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DoD Newsbriefing: Monday, February 11, 2002

DoD Newsbriefing: Monday, February 11, 2002

Source: News Transcript from the United States Department of Defense. DoD News Briefing: Victoria Clarke ASD (PA), Monday, February 11, 2002 - 12 p.m. EST. Also participating was Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem - Joint Staff.

Ms. Clarke: Good afternoon. I'd just like to start with a couple of things. It has been five months since September 11th, and every once and a while it's useful to reflect on that fact, and what this is all about, this war on terrorism that we're engaged in. And I'd like to read you, very briefly, the bio of one of the employees here at the Pentagon who was killed on that attack -- in that attack on Sept. 11. He was Commander Patrick Dunn. He was 39 years old. He worked as a planner and a strategist at the Navy Command Center at the Pentagon. The son of a Newark policeman, he came from a Navy family. His father served in World War II and the Korean War. Commander Dunn and one of his brothers were U.S. Naval Academy graduates. His wife, Stephanie, used to wave the Naval Academy flag from the roof of their home in Italy when the USS LaSalle headed out to sea with her husband, who was the ship's executive officer. "Pat's favorite thing was to be at sea," she recalled. "If the ship was rocking, he was happy." Commander Dunn was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. We will not forget him. We will not forget the thousands that were killed on September 11th, and we will not forget why we're doing what we're doing.

We are joined in this fight with the world at large. Dozens of countries have engaged in the war on terrorism, and we continue to have their support. The work of our men and women in uniform has yielded much success in a short amount of time -- in just five months. We have eliminated the Taliban role from the government. We have turned the country of Afghanistan back to the people. The al Qaeda continues to be on the run, and we have disintegrated some of their capabilities.

As we've made clear, one of the objectives is to prevent Afghanistan from being returned or going back to being a haven, a free-ranging field, if you will, for terrorists. Helping rebuilding Afghanistan helps to further that goal. And just a few of the efforts thus far include the delivery of thousands of tons of food, preventing the feared starvation of six million people in Afghanistan; the opening of a Jordan Medical Field Hospital in Mazar-e Sharif, that has, since Jan. 8, alone, treated 10,000 patients and conducted 134 surgeries; the printing of the Kabul Weekly, independent newspapers banned by Taliban since 1996. The Kabul Weekly printed its first issue last month. It endorsed supporting democracy and human rights and it denounced terrorism. Spanish hospital opened today.

Here at home, we've increased our security measures and information gathering to prevent future attacks by terrorists. And as I said, a lot of progress has been made. We have a lot more work to go in the war on terrorism, but we will endure.

And one of the reasons we have been successful is because of the incredible people in uniform who do such a great job day in and day out. One of them, who's standing next to me, is Admiral Stufflebeem. And before he stands up here, I'd just like to congratulate him on being assigned to the Harry S. Truman, where he will take command of the Carrier Group Two, but for the time being we still have him. Sir.

Admiral Stufflebeem: Thank you. I'll try hard not to smile too much. (Laughter.)

Question: (Off mike.)

Admiral Stufflebeem: Thank you. Well, good afternoon, everyone. Very briefly, as you recall, we had military personnel on the ground in the vicinity of Zhawar Kili recently investigating the site that was targeted at the beginning of last week. That team has now left the area. The intent was to exploit any intelligence that could be gathered as a result of a strike. As of today, I can report that the team has recovered some documents, some clothing, two missile fins, an empty box used for a hand-held radio, some AK-47 ammo pouches and some 300 rounds of 50-caliber ammo, and, yes, some human remains.

To give you an update on the detainee situation, we have a total of 463 detainees in U.S. control, 209 in Afghanistan and 220 in Guantanamo Bay, and we're expecting the arrival of another 34 detainees in Gitmo in a few hours. And that would put the number on the ground there at 254.

With that I think, Charlie, we'll take your questions.

Ms. Clarke: Charlie?

Question: Admiral, I'd like to ask both you and Torie, is there any indication that the people who were killed in that CIA missile strike last week were not senior al Qaeda and might have, in fact, been innocent people, as reports indicate? And also, there are reports that people captured in the raid north of Kandahar three weeks ago, 27 people, some of them were beaten. Are you looking into that? And if that's true, doesn't that just add fuel to charges that you might not be treating detainees properly?

Ms. Clarke: That's three questions.

Question: Well?

Ms. Clarke: Take Zhawar Kili first?

Admiral Stufflebeem: Yeah. We do not know who were the individuals at the strike site in the vicinity of Zhawar Kili. The reason that we had an exploitation team in there was to gather the evidence and to, hopefully, positively identify who it was or who it was not.

I won't get into the intelligence-gathering specifics of that one, but the indicators were there that there was something that we needed to make go away.

It'll take some time -- that team has only just left the area early this morning. So it'll take some time for them to get that material out, where it can be actually exploited further. So I don't have an answer for you now as to who the identity was of the individuals who were killed there.

There are no initial indications that these were innocent locals, and I base that on the facts that this team, in addition to just looking at the site where the strike occurred, also did some exploration in the surrounding area, to include some caves, a nearby village, and talking to locals. So I think that that sort of puts us in a comfort zone right now -- is that these were not innocents.

