|DoD Newsbriefing: Monday, March 18, 2002|
DoD Newsbriefing: Monday, March 18, 2002
Source: News Transcript from the United States Department of Defense. DoD News Briefing: Victoria Clarke ASD (PA), Monday, March 18, 2002 - 1:00 p.m. EST. Also participating was Air Force Brigadier General John W. Rosa, Jr., deputy director for current operations, Operations Directorate, the Joint Staff.
Clarke: Good afternoon. General Rosa is going to give you an update on Operation Anaconda, clearly winding down, and what else is going on the operations front.
I just wanted to say, you know, there have been a lot of stories and a lot of reporting out of the region lately and we're getting a lot of -- because of you and your outlets, a lot of very wonderful examples of how great a job these people are doing. So we always want to take the opportunity to thank the men and women in uniform who are doing such a fabulous job.
Something else I want to address up-front, and I'll tell you no a whole lot of details, is the story on the purchase card issues. We are taking this very, very seriously. One of our main responsibilities around here is to make sure that we take very good care of the taxpayers' hard-earned dollars. And we take these reports very seriously. They are -- some of them are quite disturbing. The secretary has asked Dov Zakheim, our comptroller, to look into it aggressively. Dov Zakheim is meeting, as we speak, I believe, with the service secretaries and the undersecretary, and we will get to the bottom of this. If there are things that need to be addressed, they will be addressed. If there are practices and policies that need to be changed, they will be changed. But we will make sure that we take very, very good care of those dollars.
Rosa: Thanks, Torie.
Good afternoon. Operation Anaconda is complete, but Operation Enduring Freedom and operations in Afghanistan still continue. We still have teams operating in the area looking for any remaining Taliban and al Qaeda, searching caves and other positions they may have occupied. We've searched over 30 caves in and around the region so far. So while this particular operation is over, we're still actively pursuing al Qaeda and Taliban personnel throughout Afghanistan, and we're preparing for any subsequent missions that may be needed.
Over the weekend, one of our patrols observed three vehicles approximately 45 miles southwest of Gardez. Our forces attempted to stop and detain the individuals in the vehicles; the enemy resisted and a firefight ensued. Sixteen were killed, one was wounded, and another one was detained without injuries. Numerous weapons, ammunitions, rocket-propelled grenades were found in these vehicles. There were no U.S. casualties in this operation.
We also conducted a site exploitation of a compound yesterday in the vicinity of Kandahar, where we detained 31 people. Weapons and a large amount of ammunition were also discovered in this compound.
The number of detainees has changed slightly since last week. We've released approximately 20 people that were held in Afghanistan. And with those taken in over the weekend, the number of detainees in Afghanistan now stands at 258.
In the Philippines, we provided assistance to the Philippine military. We evacuated three Filipino members from Basilan Island to Zamboanga after they were wounded in a firefight with Abu Sayyaf. This was strictly a medevac operation and U.S. forces were not involved in any fighting, nor did they come under fire during the rescue efforts.
We have two videos for you today. The first one is of an F-14 on a strike on a cave entrance identified as being occupied by al Qaeda within the Anaconda area of operations.
(Video is shown.)
The second video is of an F-18 strike on fleeing al Qaeda forces attempting to exfiltrate the Anaconda area.
(Video is shown.)
Both of these are from last week. Now, as you can see, multiple bombs were dropped on these targets of opportunity.
And with that, we'll take your questions.
Question: First of all, were there any women and children killed among these 16 dead, the convoy yesterday? Were there any women and children?
Rosa: No, there were not.
Question: These were all men?
And secondly, Geoff Hoon, the British defense minister, announced today that the Brits are sending 1,700 troops to Afghanistan at the request of the United States. Is this part of some kind of major push to eradicate al Qaeda and Taliban or in Afghanistan?
Rosa: I don't think it would be characterized as a "major push." And I had not seen that announcement. I knew there were folks coming in, but we've always, from this podium, let those countries characterize their own contributions. But as far as some major push or something like that, Charlie, it's --
Question: No final push?-
Rosa: No. No.
