Background Briefing on Oil as a Weapon of Terror
NEWS TRANSCRIPT from the United States Department of Defense
DoD News Briefing
Senior Defense Official
Friday, Jan. 24, 2003 - 11 a.m. EST
(Background briefing regarding Iraq's potential use of oil as a terror weapon. Slides shown during this briefing can be found on the Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Jan2003/g030124-D-9085M.html.)
Staff: We'll have a briefing on oil as a weapon of terror. It will be a background briefing. Comments will be attributed to a senior Defense official.
Senior Defense Official: Good morning, everybody. I appreciate the opportunity to spend a few minutes with you this morning.
We'll have some slides up here that I'll talk through. It's important that we keep in mind that the natural resources of Iraq are critically important to the people of Iraq for their future. As such, any threat to that resource can become a real terrorist threat to the people for their future. So what I'd like to do is wander through some slides that will give you a sense of what could be done, a little comparison of what has happened in the past in Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War. And then give you a sense of perspective on what that might mean to the Iraqi people
Next slide, please.
First of all, it's important to understand that there is not yet any decision -- there's no decision made by the president to engage in combat operations. But certainly, as military planners, it's important for us to engage in prudent planning on a variety of contingencies in the event that the president does make a decision to move forward with any military operations in Iraq.
As we look at that, there are a variety of intelligence sources that leave us with the impression and, in fact, belief that Iraq and specifically the regime has a capability and, in fact, an intent to cause damage or destruction to their oil fields. We see that as a real potential crisis. And as we have crafted our -- a variety of plans, we have taken that into consideration in a fashion that would allow us to preserve and protect that natural resource, that economic future for the Iraqi people at some point in the future.
And then it's also important to understand that the nations surrounding Iraq are also vitally interested in what happens to those oil fields. Whether it's an economic impact or an environmental impact, destruction of the oil fields will have significant effects on the neighbors of Iraq and we would like to try to preserve that from happening as best we can.
Destruction of the oil fields truly would be an act of terror. Saddam has in the past demonstrated his intent to use terrorist kinds of tactics against his own people. And certainly using the oil fields as a hostage to the economic future of the country would be a terrorist act against his own people. As you know, Saddam ordered the destructions of the oil fields in Kuwait during the Gulf War in 1991. And there are continuing and negative impacts of that decision even today on both the people in Kuwait as well as the environmental and economic situation.
We all recall the oil disaster of the Exxon Valdez. The actions that were taken by Saddam after the Gulf War were about 20 times the disaster -- the damage -- of the Exxon Valdez. And at that time, Saddam set on fire about 700-plus of the oil fields in Kuwait. And you can see that it took us quite a while to extinguish those and months and months and a lot of money to repair that infrastructure.
At the same time, he also released about 5 million barrels into the Gulf. And in fact, even today, there are still environmental cleanup actions being taken. And the threat at the time was to not only the environment but also to the desalinization plants all along the Gulf. That continues to be a serious threat, should Saddam take action here.
With respect to Iraq, we think that he has a potential to double that disaster from Kuwait. The oil fields in Iraq are about 1,500 well heads, roughly 1,000 in the south and roughly about 500 in the north. And he also, because of the oil manifolds in the Al-Faw Peninsula, has a capability to deliberately release up to two (million) to three million barrels a day of oil into the Gulf. I mentioned earlier that about five million were released during the Gulf War. You can see a substantial impact on the environment should he choose to make that -- to release that oil again in this situation.
So, what would that do? Well, it's important to understand that damage to the infrastructure will have a significant impact on the people of Iraq. During the Gulf war, it cost Kuwait about -- Kuwait and the partners, coalition partners over $20 billion to recraft the oil infrastructure that was destroyed by Saddam during the Gulf War. And it's believed that it would cost us in the $30 (billion) to $50 billion to repair and reconstruct the Iraqi oil infrastructure.
Currently we estimate that the potential income to the Iraqi people as a result of their oil could be somewhere in the $20 (billion) to $30 billion a year, and obviously, that's money that is used for their well-being. That makes up about 90 or 95 percent of their foreign exchange right now in Iraq. And I might make the point that also, the bulk of that does not go to the Iraqi people, it goes into the regime's coffers.
For the future, it is critical to create that economic income for the people of Iraq in order to bring their standard of living back up to one comparable with the nations of the region and give them a viable economic future.
