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DoD Newsbriefing: Tuesday, March 26, 2002

DoD Newsbriefing: Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Source: News Transcript from the United States Department of Defense. DoD News Briefing: Victoria Clarke ASD (PA), Tuesday, March 26, 2002 - 11:00 a.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 morning. We are having what we hope to be a relatively quiet day, and I've got no comments, so I will turn it over to General Rosa.

Rosa: Good morning. Our operations in Afghanistan continue and our primary mission right now is seeking out and trying to locate former Taliban and al Qaeda pockets of resistance.

We've flown, in the last 24 hours, over 150 sorties over Afghanistan. And as many of you know, we have not had any enemy contact in over a week, direct-action contact.

And as you've heard, about 100 miles north of Kabul there was a large earthquake. Central Command reports that there were no coalition or U.S. forces hurt. Reports are coming in of pretty high numbers of local folks, and we're researching and seeing what kind of assistance we can provide at this time.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

Clarke: Charlie?

Question: There are reports circulating that bin Laden and al- Zawahiri have been spotted in the Khost area within the past week. Have you anything on that?

Clarke: No.

Rosa: We, again -- I saw those reports. We're not getting those same reports. And again, for the last six or seven months we've had several sightings not only of those two individuals, but of Omar. We continue to search them out. Out intelligence folks look at them and --

Clarke: We get reports of sightings.

Rosa: Yeah.

Question: You've had reports of several sightings.

Rosa: Right.

Clarke: Right.

Question: But you have no credible evidence -- (inaudible)?

Rosa: Yeah.

Question: Do you still think they're in that area along the border of Pakistan?

Clarke: We -- we don't --

Rosa: We just don't know.

Clarke: It is almost a weekly occurrence, though -- that -- there seem to be a couple of reports, but what has stayed very, very consistent is we get reports that they're here; we get reports that they're there; we get reports that he's alive and we get reports that he's dead. But we just don't know.

Question: You still don't believe he's alive or dead?

Clarke: We don't know.

Rosa: We don't know.

Clarke: Alex?

Question: I'm curious General, you said you flew 150 sorties, but there was no direct -- what was the purpose of these missions?

Rosa: A certain percentage of those are broken down into intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance. Many of those missions are put on what we call close-air-support standby, in case we find pockets of resistance -- enemy resistance. But over a 24-hour period, that's really not that many sorties.

Question: Does that include unmanned aircraft, or is that just manned?

Rosa: Those are manned-aircraft sorties.

Clarke: New subject?

Question: Has the U.S. been asked to provide any help for the earthquake? And what sort of help -- or on your own, have you done anything?

Clarke: We have been working with the Afghan interim government, and they're talking through the kinds of needs they'll have. So the requests just started coming, I think, very early this morning, our time. So we're working with them on what kinds of assistance we can provide.

Question: Also on the subject of humanitarian assistance: Have you seen any report that, General, questions the effectiveness of your air drops and have any response to it? Or do you have your own report on how well the airdrops -- (inaudible)?

Clarke: Well, we have the facts. And it's always helpful to put things in context. Prior to September 11th, the United States was the largest food aid donor to Afghanistan. I think it was about $170 million worth prior to September 11th. After September 11th, it's been, I think, about $325 million worth of humanitarian aid and assistance to Afghanistan. One of our military objectives has been to provide the kind of security that was necessary to bring in large amounts of humanitarian aid. One of the things we did in the earlier days and weeks was to do, I believe, about 2-1/2 million --

Rosa: Right. Over 2 million.

Clarke: Over 2 million humanitarian daily rations were dropped in the areas that needed the most. And when you're talking about a nation in which millions of people were suffering, that may not seem like a lot. But if you are one of those people who got those rations, it was enormously helpful. And there have been quite a few humanitarian organizations on the record as saying what was expected to be a massive disaster, in light of the conditions prior to September 11th, in light of a rough winter -- they are on record as saying a massive humanitarian disaster was largely averted.

