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DoD Newsbriefing: Tuesday, April 9, 2002

DoD Newsbriefing: Tuesday, April 9, 2002

Source: News Transcript from the United States Department of Defense. DoD News Briefing: Victoria Clarke ASD (PA), Tuesday, April 9, 2002 - 11:00 a.m. EDT. Also participating was Air Force Brigadier General John W. Rosa, Jr., deputy director for current operations, Operations Directorate, the Joint Staff.

Clarke: I think it's going to be short today, ladies and gentlemen.

Good morning. I really don't have any remarks other than to say this; yesterday Steve Cambone and Pete Verg and I went down to the Joint Forces Command and spent the day with General Kernan and his staff, who are doing some pretty amazing things. And I hope someday we can get him and some others up here briefing on their efforts, because they really are committed to transformation, they are committed to improving the way we train, improving interoperability. Some of the things they're working on in terms of communications are pretty extraordinary.

So I just want to thank them for giving us a day's-worth of their time, and commend them and their people. The folks down there are just incredible. The dedication's pretty amazing.

So, to thank them, and turn it over to General Rosa.

Rosa: And I don't have much of a statement today. We continue our operations in Afghanistan, the search for al Qaeda and former Taliban in eastern Afghanistan.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

Clarke: Charlie?

Question: Torie, can you update us at all on the condition of Abu Zubaydah?

Clarke: We're -- I think the secretary talked about it a little bit yesterday -- we're just not going to get in the business of a daily, hourly medical checkup. We have him.

Question: Well, how about a weekly update?

Clarke: He's getting medical treatment.

Question: Is he still in serious condition?

Clarke: I don't even have a --

(Cross talk.)

Question: Has his condition improved?

Clarke: I do not have information for you on his condition. He continues to get the appropriate medical treatment.

Question: Will you tell us if he dies?

Question: Just to follow up --

Clarke: I'm sorry?

Question: Will you tell us if he dies?

Clarke: You know, that's such a hypothetical, but I think we'd probably be willing to acknowledge that.

Question: This morning there was a report from Afghanistan that an American was killed in some sort of a bombing. Do you have any indication at all that that's true?

Rosa: We just heard the initial press reports but haven't had time to dig into it.

Clarke: We've got calls into CENTCOM, and they so far did not have anything.

Question: Okay.

Clarke: So we'll let you know.

Question: Could I also ask General Rosa, does the U.S. have any indications that Taliban and al Qaeda types are regrouping in an area called Miram Shah Pakistan, across the border? Does that ring a --

Rosa: It does not ring a bell.

Question: Are there any specific places that --

Rosa: By name? In that general Khost area is where Mountain Lion, as you know, is continuing, is -- intelligence.

Question: But no -- (inaudible) --

Rosa: So far.

Question: Than groups, large groups?

Rosa: Again, we have not -- to characterize it that way, I think, would be inappropriate. We haven't seen the triggers that would lead us to believe that it's time to go.

Question: There or anywhere else, I take it you say?

Rosa: We survey the whole country, but I don't want to get into exactly what we're seeing every place. But the areas that you mentioned -- I don't recognize those as high interest.

Question: May I just follow?

Clarke: Mm-hmm.

Question: According to the reports -- (inaudible) -- so far, whatever you have been -- you have in your suggestion, like American Taliban and also -- (inaudible) -- Pakistan, reports are saying that you are not getting any cooperation from the ISI, but this is the effort by the U.S. officials, like FBI or CIA and other high-level officials. They are going inside Pakistan to get all these people through the local police but not the help from the ISI or the -- there might be government help, but not from ISI. ISI is not cooperating with you.

Clarke: Well, I'd just say the government of Pakistan has been cooperating across the board. They've been very, very helpful in the war on terrorism. They've been very, very helpful in keeping a close eye on the borders. So we've been very pleased with the cooperation we've gotten.

I cannot stand up here and talk with you about what Department of Justice or FBI might think, but I know they have collaborated closely on some efforts.

Question: Yesterday both Secretary Rumsfeld and General Myers seemed a little perplexed about the stories that said there were efforts to resume refueling U.S. warships in Aden Harbor in Yemen, yet the stories are persistent today that some U.S. diplomat is working out this deal in exchange for Yemen's cooperation in the war on terrorism. Can you shed a little light on that today? Where is that and what exactly is going on?

Clarke: Sure. I don't think they were perplexed. I wasn't here, but I read the transcript. My recollection was, they were asked, "Do you have plans under way to refuel in Aden?" And the truth is that we haven't. What we do have, as we have at facilities and ports around the world, is a constant assessment and review of the capabilities of security, of the quality of the fuel, I guess it is, things like that. That is constantly under review. That is under review by the 5th Fleet, I believe it is, in Yemen. But that's just a normal course of business. But currently there are no deals to refuel ships in that area. So they were correct.

