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Bringing Some Perspective to Where We Are

Bringing Some Perspective to Where We Are

DoD News Briefing: Victoria Clarke, ASD PA, Thursday, November 1, 2001.Conference call with regional media. Source: News Transcript from the United States Department of Defense.

Clarke: Thanks to everybody for joining us today. I just wanted to make a few brief comments to start off and then open it up for questions.

This morning [I] gave an update, sort of a morning line, if you will, of what happened in Afghanistan yesterday in terms of the military operations. As you probably have heard, we've had some pretty heavily focused efforts in support of the opposition groups. Yesterday's focus included al Qaeda and Taliban command and control centers, if you will, including caves and tunnels. Specific targets included armor and troop concentrations. We continued to conduct Commando Solo and leaflet drops and humanitarian drops as well, and there were 34,440 rations yesterday, which takes us over one million, I believe, to about 1,060,000 since we started on October 7th.

The activity we conducted was an area near and around Mazar-e-Sharif, Hundus, Kabul, and Kandahar. Later today, just a couple of hours ago, the secretary was down in the briefing room as he is two or three times a week, and focused on a few things. [transcript:] But what he really wanted to do is bring some perspective to where we are three and a half weeks into this operation, and he started out by saying -- I don't know if any of you happened to see it on one of the networks -- but he said there had been some questions about the speed of progress in the campaign, about the patience of the American people. If something does not happen immediately or something very very visible or big doesn't happen immediately. So he said it might be worth reviewing a few facts.

It was on September 11th that terrorists attacked and killed thousands of innocent people, Americans and people from dozens of countries and of all races and religions. On October 7th, less than a month later, we had positioned coalition forces in the region, and we began the military operations against Taliban and al Qaeda targets throughout Afghanistan. Since that time, and again it's just been three weeks, coalition forces have flown over 2,000 sorties, broadcast 300-plus hours of radio transmissions, delivered, as I said, over a million humanitarian rations to the starving Afghan people and now, November 1, and he stopped and pointed out that at this very moment there was still smoke coming up from the ruins of the World Trade Center, one would hope or one would think that we could understand that we're still very, very, very much in the early stages of this war. Then he went through some of the historical perspectives.

After the December '41 attack on Pearl Harbor it took four months before the United States had action. It took eight months after Pearl Harbor before the U.S. began a land campaign against the Japanese in 1942. The U.S. then bombed Japan for three and a half years, until August of '45, before we accomplished or objectives in the Pacific. On the European front, the Allies bombed Germany continually for nearly five years, almost five years, from September of 1940 until May of '45, and it took the United States two and a half years after Hitler declared war before we landed in France in June of 1944. And as he has said before, the Cold War lasted decades before the Soviet Union collapsed and ceased to be a threat.

When Secretary Rumsfeld started the campaign, announced the start of the military campaign on October 7th [ transcript:], he laid out some very clear initial goals, and he said we want to make clear to the Taliban that harboring terrorists is unacceptable and carries a price. He said we wanted to acquire intelligence to facilitate future operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban. He said we wanted to develop relationships with groups in Afghanistan that oppose the Taliban and al Qaeda, and he said we wanted to make it increasingly difficult for the terrorists to use Afghanistan freely as a base of operation.

He said we wanted to alter the military balance over time by denying to the Taliban the offensive systems that hamper the progress of the various opposition forces. And as we've stated repeatedly, to provide humanitarian relief to the Afghan people who are suffering under truly oppressive conditions created by the Taliban regime.

That was just 24 days ago, three weeks and three days and we've made measurable progress on each of these fronts.

I could go on with more of his remarks but I urge you if you did not see it to go ahead and check out the transcript when it gets posted. He really does want to put this in perspective and he really did want to underscore the faith he has in the American people on this front. Everything we see, everything we hear indicates that they truly understand that this will be a long and sustained effort; they truly understand how difficult it is; and he thinks they are going to be very, very supportive for quite some time. So that was the focus of his remarks, and then we opened it up for some questions.

The only thing I would mention before I open up this for questions is to note once again that the Guard and Reserve continues to make an enormous contribution to this effort and from the states that I believe are represented on the call, Texas we have 2,352; Massachusetts, 1,576; Florida, 1,469; Ohio, 1,392; Kentucky, 822; and Wisconsin 343 for close to 8,000. The total number of Reserve and National Guard called to active duty as of the end of October is 41,392 from 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and I think a couple of additional places, a couple of additional countries. And as I say, they're making an enormous contribution.

With that I will stop and open up for any questions or comments you might have.