I'm aware of this report. I have not really had a chance to take a look at it. But I know we continue to work hard with the Afghan interim government, with the coalition partners, to provide secure roads, environments, land bridges so meaningful amounts of humanitarian aid can be brought in.

Question: It seemed this report was specifically on the 2.5 million packets dropped. Do you have any numbers on how many of those might have gotten to people, how many of those might have spoiled?

Clarke: I do not.

Rosa: I haven't seen it.

Question: For either of you, on the homeland security front, is the Pentagon at all involved in providing security for U.S. nuclear facilities? And if so, what is that involvement?

Clarke: General?

Rosa: Part of our combat air patrol, our random combat air patrol at certain times and periods, depending on threat-based, will provide security.

Clarke: And I would say -- I'm guessing you're talking --

Rosa: Are you talking about ground troops?

Clarke: -- you're raising this because of the story today involving Congressman Markey? Clearly, since September 11th there's a heightened state of awareness and security and sensitivity to homeland security, to making sure important facilities such as those are adequately protected. We are confident that they are being adequately protected. We're constantly looking at practices and policies to make sure they're appropriate. It's one of those things that we're not going to get into too much detail about because if you give out a lot of detail about what you're doing, you're going to lose some of the deterrent value.

Question: Well, can you say whether U.S. troops are being used, whether National Guard? I mean, any Pentagon involvement as far as on the ground?

Clarke: I can't tell you about the exact combination of resources.

Rosa: I know that we had National Guard folks in our airports. We've got them now on the northern and southern borders. And I have -- I can't tell you.

Clarke: Tom?

Question: Going back to the Khost region. What's your assessment of the activity there right now? Are there al Qaeda forces regrouping? Are they regrouping in a different manner than they did in the Shah-i- Kot Valley area, maybe in smaller groups? What's your assessment of the situation?

Rosa: The Khost area is a tense situation. I mean, folks -- like we said last week -- folks on both sides are armed. There was a skirmish earlier between Afghan troops. So it remains a dangerous place. We are continuing to survey that area, gather intel. And to characterize that now, I think would probably be inappropriate.

Clarke: But it's always worth repeating, we expect and anticipate additional pockets of resistance. It is the MO of these people to try to regroup in some shape or fashion. So we fully expect it, and it's one of the reasons we're still there.

Rosa: And that area of Eastern Afghanistan, as you know, we've seen evidence of that before.

Clarke: Let's go back to Tom.

Question: Could you describe how is it they are regrouping? What is the level of their command and control, such as it is? Are they using satellite phones, runners? Do you have a sense from intelligence that there were predetermined rallying points after Anaconda? Because if they're regrouping in that rather sparse area, there must be some sort of system for them to communicate.

Rosa: I think that's a good question. But I will tell you at this time; to give that type of information about what we're seeing and what we know, I think would be inappropriate.

Question: Can I follow-up on that?

Question: Could you describe how organized their command and control is broadly? I mean, would you call them unorganized? Would you call this organized or disparate or what?

Rosa: Again, I'd -- what we're seeing there right now is -- I think it would be premature to start trying to characterize what we're seeing.

Question: And also, do you feel that in terms of the command and control that they're receiving orders from within Afghanistan or perhaps there are al Qaeda outside, perhaps in Iran or in Pakistan, elsewhere, or is all the communication within Afghanistan internally?

Rosa: Again, I'll go back to the answer to this gentleman over here. We're just simply not going to provide that kind of information about how we're surveying and what we're finding. It's just -- it's inappropriate.

Question: Just to follow. How many of them are, you think -- al Qaeda are these people that -- regrouping, in numbers?

Clarke: Don't know. I mean, we see lots of different numbers, and you see some different pockets of different sizes, but we don't have a number.

Question: And your thinking for -- we don't know whether Osama bin Laden is dead or alive, whether he may be still directing them from underground, from somewhere?