Question: There are currently no deals, but that leaves open the possibility there could be deals. And are there negotiations under way between the U.S. and Yemen that in exchange for Yemen's cooperation, the U.S. military would resume refueling ships in Aden Harbor? Is that part of a deal between Yemen and the U.S. in terms of fighting the war on terrorism?

Clarke: I'm not aware of any negotiations like that.

Question: And are these negotiations being driven by the Pentagon, by the State Department -- (laughter) --

Clarke: Now how would I know who's driving negotiations of which I'm not aware?

I'll say this, with Yemen, again as with a lot of countries, in the wake of September 11th, there are new roles, new relationships. We've been very pleased with the progress we're making with Yemen in the war on terrorism. We're dotting the i's and crossing the t's on the small number of forces that we're going to have in there to assist them in combating the war on terrorism. Full stop.

Separate issue -- the issue of ports and facilities around the world. We are constantly assessing them. The 5th Fleet has been in there assessing the fuel, and people have been looking at security. But I would not put the two together.

Question: And after the attack on the USS Cole, would the U.S. be -- military be willing to resume refueling American warships in Aden harbor?

Clarke: You start to get into hypotheticals, which I don't think it's appropriate for me to address.

What we will do is work with countries around the world, including Yemen, for the appropriate use and mix of resources and people in the war on terrorism.

Question: So what's the purpose of the assessment, if it's not looking forward to the possibility of making stops there to refuel?

Clarke: I'll tell you what I know, and then the person who really understands military matters can talk about it.

My understanding is that you constantly, whether you're the Air Force, the Navy, you're constantly assessing facilities. You want to have as many options as possible, you want as wide a range of options as possible. So even though you do not have something in the near term -- I'm not saying you won't -- but even if you don't have something in the near term, you're constantly assessing the feasibility of using a facility like that so you have a wide range of options.

Rosa: I would agree. I mean, it's a constant look, look, look and see where your options are. I mean, we're -- in the Yemeni (sic), we're just now starting our advance party coming in for our training and equipping -- or assisting, I should say; we're in the early stages. And the training and assisting portions that I've seen had nothing to do with refueling ships.

Question: And has there been an agreement on arrangements to use Marines to provide port security in the event that U.S. Navy ships have to make a stop there?

Clarke: I haven't seen anything like that.

Question: So -- just not to belabor it, but just to be clear, if I can. There are no discussions going on now with the Yemeni government to work out arrangements to resume refueling operations, provide security at Aden? Is that --

Clarke: I've told you everything I know; that the 5th Fleet is looking at the quality of the fuel; that security of the port is being looked at, just as we do with facilities around the world.

Question: But that's not the same as saying there's discussions about making arrangements to --

Clarke: I've told you everything I know.

Let's go back, and then to Brett.

Question: Ms. Clarke, another subject, if possible? Do you have any readout on yesterday's talks between the Greek minister of defense, Yiannos Papandoniou, and Secretary Rumsfeld? And also with General Myers?

Clarke: I apologize. I was not here yesterday, so I didn't get the readout. We can try to get something for you later this afternoon, but I didn't get the readout, because I wasn't here. Thank you.


Question: Back to Yemen. General, is there additional difficulties in that situation, in the training and assisting of those forces since we haven't worked with them before, we don't know exactly who they are or what their capabilities are, and that sort of thing? Can you talk about the operation?

Rosa: I can tell you over the last several months we've had government to government exchanges, military to military exchanges, and those have gone quite well. And our training program is at their request. It'll be a small-scale training program. And that's about all I can really say.

Question: Does it present different challenges than other places that we've been training people?

Rosa: I think we've been training around the world for many, many years. We've -- as part of our what we call JCET, our joint training programs around the world, we've trained -- and I don't recall off the bat if we've trained in Yemen before. But we've trained all over the world. And each place, as you suggest, has its own specific challenges. Language will be a challenge. Translators will be a challenge in this case. But we'll overcome that.

Question: We -- same set of questions for Georgia. I think Prime Minister Shevardnadze said yesterday that U.S. advisers would be coming within a few weeks.

Rosa: Right. The concept has been approved, but the final details, numbers, and dates have not yet been approved. We haven't finalized that to the secretary at this time.

Question: And following up the Philippines also, what's the latest on the Philippines that are -- consideration of increasing U.S. forces there?

