you have no friends in the area you move into; you must make new contacts. Each and every time we can force these individuals to go to new locations, expand their circle of friends -- if you want to call it that -- to include some that they don't know and they don't trust, they'll bring in rookies, more junior people that will in fact make mistakes. And that's why I mentioned that this has disrupted them, I believe, I personally believe, across the country. This is going to make it very hard for them to operate. And I'm hoping that we'll continue to breathe down their neck, quick turn this tactical intelligence, find them in areas that they're not familiar with where they will in fact be easier to capture or bring to justice.
Q Jackie Spinner with The Washington Post. I was in the eastern part of the city yesterday where there was still some pretty serious fighting going on. How are you keeping the insurgents that are still left in the south from going to other parts of the city that you've already cleared and, you know, taking up position again in those areas of the city?
GEN. SATTLER: Obviously, the curfew is still in place. The only people who are out moving around -- we'll see them walk out with a white flag -- and I'm sure you've seen those -- who will come in to pick up water and food, and then we follow them back to where they're going to make sure they're not taking that water and food back to a number of insurgents who are destitute and running out of both luck and food and water. If they take it back to a family, then we ensure that we provide proper assistance to that family.
The way we have the cordon set and the way we're moving through the town shoulder to shoulder, and with the number of forces -- a combination of U.S. soldiers, U.S. Marines, sailors with the Marines, and the Iraqi security battalions -- that we have a fairly tight -- very tight -- it's never going to be perfect -- but a tight cordon as we move north to south, and we move into these individual blocks where we cordon it off and clear through. So as they move into the house, as the individual breaks, they go into these security sectors where they either are captured or they're taken under fire.
So it is very, very methodical. There are sectors which are blocked down, and as they clear the building, we cover all those potential escape routes so that those who would intend to get up, hook in behind us possibly, or go into areas that have already been cleared, that we ensure as best we possibly can that we've got those shut down. And having the curfew in place obviously helps that. If you're out there and you're running from building to building and you're not one of us, you're probably up to something nefarious.
MR. WHITMAN: We have time for one more question.
Q Robert Worth, The New York Times. Was there still -- we heard some artillery today. Are there airstrikes and artillery still firing on positions in the southern part of the city where insurgents remain?
GEN. SATTLER: Yeah. Approximately four days ago we were averaging somewhere along 50 precision -- and I stress the word "precision" -- about 50 precision airstrikes a day, and we were firing somewhere along the lines of 15 to 20 artillery missions a day. Some of those are outlying, outside the town, where there are mortar positions set up and rocket positions who were taking fire either on this camp or on positions with -- inside the city. Today we had three air strikes -- three precision-guided munition air strikes today -- and we did not fire -- the artillery fired today did not fire into the town for troops in contact; it fired at what we call points of origin for indirect fire that -- either mortars or rockets that the enemy might use. So that has really gone way down.
And we have one more question in the back there, please.
Q (In Arabic.)
INTERPRETER: Sir, we were heard about -- there's a battle happening tonight, and where would be the position of these battles, and would it be there are more battles going on tonight?
GEN. SATTLER: If I understand the question is, are there battles going on tonight, and if there are, where are these battles taking place?
INTERPRETER: (Off mike.)
GEN. SATTLER: Okay. I apologize if I butchered it.
INTERPRETER: (Off mike.)
GEN. SATTLER: I am not sure there's a battle out there tonight. The tactic that the enemy has been using is at nighttime the enemy tries to go to ground and hide. And we have found most of our contact, as the sun comes up, is we press them during the daytime. Now, we have no intention of letting the enemy sleep at night because our technology permits us to own the night. Therefore, we will continue to search and clear through the night, but there are no -- right before I came up, there are no troops in contact at this time. And there is no fighting. But that's not to say that the next house that we enter that we could not -- those Marines, soldiers or sailors would find themselves in a very short and violent act.
Okay, thank you very much, everyone. I appreciate your patience. And thank you for your professional questions out here.
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