Q: This is Jules Crittendon at the Boston Herald.

Clarke: Hi, Jules.

Q: I have a question on the stepped up bombing on the Kabul lines, the lines north of Kabul, and within Mazar-e Sharif. And early on it looked like there was not a desire to necessarily help the Northern Alliance advance. There were some concerns about that.

My question is, two parts here. Are they capable, do they seem to be capable of taking Kabul, taking Mazar-e Sharif? Is that what the Pentagon wants to happen? And who will occupy those cities? Is there any intention to put in U.S. or other forces to create secure zones in either Kabul or Mazar-e Sharif? And beyond that, what kind of schedule would you hope to see that happen on?

Clarke: For starters, I'd push back gently on the premise of your question. If you go back to what the secretary said from the very, very beginning of this effort, we want to be as helpful as we possibly can be to the Northern Alliance, to the tribes in the south, to others in the country, to others within the Taliban itself who oppose the Taliban and are trying to overthrow them and get rid of the oppressive regime. So to the extent possible we want to be as helpful as possible, and that includes providing food, ammunition, other supplies.

Recently we have, as the secretary has acknowledged, been able to get some U.S. military on the ground, very small numbers of them, to work with the Northern Alliance in certain areas, and where we've been able to work with them we've been able to improve our targeting, we've been able to be more effective with our strikes. So to the extent possible, we're being as helpful as possible.

The secretary actually got asked about this today and there was a story in the Post that reflected a little bit of your question. We have not been holding back. Our military objectives have been the same since the beginning. We have always tried to be as helpful as possible to the Northern Alliance as others, and we've continued the same strategy throughout.

As to what happened in Afghanistan in terms of Kabul, in terms of the leadership, again, I'd just repeat what the secretary has said. That's really up to the people of Afghanistan.

Q: I'm not actually asking about the leadership per se but rather if in fact there is a Northern Alliance advance on Kabul and/or Mazar-e Sharif, if they take over these areas will they be the occupying forces? Or is there some plan to put U.S. or other international ground troops in as occupying and/or peacekeeping forces so that secure zones for relief, rebuilding, government development, that sort of thing, can go on?

Clarke: I'd answer in two parts. The State Department is having conversations, Richard Haas is the designee to work with a variety of people, a variety of interests, if you will, in terms of discussions of what might happen after the fact, and it depends, I would guess, who is in charge there, what sort of arrangements would be made after the fact? I just don't have enough information to speculate on hypotheticals.

Q: So is there no plan at present, if the Northern Alliance is successful in advancing, to put a sizeable U.S. force in that can hold and control that territory, those cities?

Clarke: Just as a matter of principle we don't get in the business of saying what we may or may not do militarily. Again you should direct the questions about the government and what might happen to the State Department.

Q: And another part of that question, I hate to monopolize the time here, but very quickly, we've heard a lot about basically the weaknesses and organizational problems of the Northern Alliance. What is seen to be their ability to capitalize on the aid or the assistance that we're giving them in terms of bombing and so forth?

Clarke: I think you've seen that demonstrated over the last several days in that region. As we have been able to get people on the ground working with them, we've been able to improve the targeting and improve the effectiveness of the strikes, so we have been making progress as a result of working with them.

Q: That's improvement of our strikes. How about their own military capability as ground troops? The Northern Alliance's ability to advance, take and hold territory?

Clarke: You see a lot -- I was talking some reporters about that this morning -- you see a lot of information coming out of the area. We'd leave it up to the Northern Alliance to discuss and talk about what their progress is and how they think they're doing, just as we repeatedly say in terms of other countries who are involved in the various coalitions of this effort. We really leave it up to them to talk about what they want to talk about.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Torie, John Riskin with the Columbus Dispatch.

The secretary and you have both expressed the opinion that the American people have an understanding of the situation and have the patience to stick with it. There does seem to be some impatience on the part of the secretary with the treatment the campaign is getting in the media. I'm wondering if the Pentagon is worried that the impatience they feel that's been reflected in the media ultimately could wind up changing the American public's perspective and patience. And I guess I'm wondering if this approach of talking directly to more of the regional Washington based media is part of an effort to try to curb that. Is this the first one of these regional roundtables you've done?

Clarke: No, actually we've done a few of these. It's always been a principle of mine and a focus of mine to try to reach out well beyond the Beltway. The secretary actually talked about this today, recognizing the importance of the media. It is the primary means of communicating with the American people. So we understand how critical it is.