Question: Sir, when you say Anaconda is complete, does that mean that the search on the ground in that area is complete?
Rosa: Oh no. No. And that's a good question. We should have made that point. Although we haven't had any enemy contact in several days now, we are continuing -- we've got about 500 coalition folks in there continuing to sweep. We've cleared, as we said, the 30 caves, and we're working our way systematically. As we said from the outset, we will continue clearing those caves.
Question: Are they mostly Americans? Or do you have a breakdown of who's there?
Rosa: It's a coalition effort, but I don't have the exact numbers of who's in there.
Question: Mostly American, would you say, or
Rosa: I would say the vast majority of this effort is American.
Question: General Rosa, can you tell us some of the decision-making that went into eliminating the combat air patrols over New York, and why are they continuing in Washington, what thinking went into that?
Clarke: Why don't I start?
What we have is a plan that is not yet finished. You know, we're dotting the i's and crossing the t's. The president has been briefed on the direction. And what we're trying to do -- to give this a little context -- is to take under consideration the vastly changed security environment, if you will. Things have changed a lot since September 11th. Prior to September 11th, there were a lot of people, including people in this building, who said we need a real focus on homeland defense. Certainly, since September 11th it has gotten a lot of focus and a lot of attention. You have the Office of Homeland Security, whose main function is to coordinate all these activities. Going to the airports and the safety of the skies issue, you have tightened security from the very beginning, the hardened cockpit doors, better security at airports, those sorts of things.
So the overall picture is changing. It is very appropriate to take a look at the combat air patrol plan and say what's appropriate at different times. So it is not yet completely done. It's not appropriate for us to brief anything thoroughly here. But what we are looking at is a different mix of combat air patrol, strip alerts, those sorts of things that will change and adapt as the circumstances change and adapt.
Question: But, Torie, there's a press report today
Question: General, if I could follow, I mean, what decisions are going into making New York a change of status versus Washington? What are you thinking and what have you looked at, General?
Rosa: Well, we started these patrols shortly after the 11th, and it's always been a tiered effort. Depending on the threat, we've had random facilities combat air patrols, we've had random city combat air patrols. And we've never -- we've made it a point to never tell you or tell folks exactly where we're going to be, when we're going to be. It only makes common sense. And since that time, based on the improvements that you've seen that Torie just spoke about, we are proposing, the SECDEF is proposing another yet tiered approach.
Exactly what those tiers are and where they're going to be and what's going to happen, I think it's premature.
I think it'll come over time. But I think you'll still see us with airplanes on strip alert. The important thing here, I think the American people need to know that this decision's made with security and safety first -- nothing else -- the security and safety of the American people. And over time, as we become more efficient and we learn more about the threat, we want to become better stewards of the taxpayer's dollar.
Question: But has Washington remained a higher-tier and structure.
Clarke: It's not appropriate to talk about one place versus another, because we're just not ready to do that. And it's not going to be that at the end of the day anyhow. It's going to be a mix. It's going to be a mix that changes depending on the circumstances.
Question: If you could just clarify, the press report today said combat air patrols over New York will conclude, perhaps as early as this week. Can you confirm or deny that?
Clarke: I just don't want to address the story. I want to tell you what we can tell you from this podium, which is we're looking at a mix that is appropriate, and it will change and it will be fluid, depending on the circumstances.
Question: Well are you saying that the reason that the 24-7 combat air patrols could be cut back, reduced, eliminated, whatever's under consideration is because air travel today is now more secure, or is it because it just has become too cost prohibitive? And what is the cost for there -- for the air patrols so far? Do you have those figures?
Clarke: The changes that come about will be a result of a lot of careful consideration given to all the factors, will be a result of the fact that there are a lot of things that contribute to the overall security, overall homeland defense, if you will, that weren't in place prior to September 11th.
And I don't have numbers for you on the costs.
