Secretary Geoff Hoon has said the military campaign
in Iraq is proceeding 'according to our strategic planning'.
Mr Hoon made the comments in his opening statement at
a Government press briefing on operations in the Gulf.
of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon:
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen. I would like to give
you a brief update on the military campaign. Could I
begin by paying tribute to the British and American
Servicemen who have lost their lives over the past few
days, whether through tragic accidents or as a result
of enemy action. I offer our deepest sympathy to their
families at this very difficult time.
will have seen the reports this morning that two British
soldiers are missing. Every effort is being made to
find them. I also want to pay tribute to the ITN journalist,
Terry Lloyd, who lost his life while doing his job in
a very dangerous region of Iraq.
to the military action, it is worth noting that before
the campaign actually began, most people were predicting
an initial phase of air strikes lasting for days, if
not weeks, before any ground operations. In fact the
start of the land operations, including 3 Commando Brigades
assault on the Al Faw Peninsula, was just as significant
to the early part of the campaign as the use of air
I put the progress of the campaign into context. Over
the weekend we have seen a consolidation of early gains
on the ground and a significant push northwards, complemented
by a continuation of precisely targeted air and cruise
missile strikes. Southern Iraq is broadly under the
control of coalition forces and the US Armys V
Corps and the First Marine Expeditionary Force have
continued north at a steady rate of progress. We should
not under-estimate the huge logistical effort required
to support this. The speed of the advance will have
to take into account the demands of resupply and sustainment.
are, as expected, continuing pockets of resistance.
Although there have been a significant number of surrenders,
some regular troops remain loyal to their commanders,
if not to their government. But on the whole what we
are seeing is the activity of relatively small numbers
of desperate men, members of the security organisations
or militias most closely associated with the regime,
such as the Fedayeen Saddam, who believe that they have
nothing to lose. The difficulty of dealing with such
resistance should not be under-estimated, but it does
not alter the fact that Saddam Husseins writ no
longer runs in large parts of the country.
securing of southern Iraq is of considerable strategic
importance as it accounts for a significant proportion
of Iraqs demographic and economic resources. Umm
Qasr is a city similar to Southampton and the countrys
major port. The southern oilfields and their infrastructure
are crucial to the economic future of Iraq and to the
welfare of its people. One of the coalitions major
concerns prior to the campaign was the risk that Saddam
Hussein might choose to destroy those fields by rigging
the oilfields for demolition. Such sabotage would not
have stopped coalition forces, but it would have threatened
an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe, crippling
Iraqs economy for years to come. Achieving our
objective of securing the oilfields and infrastructure
virtually intact is a significant early success.
are committed to the future of Iraq and to returning
its governance and resources to the Iraqi people. That
is why we want to avoid any unnecessary loss of life
or destruction of infrastructure. That is why we apply
so much care to the targeting process. I can personally
vouch for the amount of time and effort that is devoted
first use of the Royal Air Forces newest weapon
Storm Shadow makes a significant difference
to our options. Storm Shadow is a deep penetrating precision
guided weapon, it enables us to attack well protected
high value targets which could previously only be destroyed
by using massive force, carrying the risk, as it would
have been, of high numbers of civilian casualties and
damage to civilian infrastructure. Storm Shadows
precision greatly reduces this risk. Early indications
are that storm shadows use has been highly successful.
We hope to provide a more detailed briefing on storm
shadow in the near future.
the meantime we are seeking to follow up the coalitions
early successes, although our immediate priority must
be the continued
prosecution of the military campaign until the regime
has been defeated and removed. We are also making plans
to meet any urgent humanitarian needs in those areas
under coalition control. One key element to this is
the opening of the port of Umm Qasr to shipping. This
in turn means that we need to sweep the Khawr waterway
for mines. The Royal Navys Mine Countermeasures
Task Group, which includes mine clearance divers, has
begun this difficult task. Owing to the extent of Iraqi
mine laying, this may take a number of days.
the meantime the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Sir Galahad
is being loaded with humanitarian supplies. We are also
looking at the
possibility of delivering any urgent assistance by land
or air. In the slightly longer term the creation of
a secure environment should make it possible for international
and non-governmental organisations to deliver assistance.
campaign is proceeding according to our strategic planning.
As I said to the House of Commons last Thursday, I have
never been one of those who predicted a quick and easy
victory, and I am not intending to join that group now.
But the surge of Iraqi propaganda in the last day or
two, and what appears to be the disgusting treatment
and exploitation of American prisoners of war, are the
actions of a desperate regime that knows its time is
coming to an end.
