|DoD News Briefing: Friday, March 29, 2002|
DoD News Briefing: Friday, March 29, 2002
Source: News Transcript from the United States Department of Defense. DoD News Briefing: General Tommy Franks, commander, U.S. Central Command, Friday, March 29, 2002.
Franks: Let me -- let me being this morning by expressing my condolences, as well as those of our international coalition to the family and the loved ones of Chief Petty Officer Bourgeois, who was killed earlier this week in his service in Operation Enduring Freedom.
Likewise, condolences to the people of Afghanistan, who have suffered a devastating series of earthquakes. We're continuing to work closely with the Afghan interim authority to provide support to the international community as they work in recovering from this natural disaster. To date, our Civil Affairs people have delivered more than 40 palettes of supplies and water by helicopter to survivors of the earthquake and have coordinated the reopening of the Salang Tunnel, which provides, as many of you know, access from south to north -- up north of Kabul into this area.
Last weekend I returned from a trip to East Africa, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Moscow, where I met with senior leaders and provided updates on Operation Enduring Freedom. Indeed, for me it was a valuable trip. What I did there was express my thanks to those nations for their assistance in our global war on terrorism.
Last night I arrived in Washington, having just paid a brief visit to my hometown, out in West Texas. And off and on, through the course of this operation, I've talked a little bit about what I call a remarkable trilogy or a remarkable trinity that represents military capacity or the ability of an armed force, the decisiveness of a government in addressing a problem or in war and the will of the people. And it seems to me that our service members, both in Afghanistan as well as in states surrounding Afghanistan involved in Operation Enduring Freedom, prove their military capacity and the capacity of this country every day. It also seems to me that the decisives of our government, as they support our president's objectives in this fight against terrorism, remain without peer, in my experience in uniform. And I would have to tell you that my experience with the people of Florida and the people of Texas over the past week have filled me with pride and overwhelming appreciation of the depth of the will and the resolve of the American people. The outpouring of love and support for the returning sailors, which many of you witnessed, of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, has also provided evidence of the reality of that support.
Well, our operations in Afghanistan remain focused on searching for pockets of remaining Taliban and al Qaeda. Over the past few days, our forces have taken into custody a number of additional detainees. That number now stands in Afghanistan at 236 being held. A number of caches of ammunition, documents, computers, have also been seized in the last couple of days.
And before I open to questions, let me say that, as you know, since we started Operation Enduring Freedom there have been a number of incidents which we have reviewed in order to apply lessons learned to our ongoing and future operations. There have been 10 events for which I have directed an inquiry or an investigation. Following this briefing today, we'll post to the Web site and also provide all of you copies of an update of that, or an update of the status of each of those investigations. And my intent with this is to simply provide a quick description of the current status of each of these investigations and our reporting of the investigations. We will provide unclassified executive summaries of each of these incidents in the days ahead, and we'll do that in a way that is similar to what we did as we laid out the facts for the Hazar Qadam investigation a few weeks ago.
So consider this a down payment for more -- or on more detailed descriptions as we finish our work in each one of these cases.
And with that, I'll pause and take your questions, please.
Question: Sir, in this list, I believe you mention a March 2nd incident at a place called Terghul Ghar, if I'm pronouncing that correctly, in which a convoy of Afghan and U.S. forces apparently came under fire. To best of my knowledge, that's certainly an incident I have not heard about before. Could you describe this friendly-fire incident --
Question: -- to us, tell us to the best of your knowledge what happened and whether any U.S. forces were injured in that incident?
Franks: At the beginning -- I'll tell you what I know right now. There -- this, as a matter of fact, was not accompanied by any sense of fanfare, but what I noticed on the 2nd of March was that, as Operation Anaconda kicked off and the forces were moving into position, there was reporting of one of our convoys, a friendly convoy of Americans and Afghans, being under fire. Simultaneously, on a different radio network, I noticed reporting by an AC-130 gunship that it was engaging a convoy. I put the two things together and said, "Okay, what we need to do is, we need to find out the facts associated with that." And so I've asked our Special Operations component to investigate the facts and circumstances and see if there is any connection between the two. And so I put that on the list, because in fact, that's one we're going to look into.
Question: I'm sorry. I guess I didn't -- in other words, you do know that a convoy with U.S. soldiers came under fire. You're trying to determine whether that was --
Franks: Exactly. Exactly.
Question:Any killed or injured in the action?
Franks: This is the place where the one Special Forces trooper was killed and a couple wounded, as well as a couple of Afghans. And so we'll treat it seriously, and we'll find out if there's a connection between the two events.
