Newsmaker: General Pace
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JIM LEHRER: Now, an update, and our own briefing on the war from Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
GEN. PETER PACE: Thank you, Jim, good to be with you.
JIM LEHRER: First on this tragic incident near Najaf, where the thirteen people were in the van, the U.S. soldiers shot seven women and children were killed. What can you tell us about that?
GEN. PETER PACE: It really is sad, Jim. These are first reports, so we’ll get more clarity as the days go on. But as I understand it, what happened was a vehicle was approaching the checkpoint that was ordered to stop, it did not stop. The guards fired the warning shots toward the vehicle, the vehicle still did not stop. They then fired into the engine of the vehicle, trying to make it stop, it still didn’t stop, so they ended up firing into the vehicle itself and as you reported, first reports are seven dead.
JIM LEHRER: Now, is this in keeping with the current rules of engagement? Did the soldiers do the right thing?
GEN. PETER PACE: They absolutely did the right thing; they tried to warn the vehicle to stop, it did not stop. And it was unusual that that vehicle would be full of only women and that the driver was a woman. So we need to find out why it was that they were acting the way they did.
JIM LEHRER: Now, have the rules of engagement on issues like this changed since the first combat began and there were incidents involving civilians or at least people posing as civilians, it turned out to be combatants, et cetera?
GEN. PETER PACE: No, the rules of engagement have been consistent. Our soldiers on the ground have an absolute right to defend themselves. They will always — if they can try — to find a way to stop a vehicle like that without having to actually fire at it. But in the final analysis, when their lives are threatened and of course they thought they were, they will shoot.
JIM LEHRER: In other words, this is not a change from the day that this war began twelve days ago? In other words, those soldiers if there had been complete nonresistance from the Iraqi people and the Iraqi military up to this point, they would still have acted the way they did?
GEN. PETER PACE: I think it’s fair to say that the environment you’re in certainly will impact on how you perceive the threat. So because the Iraqi death squads have been pretending to surrender, because they’ve been dressing in civilian clothes, because they have hidden in hospitals, because they’ve done many, many things that are in fact war crimes, certainly the U.S. soldiers are going to be more aware, and more concerned about vehicles that approach them like that. So you can’t just look at it in isolation. Clearly the environment does impact your perception of the threat.
JIM LEHRER: Well, that was the point I was trying to get. Because of all these other things that, let’s face it, people are being a little more careful than they would have been otherwise, that’s what I’m trying to get at.
GEN. PETER PACE: That’s fair; and the rules have not changed. But the perception of the environment in which you’re operating, certainly are impacted when the other side is creating as many war crimes as they have.
JIM LEHRER: Gen. Wallace, the commander of ground troops over there, caused quite a dustup when he said that the, that he and others at command had miscalculated or the expectations about civilian and military resistance, they were wrong about it. Do you agree with him on that, that this has been slightly different than you all had expected at that level?
GEN. PETER PACE: I haven’t seen or read Gen. Wallace’ comments. I will simply speak for myself.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
GEN. PETER PACE: The thing that has surprised me individually is the number of war crimes that the Iraqi regime has already committed using hospitals for operational headquarters — putting weapons into schools; dressing in civilian clothes; using women and children as shields on the battlefield — all of those things — and then preventing the troops that want to surrender from surrendering by literally having a rifle pointed at the back of their heads and when they try to surrender, shooting them. The woman that was killed on the bridge today, or yesterday, over there, all she was trying to do was to get out of the way of the fleet; they shot her in the back. It’s criminal. And it’s disgusting.
JIM LEHRER: Well, you were involved as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in all the planning that went into this. You did not expect, or speaking for yourself now, you did not expect this kind of conduct from the Iraqis?
GEN. PETER PACE: Certainly knew they were capable of brutality. They have gassed their neighbors, they have gassed their own people. After the 1991 war, they literally killed thousands of Shia just because the Shia were trying to become a free people and live their own lives the way they want to. So we have seen this kind of brutality. What surprised me, quite honestly, was that inside the first couple of days of this war, they began to create these kinds of situations where they actually did things that are war crimes.
JIM LEHRER: That kind of thing is going to lead, of course we don’t know, as you say, we don’t know the details of what happened today with the women and children in the van. But let’s assume they were innocents. They’re going to be more incidents like that because of this earlier conduct, is that correct?
GEN. PETER PACE: I don’t know that there will be more incident or not. Certainly the soldiers on the ground will be very keenly aware of the people coming toward them. If they’re wearing civilian clothes, they will not assume that those are really civilians. If they’re driving a vehicle they will not assume that that vehicle is a friendly vehicle. They’re going to be very careful, as they should be, to protect themselves and their comrades on the battlefield.