Can I ask about the next phase of the war. British and
American forces havent entered Basrah, and of
course are still some way from Baghdad. What happens
when we get to Baghdad?
I dont want to anticipate that. I am not suggesting
that there is a strict timetable. I have indicated that
there may well be resistance,
even from some of the regular forces under Iraqi control.
But certainly the progress has been good, it is consistent
with our plan, and as we approach Baghdad clearly the
options available will be looked at carefully.
If I could just pursue that point. Many watching the
progress of this war fear that things are about to get
much, much worse, that Saddam is preparing for a last
stand outside Baghdad. Are you preparing the forces
and the country for that eventuality? And if I could
just pursue your thoughts on prisoners of war as well.
Disgusting though some people may find those pictures,
they may also see pictures of surrendering Iraqi prisoners
of war and want to know what the distinction is.
As far as a last stand is concerned, I think my concern,
as I have indicated in relation to Basrah for example,
is the use of regular
forces, militias, basically some of Saddam Husseins
thugs who in previous years have been responsible for
terrorising and intimidating the Iraqi people. It is
those kinds of people that are resisting. By and large
the regular forces around Basrah for example withdrew,
and our concern obviously is not to expose our regular
forces to the kinds of terrorist activities that some
of those groups could carry out. But that will be a
judgment made by the military leadership on the ground
and advising us as to the best way forward. As far as
prisoners of wars are concerned, it seems to me that
there is an enormous difference, and I think one recognised
in the Geneva Convention, between factual photographs
very often of the backs of prisoners surrendering, as
against the appalling barbaric behaviour of Iraqi forces
dealing with those American prisoners, and legally it
seems to me, as well as morally, quite different to
report factually that there are prisoners being surrendered,
as against the kind of treatment that we saw of those
young men and women at the hands of the Iraqis.
Two quick questions. One is can you give us a figure
on the number of prisoners that you think have been
taken on either side? And secondly, following this mornings
broadcast, do you now accept that Saddam Hussein is
at the very least alive and operating in Iraq?
I dont think actually it is sensible at this stage
to talk about numbers of prisoners. We are certainly
aware of the numbers of
coalition forces missing. Obviously in one sense we
hope that they are prisoners rather than they are fatalities,
but it is a concern that we continue to investigate.
As far as Iraqi prisoners of war is concerned, there
is a very different picture, because many of those forces
who surrendered around Basrah actually surrendered following
large numbers of those regular army members simply leaving
the battlefield and going home, so actually those that
were taken prisoner may well be a small number of the
total simply because the Iraqi commanding officer found
himself in a position of not being able to command his
own forces since they had abandoned the fight, and that
is a picture I think which has been seen consistently
in many part of the regular Armed Forces. But I am not
under-estimating the level of resistance that might
be put up by Republican Guard troops for example. As
far as the pictures this morning are concerned, obviously
analysis continues. What I can say straight away is
that those pictures were not live and therefore clearly
there is still the possibility of Saddam Husseins
people issuing tape recording. We are well aware that
he spent many hours recently tape recording various
messages, so I think we have to do a little more analysis
of what was actually said to see whether or not that
was in fact Saddam Hussein.
What do you say to the claim from Iraq over the weekend
that they would let the coalition forces take a walk
in the desert, but when it came to the cities that would
be a different matter?
We have anticipated for some time the idea that there
might be a defence with the regular forces of the towns
and cities and we have no intention of falling into
that particular trap. Equally I recognise at some stage
Baghdad will have to be taken, and that is the kind
of military judgment that we will make when the time
is right, and we are not yet there.
To what extent does the seizure of the Euphrates bridges
in the south compensate for the military disadvantage
of not being able to open a second front with whatever
it was, the 104th Mechanised Infantry in the north?
And secondly, how do we explain away the failure of
the friendly fire protection of the Tornado which came
down? Can that be rectified or was it just bad luck?
Well as far as the bridges are concerned, they are a
key element in the ability of forces to advance north,
those bridges have been secured, and that advance continues.
As far as the technical failure is concerned, I have
been at pains on many occasions in recent months to
emphasise to Members of the House of Commons that there
is no single technological solution to the problem of
friendly fire, I wish there were. We did all that we
could to equip those Tornado aircraft with the very
latest equipment, equipment that is actually available
to American aircraft as well, but still we need to look
again at the procedures, both our procedures and obviously
the procedures available to those operating the missile
batteries to make sure that those two systems operate
effectively together, and that work is under way as
a matter of some urgency.
You seemed to imply at one point there that the failure
was in the aircraft, not in the patriot missile?