Clarke: We don't know if he's dead or alive. We don't have many comments at all about the ability of the al Qaeda to communicate. We know we've degraded their capabilities somewhat. We know we have made it more difficult for them. But then I'll just echo what General Rosa said, and we're not going to go into too much of the information we have about the communications we do know about.

Question: And what kind of request are you getting from the Karzai government at this time, other than food? I mean, are they asking the United States that they should remain engaged in Afghanistan as far as a military operation is concerned, or do you agree with Musharraf that the military operation in Afghanistan is over?

Clarke: Oh, we're working very closely with the Karzai government. I'm not aware of what you were saying about President Musharraf. We're working closely with the Karzai government, and it is very clear it is not over. We have achieved or begun to achieve quite a few of the objectives we've set out, but it is very clear it is not over.


Question: Operation Anaconda is over, but could you give us some sort of sense of what you're doing in terms of looking through that area, what you're finding?

Rosa: We continue to clean up that area, if you will. And the information that the -- we don't have really any new information, Martha, than what the chairman gave yesterday, the types of things we're finding. We found some radios. We did find those GPS receivers. We're finding books, writings, that kind of stuff. But it'll all go to the central area and be analyzed. But other than those types of ammunition, we haven't really found anything that we'd characterize differently.

Question: How much do you have left to search in that area? And what kinds of places are you searching? I mean, are there more caves --

Rosa: We continue to search caves. Again, some of these -- I think when we use the word "cave," a big, deep cave comes to mind. Some of these are smaller facilities -- ammunition-storage facilities. Really, to the naked eye it looks like a crack or a crevice in the mountain. We continue to search those. Are we halfway, three quarters of the way? I don't have a feel for how far we are along in that area.

Question: General, when you talk about the GPS equipment -- and I think night-vision things have also been mentioned -- some of that clearly came from American troops. Do we think that they had their own before they got them from the American troops, or this --

Rosa: Don't know. I've heard reports that they do have some type of night-vision devices, but I don't know exactly what they have.

Clarke: Or how much.

Rosa: Or how much --

Question: How about GPS?

Rosa: Don't know. You can buy 'em on the open market. You can draw your own conclusions there.

Rosa: General, I had a question about the aftereffect of the thermobaric bomb, the bomb that's been described as a "90-day wonder" from an acquisition standpoint. What actually did it hit, and what's the after-action report? Tom Ricks from the Post is reporting from Afghanistan that he heard it didn't hit much -- that actually missed its target a little bit -- didn't really hit much. From the podium here, what actually did the "90-day wonder" accomplish?

Rosa: I wouldn't call it a "90-day wonder." I don't know who...those are your words.

Question: Those are Aldridge's words.

Rosa: Okay. (Laughter.)

Clarke: And good words they are! (Laughter.)

Rosa: I've done a lot of great things in 90 days. (Laughter.)

Rosa: But I'll tell you, that took -- that technology, I should say -- the -- it's not new. It's been around for a long time. Obviously, this weapon was developed relatively quickly. CENTCOM has not released those reports. General Franks, I think, will be up here Friday.

Clarke: Right.

Rosa: It would be a good question for him. I don't know what it hit or what it didn't hit.

Question: Can I ask you a question off the 2002 defense supplemental? There's been a lot of publicity about continuity of government. Within the supplemental, you're asking for $74 billion for something called "Site R" that -- apparently, it's a continuity-of-government facility. And this is for upgrades for power, cooling and to incorporate principal staff and joint staff into an organized system. Can you talk a little bit of -- what actually is Site R, and how does this fit into the overall continuity-of-government plans of the Bush administration?

Clarke: Well, it fits into the overall continuity-of- government plans. It fits into plans...a plan that has been in place for some time, well before September 11th. It has been going on, I think, since the start of the Cold War, probably, to make sure that in times of emergency or crisis, the government, in this case the Pentagon and military, can and will continue to operate. So I don't know the specific details about that piece of it you're talking about, but it is to make sure we do have all the communications that we want to have.