Question: Well, just -- you sort of baited the question, is it a cost consideration or is because security is that much more improved that the Homeland Defense, White House, Pentagon feel comfortable enough in cutting back the number of combat air patrols over U.S. cities?
Clarke: It's based -- the decisions will be based on what is the best use of all our resources at different times, and the clear recognition that there are a lot of resources being brought to this effort that weren't in place prior to September 11th.
Question: My understanding, General, from Central Command was that there were two separate special operations raids south of Gardez. Is that accurate, or am I getting confused with Kandahar? Were there two separate raids on vehicles south of Gardez?
Rosa: There were two separate; one by Kandahar, west of Kandahar, where we went in the compound and we detained the 31 people. But there was only one, I think, down by south of Gardez, where you're talking about, where the three vehicles were, where the 16 folks were killed.
Question: Okay. And if I could follow-up on the Kandahar one, can you give more details of how -- what that was, how we knew about it?
Rosa: I can't give you the specific details, but I can tell you that over the last two weeks, most of the focus has been in and around Anaconda, and it's because what's been going on, our largest offensive. But we continue to surveill; we continue our intelligence efforts all through the country. It's ongoing. And the key indicators made us believe that we needed to go into that compound.
Question: Were they Taliban?
Question: Did you think leaders were in there or al Qaeda, Taliban?
Rosa: I don't -- I don't know what we -- if we thought leaders were in there. But, obviously, there's a set of indicators that come into line -- and I think it would be inappropriate to talk about those from the podium -- but when those indicators line up, we're going into those compounds.
Question: Sir --
Question: And the attack --
Clarke: Jim and then --
Question: The attack on the convoy of vehicles, was that a convoy that had been under observation? Was it an area where al Qaeda had been active? Was it moving away from the Operation Anaconda area? Or was it simply a case where there was a patrol in the road that flagged down a convoy and got fired on?
Rosa: Okay. The convoy was moving south-southeast, coming from the Anaconda direction. Was it part of Anaconda, did it come out of Anaconda? I don't know. We surveyed the convoy for quite some time. There were three vehicles in the main convoy, and there was another vehicle some distance behind, not appearing to be a part of that, but close enough that you could see four vehicles. We started the operation, we came in helicopters and we fired warning shots to stop, and at that time, we were fired back on. So we took out those first three vehicles. The fourth vehicle did not fire. So as we landed, troops got out and went back to that vehicle, folks got out of that vehicle and it happened to be family. So we -- thank goodness, all the right indicators. And that shows the professionalism of those troops. Those folks were -- got back in their vehicle and went on their way.
Question: So it was attacked from the helicopters, is that right?
Rosa: The initial attack was from the helicopters, but the final attack, as I understand it, was ground troops.
Question: When you say --
Question: Was it Apache helicopters?
Rosa: I can't tell you. I think the troops went in MH- 47s, but I don't know if Apaches were part of the package or not.
Question: Just to clarify, when you say "family," do you mean women and children were in that fourth vehicle?
Rosa: I'm told, Jamie, there were women and children in that vehicle.
Question: But you're not aware of any women and children being killed in any of this action?
Rosa: No. No.
Question: Is this family associated with the people in the first three vehicles or --
Rosa: Did not appear to be.
Question: And I have a question -- another --
Clarke: Let's go over here and then back.
Question: You said there have been no enemy engagements over the past several days. So you're not considering this to be an enemy engagement?
Rosa: Oh, yes. I meant in the Anaconda area. This was south of the Anaconda area.
Question: But it's not clear to you whether these guys have been part of that al Qaeda group? And also, were they -- do have any idea where the Taliban or al Qaeda -- you know, their -- (personalities?)
Rosa: Don't know that yet. We're -- I'm sure that the folks there at a tactical level know that, but that hasn't been passed up yet, so I don't want to speculate. But they came from that general direction. For me to say that they came out of the Anaconda area, I think would be premature.