JIM LEHRER: Your Pentagon colleagues today, reported some of it just now, have said that the coalition bombing has really made a difference in terms of degrading or really hurting the ability of the republican guards around Baghdad to fight. Can you give us a feel for the extent of this degrading — this destruction?
GEN. PETER PACE: Well, coalition aircraft have been in the air for the last eleven days. They have had now over a thousand airplanes over Iraq every day. They’ve been dropping bombs initially on regime command control and more recently focusing on the combat divisions. The division that’s in and around al Kut has been, the Iraqi division near al Kut has been badly damaged. The Medina Division, which is near Karbala, has been badly damaged. The Nebakanezer Division, which we’re told is moving some of its forces down South to help fill some of the holes, is being badly damaged. We are going to continue to drop weapons on these units until they either surrender or until they are destroyed.
JIM LEHRER: So you’re going to try to destroy them from the air before you take them on on the ground, is that the plan?
GEN. PETER PACE: Actually, there will be a combination of ground maneuver and air bombardment. One complements the other. What we’d like to them to do is to surrender. These thugs in the regime that controls that country are not worth dying for, we’d much rather have them surrender and become part of a free Iraq.
JIM LEHRER: But these are the toughest soldiers Saddam has, are they not? In other words in the military, I’m not talking about paramilitary now, but the professional military within the Iraqi forces, these are the toughest guys, right?
GEN. PETER PACE: The Republican Guard and the special Republican Guards are in fact the regime’s toughest soldiers and they are dying in scores right now.
JIM LEHRER: But they have yet to be taken on in, on an infantry level, have they? Is it mostly air attacks up until now?
GEN. PETER PACE: We have had some engagements, not major battles, but for the lieutenant and sergeant on the ground it’s been a major battle,. In those engagements we have destroyed them readily. But again, that’s because we’ve got great lieutenants and captains and sergeants and lance corporations making wonderful decisions doing what we’ve trained them to do.
JIM LEHRER: So far, what has, what have our captains and lieutenants and sergeants picked up in terms of the ability and the willingness of the Republican Guards to fight back?
GEN. PETER PACE: I haven’t had the pleasure of talking to our guys, Jim, so I can’t report firsthand. And I don’t know what our tactical level lessons learned are. But from the strategic level sitting back here in the comfort of Washington D.C. watching our guys with pride, our forces’ fighting ability, our ability to use both ground maneuver and air power have been stunning.
JIM LEHRER: But have the Republican Guards any of them surrendered in any groups in large numbers yet?
GEN. PETER PACE: I’m not sure how many of the Republican Guard; we have just under 5,000 enemy prisoners of war right now. How many of those are Republican Guard I don’t know.
JIM LEHRER: Are you expecting Republican Guards to surrender? Is that part of the plan, or are you prepared to kill every one of them if you have to?
GEN. PETER PACE: We would like them to surrender. It’s their choice. If they fight, they will die. If they surrender, they can have the opportunity to participate in rebuilding a free Iraq, an Iraq that is not a threat to Americans, an Iraq that does not have weapons of mass destruction, an Iraq that is governed by its own people, uses its own resources for the betterment of their own people. So I would say the soldier who are in the Republican Guards right now, you have a choice. You can surrender and be part of the future or you can die in place.
JIM LEHRER: Are the soldiers and the marines on the ground ready for a major attack on Baghdad, our folks?
GEN. PETER PACE: Ready, but I will not predict when. The ground commanders over there, Gen. Franks and his commanders, will pick the time and place of our choosing.
JIM LEHRER: Gen. Franks will make that decision?
GEN. PETER PACE: Yes, he will.
JIM LEHRER: No input from you and Gen. Myers and Secretary Rumsfeld back here?
GEN. PETER PACE: There is always discussion. But we have a wonderful field commander in Gen. Tom Franks, all his commanders below him are doing a magnificent job; they’ll know when the right time to go is. Of course Tom will consult with the secretary andor the president, but will it be Tom’s battlefield judgment when the time is.
JIM LEHRER: Much has been made, there has been some charges in fact that, or allegations or whatever you want to call them, that Secretary Rumsfeld is actually running this war from back here in Washington. From your perspective, is that true?
GEN. PETER PACE: No. The rumors on that are absolutely incredible. I have had the great pleasure of serving the vice chairman now since October of 2001. I’ve been in literally hundreds of meetings, dozens and dozens of those with Tom Franks. Tom has been coming to and from Washington for the last several months. The planning has been done by all the commanders: the air commander, the navy commander, the army commander, and marine commander, all feeding their ideas and thoughts to Tom Franks; he then bringing that forward. This is very much a military planned event, rightfully so, briefed to and approved by our civilian leaders.