In addition to the economic impacts that we would see, there is a significant environmental and health impact. I'll spend a minute talking about some of the health concerns that we have.
The oil in Iraq really falls into two categories, with the oil in the southern fields being -- the term is "sweet crude." Now, I'm not an oil expert, but I'm told that that contains a much lower percentage of hydrogen sulfide and it -- I won't say it burns cleaner, but the real difficult challenges would be in the northern oil fields, where there's a very high concentration of hydrogen sulfide, and burning that will cause a significant environmental and health hazard for the countries in the region and as well as the Iraqi people.
We know from historical records that the Kuwait oil fields caused both near-term symptoms -- eye irritation, dizziness, et cetera -- and we are still seeing that there are long-term impacts of that that we have not yet determined the depth or extent of. We know that the World Health Organization talks about increase in death rates, but if you look at, for example, the personal injury on -- of a smoker, you may not understand the impact of smoking for 10 or 15 or 25 years. The same is true for any inhaled toxin. And so we're still understanding what has happened to the people in the region in terms of health impact from the Gulf War.
You can see some numbers there in terms of the amount of soot and sulfur that was put into the environment in the Kuwaiti situation, and if you double that, you see sort of the gravity of the problem.
The other important point is the impact on the environment, and this is substantial. We all saw pictures 12 years ago of the Gulf War with the oil flowing down through the Gulf. We saw the animals being covered with oil. That will certainly occur again if Saddam should choose to take this course of action.
It's potential that up to 15 water desalinization plants would be affected. Certainly the coastline for 4(00) or 500 miles down the Gulf would all be at risk. And again, the long-term effects of the water tables in various countries still are being analyzed.
It's estimated right now in Kuwait, for example, that about 30 percent of their water is unusable, and you can imagine, in a country that is as arid as Kuwait, it's critical, if you don't have the natural water coming up from the water table because it's been polluted, that desalinization becomes your only real key for clean water for the future. And a leak of this type, an intentional drain of this type, will affect both of those, which would be a huge tragedy.
So what does this talk about for the potential threat that Saddam has? Certainly we believe that he would be willing to destroy those fields. It's important to understand that is not a militarily significant act. In other words, destroying those fields will not cause coalition military forces any great difficulty in achieving their military objectives. It will have a lasting effect on the people in his nation. And we can continue, should there be a decision for military operations, to meet our tasking without -- or with very little impact from burning oil fields. On the other hand, the long-term effects that the Iraqi people will suffer will be substantial.
Saddam doesn't gain anything by destroying those fields, except to penalize his people. And we feel it's important to preserve those fields so that there is a potential for very rapid development of the economy in Iraq if the conflict goes on and subsequent to those operations.
The bottom line really of all this is that the oil is a natural resource to the country of Iraq. It gives them the ability to improve their own welfare. Obviously, it provides commerce, it gives them money for education, obviously, infrastructure, and it really is the future of the people in Iraq. And destruction of that would be an act of terrorism in the most significant degree.
And we would hope that the people in Iraq who are responsible for the oil fields as an economic entity, who are responsible for the military in the conduct of potential combat operations would understand the importance of these oil fields to their future. Whatever the decision is made by the president, we will -- there will be a future for Iraq if the oil fields are maintained. If the oil fields are destroyed, the future for Iraq is much more troublesome.
And I think that those are the -- that's the last of the slides? It is. And I'm happy to take questions.
Q Have you seen any indication that Saddam Hussein or his people have wired the wellheads in a way that you have seen that was done prior to the blowing of the wells in Kuwait? Any indication?
Senior Defense Official: There are a number of indications through reliable intelligence sources that those activities have been planned and in some cases that they may have been begun -- they may have begun. We don't have -- as you can imagine, wiring is something that would not be -- it would not be easy to see with a variety of electro-optical -- you know, satellites or what have you. So, to be precise, I'd say I don't have firm evidence but I have a large number of reliable sources that tell me that certainly there is a capability and that there is an intent.
Q: Any defenses being built up there, troop movements, any unusual indications of --
Senior Defense Official: Well, the Iraqi military has for quite a while had deployment locations in and around both the northern and the southern oil fields.
Q: Are you seeing anything new in the past month or two or three? Any defenses being built up, movement of forces, anything?