Your second question, now, getting back to the raid previously, Hazar Qadam, and specifically those 27 detainees, as was reported here, I believe last week, there is a formal investigation. There is an officer who has been formally appointed to do that, and he's in the midst of conducting that investigation, to report it up through the chain of command, to General Franks and, I believe, ultimately back here to the secretary.

It is our policy and -- as is in all mishaps or incidents that are investigated by the military, not to comment on that while it's ongoing. And certainly while I appreciate the desire and urgency to get to the ground truth, as -- we all would like to be there -- to -- providing the details as they're being discovered now would just be premature and may draw wrong conclusions.

In terms of the beatings that had been reported, there is no information that we have heard that would support that that is in fact the case.

Now I would tell you, on a personal level, having been through military training with special operating forces -- and in my case, it was training where, as a senior officer, I was in a prisoner of war training environment, and the special operating forces came to get me out -- it's not a pleasant experience for anybody to have to endure that. The team gets on the ground and secures the area. If they're being fired at, they return the fire to suppress it, and then once the firing has stopped, they secure the area, to try to get as many people as they can. And in that initial encounter, you don't know who's good, you don't know who's bad, and you don't take the chances; you just secure the area. So everybody's treated the same, and it's relatively harsh, I would say once identities are established, it's quite a different mode.

But as a training prisoner of war, I was pretty well roughed up, and I think it was because you can't tell or believe exactly who is who, and you have got to secure the area and make sure your team is secure and have positive control of the situation. So I -- that's the only thing that I can offer to you as reality.

Ms. Clarke: I would just add two things to that. One is, the general state of confusion. To say that the situation, to say that conditions in Afghanistan are confusing is an understatement, you know. And it's impossible to say these people are on this side and these people are on those side. People are on multiple sides, and they switch sides. So there is a great deal of confusion about information in general. And we do always try to get to ground truth.

In this particular instance, to repeat what the admiral says, we have no evidence that those sort of beatings took place. But the secretary and General Franks have asked the local -- the land combatant commander to look into it further, to look into that, because we want to make absolutely sure things are being done properly. And that's just a general part of our process. We look into things. If anything has been done improperly, then we will address it, and we'll take steps to make sure things are done better going forward.

Question: Torie --

Ms. Clarke: And then the last -- no, I want to address the third part of his Question, which is about Guantanamo and the treatment of the detainees there. It has now been several weeks I guess since the first detainees arrived. There has been an almost constant presence of the media there. There have been several visits by congressional delegations. There have been visits by officials from other countries. The ICRC has been down there. And everyone who's been there and everyone who's seen with their own eyes knows what we know, which is these detainees are being treated very, very well.

Question: Torie -

Question: (Inaudible) -- regarding the on-the-ground investigation by American personnel at Zhawar Kili in the aftermath of that missile strike. The Washington Post reported today that a reporter at the scene was threatened to be killed by an American officer. Are officers actually authorized to threaten the use of deadly force against reporters under that circumstance?

Admiral Stufflebeem: Well, I don't know the specifics of what happened there on -- at the site. I would ask us all to think of a couple of things though. One is, as American soldiers, and certainly as the professionals trained in the arms that they are, they're there, first of all, to secure this area to be able to collect evidence. Well, evidence is not the right word. To collect intelligence, and in this case, also some forensics.

To secure that area would be to try to discourage anybody from getting in there to either disturb it or to collect things of their own. And that's traditionally done, whether it's here in the United States for an accident mishap or any place else.

To believe that a U.S. American serviceman would knowingly threaten, especially with deadly force, another American is hard for me to accept. I also have to put myself on the ground of that military commander of that particular exploitation, and if someone presents himself and -- there's no way for us to know, but he may not know that that was a Washington Post reporter, he just may know that somebody wants access into the site and he's denying it. It would make a lot more logical sense to me that he is pointing out that there are hazards in this area. This is not a friendly area, this is an area where we have armed people there for the protection of ourselves in case we're shot at. I think that there -- if there was any reference to physical harm in there, it's just the reality of the situation and not that the U.S. forces would bring that upon someone.

Question: May I do a follow-up on that issue, please? Admiral, we're getting, obviously, information that is disjointed and sometimes conflicting. Out of the Senate, after CIA Director Tenet testified, we had heard that there was a convoy of SUVs that had stopped for some reason, men in white robes got out; one was well protected, et cetera, et cetera. Then we hear that this place was about 11,000 feet up on the side of a mountain. Can you clarify it? First of all, it seems illogical that a convoy of SUVs would be up a mountainside in Afghanistan 11,000 feet high. Tell us what you can about the location, the locale. Were these people in the truck, were they on foot? Whatever you can tell us.

Admiral Stufflebeem: I can't give you very many specific details of the actual strike site because I just don't have them. What I do know is that they were individuals who were not in vehicles who were targeted. This was a meeting -- this meeting happened to be on a hillside -- whether actually it was a mountainside, I'm not so sure. And 11,000 feet is not uncommon for an altitude of the area; it's a very high-altitude area. You recall that a couple of helos that we've had have gone done recently in poor weather have all been at this 9,000, 11,000 foot range, and that's pretty much where we're at here. So I'm not surprised there were not vehicles up there, and in fact, there were. The vehicles were not actually part of the strike. This strike occurred away from those.

Question: It was a meeting, you say? What was the meeting about?

Admiral Stufflebeem: Well, I don't know what the meeting was about, but --

Question: There was a meeting going on, I mean, outside --

Admiral Stufflebeem: Somebody had obviously driven there. They had gotten together and were outside the vehicles away from the vehicles and they were targeted.