Question: Now that you've declared Operation Anaconda essentially finished, can you give us your best --
Clarke: Can I just jump in on you for a second? Just because I know we'll come back to it.
We've said all along -- I mean, some of the things that General Rosa's been talking about -- that there will be pockets of resistance, that things and people will pop up that we will have to address operation Anaconda, the military operations that were laid out and planned and executed very successfully, are done. And the exploitation teams are moving out as we speak. But I don't think it's beyond belief to say that somewhere in the general vicinity of what we've come to know as Operation Anaconda, something might pop up again. I'm not saying it's a certainty; I'm saying I have knowledge that that is going to happen, but I just think it's likely. So just a --
Question: That said --
Clarke: That said.
Question: -- could you give us your best estimate of how many enemy forces were killed in this operation, now that a little bit of the dust has cleared?
Rosa: We may never know, Jamie, exactly how many. And I think the secretary on Friday said it exactly right: We're not counting bodies from up here. The important thing, I think, to realize is that Anaconda was important for a couple of reasons: Number one, it has showed the Taliban and the al Qaeda that the American folks were serious, our troops are up to the task. We engaged them; we know we accomplished quite a bit. The other thing that's interesting is, we don't see large pockets of people leaving there. Now I don't know if this pocket of 16 were -- came out of there, but that would be typical for what we have seen in the past smaller pockets of people egressing from that area.
Question: I'm not trying to be disputatious, but --
Rosa: I don't know what that means. (Laughter.)
Question: The stated mission of the goal of this mission was to kill or have surrender Taliban and al Qaeda.
Rosa: That was their tactical -- that was the tactical mission.
Question: Right. And there were estimates given by commanders obviously, they were the best guesses, based on available information at the time. I'm just asking now if, with a little bit of hindsight, do you have any -- can you qualify those previous estimates? Can you tell us whether they were overstated, understated, about right? Or do you have any clearer idea now of how many people were killed?
Rosa: I saw so many estimates, Jamie. I don't know who made the estimates.
Clarke: I think -- and I think you make the right point; you can qualify those estimates by saying it's very, very difficult to have exact numbers, for all the different reasons we've talked about from here.
Question: Well, do you now believe that there were fewer than 500 or fewer than 400 that were actually killed in this operation?
Clarke: I felt it's just not going to be very useful to put a number to it.
Question: And the Afghans keep saying that many, many hundreds escaped this area, that the Americans ended up not killing anywhere near as many as the Americans were saying they did. Do you have any you keep saying this was a very successful operation, but it's a little difficult to believe you or the Afghans or I mean, where is the truth here?
Clarke: Well, I'm aware of the reports, but again we can only tell you what we know, and we -- while we say, given the nature of the terrain and the porousness of the border, are ones and two probably melting into the countryside or slipping over the border? Possibly, but we have not seen significant numbers. We have certainly not seen those sorts of numbers fleeing.
Question: We also haven't seen significant numbers of dead bodies. So where's the proof that you've really killed somebody?
Clarke: I think people on the ground -- that local commanders have a pretty good sense of the success of their mission. And also, something General Rosa said made me think of this putting things in context, what our military objectives were and are in Afghanistan -- rooting out the al Qaeda and the Taliban - clearly we are doing that -- getting them on the run, making it difficult for them to work and coordinate with one another. Clearly, the objectives we've laid out are being accomplished.
Question: Going back to the purchase card situation, one of the General Accounting Office's major criticisms was that there's very little supervision and nobody held accountable, that people who ran up these wild charges on personal expenses with the cards were able to walk free. In fact, one woman who was in the San Diego Public Works Center ran up $12,000, was promoted to a higher position here in the Pentagon. So is it part of your program to crack down on these people who got away with the taxpayers' money on these things?
Clarke: Without commenting on any specific cases, because I just don't have the information or knowledge on that, a clear intent is to make sure that we take very good care of the taxpayers' dollars. And I can say, with some certainty, we believe people should be held accountable for what they do with the taxpayers' dollars.