Question: Was there a tactical result at the time? I think there were reports right at the beginning of Operation Anaconda that an Afghan force actually came under fire and basically went through or turned back or didn't show up where they were supposed to.
Franks: That is what was reported. Factually, this force as it was moving to its assembly areas to get set for Operation Anaconda and came under fire, the issue was not having come under fire; the issue had to do with their loss of vehicles, some simply to roadside accidents and so forth. And the determination was made by that Afghan force that they needed to pull back a few kilometers, regroup, get new vehicles, organize themselves and so forth, which they did.
Question: Now did that -- there are -- further been reporting that because they weren't ready to move to a position that they were supposed to, that American forces instead had to sort of plug the gaps.
Franks: Not actually true, either. If you look at the objective area, which we call Remington, in the Shah-i-Kot area, there were, in fact, simultaneous activities that went on in there. Some of the activities had to do with the placement of Afghan forces in a number of positions, and this Afghan force was one of those being positioned.
Also, we had simultaneously the insertion of U.S. forces in different places. And so I think it's entirely possible that people would say, "Ah ha! The fact that one thing happened with the Afghan force meant that something else had to happen with the Americans." Not so. These were simultaneous activities.
Question: I guess what people have said is that the hostile forces, instead of being -- sort of having to deal with two things at once, the Afghans on one side, perhaps, and Americans being inserted in another area, that instead of doing that, they were only facing the Americans coming in --
Question: -- and that's why the Americans -- I think it was the 10th Mountain in this case -- really got themselves in quite a fight and --
Franks: I think the facts and the analysis won't bear it out because the incidents were miles apart. The incidents where the -- the inserted American forces were well in the south of the operational area, the area where we had the event that I described a minute ago was well in the north of the area. And so there actually was not a connection.
Question: General, could you give us a better sense -- there's been a lot of talk about how many killed in the Anaconda campaign. Your ground commander, General Hagenbeck, said about 700. And then an Afghan official said 350. Can you give us --
Franks: All right. There were hundreds killed in this operation.
Question: Hundreds were killed?
Franks: There were hundreds killed in this operation.
Question: And any sense of how many got away? There's a lot of reports now about 5,000 regrouping in Pakistan and the territories. Do you know that to be true? And if so, how do you get them?
Franks: My sense is that in fact there -- in fact there are not thousands of al Qaeda regrouping some place, whether it's Pakistan or anyplace else. I have -- I really -- I really have no doubt that during the course of any one of these military operations we will see threes and fives and maybe in some case 15s, if you will, who will exfiltrate the battle area. And so it would not -- it wouldn't surprise me at all if that happened in Shah-i-Kot. I think the speculation, though, about large numbers of people inside Pakistan or whatever, I wouldn't buy the numbers. And I can't give you a sense of well, if you say fives and 10s and 15s, well, you know, how many? Well, I don't know how many.
I can tell you, based on the same sort of notion I described a minute ago about the way this battle was constructed, that the placement of Special Operations Forces, the placement of Afghan forces with some of our special forces people accompanying them was such that, in my view, it would be unfeasible to expect that large numbers of enemy forces exfiltrated this battlefield and moved in any direction. But small numbers, to be sure.
Question: Well, if I could just follow up quickly please.
Question: Does this pose a particular problem for you, whatever the number is, in Pakistan regrouping, because the Pakistani authorities don't seem to be going in and getting these folks? Is it a problem for you?
Franks: I think the support that we've had from Pakistan has been remarkable. I must say that. I've said it before, and I'll -- and I'll say it again. I think since the partition, though, going back 50-plus years inside Pakistan, the western -- the western part of Pakistan has not been the best controlled part of the country. And so that elements in western Pakistan would or could absorb some number of people coming across from Afghanistan is not surprising to me. The porous nature of that border and the fact that tribal elements are -- of the same tribes -- are located across that border on both sides is not a surprising -- is not a surprising thing to me.
Question: But how do you get at them?
Franks: Well, I think what you do is you continue to do what we're doing, and I have -- and I've said repeatedly that I do not find the current situation in our relationship with Pakistan and what we're doing with them to be unsatisfactory. I think what we do is we remain tactically and operationally patient, and we continue to work with very dedicated people to ferret out and reduce these -- and reduce these pockets. And that work is ongoing as we speak.
Question: Sir, as you know, for months, critics have worried about --
Franks: I know about those critics. (Laughter.)
Question: Yes, sir. And they've worried about the possibility that the United States is going to get into -- you know the word -- a quagmire, similar to Vietnam --
Franks: Mmm hmm.