Question: What time of day was that, do you all have, that a strike occurred?

Admiral Stufflebeem: I'm sorry, I don't know. I believe, if I recall, it was a morning daylight strike, but I --

Question: (Off mike.)

Ms. Clarke: All right. Jim?

Question: Admiral, could you at least broadly talk about what the indicators are that you were referring to earlier when you said that there were indicators of something important going on here? At least without, perhaps, getting into specifics, what do you mean by that and what are some of the broad categories, what are the broad indicators?

Admiral Stufflebeem: Well, I appreciate the question. It wants to get to the exactness of the truth, and that also gets into developing intelligence specifics, so I won't do that. But let me say that the anecdotal reports of what I hear of what has been recovered from that site to date include things like weapons and ammunition, include things like communications systems or at least things that would give you the impression that there may have been communication devices, documents in English, having to do, with applications for credit cards, possibly, or maybe for airline schedules. So the intelligence that was garnered to be able to facilitate the strike, the initial indications afterwards would seem to say that these are not peasant people up there farming.

Question: But is it fair to say that these people had been observed or been watched by American surveillance aircraft for some time, or had the CIA been looking at these folks for more than the few minutes before the attack?

Admiral Stufflebeem: It's my understanding this was not a surprise, chance encounter visually.

Question: Do you know how many people were there?

Admiral Stufflebeem: I do not know.

Question: Victoria, may I follow, please?

Ms. Clarke: (Inaudible) -- a hand, somebody --

Question: Yes, thanks. Where's the evidence being taken to be

looked at? There was some talk earlier that you had DNA samples from bin Laden's family that could be compared against that?

Ms. Clarke: The evidence gets brought back to the continental United States. Don't know where.

Question: (Off mike) -- FBI lab or to a military lab?

Ms. Clarke: I don't know. (To Adm. Stufflebeem) Do you?

Admiral Stufflebeem: I actually don't know either.

Question: Would the United States be able to identify bin Laden's remains from DNA?

Admiral Stufflebeem: I can't verify for you now the repository or -- I can't even verify that we have bin Laden DNA to compare it to at this point. But I can -- I can substantiate that we are trying to gather DNA for identification purposes.

Question: A couple of other --

Question: From his family? Is that what you're saying?

Admiral Stufflebeem: Well, right now I'm just going to limit it to just the strike site. We're going to get forensic evidence out of this particular strike site. Where -- you know, we photograph, we videotape, and where possible we bring back physical samples, and this all gets catalogued.

To say that we have a bin Laden DNA now and can us it to compare with, I can't say, because I don't know that. But you've got to have evidence to be able to catalogue it, and then as you build more evidence and get more evidence, you can start to compare things one to another and rule things out, as well as confirm them.

Question: When can we expect the Pentagon to release either the photographs or the videotape of this site and some of the evidence that was gathered?

Ms. Clarke: I don't know.

Admiral Stufflebeem: I don't know either. That --

Question: May we make that as a request?

Ms. Clarke: You can certainly make that as a request.

Question: Do you have strike imagery?

Question: Admiral --

Admiral Stufflebeem: Yeah.

Question: I'm curious. You said you don't know who was killed in this attack, whether it was civilians, Taliban, or --

Admiral Stufflebeem: I'm sorry.

Ms. Clarke: We don't know exactly who it was.

Admiral Stufflebeem: We don't know the identities of the individuals involved.

Question: But you're convinced they're Taliban?

Admiral Stufflebeem: We're convinced that --

Ms. Clarke: We're convinced it was an appropriate target, based on the observation, based on the information that it was an appropriate target. We do not know yet exactly who it was.

Question: And I'm curious. In this uncertainty, why would you attack this with a missile, as opposed to going in with a Special Forces team, perhaps surrounding the area, and trying to find out who was who, rather sending the missile? Wouldn't that be a more proper way to do this, perhaps?

Admiral Stufflebeem: Well, if you -- in fact you have a quick reaction force that is on standby, in close proximity, and where vehicles have stopped and congregated, and people have gotten out and are having a meeting, if you have a team that's ready to pounce, maybe so.

If because of the location of where it is and because of the type of a system that you're using to monitor these areas, you don't have that, and you have the information that would lead you to believe that this -- the time to be able take advantage of this would be now, rather than lose it -- I think this was probably the best weapon that was available at the time in the location.

Question: Were you afraid these people were going to get away? I mean, you had them under surveillance. Why wouldn't you just instead go in and make sure you know who's who? It could be scrap deals, it could be Taliban, it could be civilians.

Ms. Clarke: I'd say, again, based on the information they had and the observations, they believed it was an appropriate target. And again, we're somewhat at a disadvantage here, since it was not DoD per se. But they thought it was an appropriate target, and they used what they had at the time.

Question: Admiral, when you mentioned the English documents, and you said -- I believe you said airline schedules and possible credit card applications -- were you using that as a possible example, or were papers -- were those papers found there -- English papers, airline schedules, and credit card applications? Were those --

Admiral Stufflebeem: Those are representative examples of what was recovered from the site.

Ms. Clarke: Mm-hm. (Inaudible) -- back there.