So the secretary has talked to the comptroller about it this morning. Dov Zakheim, the comptroller, is meeting with the service secretaries and the undersecretary this afternoon. They'll get to the bottom of it. They'll address anything that needs to be addressed. If things need to be -- if policies and practices need to be fixed and changed, we will do so. But we will make absolutely sure that we do account for the best use of every dollar.
Question: Any possible criminal charges against those who may have misused?
Clarke: I think it is way too soon to say where it will go, but it is being taken very seriously.
Question: General Rosa, is there more of a strategic assessment of what you accomplished against the al Qaeda in Operation Anaconda? Not a numbers game, but have you fundamentally changed their capability in Afghanistan? If there are additional pockets, are they able to communicate? Are they able to organize? Do they have logistics? Have you fundamentally changed their ability to operate outside of Afghanistan? What strategically do you feel the mission accomplished?
Rosa: Again, as I said a minute ago, strategically I think we showed that we are committed and we are ready to take them on, American forces, head on if needed. Strategically, we also got them on the run. I mean, that's a vast country, and when they're running in these pockets, it's more and more difficult for them to communicate. Do I think we've shut down their entire communications? No. They'll still communicate, but it makes it much more difficult to do that.
Question: guess what I don't understand is, you know, for some weeks now from this podium I think you have talked about the notion that you've destroyed the Taliban, but nobody ever says you feel you've destroyed the al Qaeda; you always talk about you've disrupted them.
Clarke: Well, the job's not done.
Rosa: Yeah, we got a long --
Clarke: And just trying to be technically correct, the Taliban is no longer running the government of Afghanistan. There seem to be -- hard numbers, who knows -- but there seem to be some Taliban out there, former Taliban out there running around. But we have debilitated and degraded to a certain extent the al Qaeda network. Clearly, it goes beyond Afghanistan, but in terms of our current military operations, we clearly have debilitated them to a certain extent, and certainly made it harder for them to do their business.
Question: Do you think the al Qaeda in Afghanistan can still communicate with al Qaeda elements outside of Afghanistan?
Rosa: I think there are cases where they still can communicate, yes.
Clarke: But it's more difficult.
Question: Torie? The last couple -- General, the last couple of weeks you've sent an additional -- not you personally, but an additional 800 members of the 101st Airborne have gone over there, a pretty big increase in the top line of forces there.
Why was that necessary? And will anybody be coming out?
Rosa: That should be part of the normal rotation. Folks will -- as they come in -- right now it's probably too early to say, but normally we're rotating folks in and out. At the time, General Hagenbeck, General Franks asked for those troops, and those troops were there.
Question: Torie, do you have any new information, specific information, linking Iraq or Iraqi intelligence to al Qaeda?
Clarke: Boy, I don't think it's appropriate for there to be any discussion of anything that might involve intel from this podium.
Question: Well, are there -- is this Iraqi terrorist organization in Northern Kurdistan linked to al Qaeda and to Mukhabarat?
Clarke: I'm aware of the reports, Jonathan, but just not going to be saying anything about them from up here.
Question: General, on the Kandahar compound, and on the other thing, can you please tell us -- you said "over the weekend". Could you tell us what dates those actions happened? And also, on the Kandahar compound, is it possible to tell what kind of aircraft or capabilities were used, and also, a little bit about what the compound looked like, what kind of a compound it was.
Question: Was there shooting?
Question: And where it was, how far west of you said west of Kandahar.
Rosa: Okay, which -- which question do you want answered here? (Laughter.)
Question: All of them!
Question: All of them!
Question: In any order you like.
Clarke: One at a time.
Rosa: Okay, the first: When did it happen? Where 16 folks were killed in the three vehicles, that happened 35, 36 hours ago, so sometime Sunday. The other operation was about that same time. I have very little information that I can give you. Hopefully later this week we'll have more information on the -- where we detained the 31 folks. I don't know if there was shooting involved -- west of Kandahar. We'll have more information about that.