Question: -- where they're never going to really wipe out the enemy, so to speak. They're guerrilla situations; they're going to escape; they're going to go to other countries, et cetera, et cetera. What makes this different?
Franks: (Laughs.) I respect the question, but in my view, what makes it different is everything. (Laughter.)
Question: Well, I just described the situation --
Franks: Yeah, no, I understand. I'm familiar in a very personal way with Vietnam. I observed that in terms of the tens of thousands of people committed to that over a period of years. The Soviet experience inside Afghanistan: 620,000 people committed to the task, more than nine years; hundreds of aircraft shot down; perhaps 50-, 55,000 people wounded; 15,000 killed. Perhaps that would qualify as a quagmire.
The positioning of somewhere around 6,000, 7,000 -- the number today is just a bit over 7,000 Americans in Afghanistan, working with the Interim Authority, actively pursuing pockets of enemy troops in my view does not qualify -- (laughs) -- does not qualify as a quagmire. I understand the question, but I think we're a long ways away from a quagmire in Afghanistan.
Question: But if I may follow up, sir --
Question: -- continue this discussion, the number of troops that the United States committed to Indochina, particularly Vietnam --
Question: -- increased over time.
Question: And so at one point, quite frankly, there were much fewer U.S. troops in Vietnam that there are American forces in Afghanistan. So again, is that the only difference you see?
Franks: Oh, I think -- I think there are a great many differences. I think the mindset of the American people -- I talked about the will of the American people. I think that what we looked at in Indochina was an "away game." I think what we're looking at in the global war on terrorism is something entirely different.
And the sense that I get as I deal with our people in uniform, as I did last week inside Afghanistan at Bagram Air Base, and the sense that I get in dealing with the American people is that they is in fact -- I don't think we'll ever be comfortable with war, but I think there is a sense of satisfaction with what's being done, and there certainly is no question of the need to do it.
And so I suspect that history -- I suspect that history, when we write it in the future and look back, will describe whether this in fact was the involvement of our forces which just continued to grow over time, or whether in fact we had force that was appropriate to the task that our nation has inside Afghanistan.
So, pardon the long answer, but that's my view.
Question: Regarding your recent trip to Pakistan, reports from Islamabad suggest that you chatted with President Musharraf about conducting joint operations inside Pakistan, military operations. Is that something you want to do?
Franks: I did, in fact, talk to President Musharraf, and, as I think -- I think the secretary mentioned a few months back that we have a relationship, a working relationship, with Pakistan, certainly with President Musharraf, that permits us to be involved there. And we haven't seen the need to conduct U.S. unilateral operations inside Pakistan. And so --
Question: What about joint operations?
Franks: -- and so we haven't asked to do that.
"Joint" can imply a great many things. I will say that the relationship that we have with Pakistan has not foreclosed the possibility of anything. We have not, up to this point, asked to be able to conduct joint operations in Pakistan, and so I did not discuss that point with President Musharraf, nor have I asked him at any point in the past, "may we conduct joint operations with you."
What we have talked about is our ability to coordinate our operations from our activity inside Afghanistan to the Pakistanis' activity inside Pakistan across that boundary. And the coordination and the cooperation has been okay, but it continues to improve. So we did discuss that, yes.
Question: But I thought commanders wanted as many options as possible. Why don't you already have sort of a blanket agreement that you can do joint operations?
Franks: Well, I think we have flexibility, and I think we have options. And I suspect that if there comes a point in time where we perceive the need to be able to move American forces, then we probably would have the discussion. But we haven't seen the need to do that now because, as I said earlier, President Musharraf has worked in the past, and continues to work very hard to provide cooperation in this area, without a doubt.
Question: General, there are reports that U.S. troops or some other U.S. agents were involved yesterday in this roundup of terrorists inside Pakistan.
Franks: I read about that.
Question: To what extent was the United States involved in that?
Franks: I don't -- I really don't want to speculate about it. I will say that I have received information that there was an operation inside Pakistan yesterday. None of my forces were involved in that, and I'm honestly not sure of the details of it.
Question: Weren't you involved with intelligence -- (inaudible) -- intelligence?
Franks: Intelligence to be sure -- to be sure.
Question: How about other U.S. --
Question: How about other coalition forces? How about our Western coalition --
Question: How about the CIA and the FBI?
Question: How about other --
Franks: I think -- well -- let me -- I'll just -- let me -- let me say it this way: I believe that there was an operation yesterday inside Pakistan. I'm not sure of the facts of the operation. I think that there was cooperation between assets of our government and assets of President Musharraf's government, and I suspect, in the days and weeks ahead, that the full construct of all of that will come out. But I really don't think it would be appropriate for me to talk about those other agencies or, in fact, the Pakistanis, who undertook the operation.