Again, a lot of these things were in place before September 11th. Given the heightened state of awareness and the concerns, people are taking a hard look, do we have everything we want to have in place. So I'm sure that's what it's dedicated to.

Question: Is Site R a physical location, which you're not going to disclose, obviously, but is it a location or more of a plan, just a name for a plan?

Clarke: It is part of an overall plan to make sure that the military, the Pentagon can be up and operating. And I'll just leave it at that.

Question: (Inaudible) - physical, standing location that you're upgrading?

Clarke: I'll just leave it at that.

Okay, Barbara?

Question: General Rosa, from a military standpoint, what challenges are posed if the al Qaeda, in fact, are breaking up into small groups and potentially able to stage more classic insurgency operations? What challenges does that pose to the military in trying to go after them? And similarly, as the spring weather comes in, the snow begins to melt, what challenges are posed by them potentially being more mobile, more able to move around?

Rosa: I'll address your first question with the spring thaw. It is much easier to get around in that country in the springtime and in the summertime, for both sides, for both U.S. coalition and the enemy. So I would expect people would be -- would have the potential to be more mobile.

When folks break up into small pockets, it's like -- it's more difficult. Obviously, you'd like to have them in one big cluster and be able to mount an attack and do as much damage as you can. When they get in smaller clusters, it makes it a bigger challenge to locate them track them. And each one of those small pockets, you have to develop a plan of attack. It makes it a little bit more intense from our perspective.

Question: Is that what you think you're facing now?

Rosa: It's hard to say. I would say that in many instances they will be in smaller pockets.

Question: General, if I can kind of follow up. Earlier we were discussing the Khost region.

Rosa: Right.

Question: Prior to Operation Anaconda, you -- in fact, the day before or the day of, you stood up here and you were asked was there -- were you monitoring a buildup; and you said, yes, of hundreds.

Can you make a similar type of statement about what you're observing in the Khost area at the present time?

Rosa: We continue to observe. But to start to characterize at this point in time what we're seeing I think is a bit premature.

Question: Yeah, a question --

Clarke: No. Let's go to Pam.

Question: You spoke about some skirmishes between Afghan, I guess, militias. Could you talk a little bit more about that? And are you referring specifically to a case that happened in the last couple of days, maybe you can close the loop on. Apparently some Afghan shot someone else -- and escaped maybe to an American military base.

Rosa: That's -- we saw those reports. The incident I was referring to I know very little about. It was an Afghan-versus-Afghan. The American troops were not involved in that. And there was some shooting. I don't know the level of shooting. But I did see the same reports that you refer to that said these folks fled into an American compound. And we have no confirmation. I talked to Central Command this morning and they did not confirm that.

Question: What is the Afghan-versus-Afghan thing -- I know you said you don't know a whole lot about it, but maybe what day?

Rosa: It was sometime last week, late last week.

Question: Late last week. Did it seem to be just a

gunfight in the streets or was it --

Rosa: Again, I don't know very much about it, but it was characterized as very quick, not a long detailed, but an exchange of gunfire.

Question: And did U.S. forces have anything to do with stopping that?

Rosa: No. They were not involved.

Clarke: Charlie?

Question: Could you bring us up to date, fill us in on the trainers for Yemen and Georgia, when they're expected to begin arriving, especially Georgia?

Clarke: We're about where we were last time we talked, I believe, which is no update for you. We're still working through the details of who's going to be there --

Rosa: Right.

Clarke: And when and how many.

Question: Well are there specific plans now for when they will arrive or are you still working on it?

Clarke: I don't believe so, Charlie.

Rosa: No.

Clarke: I can -- I'm happy to take that question, but I don't believe so. I don't think we have a date certain for a start.

