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U.S. Central Command Web site
Confronting Iraq Special Report
Confronting Iraq Discussion Transcripts
Talk: World Message Boards
Live Online Transcripts

NEW! Subscribe to the daily Confronting Iraq or weekly Live Online E-Mail Newsletters and receive highlights and breaking news event alerts in your mailbox.


Confronting Iraq: U.S. Central Command
With SGM Lewis Matson
U.S. Central Command Spokesman

Thursday, March 20, 2003; 8 p.m. ET

U.S. Central Command spokesman SGM Lewis Matson was online to discuss Iraq, the military operation in the region and Central Command’s role the campaign.

Headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) is one of nine Unified Combatant Commands assigned operational control of U.S. combat forces.

A Transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.



SGM Lewis Matson: Good evening, my name is Sgt. Maj. Lewis Matson, at U.S. Central Command. Able to take your questions from here at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.


Jacksonville, Fla.: I keep hearing that the U.S. is telling Iraqi units to surrender through leaflets and other means. What other means are we conveying this and other messages to the Iraqi military?

SGM Lewis Matson: Leaflets -- this is a proven effective method for communicating military to military, and military to civilian. It worked in the Gulf War. The Iraqis took our leaflets and came out clutching them.
Bottom line -- this is our last best effort at avoiding needless death and destruction.
Other means? -- many. That I can talk of -- Commando Solo -- we're broadcasting all over Iraq -- news, music, ....capitulation means.


Arlington, Va.: We have heard a lot lately about a forthcoming "shock and awe" campaign. How do you feel about this term?

SGM Lewis Matson: Shock and awe --
We have a plan. We're executing. The intention is to execute first things first, and above all, minimize impacts on all involved. Beyond that...wait and see.


Brisbane, Queensland, Australia: Are all the SAS boys on the ground in Iraq and are they doing the job well? How would you compare them to U.S. special forces troops?

SGM Lewis Matson: Australia -- glad to have you all aboard. We're honored to have the Brits, Aussies along with us -- everyone needs to remember it was the Brits especially who held Germany off for fours years before the U.S. really entered the war. Always glad to have the Aussies in the fight.


Alexandria, Va.: Is Turkey's decision to not allow ground troops a significant problem or simply an inconvenience?

SGM Lewis Matson: This is a question for the State Department. We have a large Coalition involved at this time -- 30 countries.

Backing up for a minute -- my limits -- U.S. Central Command and our 25 countries. We have several operations ongoing. We are serious about the war on terrorism.


Washington, D.C.: What is the press getting wrong so far?

SGM Lewis Matson: Press getting it wrong -- the intention on the part of the Secretary of Defense is to embedded media. Right now I would say this is a perfect concept that will have some problems. We have 600 media embedded -- you and everyone around the world will get the story from the ground -- that is the way it should be.
Obviously we have to protect the operation. We'll see how this goes, learn from it, adjust fire. but I think we're all agreed having the journalists there is terrific.


Los Angeles, Calif.: Hello,

The press conference this morning that Rumsfeld gave was interesting -- he spent a lot of time encouraging Iraqi officials and military personnel to disobey Saddam's orders.

Hypothetically, if I were a general in Saddam's army, and if I decided that yes, that would be the right thing to do, disobey Saddam's orders- then what exactly is my recourse? If I were to disobey his orders, I would probably be shot on the spot, and no telling what would happen to my family.

Was Rumsfeld serious when he suggested this, or is this some kind of distraction strategy? Does the U.S. have some kind of contingency plan to help anyone who would actually do this?

Thank you for taking my question.

SGM Lewis Matson: We've identified their courses of action. Our Leaflets specifically tell them how to ensure we do not take them out. They are to align their vehicles in a square and place themselves in formation. This was done by at least one Iraqi unit in the Gulf War -- they know how to do it.


Washington, D.C.: How difficult is it to deal with the press in this situation? I can only imagine the give and take of military information is a difficult one to regulate.