Question: Going back to the attack in Afghanistan, on the one hand, reports are saying that Osama bin Laden may have been killed. On the other hand, secretary had said here on this podium several times that he may be vanished or killed or disappeared. And finally, the Pakistani president has said several times, there are now (sufficient ?) reports that Osama bin Laden -- I mean Pakistani president said that he may have been killed and he -- because of kidney disease or he had kidney dialysis or something, machines were imported from Pakistan to Afghanistan. So what is the reality really? Who can we believe? I mean, whether he -- some reports are saying now today that he's in Pakistan.

Ms. Clarke: Go ahead.

Admiral Stufflebeem: What you have to believe is we do not know where Osama bin Laden is.

Question: Well CIA also doesn't have really real information.

Admiral Stufflebeem: I would say that's accurate.

Ms. Clarke: There's lots -- there's lots of information. There are lots of reports. Some are more valid than others. But --

Question: I mean, who should we believe? We can't --

Ms. Clarke: (Inaudible.)

Question: Torie.

Question: Do we have a sense of how many individuals were killed in this direct attack on Monday?

Admiral Stufflebeem: Well, I don't know. I mean, I've not seen any of the video from the weapons systems, so I can't tell you that I know. The sense that I have talking to people from the command is that it was a small group.

Question: But were all of them killed, or did some of them get away?

Admiral Stufflebeem: I haven't heard of any reports that indicated that anybody survived this particular strike.

Question: Any evidence that anybody got to this site before our team got there?

Admiral Stufflebeem: Yes.

Question: Who?

(Cross talk.)

Question: (Inaudible.) Can you elaborate on that? Can you elaborate on that?

Admiral Stufflebeem: Not much. Because this is an extremely remote area, it's also relatively tough climate wise, it is fair to say that this U.S. exploitation team was not the first either human or animal to have gotten to the scene.

Question: And that's because there were graves, that someone had buried some of the remains? Is that what the evidence was the someone else had been there, or --

Admiral Stufflebeem: No, I think that -- in some cases, it can be particularly gruesome to come upon human remains that may have been exposed to the elements for some period of time. And in addition to that, it's obvious, when there are pieces of -- pieces of things that are inexplicably in a location they ordinarily might not be in when you would see, you know, an impact crate for instance. Why would this be way over there when in fact everything else was over here? So it gives you the evidence that somebody or something was there before.

Question: But you're basically saying it could have been an animal. It doesn't have to have been a human being, it might have been just the animals.

Admiral Stufflebeem: Correct.

Ms. Clarke: Brian?

Question: Yes, if I could go back to your characterization of this being an appropriate target. We understand that there are great limitations on what you can say in this regard. But at times, questions have been raised that we really could use a little more guidance as to why you thought it was an appropriate target. What can you give us that would help us understand why the CIA thought it was okay to pull the trigger?

Admiral Stufflebeem: Well, let me try. First of all, you have got to appreciate that this was intelligence that was brought to a point of action that was not DOD's. And while it's been reported more than once, many times, that there is a very close working relationship between other agencies and the Department of Defense, that's not to say that there is total information sharing on all -- at a real-time basis all the time. So I don't know what all information the agency may have had to cause them to say now it's time to act. But they are confident that they had the right indicators and the right information that they felt comfortable to go ahead and prosecute the attack. And what we have seen so far -- and I'm talking about, you know, somebody who has literally come out of this environment only hours ago, and only has stuff under their arms to just say, well, we have things like this -- the indication is this is not -- you know, this is not some innocent person up there trying to eke a living out.

Question: May I follow? As long as the Department of Defense is saying that we don't know everything because the CIA is doing this, and given the fact that the CIA doesn't hold daily briefings, is it possible to get someone from the CIA to come here, given the fact that we are talking about the CIA now having an offensive capability they've never had before? The rules have changed in that regard. Is it possible the rules could change so that we could question them directly about this?

Ms. Clarke: We're happy to ask. I think I know what the answer will be, but we're happy to ask. But I would -- without talking about this specific incident, generically speaking, they observe, they use surveillance; they look for a combination of things, and it can be the kind of people, it can be the kind of equipment and weapons they might have, it can be the kind of vehicles, it can be the nature of the activity. But it's often a variety of things that they put together and say, "Okay, this leads us to believe it is this kind of target." Speaking in a very generic fashion.

Admiral Stufflebeem: Let me just add something too that might help you a little bit. If you're tracking vehicles coming from different locations that come to a meeting place, and you have some information about the source of those vehicles or who might have been in the vicinity where those vehicles departed from, that also is a way you can build a mosaic, and then when they collected together and having a meeting.

Question: Is that what you think happened in this case?

Admiral Stufflebeem: I will tell you that I don't know what to believe. I've become smart enough now in this job to question everything and to ask for, you know, who can verify what it is that I'm seeing and reading.

Question: (Off mike) -- you've been given, sir?

Admiral Stufflebeem: Oh, no. I've learned this through the school of hard knocks.

Ms. Clarke: Let's go right here and then back --

Question: A couple of clean-up questions. One of them is, were there fresh graves? Were any of the people buried?

Admiral Stufflebeem: None that we -- I'm not -- don't have any information to indicate that.

Question: Did you find -- I don't know a delicate way to ask this -- bodies, did you find pieces of bodies? Yes?

Admiral Stufflebeem: Yes.

Question: Bodies?

Admiral Stufflebeem: Pieces.