Question: How about the stature or importance of the people who were captured?
Franks: I really don't know that. I mean, I have seen -- I've seen the reports, but I think we don't know yet who all the people are. So --
Question: You know how many or -- and is it part of the increase in the captured -- detainees that you now hold?
Franks: It is not part of the increase in the detainees that we hold right now. And I've heard about three different sets of numbers, and so I think I won't mention a number to you on it right now.
Question: As I'm sure you know, sir, there have been a series of indications recently that Saudi authorities aren't going to be particularly helpful to the United States when it comes time to preparing for a possible confrontation with Iraq. Can you say what you can do and what you are doing in order to reduce dependence on cooperation from Saudi Arabia when it does come time to prepare for that kind of a confrontation?
Franks: Don't know that I'd talk about preparing for anything. I will tell you that our relationships in Central Command with Saudi in terms of the assets that we have in Saudi Arabia now have been very good. The consultations have been good. I'm aware of the reported frictions, and I'm aware of the reported difficulties. But I will say that Saudi Arabia has been cooperative with us in Operation Enduring Freedom -- the operational side of this. And so I have not -- I haven't had the need to begin to discuss with them any future operations because my boss and the president have not given any instructions to do that. And so we're just continuing to coordinate and cooperate with them. And I think the cooperation is pretty good.
Question: But are you moving some equipment out of Saudi?
Franks: We started about two years ago moving -- maybe 18 months ago -- repositioning some munitions that, in fact, were left over from the Gulf War, believe it or not. And so we started moving those into containers -- gosh, maybe a year and a half ago. And so we're continuing that kind of move. We're also -- it is not a matter of moving; we're also -- let me say it this way: We are increasing or improving our command and control capacity in all of my region, and I would not be at all surprised if we are changing the location of some of the assets that we have that we have issued no instructions to move equipment out of Saudi Arabia.
Question: (Inaudible) -- assets --
Franks: What we want to be sure of is the point of flexibility that was made a minute ago. We want to be sure that we have redundant communications inside the region. And so that's -- that may be what the report's about. I've read it, but I haven't run it down.
Question: But General --
Question: But didn't you move the CAOC [coalition air operations center] out of the combined operations, out of --
Franks: I have no plans to move the CAOC from its current location.
Question: But generally --
Franks: That does not say that I don't have plans to replicate it some place.
Question: Are you now pre-positioning men or weapons or materiel in anticipation of a possible military action against Iraq?
Question: You're not?
Franks: We have not -- we have not positioned assets in my region in anticipation of an action any place, with the exception of what we have talked about in Yemen, in terms of providing support to President Ali Abdullah Saleh in his efforts to reduce terrorism inside Yemen.
Question: So there are not additional U.S. military troops or planes either in or headed to Kuwait?
Franks: The additional assets that we have in Kuwait I think go back two or three months, when we put a brigade-minus force inside Kuwait. And I think we talked about that as a hedge against miscalculation. We have not started to build force in Kuwait. We may, at some point -- I believe that in Kuwait now, on the ground force side, we have a brigade minus, which is two battalions of soldiers in there. At some point, we may make that a full brigade; I'm not sure. I don't think the secretary has made the decision yet. But the advantage that we get from that sort of positioning in the region is two-fold: One, it's a hedge, that I mentioned before, and two, it provides a great training opportunity for our ground forces to be able to cooperate and train with forces in the region.
Question: And just a quick --
Question: Can you talk in terms of numbers of people. I'm sorry. What that -- the two battalions -- you gave -- sorry.
Franks: (Chuckles.) In Kuwait?
Question: Yes, sir.
Franks: You mean in Kuwait? I'm not sure what the number is. The brigade-minus would probably be an order of magnitude of -- with the support construct there, would probably be order of magnitude three or four thousand people. And one could well see similar numbers of airmen who have been positioned in Kuwait since we started Operation Southern Watch, and so I'm not sure right now what the total footprint looks like in Kuwait. But that's the structure. It's Operation Southern Watch, plus the force that I described a minute ago in terms of a brigade.
Question: Quickly, back to the March 2nd incident. It's been a month now since that happened. What does your preliminary inquiry or look- see at that indicate? Is it possible that that convoy of friendly U.S. and Afghans was in fact came -- did in fact come under friendly fire from the AC-130? And, I guess that's the incident where the first combat casualty occurred in Operation Anaconda.