Senior Defense Official: I can't really say that we have seen huge changes, but we have seen military movement in both the northern and southern oil fields that indicate to us that they are -- that there is a focus on those fields. And beyond that, it's a little more difficult to say.
Q: How do you plan to preserve the oil fields, without revealing OPSEC as a J-3? How are you going to -- I mean, quick reaction force, airborne troops --
Senior Defense Official: Sure. That's -- it's a -- that's a super question. And let me first go back to my first -- very first -- remember, there's no decision to do any of this, but it is important, as a military planner, to ensure that we continue to think through the contingencies just such as this and that we take some prudent actions to craft plans so that you can preserve this.
And so I think it's -- without going into great detail, it's fair to say that our land component commander and his planning staff have crafted strategies that will allow us to secure and protect those fields as rapidly as possible and in order to then preserve those prior to destruction, as opposed to having to go in and clean up after.
Q: Two questions. Do you have an estimate on what the worldwide economic impact would be if this were to happen? And do you have a plan, if this were to happen, how you would counter what's likely to be a belief in the Arab world that it was the U.S. that destroyed the oil wells and not Iraq?
Senior Defense Official: Well, let me come to your -- let me go to your second question first and I'll go back to the other. The purpose of this discussion today is to describe the potential damage that can occur in a way that can be told to the world. I mean, it's important for this message to be understood. This is not about oil as a commodity; it is about oil as the future -- as it relates to the future of Iraq.
I think that in terms of the damage that could occur, we continue to work very aggressively to create a capability that will allow us to very rapidly minimize the impact, if you will, on the global economy. I'd just give you a few numbers that -- if in fact Saddam were to destroy these oil wells, it -- we estimate that it will take somewhere between $30 (billion) and $40 billion to recreate the infrastructure that exists today. The $20 (billion) to $30 billion a year that potentially would be coming into Iraq would stop.
In terms of impact on the global oil supply, there's a variety of pieces of information out there that tell you how much oil Iraq contributes, and it's relatively small. But the impact on both the economy in Iraq and the surrounding nations would be substantial. And it's in our interest, as we look at plans for potential operations, that we try to create a successful military operation, at the same time, crafting and creating a future for the Iraqi people, not unlike the operations in Afghanistan, where we were injecting humanitarian aid as quickly as we were injecting combat power.
Q: So you think the worldwide impact of a shut-down of Iraqi oil would be minimal?
Senior Defense Official: Well, I think on supply -- again, I'm not an oil expert that can quote specific numbers of output, but Iraq, while it is a significant exporter of oil, there seems to be -- in fact, there's been some OPEC discussions in the public that indicate they could balance the supply out there. So, not having any better expertise than that, I'd say that the impact would be substantial for Iraq, for the Iraqi people, for the nations in the region who rely on that economic trade. How substantial it will be on the world market, I'm really not an expert enough to be able to tell you that.
Yeah, go ahead.
Q: Can you describe how hard it is to blow up a single oil well? Does a grenade do it? Does it require a demolition expert? Can you do it in five minutes? Does it take a day? How hard is it?
Senior Defense Official: Again, I'm not an expert in demolition, but my experience from the Gulf was that it is not a terribly difficult process. The fields in Kuwait, for example, the oil is very close to the surface. And so the destruction of a well at the surface has substantial impact. In some areas of Iraq, the oil is pumped from much deeper, and so depending on where that explosion might occur, the damage varies. But there is -- it would -- a small explosive certainly would not have the same impact, but I'm not really an expert enough to tell you how much you need or how coordinated it needs to be. I think, clearly, there is a threat, though, that we need to pay attention to.
Q: Take us back to '91 and explain how it was that Iraq managed to blow up the Kuwaiti oil fields. Was the United States not aware that it was a threat? Were they racing to get there and the Iraqis were there first?
Senior Defense Official: I think if you recall, you know, as Saddam began to feel the threat of ground combat operations, he began to destroy those fields in small numbers. As he began to move his forces out of the southern Kuwait oil field area, he destroyed them as he was leaving, as he was threatened, as he was under attack.
Q: Before the U.S. was there.
Senior Defense Official: Before we were able to do anything. And frankly, while there was concern that it would occur, nobody could really gauge his intent to actually take that action. And I think we have a better capability to do that now.
Sir? Q: Do you think that in this case there is a greater likelihood that the people who would be in charge of this kind of operation would not do it because of, you know, recognizing that the damage would be to -- (off mike)?