Question: Pieces of bodies. Okay. And then, sort of a decision- making question. When you say that there is sharing of information between the Defense Department and the CIA in situations like this, the ultimate call to pull the trigger in this is not something that CENTCOM or the Defense Department -- do you have a veto, do you have -- do you monitor and say, okay, we concur? Can you tell us about how you decide in action situations like this, where they have the lead and the Defense Department does not?

Admiral Stufflebeem: I only know, I think -- I only know one small part of how the command and control coordination is done. The agency and the Central Command work very closely together on just about everything that's going on in Afghanistan. However, having said that -- and let me caveat that -- that the agency also will have objectives of what they have people doing. We may be supporting that or we may not be, and because of the time-sensitivity to it, we may not even be totally aware of all those actions that are going on. So I believe that the agency has objectives and they have requirements and operations that they answer to their bosses to, and not that it would require permission of DOD to continue.

I think there are other operations that have occurred where they have come and asked for assistance of DOD and, therefor, DOD in fact did have -- I think a "veto" is an incorrect way to describe that, but I think that without that assistance, you couldn't go ahead and get that operation completed.

Question: Admiral, can you explain why if this Predator was tracking this, and there was apparently some advanced intelligence, for several hours, why tactical aircraft would have not been called in? It seems to me that those tactical aircraft can get from one end to another of Afghanistan in several hours.

Admiral Stufflebeem: Well I cannot give you the specific answers to this situation because I just don't know what was on call, what was

busy doing something else, or what was in the immediate vicinity that could be called on.

I also don't know the specifics of the command and control of this particular operation; i.e., the controller of this unmanned air vehicle, which happened to be an armed unmanned air vehicle, may not have had the command or the control coordination that he would just pick up the phone and be able to call in or provide the coordinates to tactical air if, in fact, it were near in the environment.

You would also recall that in some times in the past when we had unarmed air vehicles, that in some cases the information that had been generated didn't necessarily get to the shooter, and when the shooter got there, that particular target was no longer there. And so I think what you're seeing now is an adaptation of the technology that since you have an armed vehicle there which can see this target, have met the criteria for whomever is controlling that operation to say, "I can strike that target and I have a weapon to bring to bear on it now rather than lose this opportunity."

Question: I wanted to follow up a little bit on Jack's question. My question basically is, does the CIA have greater latitude in striking a target than the military? In other words, I'm thinking back to the time when Rumsfeld -- the episode of Rumsfeld reportedly hearing that Osama bin Laden was in the sights, but a JAG stopped it, and so therefore -- (inaudible). Does the CIA have greater latitude in striking? And is that one reason why they're going after so many things recently?

Admiral Stufflebeem: Well, you're asking us to divulge, if you will, some of the CIA operating procedures, and so --

Question: Not really. I'm asking if they have greater latitude to pull the trigger than the military.

Admiral Stufflebeem: I don't know if they have more latitude to conduct offensive military lethal operations than the U.S. military does. I do know that it is not precisely the same, and so it may not be necessarily wider, but it may be that they have more autonomy in a particular area where maybe General Franks has decided for uniformed people not to be quite as decentralized.

Question: In other words, is there someone watching out to say -- to have a second opinion of, "No, we don't think you should kill these people based on that sort of information"?

Admiral Stufflebeem: Well, in the operations where we're working together and sharing and comparing, we're certainly going to be asking

each other -- "We think this is a good target, we're not so sure, we think maybe we should do something else," and we'll work to resolve that. In a case of where the agency is doing its thing, obviously they're probably not picking up these phones and calling around and saying, "Hey, can you send in some ground forces there and collect these up," because I think, you know, if we could or had been able to do that, we might have.

Question: And that was the case in this instance, that it was an autonomous example of the CIA doing its thing, as you said?

Admiral Stufflebeem: This was a case where Central Command was not actively participating or coordinated with this particular strike at that time.

Question: Did you provide any assistance at all, or was this completely a CIA operation?

Admiral Stufflebeem: The most honest answer is, I don't know what the coordination was prior to this vehicle being airborne in this sector at that time.

During that time, I understood that this was an agency mission at that point, and there was coordination with DOD afterwards, and some evidence is the fact that we put an exploitation team in on that particular site, rather than them doing it themselves.

Question: The CIA went up with the military after the fact to check this site, or --

Admiral Stufflebeem: No, U.S. military went up there.

Question: Just U.S. military?

Question: (Off mike) -- intelligence, or was it just CIA intelligence?

Admiral Stufflebeem: I don't know, Charlie. I really don't know if in fact we had contributed early on into this. But again, we're sharing a lot of information, and so what pieces of it were useful for this, I don't have the specifics.

Question: Are you saying that --

Ms. Clarke: No, let's go to Barbara and then we'll come back to you.

Question: Admiral Stufflebeem, I don't think I've ever heard a military officer stand up here and say, "I don't know what to believe anymore." I'm very curious as to what you meant by that comment.

And in addition, just how tough is the targets -- I mean, it just seems increasingly every target is increasingly problematic. So as you go down the road in Afghanistan, and the target set changes because there's less fighting in the country, just how tough is the target set really getting? I mean, how do you stop having problematic targets, like all of the -- in recent --

Ms. Clarke: Let me --

Question: But your first -- I'd really like to know what you meant. "I don't know what to believe."