Franks: That is -- the second part, that is correct. That is the first combat casualty that we reported in Anaconda. And I don't have a preliminary notion about this. I will say that the coincidence of the timing of the AC-130 strike and the strike on that convoy were in my view sufficient to cause me to ask the question, and what I try to do -- and I think it's a good point for me to mention this -- I think in times past, I actually would have -- and I think probably the secretary would have some preliminary findings sort of thing. What I think we've learned is that what we get preliminarily is almost always wrong enough that what we try to do -- what I actually try to do is I try to not ask my subordinates. What I try to do is say I would like to have you do, you know, full, frank, free and open investigation of this and provide me the results. And so it is not cloaking something when I say I really -- I don't have a preliminary thought on it. It was significant enough, coincidental enough that I thought we'd better take a look at it. So, we will eventually know exactly what happened, but right now I don't have the preliminaries.
Question:Do any of those forces that came under fire have a good sense of whether al Qaeda or Taliban had that capability that an AC- 130 would have?
Franks: Well, I'll tell you exactly what happened there because I've asked -- I asked them very early. One of the forms of enemy fire that our forces, and you'll recall much of the reporting was from RPGs [rocket propelled grenade] and from mortar fire. This is fragmentation-type fire. You get the explosion, and that is the same sort of thing that they experienced in this convoy, and their initial reporting was, "We're under mortar attack." And so -- so we really don't know. But the coincidence is close enough that we thought we'd better take a look.
Question: If we could return to the question of assets, and now I'm talking about both human assets and equipment assets. As you know, there have been reports that at the moment, the United States, because of the intense effort in Afghanistan, is depleted a little bit, both in terms of equipment and in terms of just exhausted troops. Can I ask you to comment on that?
Franks: Sure. I don't think so. I don't think so. Busy, to be sure. Very busy, to be sure. But rather than just being cute about, let me give you the example. I was on the Theodore Roosevelt back in the Christmas holiday time frame, and I've been in Afghanistan to Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul and Bagram, and I've met a lot of the staff people. I've been to see the Air Force, Ramstein air base in Germany. And the sense that you -- the sense that you get, notwithstanding what some leaders may say, is that these kids are pumped up. Their leaders are pumped up. And I have experienced that, truthfully, in every place that I've been.
Are there implications of -- the job we're doing in Afghanistan, does that create implications someplace else? To be sure, because as I think we've said, we do have high-demand, low-density assets. And I agreed with the comment that said what that really means is, maybe sometime in the past, we didn't buy enough of the right stuff. But we do have, in some cases, low-density, high-demand things. And we're using a lot of them. We're using a lot of them. But to -- depleted? No. Worn out? Not in my experience. I might be wrong, but that's not my experience. That's not what I see on the battlefield.
Question: General Franks?
Question: Yesterday, Secretary Rumsfeld said that some of the comments --
Franks: I know that man. (Laughter.)
Question: -- that we've been hearing -- but what does that say to you? You've got uniformed officers saying certain things.
Question: I mean, would those uniformed officers not be telling the truth about the state of affairs?
Franks: I don't think you've ever found that any of us in uniform would not tell the truth. I truly -- I don't think -- I don't think we'd see that. I think that -- I think we'll -- there will be a lot of views. And some of them come from civilians, and some are going to come from military people. And I don't it'd be right for me to say that some other commander in some other part of the world does not believe that he has shortages or that he's wearing his people out. It may well be possible. But I think, one, whoever it was would be giving, you know, a statement of truth as he believes it. That just -- you know, the neighborhood I can talk about is the 25 countries of Central Command, and I don't see it in my neighborhood.
Question: Can I also ask you for an update on the Predator strike in the last couple of months on a group of individuals you thought might be senior leaders of al Qaeda or Taliban.
Question: Do you have any idea or certainty who they were?
Franks: Don't know. Don't know.
Question: Have you gotten the DNA sample that you were seeking?
Franks: Stll working. Long process. Was still working when I got back from my trip. And to be very honest with you, I haven't checked this week. But I don't know.
Question: Do you have any idea whether they got the DNA sample from a relative of Osama bin Laden's family?
Franks: Ma'am, I don't know.
Question: You don't know?
Franks: I don't know.
Question: Two things. On the potential fratricide on March 2nd, I know -- I'm familiar with IFF [identification, friend or foe] transponders on tanks and on helicopters, but is there anything similar -- is there any sort of technological means of preventing fratricide --
Franks: No --
Question: -- in a convoy situation like that with an AC-130?
Franks: No. Not widespread, is the --
Question: No radio communication to prevent that sort of thing?
Franks: Radio communications for sure. And in some cases, transponding capability on the ground, but not nearly in all cases.
Question: So this is really a question of just a pilot checking with someone, is that friendly or not, and --
Franks: That's exactly right.