I think the secretary just wanted to underscore what he has said repeatedly from the very beginning, that this will be a long and sustained effort, and the president has said this. That it is going to be years, not months or weeks. It's a marathon, not a sprint. And this is almost a verbatim quote from the secretary today, the American people aren't impatient. They've seen very tough, and tougher adversaries than this before and they've defeated them. In the end, the war is not about statistics or deadlines or short attention spans or 24-hour news cycles. As much as we appreciate the demands and the interests of the media, it's about the will and the clear unambiguous determination of the president and the country. He just thinks that is worth underscoring. That's why he took the opportunity in the briefing today to do so.

Q: I guess, just to follow up, are you starting to be worried at all that the 24-hour news cycles and the impatience of the media could take away from what you seem to regard as the American people's -- you've sort of seen the view of the media as having one attitude, an impatience, and the American people as a whole as being much more patient and willing to stick with it in the long run. Do you worry if what you regard as sort of an impatient media keeps up the public's attitude could change along with that?

Clarke: We have an awful lot of faith and confidence in the American people, and we really, we're hearing it. We hear from them. I couldn't give you an exact number, but hundreds and hundreds and hundreds. Phone calls, e-mails, letters, faxes, people saying you're doing the right thing, we know how difficult this is, we're there with you. We see on a regular basis a real outpouring of support and understanding by the American people and he just wanted to underscore that today.

Q: Torie, this is Tom Still with the Wisconsin State Journal. Hi there.

A question. We had a report this morning that the chief spokesman for the Taliban said they want to negotiate, that they'd like to sit down and start talking.

First, do you read that as a real offer? And second, what steps if any do you know of to take advantage of that offer?

Clarke: I'm not familiar with the report you're talking about. I'll admit I've been running around to different meetings for the last two or three hours, so I'm not aware of that report. But as the president has said, this is not about negotiations; this is not about consultations. It's very clear what has to happen.

Q: This was a report by the Associated Press and the spokesman is Imir Khan Lataki, and I might be mispronouncing the last name.

Clarke: I haven't seen it so I really am reluctant to say much, not having seen it.

Q: Okay.

Q: Torie, this is Rachel Davis from the Florida Times Union in Jacksonville.

Clarke: Hi.

Q: Has there been any talk about moving up deployment dates for other carrier groups that were scheduled to deploy earlier next year? If so, what's the insight on that front?

Clarke: No, there really hasn't been and we try to stay away from predicting or telegraphing too many of our punches, if you will. The more information you put out about what kinds of people and resources you're sending and where you're sending them and what are they going to do, the clearer picture you might paint for the enemy, what it is we're about. So we don't predict those things and we don't telegraph them too often.

I will say this, we've got a wide range of people and resources and equipment in the region and we will continue to put in there what we think we need. We're performing a variety of activities.

General Myers is getting close to finding a good way to characterize this. It's a very asymmetrical approach to this military action, so we have a variety of people and resources and will continue to bolster those and back those up with additional people and resources. So there are several deployment orders working their way through the staff right now, but I couldn't tell you with certainty which ones are going to happen when.

Q: Torie, this is Tom Still again.

Could you talk a little bit about considerations of a war during Ramadan. If hostilities were ceased, which is not likely, you could undermine the war efforts. If you continued to prosecute the war at the level it's being done now is there a risk of a backlash from some of the very nations whose support you're seeking?

Clarke: We have always expressed and will always be very sensitive to the concerns and the interests of our Muslim friends. We will be.

As the secretary has pointed out, history is replete with examples of Muslims fighting during Ramadan and to echo what I said earlier, we certainly wouldn't be in the business of telegraphing what we may or may not do, but I think the secretary got asked this a couple of days ago in the briefing room and he said the threat against the United States and Americans is very, very real and we cannot and should not be holding back. We need to continue to pursue the terrorists and those who harbor and foster and sponsor them to remove to the extent possible the threat to the American people. So very sensitive to the Muslim concerns and considerations, recognizing as Muslims themselves had said, that history is filled with examples of Muslims fighting during Ramadan and then as I say, at least 10-15 times a day, we're just not in the business of telegraphing what we may or may not do militarily, and certainly not when or when not.

Q: How can you be simultaneously very sensitive, as you said, and then also not hold back?

Clarke: Well, because you can listen and you can be sensitive and you can also acknowledge the fact, as I said, that Muslims themselves have fought during Ramadan.

Q: Torie, John Riskin again.

There have been some reports I've seen today that the Pentagon is considering calling up, you mentioned the Reserves during your initial remarks, that the Pentagon is considering going beyond the authorized level of 50,000, although you noted right now active duty's actually 41,000 or so.