Ms. Clarke: Let me say what I think he meant, and then you can correct me -

(Cross talk.) No. No, I mean it.

Question: (Off mike.)

Ms. Clarke: I -- that's fine, but I mean it. It goes to what we were saying earlier about the confusion. To say that this is a complex situation in which information which may be good one day is bad the next day is an understatement. And people that were doing something three months ago were doing something else two months ago, and then it changed last week. And I think the secretary was talking with us a little bit last week -- there can be three versions of a story, and those three versions can be correct. And we have all learned the hard way -- and you all know to say, you know, first reports are wrong, second reports are soften wrong. So given the very unconventional nature of the circumstance in which we find ourselves, we try to deal with what we consider to be hard and fast information, and I think that's what he was reflecting. So you can correct me.

Admiral Stufflebeem: Well, no -- (cross talk) -- let me ask -- answer Ms. Starr's question.

Question: And how do you get past having problematic targets now?

Admiral Stufflebeem: Okay . Well --

Question: Go to the first one.

Admiral Stufflebeem: All right.

Question: (Laughs.)

Admiral Stufflebeem: Since I have become an operations briefer as part of my regular responsibilities that I have on the Joint Staff, I have learned, I think, through your eyes, to question what appears to be facts, and I find myself using that as a technique. And when I'm challenging my briefers, who are asking or telling me things, or when I'm just asking questions -- and I'll give you plenty of "for instances" -- there was a report that came in early on in the strikes about, well, here was an F-18 dropping this particular precision- guided weapon on that target. Well, as an F-14 pilot, knowing what a weapons system looks at, I said that's an F-14 display.

And so I wondered, Does who's providing this information up know exactly every weapons system that's coming up? I learned that wasn't the case.

I have learned to believe that in the most recent example is, here is a ground force securing a site to be able to try to develop intelligence: Zhawar Kili. The report is, a Washington Post reporter, I think, if I heard it right, a Washington Post reporter showed up and asked for access to the site and was told some things. If I were -- who am -- where I am right now, I would say, how does that guy know he's a Washington Post reporter. I mean, any set of credentials that are carried in Afghanistan today have got to be just hard to believe, because when you pick some of these people up, they've got multiple identity cards; they've got multiple passports; they've got multiple names and certainly multiple stories.

And so you really find, in the essence of that answer, getting now to your second one, is how problematic this part of the world is. We knew from the beginning that Afghanistan was a difficult place to be. We didn't know that much about it. It was a very remote and harsh environment. And once we got in there, the more we learned about it is, the more difficult it is to operate, certainly as Americans, in a difficult country like this, because you -- you hear a piece of information from this individual, who will tell you things like "You ought to go hit those guys because they're al Qaeda." But then the individual says, "I'm not al Qaeda, I'm anti-Taliban." And now you've got to start asking yourselves, "Well, where in here --" you know heard today from this report about -- I think maybe from the Post report, individuals who would say, "You should have come and listened to the locals to get more information about this." But we you go talk to the locals, what you're getting is that you did the right thing or you did the wrong thing, and you can get both stories in the same thing.

Question: How do you sort that out? How do you sort it out? How do you know you're not being played off of one warlord?

Admiral Stufflebeem: Because you don't ever rely on that one piece of information anymore. If that one guy is going to tell you one thing, "Thank you very much. I appreciate having that information." I'm going to go to others. I'm going to try to keep building this thing until I get a mosaic, if I can put it together, and look for other indicators.

Question: But if I could follow up on that, Admiral.

Question: Have there been any changes in your own targeting procedures to try and reduce the number of problems? And just my last point there is how do you feel about the -- as a briefer -- the quality of information that you've been getting to brief with?

Admiral Stufflebeem: I think that the problems that you're seeing are getting pretty far down now into some details so that every individual strike or every individual operations can get some pretty fine examination where we couldn't get it before. I mean, there are reporters on the ground. There are more forces on the ground. But there also are shifting allegiances still to this day. There are people in the country with their own personal agendas, those who are being paid; those who have yet to be paid; those who want to get paid. There's a lot of that stuff. And therefore, it is more problematic in that regard.

But I also feel that we're -- because we're putting our own eyes on these targets, we're collecting our own evidence and adding that to what it is that we hear from individuals, we're getting a much better and clearer picture of what it is that we need to do next.

Now, your last part was?

Question: The quality of information you feel -- if you have this issue, what's the quality of information you feel you've been getting from the military, as a briefer standing up there?

Admiral Stufflebeem: I think the quality is good. But what I have done as an individual, as an operations briefer, is instead of just accepting the reports that I have it on first read or first brief, I thank the individuals very much who come to see me. Maybe in front of them we'll go ask the question of somebody else on the phone, or maybe I'll wait till later to do that. And so I've been able to glean some facts and correct some things so that I've been able to bring to you what I think is the best information available.

Ms. Clarke: I wanted to add something to that. There's a slight suggestion in the way you asked that question "all these problems." The fact of the matter is, that for the five months

-- or since -- the four months since the military operation started, the great majority of the strikes have been very successful, they have been the target -- where we hit the targets we intended to hit. We have gone to great lengths, and for the great majority of the time have avoided civilian casualties.

What you have going on right now is there are circumstances in which there may be some questions, there may be some issues. So, appropriately, we are looking into them. But if you step back for a minute from the interests of the last two or three days and take a look at the whole picture, the whole picture has been quite good. And in those instances where there are questions, we will look into it.