Question: Could I --
Question: And actually -- I'm sorry, just one more thing. Turkey today is going to decide -- that's just the second one. Turkey today is going to decide if it's taking over ISAF [International Security Assistance Force]. And one of its concerns is money --
Question: -- and also expanding beyond Kabul.
Question: What do you know, has that decision been made and has a sum been offered to Turkey?
Franks: Where is Secretary Rumsfeld when I need him?
(Laughter.) No ma'am, I don't know. I don't know. I really don't know. I have watched, as I think most of us have, to see how -- what the evolution looks like in the discussions with Turkey. My interest in that has been because of my relationship with ISAF; is whether the country coming in is up to the task, and so forth. And I'm very well satisfied with what Turkey can present to ISAF, if they choose to do so. And so that really is the extent of what I know about it.
I would say I'm hopeful, and I think there's a lot of work going on with it, but I don't know about the funding and so forth.
Question: General, I notice in this list of investigations here there's one that is not mentioned is the December incident involving a convoy. Karzai said that convoy was heading to his inaugural and included more than a dozen that were killed. He said they were local officials. Why didn't you include that? Do you think he's wrong on that point, or what's your sense?
Franks: Reviews, after-action reviews, inquiries, investigations, degrees of formality. I've discussed that with Chairman Karzai. In fact, the facts and circumstances of that were reviewed. There was enough uncertainty and enough confusion -- I mean, let's look at today, let's think about the various militias and the very senior people who exist with these militias. Some people call them "warlords." Maybe I'm more politically correct. But the militia leaders that you see all over Afghanistan, from day to day I think many will say, "Now, is that a friend or a foe?"
We reviewed the incident that you described, and within my chain of command, I have satisfied myself, based on a pretty substantive review of what went into that, that the signature of that, that the people in that convoy were in fact what we call a "righteous target." And so I've simply closed that out.
That does not mean that Chairman Karzai is absolutely wrong. It has to do with friend or foe on a given day sort of thing, and it may well be that there were people inside that convoy that Chairman Karzai could be correct about, but I think would equally acknowledge that there probably were a great many other people inside that convoy. And so the state of confusion caused us to believe we had a good target, and I believe that.
Question: General, how much are Afghans helping in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri and Mohammed Omar? Is the reward incentive having an effect? And can you update us on that hunt?
Franks: I have not -- I have not had someone come up to me and say, "Here, I have someone for you. Give me the money" -- in terms of the personalities. Does that mean that I don't think it's working? Not necessarily. That's where I'd leave the reward issue right now. I believe that the rewards that have been offered are a good thing, and I believe they may well, in the future, pay dividends to us.
In terms of the help by the Afghans, candidly, it's a mixed bag. What you find in some places is that you'll find a group of Afghans well-trained, capable, highly motivated and very, very helpful. In other places you will find some missing ingredient of what I just said; they may be willing, they may not be able. And so you get a mixed bag. But I will tell you that the interim authority in Afghanistan, Karzai and his cabinet, are very helpful in this; have been and remain very helpful.
Question: Just to follow, real quick, the recent sighting was kind of shot down by Central Command near Khost as far as being legitimate or credible. Do you --
Franks: Which one was that?
Question: That's bin Laden and al Zawahiri --
Question: -- near Khost on Monday or something.
Franks: Okay, right.
Question: Do you check out all of these sightings?
Franks: You bet.
Question: How does that work? I mean --
Franks: I think -- I welcome a chance to tell you, because what happens is, on a given day, we'll get in literally -- well, beyond hundreds. I mean, hundreds of reports of possible locations. Some of them will be in one country or another, in some cases, not even inside our region. And so what we will do is we'll start the work to confirm or deny one of these -- one of these sort of reports. And what you'll find in many cases is you'll get a report, then you'll get another report, and you'll get two or three that are very similar, and then these become quite serious with us. And those are the ones that you'll frequently see a sensitive site exploitation, for example. Or you'll frequently see Special Operations forces being put in on the ground to go take a look at these. And in other cases, we'll -- because of a variety of reasons, we'll say this report is spurious, either because we have had other spurious reports from the same source in the past -- it all has to do with believability. But one way or another, we run down every one of them.
Question: General, can you say with any certainty as you look back on all these operations that you've just missed bin Laden or any of these senior leaders.
Franks: Absolutely not.
Question: Not by two or three days?
Question: You've found no evidence that he was actually in a spot?