Senior Defense Official: Again, a really good question. It's hard to get into the mind of the Iraqi population for sure, but I think that the inevitability of a day of reckoning, if you will, with the international community -- with the U.N., with the U.S. with coalition -- is out there, and Saddam is under substantial pressure, for sure. I think his people understand that there is a future -- Saddam may come or go -- there is a future out there for them. And we would hope that they would invest in the long term versus the short term and preserve that economic future for themselves.
Q: With the understanding that the Iraqi people would be significantly affected by this, I think it's also important that the American people understand the effect of these actions on them directly. You have some pretty good numbers here. What specifically is the worst-case/best-case range of what could happen at the pump in America in terms of price per gallon on oil -- or gas, rather?
Senior Defense Official: You have just taken me well beyond my ability to answer that question. (Laughs.) I really can't say. There's no -- I don't have any expertise to be able to take Iraqi oil flow and translate that to the gas pumps of the United States.
Q: No one in the government's done that?
Senior Defense Official: Well, no one in the military has the expertise to do that. I am certain that there are some detailed studies, but I don't have access to them right now.
Q: Following up on what he asked, we've been told by other experts that the Iraqi military isn't necessarily loyal to Saddam so much as to the Iraqi people. So that would seem like they wouldn't necessarily want to do something like this. So, given that, do you have any idea who within the government might be likely to do something like this? And do you have any indication that those people have been positioned near the oil fields?
Senior Defense Official: I like your lead-in. I think that that's an -- that's an important point. We do believe that the Iraqi people, and to some extent, the Iraqi military, is interested in their future, and that they see -- they would hopefully understand the importance of preserving the oil fields for their future. Saddam certainly has a very tight inner ring of cronies and Ba'ath Party members who are loyal to him. And in any very tightly controlled regime like this, a relatively small number of loyalists can take some of these actions. Have we seen that actually occurring? It's, again, difficult to see the oil field and know that that pickup truck is a guy from Saddam's inner ring. But there certainly is -- there have been a number of reliable sources telling us that people with an intent have begun at least studying the problem.
Q: Just a quick follow-up. The troops that are around the oil fields; are they particular Republican Guard units that you know of, particular divisions? Or who are they? Do you know?
Senior Defense Official: We maintain a pretty good luck at where all of the Iraqi units are deployed. And in some cases, there are Republican Guards and some cases there are regular army, depending on where you are in the country and which oil fields you look at.
Q: But has the planning that you're aware of that's been conducted, has that been within the military or at the level of special forces?
Senior Defense Official: Yeah, another really good question. Well, I'd like to not characterize what kind of military have been involved in planning. I think what's important to say is that one, the military commanders have been working very hard at crafting a capability and a force that is matched to the desire to preserve and protect those oil fields. There is also a very active interagency organization working in hand in hand with the military to be able to answer the "What next?" question, if you will. In other words, now we -- assuming we're successful, how do we then turn that capability very rapidly around to assist the Iraqi people?
Q: You're talking about the American military.
Q: Yeah, actually, I meant the Iraq forces -- within Iraq.
Senior Defense Official: Oh, I'm sorry.
Q: Because you said that there was intelligence that indicated that they have at least done planning.
Senior Defense Official: Sure. I think it's -- there are -- it would be unfair to characterize any one group of the Iraqi military as "the unit" that would go and do this. I think a lot of it depends on where the loyalties lie to Saddam. And we will try to -- we'll continue to work to develop the ability to get a message to the people we think are most likely to take those actions.
Let me go back in the back.
Q: In 1991, were the oil wells booby-trapped? And was that a part of a premeditated retreat strategy for Iraq, or was it done as the troops were pulling back, as sort of a scorched-earth thing that came about as the retreat went on? And are there any suggestions one way or the other about how it might be done this time?
Senior Defense Official: Well, you'll recall that Saddam first began using oil as a weapon by creating these oil trenches that were all along the Saudi-Kuwait border, back from the border a bit, that he filled with oil with the intent that he would light those on fire as obstacles to moving coalition forces. That did not have the effect that he had intended, but he did, in fact, in a premeditated fashion destroy some of the oil infrastructure in order to create these fire -- the fire pits, if you will. As his withdrawal began to become more frantic, it became more of a scorched-earth situation. But what we don't know is, were those wells pre-set or was this an order that was given as they were retreating. We just don't have good information on that.