Question: Will you take it?

Clarke: Sure. [U.S. military trainers have not yet deployed to either Yemen or Georgia.]

Let's do this and then one more.

Question: In the Philippines, you said you have about 600 trainers there. Are there plans for a larger follow-up exercise in the near future?

Rosa: There's an exercise that just -- we started moving troops yesterday, I believe. It's an exercise called Balikatan. Where we have our 600 folks in Zamboanga and Basilan Island is down in the southern -- off the big island of Luzon. Most of the troops that are going to participate in Balikatan will be up in Luzon. And it's an annual exercise -- we've been doing this for many, many years --

Clarke: Yeah. That's the important thing.

Rosa: It's been planned for several months.

Question: About how many folks will that --

Rosa: About 2,700 U.S. troops.

Clarke: Let's do Brett and finish up.

Question: Oh, I was just going to -- any thoughts on the [USS] Roosevelt coming back and your thoughts on their work over there, that sort of thing?

Question: One more. (Laughter.)

Question: I thought you were leaving. I thought you were leaving. (Laughter.)

Question: I'm glad we stayed.

Question: Okay --

Rosa: That's an easy question.

Clarke: It was. You're asking the Air Force guy. Now I'll tell you. It is -- (laughter) -- the secretary was asked the other day about what -- you know, what's the best part of his job, and it just came right down -- and it's true, and I was reminded of it when I was watching it this morning -- it is the men and women in uniform. They are (inaudible) -- with him next to me -- they're just amazing. Their commitment is amazing. Their training is phenomenal.

Barbara's question -- I started to smile about, you know, spring coming on, and the summer -- does it make -- this make it easier for the al Qaeda and Taliban to move around? And I will never -- all last fall, how many times did we hear people say, "Gosh, with winter coming on, isn't this going to be difficult for our troops?" Our troops are incredible. They are adaptable. They are flexible. Their training is phenomenal. And they are taking on these very unusual circumstances. So I just say it is, you know, a great reminder of how wonderful they are, and they must be extraordinarily happy to be coming back.

Rosa: And I will tell you, although I wear a blue uniform, my dad did 30 years in the Navy, and I've had a couple of cat [catapult] shots, and I'll tell you, when you go out to -- as a non-Navy flier, go out onto those carriers, it's absolutely amazing when you see the coordination, these young people, these 18-, 19-year-olds, on that flight deck, and all that people that support that -- 5,500 people. They've been gone for six and a half months, and there are a lot of families waiting for them at Norfolk.

Clarke: Mm-hmm. That's a lovely question to end on. (Laughter, cross talk.) (Inaudible) -- if you want to be --

Question: Torie -- (inaudible) -- initial question, which is, what -- well --

(Cross talk.)

Clarke: Go get her, Stretch.

Question: The Karzai government goes out in June, and it's about the same time that the U.S. is going to start training the Afghan national army. And we don't know what's going to follow -- who's going to follow Karzai. What -- how is that being taken into account in the plans that we have? What if they don't want us? What if they want more than we're prepared to give? How are you all planning for this gaping question in the months ahead?

Clarke: Well, I don't think it's so gaping. One, I don't know that we have a date certain for when the training will actually begin. I --

Question: Four to six weeks... (Inaudible)

Clarke: I -- again, I'd say I don't know if we have a date certain. Two, it is very much in our interests for Afghanistan to achieve, largely on its own, the kind of internal security and stability that it needs. Three, I think there are probably a lot of people in Afghanistan who would say the same thing -- you know, "Help us do this for ourselves, so we can achieve this kind of security and stability." So I would hazard a guess that there are lot of people above and beyond Karzai who want to make that happen, who think that's an important thing -- to make that happen.

And then, to your question about what if they don't want what we're offering, we aren't in the business of forcing ourselves or forcing our systems on anybody. We're in the business of helping Afghanistan get back up on its feet again.

Thank you.

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).