SGM Lewis Matson: As one American, I can say I think it is tremendous -- there is no question as to what we are doing. 600 media embedded. Foreign media embedded. Arab media embedded. This is the way it should be done. No questions as to what happened and how we proceeded. Bottom line for Americans -- we are not conquerors, we are not the legions or thugs many make us out to be. We go in as liberators...and then come back to our beaches and wonderful country. I'm certainly open to having reporters accompany us and report what happens, as long as their reporting does not endanger the unit.


Park Point, Pa.: SMG Lewis Matson: Will chemical weapons be used to subdue the enemy where urban war skirmishes require it -- chemicals like mace or pepper spray or any other appropriate, chemical debilitating agents?

SGM Lewis Matson: Chemical weapons -- wrong term guys. We simply don't do this any more. We may use riot/crowd control, but, as you watch on television, you'll watch what we do. It wouldn't be any different from how a police department uses them. However, our main expectation -- the Iraqis will be glad for us to come through. We won't need crowd control, unless it is to protect Baath party members from Iraqis.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Are any precautions being taken to keep from bombing chemical factories or biological laboratories that may release chemical poisons or biological toxins if destroyed?

SGM Lewis Matson: We've developed tremendous point-to-point capability, much improved since the Gulf War. We expect to hit what we aim at. We're probably the only military in the world with this capability. People criticize us if we miss. We have a good target list.


Sacramento, Calif.: Early reports suggest Saddam may have been killed. If he were to die or flee early, does the U.S. still intend to fully occupy Iraq?

SGM Lewis Matson: No plan survives first contact with the enemy. We're already adjusting fire. The end intention is to turn the country back over to the people for Iraq. As for how that transition occurs -- we're not there yet... give the commanders a few days !!


Harrisonburg, Va.: Can you give us any information on the raid in southeastern Afghanistan today? Does this large operation coincide with the invasion of Iraq in any way?

SGM Lewis Matson: This operation has nothing to do with the operation in Iraq. Remember, we're in America. The decision to execute is made by the President. The operation in Afghanistan had been planned for months. Pure coincidence. The facts are -- we've established security and stability in Afghanistan. The people of Afghanistan are re-establishing themselves, making progress. We need to support that, support the interim government. They have experienced 20 years of war. They've come a long way in one year. 2 million refugees returned last year, another 600,000 are expected this year. They are rebuilding. All they want is a future and a hope.


Lake Worth, Fla.: How much of a problem do you think it would pose to coalition forces if Iraq were to set fire to more oil wells?

SGM Lewis Matson: Setting the oil wells on fire will be a great tragedy for the Iraqi people, even for the Iranian people, depending on which way the winds blow. Let's hope they don't do this. We've dropped leaflets reminding them -- it's your country -- don't destroy your future.


Arlington, Va.: From a military perspective, how is the invasion of Iraq going?

SGM Lewis Matson: ....just getting started. We have a plan. Without sounding....whatever -- we all need to look at what we have -- we have the best military in the world, by far. We have well-trained servicemembers, executing tasks, individually and in teams.
---Nothing will go perfectly. Let's hope the occasional missile misses our troops.


Beulah, N.D.: How many (If any) Iraqi troops have surrendered themselves? And have we been shot at yet?

SGM Lewis Matson: There've been shots fired. There have been Iraqis surrendering -- they surrendered to the Kuwaitis -- that's a turn-around from 10 years ago.


Laguna Hills, Calif.: How much food is required to feed the hundreds of thousands of troops? How do they take showers... or do they when they are there?

SGM Lewis Matson: Food -- mucho food.
Showers -- god I love a shower at the end of the day when deployed. Never enough showers.
Believe me -- when the troops come home, they do not want meetings, or praise, they just want a good meal and a hot shower and there better be pleeennnty of hot water.
They'll come back and be cleaning out dust for months in various body parts.
But I can say -- the MREs -- much improved.


Virginia: What is the mood like there?

SGM Lewis Matson: The mood of the coalition is outstanding. We are well trained, motivated and we understand the mission at hand.