Can you fill us in any more on that?

Clarke: Actually under the statute we're authorized to go up to a million, which we don't anticipate coming anywhere near close to. And sometimes people get in the business of setting up periodic benchmarks, if you will. We're just not going to be in the business of setting benchmarks. We inform the White House as the numbers move up and we inform them of any pending large needs for large numbers, but right now we're about where we are, and we think it is fulfilling the current needs that we have.

Q: Thanks.

Q: This is Jules Crittendon at the Herald again.

A little bit of a follow-up on my earlier questions. I know there was some talk I believe late last week about some stories about the possibility of setting up a base somewhere. I wonder what you can tell me about the current thinking on whether at any point there will be a desire or need to take and hold territory, whether it's a base or whether it's a region by U.S. forces. Is that in the game plan now or do we remain sort of in the air and with small special ops groups? What can you tell me about that?

Clarke: The only thing we're really talking about right now is what the secretary was talking about in the briefing today. He said you've acknowledged that you have small numbers of Special Forces on the ground in Afghanistan working with the Northern Alliance. What are your plans going forward? And although we are very careful not to talk much about what might be coming up he did say, he did express the desire to get more people like that on the ground to work with those who want to make it a bad day for the Taliban and al Qaeda and have more effective targeting, more effective strikes, those sorts of things.

So he's expressed a strong desire to get more of that in there as quickly as we can. Different forces come into play, whether it's bad weather, ground fire, those kinds of things. But that's the most we're talking about going forward.

I know there was some speculation, I think it was several days ago, about some major base of operations being established and we just don't have anything on that for you.

Q: I think I got the answer there, but again, is there any sort of contingency or potentiality of larger, more conventional sort of deployments or taking of territory, holding of territory?

Clarke: To answer your question, although it probably won't satisfy you, we don't rule anything out. We aren't in the business of saying this is exactly what we plan to do and when, but we are not ruling things out. And the most we've said specifically is what the secretary talked about today.

Q: Very good.

Clarke: I actually threw out a question there, if nobody's got one at the front of their minds, and that is, we're just curious because we are in Washington, in the Washington area, and we can get caught up in the daily incoming which is pretty phenomenal sometimes, I'm just wondering if you all are hearing things or seeing things out there that we're not. Or if we seem to be focused on certain aspects of this and we're missing something.

Q: This is Tom Still in Madison.

I think we're sort of in the middle of the country. One of the main concerns here is of course security. Even though there are no cases of anthrax here, but it is something that everyone talks about and it's certainly well covered.

One thing I could ask you, I guess, that turns on your question is how would you rate, from what you know, the threats that are facing the American people here at home? If you had to have any kind of ranking about what's real and what's not real in terms of threats, what would you tell people?

Clarke: Not what they would expect, certainly. Because if you've been working around here for some time, in the Pentagon for some time, and you knew what we were focused on for the five or six months before September 11th, it was a very, very intensive look, we called it the awful name of the Quadrennial Defense Review, but it was a very intense look at the context of the world in which we found ourselves and how different it is and how dramatically different it is than even five or ten years ago. Then based with that extraordinarily different context, how are we arranging ourselves, how should the United States military be arranged and how should we be organized to address that different world?

To go back and read that now, it's somewhat chilling because Secretary Rumsfeld and the military leadership, General Myers and others, had made very strong statements months ago that the context of the world was dramatically different, that it was less likely we would know from whom a threat might come. It was more likely about the many different kinds of asymmetrical threats we might face, including terrorism.

So as they were putting together their priorities, as they were putting together the blueprint, if you will, how do we organize the U.S. military, how do we structure ourselves to face these asymmetrical threats of the 21st Century, they put first and foremost on the top of the list, homeland defense. And it really is somewhat chilling to go back and look at that because it was very prescient in many ways.

So in some ways we've been living with it prior to September 11th. September 11th has really crystallized obviously and made very manifest what we were saying all along is that the threat to Americans, to the homeland, are very, very real, and they continue to be real. That's why you're seeing such an intensive effort throughout the Administration to address those threats. It is, I'll grant you, it's a very different context in which to find ourselves. We've been blessed for many ,many years. Unique geography, friendly neighbors to the north and to the south. So it requires a very different way of thinking but I think everyone is stepping up to the plate very well.

We should probably wrap this one up. I want to thank you all very much for your time. I hope it's helpful. Give us a call, me or Kevin Kellems, if there's anything else we can do. I hope we can do it periodically.

Thank you.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).