Question: Torie, if turns out that, when all the facts are in, there has been a mistake made here, how committed are you to getting those facts out? I mean, will you come clean?

Ms. Clarke: Very. The secretary has said that from up here. I mean, let me again talk about why we look into these things: because we want to do things right, because we want to make sure we're hitting the right targets, because we want to avoid civilian casualties. So if there are reports, if there is information that leads us to believe something may not have worked right, then we will look into it, we will investigate it, we will address it. And if there are steps we can take -- if something has gone wrong, if there are steps we can take to prevent it going forward, then of course that's what we'll do. And we are committed to releasing the information, the results that we can.

Question: And as the head of Public Affairs for the Pentagon, do you have a problem with an American news reporter for one of the major U.S. newspapers being threatened with deadly force to prevent him from covering the operations of U.S. troops in the field?

Ms. Clarke: I don't know -- I don't believe -- agree with the premise of your question. We don't know the circumstances of what happened on the spot. As you all know, because many of you have been out there with the men and women in uniform, we go to great lengths and we go to great effort to put you with the men and women in uniform so you can see for yourselves what is going on with these military operations.

Just a few weeks ago, some of the people in this room spent time with our Special Forces teams so they could see for themselves. So when we can, we are facilitating as much access, as much news and information as possible.

I just don't agree with the premise of your question here. We don't have enough information about what may or may not have happened. But it is a very dangerous place. There are still a lot of dangerous things going on. And for someone, just because someone walks up and say, "Here's my ID that says I'm a reporter." Massoud was killed by people who said they were reporters.

Question: So it was -- so in your -- I take from what you're saying that it was an identification problem.

Ms. Clarke: We don't know --

Question: If you could have properly identified that reporter as a Washington Post reporter, then things might have been different? Somehow I don't think that's the case.

Ms. Clarke: We -- well, we don't know what the circumstances were at the time. But to the extent that we can facilitate access for the media, and it doesn't in any way endanger or harm an operation, it doesn't get in the way of what they're trying to do -- in this case, an investigation in a very dangerous place -- it doesn't in any way put in harm's way the men and women in uniform or the reporters themselves, then we will try to facilitate it.

Question: Torie.

(Cross talk.)

Ms. Clarke: And the experience backs it up.

Question: Torie, can I -- can I just -- I just want to put a very fine point on this, if you can help us to the extent you can. You said that there were several hours of intelligence, or several hours of following those particular vehicles and those particular people. At any point in the intelligence-gathering --

Ms. Clarke: I didn't say several hours. I don't know if it was several hours.

Question: It was said last week on the --

Question: Myers said.

Ms. Clarke: Okay.

Question: It has been said. At any point in those several hours, was there evidence -- specific evidence that this person, these people were al Qaeda people, or was it merely a situation where they met several indicators -- security, deference, some of the things that we've talked about, and that is enough to rise to the level of pulling the trigger? I'm still a little confused about that.

Ms. Clarke: I don't know, so I can't help you.

Admiral Stufflebeem: Yeah, I do not know the specifics to say, these -- these fit a profile that we're tracking for al Qaeda, or these fit the profile for tracking of pro-Taliban. I don't know. I suppose somebody does. Unfortunately, I don't. And I have been tracking this, at least at my level, for what I do in my real job, so to speak, and what I do here now in this part of the job, is, if I see pro-Taliban, if I see al Qaeda, I'm not distinguishing between the two. We're after both.

So, I -- the fine point, I just -- I don't know which of those -- if you want --

(Cross talk.)

Question: Under the DoD's -- under the DoD's rules, since there does seem to be some different between DoD and CIA on this, could you -- could the Pentagon essentially pull the trigger on a strike like this merely if someone met several indicators, or does there -- like we've talked about -- or does there need to be a specific other piece -- he came out of an al Qaeda meeting; it looks like a certain member that we believe we have identified -- or does merely meeting some indicators allow you, under your rules, to fire?

Admiral Stufflebeem: Yes. There are -- I call them trip wires, if you will, but "indicators" would be fine. There are indicators that we look for, and with those indicators or those trip wires having been met, we do conduct strikes. Some of those are very time-sensitive strikes, and in some of the sensitivities, they may go up as high possibly as even General Franks to say authorize this. And in other indicators, he may delegate that to lower-echelon commanders. It is even -- I'm sure that at least in the right of -- inherent right of self-defense, the on-scene commander can make a determination if those indicators are met.

Question: But sir, can you make one thing clear, sir? That if the strike was for Osama bin Laden, and the CIA wanted to hit him, can you clarify that Osama bin Laden was still alive until CIA attack in Afghanistan?

Admiral Stufflebeem: It's impossible to answer the question. I understand the desire to want to know what we know about Osama bin Laden; but we don't know. The best thing to say about Osama bin Laden is that there is not yet enough indicators that tell us that he has died to believe that he is dead, and therefore, we make an assumption that he is alive, and we don't know where he is, but we are looking for him and would intend to find him.

Question: Then we don't believe General Musharraf's statement that he is dead.

Admiral Stufflebeem: We do not believe the statements that he is dead.

Ms. Clarke: Let's do --

Question: Admiral?

Ms. Clarke: -- Tom? And then Brian and -- (inaudible).