No I wasnt implying that at all, but clearly there
are separate procedures that govern the operation both
of the missile battery and of the aircraft. What we
need to ensure is that those two procedures work effectively
together in a way that they clearly did not the other
Can you tell me why we havent seen pictures of
the cheering happy civilians that the Prime Minister
led us to believe we were going to see as soon as our
liberating forces went into their towns and villages?
Well there have been some such pictures and there are
pictures in Umm Qasr which I have certainly seen on
the television, and one of the issues related to Basrah
for example, we know full well that the militia are
holed up in Basrah, they have machine gun positions,
they are moving some of the local population out of
their homes and they are preparing to intimidate in
the way that they have done in the past local people.
These people, you have got to remember, have had years
of intimidation and terror from these same organisations
and they are not likely going to risk taking heavily
armed people on when actually they are ordinary civilians.
fall into the trap of getting into street fighting
in Baghdad, but are you going to have to rethink your
strategy towards the towns in the south, you have been
by and large by-passing them rather than capturing them.
Is it now time for you to take more full control of
them in order to eliminate the pockets of resistance
you have been talking about?
What I said about the south was that those towns and
cities have no military strategic significance, and
clearly ultimately they will have to be liberated, but
I think it is best to be patient about the way in which
we deal with that, rather than risking regular forces
to in effect clean up those pockets of resistance when
it is not militarily necessary to do so in the short
There are reports that the British commandos fighting
have come under fire from Iranian military
and that the Iranian Interior Minister has said that
if there are any more violations of Iranian air space,
Iran will react. Do you have any comments?
The reports certainly of missiles going into Iranian
air space I am fairly confident now were Iraqi missiles
and not coalition missiles.
There is no reason to suspect that any of our missiles
have strayed into Iranian air space. I am not aware
of any more recent reports of firing.
Again I am not aware of those.
Are you worried
enthusiastic for this war. Given
that we are now seeing prisoners of war, casualties,
friendly fire, that peoples appetite for it will
Can I put it this way, I dont believe that people
have an appetite for war. People recognise that we had
to take very difficult decisions to deal with a threatening
situation, and clearly most British people, and certainly
most people in the Ministry of Defence, want this over
as quickly as possible, but at the same time recognising
that there is a job to be done and that that job may
take time, consistent with our military planning. I
actually believe that the population when they see,
as they are doing hour by hour, would see just how difficult
that task can be, that this is real military action,
this is not some game, some computer game, that is being
played out before their eyes, there are real risks affecting
individual men and women who courageously are fighting
for this countrys best interests.
You paid tribute to Terry Lloyd, can you confirm that
he was killed by British forces or by American forces,
and if so would you express regret or even apologise
for his death?
I cant confirm that. He was clearly operating
in a very dangerous part of Iraq, operating beyond the
frontline of British forces. He was out to get his story,
as he has done on many previous occasions, and one point
that I did make yesterday in an interview with ITN was
the fact that he, above all else, was responsible for
exposing the appalling treatment of people at al-Habjah
and courageously did it in that way at that time. So
I have great respect for the work that he has done in
the past and paid proper tribute to that.
You think that the broadcast of Saddam was not live,
but he did, as I understand it, refer to contemporary
events. So are you still saying there is a possibility
that he may in fact be dead? And there are reports that
some chemical weapons factory has been discovered, do
you attach any credibility to those?
The contemporary events referred to were not, and I
am only in the same position that you are, watching
the broadcast and listening to the simultaneous interpretation,
the contemporary events did not appear to me to be unambiguously
contemporary, if I can put it that way, and had he have
wanted to indicate that this was live, or was recent,
there were many events that he could have referred to
which he clearly did not, so that is why we are continuing
to analyse the situation.
So you think he may be dead?
I do not think it makes a great difference to our military
campaign whether he is alive or dead, that campaign
will continue along the lines that we had previously
planned As far as the suggestions that a chemical factory
has been discovered, that is certainly being currently
investigated and I will hope to have some answers to
that in due course.
What are the political risks to you, the Prime Minister
and the government if there is even the perception amongst
the public that this
war is not going well?
The war is going well, I have indicated it is going
according to the plan, and indeed I think that within
what, 3 days of real military
operations beginning, the idea that somehow people are
losing confidence or heart is nonsense. You cannot expect
after a short period of military conflict to have all
of the results which you are by implication suggesting
are necessary. This is a difficult demanding complex
sophisticated military operation; it is not, I warned
the other day, not going to be over in a matter of days.
You say you are looking again at the procedures designed
to stop any repeat of the Tornado being shot down by
the patriot missile. Are the Tornado missions being
restricted while you look at those procedures, or are
they flying under greater risk? And how confident are
you that we will not see any repeat of such an incident?