Franks: No. I have not. I think -- let me relate the two questions, because they are related. I've seen on a number of occasions where we would receive a sensing that says al Zawahiri or bin Laden or someone, that they're right here. And we will confirm that that is not true. And then two or three days later, the original source of that report will say, "Ugh! Ugh! They missed him by three days." (Laughter.) Does that sound familiar? I've seen that a few times. Now you can trust me when I tell you that.
And so I do not have credible evidence that any one of these principals has been missed by a day or two or just barely since we started this.
Now I'll say this: The fact that I don't have credible evidence that proves we just missed one doesn't mean that we may not have just missed one. I mean, I can give you all kinds of hypotheticals that someone was close in one of these caves we've struck or in one of these compounds the day before we got there. That's entirely possible. But I have not seen anything that convinces me if we'd only been a little quicker we'd have had him.
Question: (Inaudible) -- anthrax, or the possible, I should say, the possible anthrax biolab near Kandahar --
Question: -- that you went into some time ago, took some swabs. Has there been anything back on that?
Franks: Have not. In fact, we have looked at -- it seems to me that the number must be something -- 60 or so -- places where we have believed that there could be not necessarily anthrax but some -- some form of WMD [weapon of mass destruction] precursors. And we have found in several of those precursors, which to use prove intent, we have found laboratory equipment that proves intent. We believe that al Qaeda and bin Laden have been working, for a period of time, very, very hard to create weapons of mass destruction. But we have not yet found anything that provides evidence that they succeeded in doing it.
Question: Earlier, in your opening statement, you mentioned about an increase in detainees, as well as more searches and more things being found. Could you give more details of that -- that is to say, the most recent things that have happened? And could you provide more details about all of that?
Franks: What I'll do is, I'll put up on the Web what the up-to-date, minute -- you know, up-to-the-minute number is, what the most recent 10 or 12 or 15 are. My suspicion is that -- I think we talked in the last week or so about the number of Afghan facilities controlled by militia. There are some 10 or 15 or 20 of them all over Afghanistan, where there are detainees being held. What we will do every day is, we will put exploitation teams into these, and so on a given day, we may go to one of these detention facilities and find five or eight people which meet our screening criteria and add them to the population. And candidly, when I came here last night from Midland, I have not looked at what the last four or six or eight -- exactly their source -- where they came from -- but probably from that source.
Additionally, what we'll find is, it goes back to the question earlier: Do the Afghans really help us? What we'll find in any given week is that the Afghans, themselves, will come up to us and turn over two or four foreigners which they have captured. And we put them in the detention population also. So some combination of all of the above have probably bumped us up 12 or 15 numbers in the last -- in the last 48 hours.
Question: The search for -- that you didn't mention, on the documents and the latest things that you've uncovered, was that a result of some new U.S. operation? And what exactly did you -- you found recently?
Franks: Both Afghan operations with our special forces people, and U.S. operations going into cave complexes. And as we sweep out of the Shah-i-Kot area, what we've done is we have sweeps moving east, moving north, moving south; Afghan forces, and in some cases small U.S. special forces people working with Afghans, in contact with villagers. And what happens is, it shouldn't surprise that in many cases the villagers will say, "No, no al Qaeda here right now, but if you'll come with me, I'll show you these eight caves that we have up here." We have in some cases found munitions and weapons that go all the way back to the Soviet era. In other cases we have found places where there are very fresh computers, where there are very fresh documents, where we find passports, where we find freshly oiled weapons. So, all the above: U.S., coalition and Afghans.
Question: General, regarding the December 5th incident north of Kandahar with the B-52 friendly fire incident, they killed -- I believe three special forces troops were killed --
Franks: That's right.
Question: -- and as many as 20 injured.
Question: You said at the time, I believe, that seven Afghans were killed in that.
Question: And reports have come out since then that the number of Afghans killed were much, much larger than that. Could you fill us in that?
Franks: I read that -- I read the same thing that you read. I don't know the source. And I'm not sure that I -- right now, I'll stay with the number of Afghans that I have had before, because I have talked also with Chairman Karzai about this, and we have not ever talked about numbers with any specificity, but as you know, he was there. And I have talked to him and said, you know, "I really feel badly about the seven Afghans killed there." And I've not been -- you know, he has not come back and said, "Well, the number is something different."
Question: Was he, himself, wounded in that, as has been reported?
Franks: I think he got a scratch on his face as a result in that. But one time when I tried to tell him, "Boy, I'm really glad you weren't seriously hurt," he said, "Ah, nothing." And so I wouldn't deny that it happened, but if so, not seriously.
Question: General, I wonder if you could turn to another one of these 10 incidents, the attack Hazar Qadam in January north of Kandahar --
Question: -- in which 16 were killed, 27 captured and it turns out --
Franks: Right, 14 and 2 killed.