JIM LEHRER: Secretary Rumsfeld always mentions your name when he talks about the plan, he says Gen. Myers, Gen. Pace, and others signed off on the plan. Is that literally true, you signed off on it, you think this a good plan, you thought so and you still think so?
GEN. PETER PACE: I didn’t sign anything.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Right.
GEN. PETER PACE: I think it’s a very, very good plan, and I have given my opinions many, many times to the civilian leadership. I support this plan. It’s a brilliant plan in both its simplicity and its flexibility. And Gen. Franks had a plan that would allow us, if there was early capitulation on the part of the Iraqis, would have allowed us to not have to destroy a large portion of that country. It is flexible enough to handle everything up to the most devastating attacks that we may have to conduct.
But the scope of the operations is all within the original plan, and the flexibility has been demonstrated right from the beginning. When Gen. Franks saw that the oil fields down South might be destroyed as the oil fields were in Kuwait, he quickly sent the ground forces in there and was able to secure over 1,000 oil wells, maybe 80 percent of the Iraqi people’s wealth that’s in the ground he was able to secure for them for their future. And there’s many, many other examples of the plan being set in motion and then circumstances on the ground providing opportunities, like the night that we got the great intelligence on where we thought Saddam was and the very, very specific precise attack.
Since that time, although I don’t know exactly where Saddam is, he has not been seen alive anyplace. There’s been some tapes, but there’s been no Saddam. So where is he? He’s either dead or he’s injured or he’s afraid to come all because his own soldiers will kill him, or he’s afraid to come out because his people will kill him — but no Saddam.
JIM LEHRER: Tory Clark also said that the families of the leaders, I assume, Saddam Hussein’s families too, are trying to leave the country or are leaving the country. Where are they going, how can they get out?
GEN. PETER PACE: We’ve seen reports of that. It doesn’t surprise me that a group of elite thugs like the people who rule that country would in the last analysis want to save their own hides and try to get out of the country. That’s what we understand some of them are trying to do now. How exactly they would leave I don’t know. I do know we will continue to look for them.
JIM LEHRER: Are we trying to smoke him out? Everybody is now talking, Tory Clark — you just said the same thing, hey, if you’re there, let us see you, are we seeing that?
GEN. PETER PACE: No, not at all. I’m just saying as one person that it was a great strike on the compound we thought he was and we haven’t seen him since.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think he’s dead?
GEN. PETER PACE: I don’t know. I do know he’s not visible.
JIM LEHRER: Why don’t we know things like that?
GEN. PETER PACE: Well, we haven’t had a chance to sift through the rubble yet.
JIM LEHRER: But in other words intelligence was so good that we went in there with a precision bombing, but we haven’t had… the intelligence since then is not that good? I’m just curious as to why we don’t know more about the whereabouts or even the state of health of Saddam Hussein.
GEN. PETER PACE: What we knew, Jim, going into that attack, was that based on several sources of intelligence that it was highly likely that Saddam was in the place that we bombed. Since that time, the sources that indicated to us that he was alive, and there are various ways, as you know, of collecting intelligence, none of those sources any more show us that he is still alive. It doesn’t mean he’s dead. But he’s not visible publicly, and he’s not been seen or reported to have been seen by anybody.
JIM LEHRER: The coalition still trying to keep the television operation down, so even if he is, if he does happen to be alive, he can’t talk to the Iraqi people?
GEN. PETER PACE: Part of command and control for the Iraqi military is their television system. So that is a valid military target. We have in fact been partially successful in taking the Iraqi television off the air, as we have been with some of their telephone systems and the like. But they have some mobile capabilities that will continue to go after.
JIM LEHRER: They keep coming back, they go off the air for three hours, then they come back. Is that a big deal, that’s what I guess I’m really asking, to keep the leadership of Iraq, to make it impossible for them to talk to their people on television?
GEN. PETER PACE: It’s a slice of what you want to accomplish. You want to make sure that from a command and control standpoint, that the leadership of the country cannot give orders to the armed forces. So from a military standpoint the reason to have him off the television is to make sure that he cannot communicate orders to his troops, if he in fact he can still give orders.
JIM LEHRER: Gen. Franks said in his briefing over the weekend that there is no sign that anybody is really giving out any controls, any orders from the top in Iraq. What does he mean by that?
GEN. PETER PACE: He means that, I don know what — I’ll tell you what I think he means.
JIM LEHRER: You got it.
GEN. PETER PACE: It means that as we watch the actions of the units, the Iraqi units on the battlefield, as we pay attention to our intelligence systems, that there is no evidence that there is senior leadership giving guidance to the field and there’s no evidence of coordinated actions on the battlefield by the various units. So they are getting destroyed in place without much leadership from above.
JIM LEHRER: Gen. Pace, thank you very much for being with us tonight.
GEN. PETER PACE: Jim, thank you for your time.