Q I just wanted a little more clarity on the nature of your suspicion. It sounds like it's somewhat anecdotal. Or have you actually seen anything unusual around the fields, any kind of activity that seems to be out of the ordinary?
Senior Defense Official: I really don't -- it would be unfair of me to go into that level of detail, because I think that's really not appropriate for this briefing. I think suffice it to say that we are comfortable that there is both capability and intent, and our desire in terms of planning is to craft a concept that precludes that as much as is possible.
Q: You don't know, or you just can't say?
Senior Defense Official: I'd prefer not to say.
Q: I don't know if you'll be able to address this, but I hope you can. It occurs to me that this sort of operation is similar to acts of the military to stop a regular terrorist operation, blowing up this building, blowing up that building. And it's been posited to us a zillion times from that podium that the military's just not capable of doing that; it can't stop individual terrorist acts. What kind of capabilities can the military bring to bear on something like this if we're talking about oil wells blowing individually, without people there to shoot?
Senior Defense Official: It is certainly a challenging task and one that is not necessarily a traditional military task. However, because of the importance of these oil fields to the future of the Iraqi people, we focused a great deal of effort in a planning aspect on how we could do that. And so, you have a variety of capabilities from -- there are special operations forces that can be used. There are conventional forces that can be used, very mobile forces that can be put in in a variety of different ways. So the key is to take the synergy of those capabilities and focus them on this particular part of Iraqi infrastructure.
Q: Is the effort more in prevention or more in immediate mitigation?
Senior Defense Official: We have -- we really consider both. And I think -- yes, sir, back here.
Q: Can I go back to your opening comments and again get to the planning point. You seemed to indicate that -- you mentioned in your opening comments that the desire is to protect these even as a wider conflict may be continuing. That says to me, and maybe I'm reading too much into it, that this could be a first or one of the first things that occurs if a conflict happens. Am I reading too much into this?
And also, if I could follow onto that, there was -- this perception issue, you know, that is always out there, particularly in the region, that the only reason the U.S. out there is to get the oil fields. Can you talk about that? If this is the first thing we do, how do you counter that perception?
Senior Defense Official: Well, let me again answer the second part first. Secretary Rumsfeld has spoken very eloquently on that topic. Oil is a commodity, and it will seek its own market out there. So this is not about the U.S. trying to gain advantage by taking these oil fields or to preserve its own oil industry. It is solely and most importantly to preserve the capability of the Iraqi people to stand up very quickly after a Saddam regime and become a functioning, capable member of the economic community.
On the first question, I guess what I'll -- I'm tap dancing around that just to say I'm not willing to discuss whether it would be first, last, in the middle, et cetera.
Q: But by doing that, by isolating on these, if Saddam is as willing to destroy them as you seem to believe he is, are you not in fact encouraging him to just light the fuse the minute that something happens to prevent you from getting in and whatever it is you plan to do to prevent the destruction?
Senior Defense Official: Well, Saddam Hussein could make that decision today. And so to assume that we could immediately prevent that may be a big stretch. We would certainly like to discourage that, and we would like to discourage the people who might do that. And we would like to be able to very rapidly gain control over as much of that oil infrastructure as we can and preserve it. And if we have to mitigate damage, then prudent planning has already begun to help in that regard.
Yes, ma'am. Right here.
Q: You spoke about the -- on the one hand, it not impacting military operations, but on the other hand, the highly toxic, cyanide-like fumes. And could you elaborate on why it would not impede at all military operations and how troops would, you know, be protected from --
Senior Defense Official: Well, as we protect ourselves from chemical and biological attacks, the equipment that we carry, the means that we use to move our troops would not be substantially affected. Now, let me say that anytime you spend a large amount of time inhaling soot, et cetera, there is an impact. On the other hand, our ability to maneuver on the battlefield allows us to mitigate some of that threat to our own troops. And what I really meant by not hindering our military operations is that the oil fields aren't a -- that's not the only road to accomplish our goals. In other words, we can easily bypass oil fields and move around the country at will, and certainly, we'll do that. But if -- as we have to work in the oil fields, we've got protective equipment for our troops that will, you know, mitigate any threats to them.
Sir? Right over here.
Q: Would blowing up the oil fields constitute a war crime? And will you be considering leafletting the area warning what -- the lieutenants of Saddam that they would face war crimes?