Question: Right. And it turns out that they were neither Taliban nor Al Qaeda. But you say in your report here, "There were no systemic errors in the targeting process, mission planning or mission execution." I'm just wondering how you can say that since the whole basis for this raid was really flat-out wrong?
Franks: Well, let me try it like this. Intelligence indicates that compounds in the vicinity of Hazar Qadam contain enemy forces. I'm not sure enough to go bomb Hazar Qadam, and so I say: Tell you what; we're going to take Special Operations forces, very highly trained, very capable, and we're going to have them go take a look. And so they go in, virtually perfectly, to take a look, and someone opens fire on them. Fourteen people die in that compound, two die in the other compound. I find no failure of intelligence, because intelligence alerted me that there could be an enemy force in Hazar Qadam. I find no fault with very highly trained people who went on the ground. And I find no fault that those very highly trained people killed the people who fired at them.
And so that sort of is how I come up with a conclusion that says I regret the fact that friendly people were killed in this, I regret the fact that -- each time we lose civilians or noncombatants in this, I regret it. But the fact of the matter is that this is a war. Intelligence does not have to be characterized as a failure to be imperfect. And so we take imperfect information and we attempt to confirm it or deny it, and a terrible mistake is made during that process if someone shoots at an American soldier.
Question: If I could just follow up to that: But if you're in a hostile area, it's the middle of the night, and some soldiers show up with guns and don't identify themselves and start heading toward your compound, what did you expect those people in that compound to do?
Franks: Well, these soldiers were dressed in American military uniforms. When these soldiers approached the compound, someone was standing in front of the compound, saw the American soldiers, did not fire at the American soldiers, and the American soldiers did not fire at him. He turned around and re-entered the compound. No shots were fired. As the American soldiers continued to approach the compound, the compound -- someone in the compound opened fire on the American soldiers.
Question: Do you think it was clear to everybody that these were U.S. soldiers coming in?
Franks: Oh, I wouldn't speculate. I just --
Question:Did they identify themselves as U.S. soldiers?
Franks: They were identified by the uniforms they were wearing. They were not -- I mean, these were not guys cloaked in, you know, black sweaters and hoods. These were American soldiers wearing American uniforms.
And so let me just repeat what I said. I think it's regrettable that wars produce things like this, but I do not find it remarkable that people who wear uniforms and serve this country, when they're in the process of carrying out their duties and they are fired upon, will take extremely lethal action. And I don't think I'd want to change that.
Question: I'm asking you to reflect on this: And that is, that there's a consistent theme through all of these, and that is the question of communication, or lack thereof. Mindful of the term "the fog of war" and all that --
Question: -- is there anything that you might want to consider that needs to be improved in that area?
Franks: I think that's a -- I think that's a good question. And I think one of the reasons that we want to look at each one of these, to include the one on Hazar Qadam, is because if we're honest and if we're sincere, we want to be life-long learners. In each one of these incidents, we want to learn from what we did.
If we determine that we can -- if we determine that we can prevent activities where we have friendly fire incident by having greater proliferation of identification friend or foe devices, then I think we should do that. And I think, in fact, that this department will take a look at every one of the possibilities to try to technologically enable us to help ourselves.
In some other cases we'll find in these incidents that our tactics or our techniques or procedures are not good enough to prevent one of these outcomes. And so when we find that, then we get everybody together and say, "All right now, what did we learn from this? How can we prevent this in the future?" And in some cases it will have to do with the way we pass information to one another.
Think about the complexity of an operation where you have air-to-ground forces, you also have air-to-ground fighter forces. You also have attack helicopters, command and control helicopters, special operations forces, conventional forces, Afghan forces, and coalition forces from a half a dozen nations
-- probably the description you used in your question is as good as any -- "the fog of war", and in some cases, the friction. And so in some cases, what this will tell us to do is, "All right, let's be sure that we have Force A set before we begin to move Force B."
And so some of these things are answered by simply modifying our tactics, techniques, procedures and approaches.
The answer sounds good, but the fact is that we are not ever going to be able to absolutely eradicate the loss of life, and in some cases the loss of the wrong life, when we're engaged in this kind of operation. Regrettable, but true.
Thanks a lot.
Question: Thank you.
(NOTE: Reporters joke with the General as he leaves the podium.)
Question: Is Midland preparing to move on Odessa? Is that why you were there? (Laughter.)
Franks: They will never move -- they will -- I want to show you something, but I'm not going to show you in front of these TV cameras! (Laughter.)
Question: (Laughs.) Could I follow up on that?
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