And you had one more -- did you have any more questions?
Question: So you can't give me -- first of all, I'm sorry, you said 31; my notes say 30 before. I might have miswritten it.
Question: Thirty-one detained? Okay.
And so you can't tell us what capabilities were used by the U.S. in that action?
Rosa: I really don't know. I'm sure in the next day or so we'll find out.
Question: Nothing on what the compound looked like?
Rosa: I know that there was ammunition and weapons in that compound. We'll have more for you.
Question: Do you know how far it was west of Kandahar? Was it near Kandahar?
Rosa: It was, but I think it was Q-staff. (Off mike.)
Question: Was it an U.S.-only operation or was it coalition?
Rosa: Don't know about that one. The other one was to my knowledge, was a U.S. operation.
Clarke: Yes, sir?
Question: The 20 detainees who were released, were they detainees who were among those 20-or-so you said were captured during Operation Anaconda
Rosa: These were folks that were just part of that general population.
Question: Have you determined whether the 20-or-so detainees that were taken in Anaconda were Taliban or al Qaeda?
Rosa: I can't tell you.
Question: Are there any more? Is it still just around 20? Is that still the figure?
Rosa: I think the number went up to 30, just under 30.
Question: On the other issue, going back to the Philippines, General, can you elaborate on what the U.S. troops are doing there? In other words, giving them more night training, helping the Philippine troops as they get more information on searching out their fighters?
And also, Torie, if you could give the latest on Yemen and Georgia.
Rosa: Okay. In the Philippines we've got about 600 folks that make up Task Force 510. They are down in the Zamboanga area, which is south of the main island of Luzon and in Basilan Island. Their mission is to train, advise and assist the Philippine forces down to the battalion level. And that's what we've been doing for the last -- oh, I guess three weeks or so. And the operation -- remember, there was debate when we went in there about chain of command, about rules of engagement. The chain of command is clear; we're working for Americans -- we're working for Americans. They are not on offensive missions; they can defend themselves if that happens. And this was a medical rescue-type mission.
Question: Also, are U.S. troops aiding in the training for nighttime operations? And is this a help in searching out the militants there?
Rosa: I can't give yu much information, but I can tell you that what we're focusing on is intelligence gathering, infusion, and working with folks at the battalion level.
Clarke: And on Yemen and Georgia, we're about where we were late last week, which is working out the final details. We're going to help -- assist them in their efforts to combat terrorism, and we're putting the final details on those plans now.
Great. Thank you.
Clarke: I'm sorry?
Question: One question on the purchase cards.
Clarke: Sure. And I'm sorry, I've got one piece of information for Mick on combat air patrols. Through January 2002, the program has been $503 million. We are currently collecting the '02 costs, the February '02 costs.
Question: And if you don't have the answer to this at the top of your head, maybe you could take this question as well. But I was a little confused when I was reading the GAO report and listening to some of the testimony about this, about to what extent these purchase cards were billed directly to the government, that is taxpayer money, and to what extent in some cases people -- individuals were responsible for the money and then submitted the expenses for reimbursement.
Question: I'm just wondering if you could clear up whether, in fact, all of this was taxpayer money or --
Clarke: I --
Question: Some of this money that's owed is essentially the responsibility of individuals.
Clarke: I doubt I can clear up much of it. The intent is a good intent -- to streamline the process so people who for the federal government can do things quickly, cut down on red tape, cut down on bureaucracy. That's the intent. That's a good intent, and it's one we want to preserve and protect. But there are lots of questions, and maybe there are good answers to some of those questions. But there are lots of questions about how well the program is functioning.
Question: But the perception is that we're talking about all hard-earned U.S. tax dollars, and I'm wondering if that's a misimpression in some cases, whether what we're talking about is individuals defaulting on credit cards that they receive through the government, but it's not necessarily tax money. And if there's any way you can provide any clarity on that, we'd appreciate it.
Clarke: We'll take the question. Thank you.
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