Senior Defense Official: I'm not a lawyer, so I won't go down the road of whether or not it's a war crime. I think military planners believe that certainly, it is an act of terror against his own people. And I'll leave it to some subsequent legal authority to determine whether that categorizes itself as a crime -- war crime or not.
However, to your question of would we consider leafletting people. I think we will use every means available to us to get that message to the Iraqi people, to the leaders of the Iraqi military and to anyone else who we can get it to to discourage that kind of an action.
Yes, ma'am? Right here.
Q: Back to the tactical effects --
Senior Defense Official: Back here one.
Q: I'm sorry. The -- you said it cost $20 billion to repair the fields that were destroyed in '91. Was that paid for by Kuwait? Did other countries help pay for that?
Senior Defense Official: I'm not certain of the total amount; I know Kuwait paid a substantial percentage of that. But I think they were assisted not only by other countries in the region but also by an international fund that assisted.
Q: Did the U.S. help pay for that, too?
Senior Defense Official: My understanding is we shared a portion of that, yes, ma'am. But again, I don't have the specific numbers on that to be able to verify it.
Q: The tactical effects. The smoke from the fires, would that affect air operations at all?
Senior Defense Official: Well, I was a fighter pilot during the Gulf War, and I can tell you that the smoke does have an impact. But our air power is flexible enough to be able to work around that. And in fact, we did just that during the Gulf War. We were able to fly either lower or use other kinds of weapons that did not require the ability to see specifically a spot on the ground. If you had someone on the ground who could direct your weapon, you could still employ. So I see that as a minimal impact, although there is an impact.
Q: In Iraq, you basically have a complex of oil fields in the north and the south. Can you give us some sense of how broad geographically that is, whether or not some areas are much more significant than others to get control of? And to what extent you have been discussing any of this with the oil experts of the world or the energy experts or the oil companies? Because one of the things that the industry says is we don't very much of what the Iraqi oil infrastructure is like today. So, how have you developed --
Senior Defense Official: That's a good question. And let me go to the last point first, because we truly don't know how to assess the quality, the reliability, the durability of the Iraqi infrastructure itself. We know a lot about how many gas/oil separators there are, and where the key points for distribution are, but we don't know what condition that's really in. Our sense is that it has suffered over time because of the very tight restrictions on what equipment could be put into the country.
To your question on have we then discussed this with the international oil community, there are -- I mentioned an interagency group that has been studying this problem, and I think there is active participation by the global oil industry to help assess, project and potentially respond to. I mean, clearly, this is an economic commodity that many countries of the world will be interested in having access to at some point with a free Iraq. And those countries, I believe, are willing to help do the analysis that will get us to the -- where we need to go.
Q: If I can just follow up, though. I mean, the first thing that comes to mind is that you would parachute or whatever a bunch of people in and set up a perimeter and -- but are there any other more sophisticated weapons or whatever available where you could electronically, maybe, interfere with what he could do? Blowing up 1,500 oil wells is no easy task.
Senior Defense Official: Sure. I think I just as soon not go down the road of discussing capabilities on how we might preclude or intervene, and just leave it to say that we are actively working every capability to try to preserve that.
Sir? Back here.
Q: Yes, I know -- I mean, we talk a lot about the oil wells. But what about the refineries, terminals, pipelines that they have there. Are there concerns that Saddam may try to sabotage those, as well? The entire infrastructure, rather than just the production sites?
Senior Defense Official: We have a concern that he will try to destroy everything. And for an individual who has chosen to gas his own people, who has clearly made this decision once already to destroy oil infrastructure in Kuwait, I think there is good reason to believe that he'd be desperate or unstable enough to make those decisions. So we want to try to prevent that as best we can, or mitigate it.
Q: Would other countries' military forces be involved in the effort to protect the oil fields?
Senior Defense Official: Well, remember, there is -- until there is a decision to take any military action, which countries participate or might want to participate or have committed to participate's really not a topic I'd like to get into. I think that I'd just say that the detailed planning that has gone on will allow a wide variety of flexibility in terms of partners and capability.
Q: Has the planning for this contingency involved special training for U.S. forces that you don't normally consider as military training -- (off mike)?
Senior Defense Official: Yeah, I'm really not going to go down that road.
Senior Defense Official: Thanks.