Question: Admiral, to follow up on what Barbara was saying, are we at a tougher time in targeting in Afghanistan now, do you think, where we're in sort of this gray area, the Taliban regime is gone, and now we're trying to sort out who's al Qaeda, who's Taliban, who's a civilian? And if so, do we have to check and double-check the information we're getting? Is it more difficult to try to find out who's an enemy?

Admiral Stufflebeem: In one sense, yes. It is more difficult to develop targets now than it was, certainly, in the beginning where the targets were just so openly visible. The Taliban has vanished. Al Qaeda have vanished. We are constantly, and I do mean constantly, chasing reports from all over the country as to a pocket of al Qaeda here, a sighting of Taliban there. And we are working exceptionally hard -- I think it's fair to use the big "e" word in that case -- to go after multiple ways, to say "I'm not going to go off on just this one report." That one report may be enough to go ahead and send out, you know, an evaluation team to go find out. And most of these reports, in fact, are coming up empty.

So -- you know, this is what I was as getting back to earlier about stop -- talking about chasing the shadows. It's a shadow war. These are shadowy people who don't want to be found. And so you're going after all these reports as to where this individual or where these groups may be and what they may be doing, and so when you get upon it, there's nothing there.

Question: Torie, can I follow up, please?

Ms. Clarke: Follow-up, and last question.

Question: Clearly, we don't know what happened with the missile attack yet. You're still trying to sort out who those people were. But with the attack north of Kandahar, you released the 27 people held in detention. So clearly, those people weren't the ones you thought they were. I guess the question is, what is being done since then to make sure you have the right information? Are you coming out with new procedures or --

Ms. Clarke: On that -- on the 27, I'd clarify slightly. Clearly, they were not people that we thought we wanted to have, and we have turned them over to the Afghan interim government. But we've decided those are not people that we needed to have. The investigation is still underway to determine what happened, who was who, et cetera. And we will put out as much information --

Question: Who were they?

Ms. Clarke: Don't know who they were. But clearly, they were not people that we felt we wanted to have.

Question: Meaning higher Taliban?

Ms. Clarke: In terms of we, the United States, the kinds of people we want to have control over are high-value people, if you will, high-value assets.

So, last back here --

Admiral Stufflebeem: Well, let me just answer one last point on that one.

Ms. Clarke: Okay.

Admiral Stufflebeem: We're not collecting every former Taliban, especially mid-level or lower-level people. We're interested in the leadership. And so we are being offered many people to help screen, as have been screened, if they're under detention already. There are still those who would be collected, if you will, or put into detention, and they will be screened.

In the case of these 27, we got them ourselves, we screened them and determined that we did not wish to keep them. And we turned them over to the Karzai interim government. What they've done with them is sort of their business.

I don't have the identities of those 27. I do know there's an interest to find out who they are and were they Taliban or former Taliban. I'm back now into my mode of sort of sitting where you sit when I start thinking about who some of these people would be. If I were picked up in a raid and I had had my weapon taken away from me or put it down and surrendered or was physically subdued, and I end up going to Kandahar and go through some interrogation, probably the last thing I'm going to do is tell you, "Yeah, I confess. I'm Taliban." They probably are giving us stories that we can't verify.

Question: Torie?

Ms. Clarke: Brian, and then that's definitely the last one, please.

Question: It's a question for you. It's about several things that you've said here today indicating that CIA has a different operation system when it comes to making a decision about when to pull the trigger than the Pentagon does. You've also indicated that at this particular time it was a CIA operation. Are we to deduce from that that the Department of Defense is distancing itself from this attack in any way?

Ms. Clarke: Absolutely not. I was actually looking for an opportunity to say the coordination, the cooperation has been pretty extraordinary. And I think people in uniform would probably say that just in the last three or four months, it has improved to an extraordinary degree, that kind of coordination, cooperation. We're just trying to be straight with you about what we know about this particular strike.

Admiral Stufflebeem: Yeah, I think it's fair to say that at the time of that strike, we were not active participants in that operation. So I'm trying to differentiate, rather than separate.

We are working more closely together now than we have at any time in anybody's recent memory. But we both are conducting offensive operations, and as a result, they may not always be meshed or completely integrated all the time.

Ms. Clarke: Mm-hmm.

Question: Admiral, at the risk of changing the topic, when do you leave the Pentagon? And when do you start on the training? And what are you going to be doing, and any -- (inaudible) --

Ms. Clarke: We won't let him go.

Admiral Stufflebeem: Well, I -- just because I'm smart enough to know not to talk in too many absolutes, I think I'm leaving at 10th of April at 1830, but I'm not tracking it too closely.


And I have a training track to endure or to go back and refresh and learn things on my way to the Truman Battle Group, which I will join in the summertime, as the commander.

Question: And do you have anything you'd like to say to the American people, since this is your last briefing?

Ms. Clarke: We'll have him back between now and then.

Question: Oh, really?

Admiral Stufflebeem: The trouble with giving a farewell speech is that it won't be the farewell. (Cross talk, laughter.)

Ms. Clarke: Thank you.

Admiral Stufflebeem: Thank you.

Question: This is your last briefing?

Ms. Clarke: Not necessarily. Not necessarily.

This transcript was prepared by the Federal News Service Inc., Washington, D.C. Federal News Service is a private company for other Defense related transcripts not available through this site, contact (202) 347-1400.


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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).