Washington, D.C.: What are the specific steps we are taking to protect civilians from "collateral damage?"

SGM Lewis Matson: Our targeting process is a detailed process to avoid collateral damage. We have a layered system of intelligence to help this process. We also have tremendous advancements in munitions to ensure we hit what we are targeting.


Montgomery Village, Md.: Good Evening, SGM Matson!

Keep up the good work!

I want to follow up on the question about working around the media -- I agree that the embedded journalists are a good idea, and I agree that they need to at all costs avoid jeopardizing our troops and objectives. My question is this: Given the presence of the embedded media, and the near-real-time coverage on TV and the web, to what extent (and in what ways, if you can go there without giving sensitive details) are campaign plans affected by the awareness of so many attentive eyes and ears in real-time?

SGM Lewis Matson: Good question -- we'll see.
We hope this works. We really do.


Johnson City, Tenn.: I'm retired military and there is some speculation that retirees could possibly be activated or recalled. What percentage of troops involved are retirees, National Guard or Reserves?

SGM Lewis Matson: ...retirees....some may be called up. Right now, I would say we have what we need, but stay flexible, things may change.


Ft.Bragg, N.C. USASOC: Why is the "Shock and Awe" phase of the war being put on hold. And why not rattle the Iraqi troops into surrendering by traumatizing them with U.S. fire power?

SGM Lewis Matson: Well, your question is really for the entire leadership chain.... The team has a plan -- let 'em execute.


Northampton, Mass.: This is a rather simple question, but one which many might have: could you specify the number of soldiers active within the following: unit, battalion, brigade, division?

SGM Lewis Matson: Numbers of soldiers --
Platoon -- depends. But in an infantry unit -- 40
company -- 4 platoons - 160
battalion - four companies -- 600 (bad math)
brigade -- four battalion -- 3,000
division -- four brigades + support brigade + artillery brigade. The new division is 15,000


San Diego, Calif.: With the little to no resistance U.S. and British forces have thus far met, do you think military planners' concerns are that Saddam's forces are waiting for us to get to Baghdad where we could see a repeat of the mistakes the U.S. made in Somalia trying to engage in urban warfare?

SGM Lewis Matson: We've just gotten started. Stay tuned.
We believe the Iraqi military will listen to our broadcasts and decide to capitulate. We'll see. We will show we have no intention on harming Iraqis and we're protecting their infrastructure. We hope the military will come along with this....and if not, they better get out of the way.


Frederick, Md.: I have heard stories of U.S. Marines being under the command of the UK generals, and vice versa. What does this do for morale?

By the way, I have a tremendous amount of respect for our fighting men coming from a long family military history

SGM Lewis Matson: Our military falling under the British -- I don't know what all the hubub is on this. Personally I am still in awe of the British. people don't remember -- they single-handedly held off the Germans for four years until D-Day. The facts are -- as Churchill so well made the point -- the British had more division in contact with the enemy until July 1944. They suffered more casualties. The Brits are our clear ally. Did you see the way Tony Blair stood up to the onslaught against him? Not bad.


Rockville, Md.: Is it true that leaders of the Republican Guard and the Special Republican Guard are negotiating with our side, presumably to surrender? Thank you for taking these questions.

SGM Lewis Matson: We're doing everything we can to communicate with them. We've dropped millions of leaflets. We've specified how to indicate their intention to capitulate. We're broadcasting all our their radio channels. Let's hope they form up as we've asked and we'll ensure they are taken care of. We did it in the Gulf War -- 60,000 surrendered, and we returned them all over the next month.


SGM Lewis Matson: It's been glad to talk with you all. I've tried to answer as many as I could. I have to get back at work. Stay with us. We're accomplishing something good -- for the Iraqi people, for the Kuwaitis -- they have the most to lose. This is something good, for the region, and for the world. Let's hope and pray this goes well. We're executing a good plan and we expect to see great things ahead with minimal casualties. But war is not without cost. Let's support our President. I am. -- Sgt. Maj. Matson


© 2003 The Washington Post Company