We had done all that we thought necessary beforehand
to both equip our aircraft and ensure that the people
involved follow the necessary procedures to avoid precisely
this kind of tragedy, but certainly further efforts
have been made to review and to ensure that those complementary
procedures operate effectively. But as I indicated,
no-one can give you that 100% guarantee because it is
not simply a question of technology, it is a question
of how individuals in very difficult situations react
to threatening events.
With regard to contacts with leading members of the
Iraqi leadership, the Republican Guard army, can you
confirm whether those contacts are continuing or they
have slowed up in the last 2 days?
There certainly were contacts before the surrenders
around Basrah and I think you can take it from me that
similar sorts of efforts are being made to avoid unnecessary
bloodshed. And part of our information campaign was
designed to show to ordinary Iraqi soldiers that they
need have no fear of surrender to coalition forces,
but they perhaps had much greater fear of Saddam Hussein
and his regime. And it seems to me particularly that
ordinary Iraqi soldiers who themselves and their families
will have been threatened and intimidated by elements
of the regime, and that may continue even now, they
have nothing to lose by surrender and everything to
gain for the future of their country.
I would like to go back to this spectator chemical plant.
If this is proved, are you going to use for this task
for this investigation the
special chemical unit serving in Kuwait?
We certainly know that the expertise is there and available
and we are very grateful for that. I think at this stage
we should not get too far ahead of ourselves. I have
seen the suggestions, they are being properly investigated,
we have the equipment to check whether this is a chemical
plant, but I think for the moment it is better to remain
cautious because the case is not yet proved.
If you are now spread out over such a huge area, are
you giving any thought to possible reinforcements or
replacements, particularly in logistics and infantry?
There are other forces that in time will be available.
That is not an issue for today, we are only a few days
into the military campaign,
clearly we do have to think through the implications
as far as reinforcement, I mentioned resupply already,
but that is not a pressing
or immediate problem.
prisoners, your request for fair just treatment
of coalition prisoners of war. Has that been compromised
do you think by the treatment of prisoners, say, in
I dont believe that it is and we expect the military
forces in Iraq to observe precisely the terms of the
Geneva Convention with regard to military prisoners,
and I have no hesitation in condemning any behaviour
that departs from those standards.
It seems some of the American POWs may have been men
and women who were on the supply forces behind the advancing
soldiers and they were caught in an ambush from behind.
Has this incident caused the US and Britain to reconsider
their overall ground strategy in any way?
I think certainly we have got to recognise that it is
not simply the frontline that are vulnerable, which
might have been the traditional way of viewing risk
in this kind of conflict, where there is such a fast
moving advance then as we have seen, there are risks
that those behind the frontline will face, and certainly
we need to adjust our force protection to take account
of those risks and to take account of the way in which
the enemy is operating.
We understand that the coalition are anxious to achieve
their military aims by inflicting minimum casualties
where they can. It is reported that allied troops have
been ordered not to open fire first unless fired upon.
Are you confident that the rules of engagement we have
got are robust enough given the resistance we are coming
up against, or does that need reviewing?
Can I say that your premise doesnt entirely accord
with the rules of engagement. People are entitled to
take robust action to defend
themselves, and since I personally approved those rules
of engagement, I assure you that our people are not
put in any risk by that and they are entitled to properly
defend themselves in the way that they have always done.
If it does take several days to clear the passage to
take in humanitarian aid, surely that is a set-back
on original plans to get aid
in, and how are you dealing with the imminent humanitarian
crisis in Basrah? And secondly, if Saddam Hussein is
dead, how many members of his regime would you want
to kill to end this war, when you define that you are
victorious if he is actually dead already?
Well as far as aid is concerned, there was no fixed
timetable for the delivery of aid. I am not going to
allow ships into a dangerous port area whilst there
is still fighting going on, nor are we going to take
ships into a waterway that has been heavily mined. Work
therefore has to be done to ensure the safety and security
of those ships in order that they can deliver humanitarian
aid, and I dont think anyone should be at all
surprised about that. But certainly work is under way
loading Sir Galahad and making other stores and
supplies available whenever we judge it is safe for
the delivery of that food and other equipment. On your
second question, to be honest I dont think it
is helpful to speculate at this stage. We clearly have
to deal with the leadership, we have to see that leadership
destroyed and that is absolutely essential to our campaign.
What can you tell us about any Iraqi air activity? Has
any aircraft got up, have they challenged any of our
aircraft, have they fled, have they all been bombed,
what is the situation?
We have not seen any Iraqi aircraft flying so far.
of Defence is not responsible for the content or availability
of external websites.