Q: Can you give a sense of the expanse of the oil fields, about how large --
Senior Defense Official: Yeah. That was a good question that came here. Just a note:
The southern oil field's basically about the size of New Jersey. Northern oil field's not -- just about the size of Rhode Island -- so pretty substantial areas. And as I said, about a thousand well heads in the South, about 500 in the North is a reasonable number to use in terms of perspective.
We had a question back over here. Sir?
Q: Yeah, I just wondered. You said that it took eight months to extinguish the fires in '91. Is it a similar scenario this time? And is that a military operation, extinguishing --
Senior Defense Official: Well, no, it's not a -- it is not a task that the military trains to. And I think it will be important to have a broad industry contribution to help, if that's required.
In terms of what this might mean in Iraq, the estimate's anywhere from two to three years to extinguish all these fires. If you create a fire from a well that is a -- for example, in the North, those wells are dug much deeper. If you start that fire below the subsurface, it's much more difficult to put that fire out than if it's in the South, for example, where it might take two or three days to put one out. It might take two weeks to put one out in the North.
Q: What is the plan -- presuming that the oil fields are protected and fires are put out, what is the plan for the administration of it? Would it be U.S. military overseeing it, or is there an international coalition that's being built to administer it?
Senior Defense Official: I think it's -- the accurate answer is, there's a study group that's ongoing, that's crafting the team that could do that, a capability that could do that. And I think that in terms of the military, our primary concern is security and protection, and then working with any interagency organization that is designated to then turn these into a functioning economic contributor.
Q: How do you foresee Saddam Hussein's possibly coordinating these attacks; unlike last time, when he just set them on fire, maybe this time coordinating them with a biological dispersal or something that might not become as apparent with these sort of fumes, or to block troop movements?
Senior Defense Official: I'm really not -- I would prefer not to discuss my opinion on that, because I truly -- it would be just that. And I think that -- suffice it to say, however, that Saddam has -- he's sort of done all the above, and so we need to be prepared to respond to all of the above should he choose to do that again. And I think we've done the smart things to prepare our forces and to create the capability to respond if we see multiple disasters, if you will.
Q: As you know, there's some contention in the north between the Kurds and other parts of Iraq about who should actually control that -- some of the oil up there. Have you discussed this with the Kurds, with the Kurds in the north with the Kurdish representatives here?
Senior Defense Official: Yeah, good question. And part of this is -- as you know, there is an active process involved with the Iraqi National Congress and other opposition groups. >From the military perspective, it's just important to note that all of those opposition groups understand the importance of oil to the economic future of the country; all of them know we are committed to a -- if there is a decision made, committed to a free Iraq, committed to an Iraq that remains -- whose borders are -- remain intact and a representative process for the future. All of them understand how important this oil will be to that future.
So I think there is -- my sense is there is good understanding that everyone needs to do all they can to preserve this. And of course, as you can imagine, if we take military action, we would hope to have substantial military forces to provide some security and stability in each of these regions as well.
Q: And would you likely have Kurds participating in protecting the northern oil wells?
Senior Defense Official: I really wouldn't like to go down that road. I'd just say that we are -- we will work with any coalition partner to help provide that security.
Q: Russia and France have existing contractual relationships in Iraq dealing with oil fields and development in the future. As this study groups has analyzed this situation, have either countries been brought in or been made aware? Are they in any way partners in this dialogue and discussion of planning, because they clearly have a direct, contractual, financial interest in the preservation of these fields and the future disposition, if the regime in fact changes?
Senior Defense Official: Yeah, that's really out of my league. I can't tell you who has been involved in this. And all I can say is that we're actively a participant in the information exchange with the interagency. But as terms of who they speak to, I really don't know, and I wouldn't want to speculate.
Staff: We've got to clear the studio by noon, so we have time for one more question.
Q: I wondered if you'd seen any evidence of any mining of any of the fields, land mines being placed -- (off mike).
Senior Defense Official: Well, as we mentioned earlier, it's really difficult to use imagery or other capabilities to specifically say, "Aha, there's mines there." But we have, through a variety of intelligence means, gathered enough information that tells us that the planning may be ongoing, that intent is there. And certainly we know that Saddam has mines and he has explosives and those kinds of things, and so -- and then tie that to his demonstrated intent to use terror as a weapon at least tells me that I need to be prepared for it as a planner.
Senior Defense Official: Thank you very much.