For Immediate Release
President Discusses Military Operation
Office of the Press Secretary
March 23, 2003
Remarks by the President in Press Availability Upon Return From Camp David
1:00 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: I am pleased with the progress that we're making in
the early stages of a -- of the war to rid Iraq of its weapons of
mass destruction, and to free the Iraqi people from the clutches of a
Today, in our church service, Laura and I prayed for the coalition
forces, those in the coalition forces who lost their lives. We pray
for their families. We ask God's comfort for those who mourn today.
And we thank all the coalition forces for their bravery and courage in
Operation Iraqi Freedom.
It is evident that it's going to take a while to achieve our
objective, but we're on course, we're determined, and we're making good
I'll answer a few questions.
Q Sir, have you seen the tape --
Q Mr. President --
THE PRESIDENT: One at a time, please. Scott. Thank you.
Q What do you know about the prisoners, anything, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: I've been briefed, I'm constantly briefed by the
Pentagon and through the National Security Office. I would -- I
don't know all the details yet. I do know that we expect them to be
treated humanely, just like we'll treat any prisoners of theirs that we
I think it's an interesting contrast that a lot of their soldiers
welcome American troops, they're surrendering gleefully, happily. And
they'll be treated well. And I ask you to ask the Defense Department
for further details.
Q Sir, what do you know about Saddam Hussein and his fate, if
THE PRESIDENT: I know that Saddam Hussein is losing control of his
country, that we're slowly, but surely, achieving our objective.
It's important for the American people to realize that this war has
just begun, that it may -- it may seem like a long time because of
all the action on TV, but in terms of the overall strategy, we're just
in the beginning phases, and that we're executing a plan which will
make it easier to achieve objective, and at the same time, spare
And I'm most proud of our troops and coalition troops for showing
their bravery and skill.
Q Mr. President, do you know -- at this point, can you tell
Americans, I mean, is the war progressing the way you expected it to?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, Larry, it is. It is -- and I -- the air
campaign is achieving its objective, and the ground campaign is also
achieving objective. We're slowly, but surely, taking control of that
country so that we can free the people of Iraq and eventually clear
that country of weapons of mass destruction. We've made good
One of the big concerns early on was the Southern oil fields. As
you all remember, we had discussions about that. There was a lot of
speculation about whether or not coalition forces would be able to get
to the Southern oil fields in time, before -- so that Saddam Hussein
wouldn't destroy them. As a matter of fact, I had frequently talked
about the Southern oil fields -- or oil fields in general -- in my
Tommy Franks put a plan in place that moved on those oil fields
quickly, and at least in the south, they are secure. And that is
positive news for all of us. Most of the south is now in coalition
hands. Obviously, there's pockets of resistance in a place like
Basra. We're making great progress -- in the west, we're making
great progress. The area, the launch sites for the scuds, while
certainly not a hundred percent secure, but we've made good progress.
And so I can assure the American people we're making good progress,
and I also can assure them that this is just the beginning of a tough
Q Sir, have you specifically been told that American POWs have
been executed? And even --
THE PRESIDENT: I have not been told that. I have been told that
we have a problem with potential capture. I'm waiting to -- when I
get back upstairs I'll talk back to the Pentagon again. I was told
early this morning that perhaps our troops were captured. Maybe
between the time I left Camp David and here I'll learn more. But I am
concerned about our troops. Obviously, any time one of our soldiers
loses a life, I grieve with their parents and their loved ones. And if
there is somebody captured, and it looks like there may be, I expect
those people to be treated humanely.
Q Sir, what is your level of confidence that the Iraqi regime
will surrender or collapse before U.S. forces need to be engaged in a
fight in Baghdad?
THE PRESIDENT: I -- all I know is we've got a game plan, a
strategy to free the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein and rid his
country of weapons of mass destruction, and we're on plan.
Bill. And then Mike.
Q Iraqi TV has shown what appear to be American POWs, and also
what appear to be American dead. Your reaction?
THE PRESIDENT: I expect them to be treated, the POWs I expect to
be treated humanely. And -- just like we're treating the prisoners
that we have captured humanely. If not, the people who mistreat the
prisoners will be treated as war criminals.
Q Mr. President, do you retain hope that Saddam Hussein will go
into exile, and are there any active negotiations about that?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, Mike, I -- he had his chance to go into
exile. I gave him a 48-hour ultimatum to leave the country so that we
could disarm Iraq peacefully; he chose not to go into exile.
Q Mr. President, how concerned are you about the situation in
the north and Turkey's statement that they will send troops in there
and that Americans might get caught in some kind of cross-fire up
THE PRESIDENT: We have got more troops up north, and we're making
it very clear to the Turks that we expect them not to come into
Northern Iraq. We're in constant touch with the Turkish military, as
well as Turkish politicians. They know our policy, and it's a firm
policy. And we've made it very clear to them we expect them not to go
into Northern Iraq, as well as -- and they know we're working with
the Kurds to make sure there's not an incident that would cause there
to be an excuse to go into Northern Iraq.
Q Mr. President, what are you saying to the families of those
U.S. soldiers who appear to be killed or captured, and are paraded on
THE PRESIDENT: I say to the families, thank -- I thank them for
the sacrifice they make, and we pray with them. I pray for God's
comfort and God's healing powers, to anybody, coalition force,
American, Brit, anybody who loses a life in this -- in our efforts to
make the world more peaceful and more free.
Q Mr. President, are you surprised the enemy has not used any
weapons of mass destruction?
THE PRESIDENT: I am thankful the enemy has not used any weapons of
mass destruction. And we will continue employing a strategy to make it
difficult for the enemy to use weapons of mass destruction.
A couple more, then I've got to go.
Q Mr. President, what will you be telling the congressional
leaders tomorrow about the cost --
THE PRESIDENT: Wait until I talk to them. It's probably best they
hear it directly from me.
Q Mr. President, to your knowledge, is there any hope of
getting these soldiers back?
THE PRESIDENT: What?
Q To your knowledge, is there any chance of getting these
THE PRESIDENT: Of course.
Q Mr. President, how swiftly do you expect -- to get
humanitarian aid --
THE PRESIDENT: Good question. I appreciate you asking that
question. The question is on humanitarian aid. In the south of Iraq,
coalition forces have worked hard to make the port area secure, to make
the transit of humanitarian aid as safe as possible. As -- I was
told this morning in my briefings that humanitarian aid should begin
moving -- massive amounts of humanitarian aid should begin moving
within the next 36 hours. And that's going to be very positive news
for a lot of people who have suffered a long time under Saddam
We've got a massive ground assault going on, and right behind it
will be a massive movement of humanitarian aid, to help the people of
Iraq. We have made that promise to the people of this country that we
will do everything we can to protect innocent life. And we're doing
that. And we'll do everything we can to help the Iraqi people. First
thing, of course, that will help the Iraqi people is to rid them from a
brutal dictator, somebody who has stayed in power through mutilation
and rape and torture. Somebody who has starved his own people so he
could build palaces. When free from that dictatorship, life will be a
But we also understand we have an obligation -- and this is just
not America, it's coalition forces -- have an obligation to put food
and medicine in places so the Iraqi people can live a normal life and
have hope. And that's exactly what's going to happen shortly when the
area is completely -- safe enough to move the equipment forward.
Listen, thank you all.
Q How are you holding up, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: I feel just fine.
END 1:10 P.M. EST