Rosa: No final decisions have been made. Internal talks have been going on. But again, we have not forwarded to the secretary final proposals or interim proposals for any kind of an increase. That's not to say it won't happen, but right now we're still at the talking and negotiating stages -- internal.

Question: And may I follow up both on Bob's question about Miram Shah? What have you seen lately on the regrouping of the al Qaeda and Taliban, and what happens if you do see a large regrouping in Pakistan? Then what?

Rosa: To characterize exactly what we're seeing, I think in Mountain Lion, I don't want to give you those types of details, because other folks besides us listen to these press conferences. But suffice it say we are seeing some things that

give us some signs that we're locating enemy. We're doing the kinds of things that we've been said -- we've been doing over the past couple of weeks -- gathering information. We work very closely with the forces of Pakistan to cross the border. Pakistan has, as we said earlier, has been offering great cooperation. Working with them has been great. And I think that every specific detail on what we will do if we see somebody in Pakistan I think would be in appropriate to try and talk about that up here.

Question: Is there a Pakistani counterpart to Operation Mountain Lion going on their side of the border?

Rosa: I don't know. I know that they are patrolling, and their Special Forces and their conventional forces are patrolling that entire area, but I don't know if they call it a special operation.

Clarke: Barbara?

Question: But Torie, can we revisit the issue of Hamdi? The Justice Department doesn't seem to have much interest in prosecuting him at the moment. What will continue to be his status with the U.S. military? And can you clarify the issue, specifically, if he, indeed, is a U.S. citizen, can he in any fashion be brought before the Uniform Code of Military Justice system? Can he face some kind of prosecution under that, as a U.S. citizen?

Clarke: His status remains the same. He's in Norfolk, at the brig, getting good treatment. As a captured enemy combatant, he remains under control of the Department of Defense. If he is, if he does, indeed, have U.S. citizenship, then he would not be a candidate for the military commission. Beyond that, I just can't speculate about what we might do. I talked to Jim Haynes, our general counsel, right before I came down. And just -- at this point, we just don't have further speculation or even theoreticals about what might happen to him.

Question: Understanding that -- I'm sorry to press you --

Clarke: But could he come before the UCMJ? My understanding -- I'm not a lawyer -- is that that is a possibility. But you have to look through the circumstances. We have to have more information, I believe, to determine what will happen with him. But right now, his status remains unchanged.

Question: What is the reluctance to declare that, in fact, he's an American citizen? As I understand it, all the evidence is pretty much in. He either is or he isn't an American citizen. If you do that, does it start a clock ticking whereby either the Justice Department or the military would have to charge him or release him?

Clarke: I don't know that I sense any reluctance on anyone's part, other than to be very accurate and be very precise. So I think that's what they're trying to do -- to make absolutely sure. It looks as though he does have U.S. citizenship.

But also, on every one of these, we're going to take them very carefully and very deliberately and make sure we do the right thing, not necessarily the fast thing.

Question: Torie, could I just follow up?

Clarke: Let's do Al.

Question: Is there any policy or law that spells out how long you can hold a captured enemy combatant?

Clarke: The general can check me on this one. I don't know if it's a policy or a law, but a practice, and I think fairly common under the Geneva Convention, that for the length -- for the duration of a conflict, you could hold people you have captured as enemy combatants. That is my understanding of it.

Rosa: That's my understanding as well.

Question: But just to -- just to follow up. Since this, as you pointed out so many times, is an unconventional conflict and will be fought in many theaters, and could go on indefinitely, do we draw from that that you can then hold these combatants -- these captured combatants indefinitely?

Clarke: I wouldn't draw too many conclusions. I'd stick with our basics. We have no big desire to have any large numbers of detainees for any great length of time. We have a very, very strong preference to make sure that people who have made very clear themselves, and are a part of an organization that has made very, very clear that it wants to kill and harm Americans and our friends, remain off the streets. You know, if I had one driving concern on these issues, it would be how do we keep these people out of a situation where they can do further harm. So that is our number one concern.

And again, words like "indefinitely" -- we believe the war on terrorism will take some time; we believe it will take some time in Afghanistan. But I couldn't put a time certain to it. But if you look at previous conflicts, people were held for quite a long time.

Question: A related question. Can you give us the status on the building at Guantanamo? I think you're just about to open a 400-cell facility, and then Congress has authorized, I believe, an expansion to over 600. So it looks like you are planning to hold a lot of people for a long time.

Clarke: Well, again, I don't know what you describe as "a lot of people." We'll hold the people that we think are appropriate to be held there. And the facility, we've planned all along to have more permanent facilities that were appropriate for the circumstances there, make it better in terms of security. Also, I believe, make it better in terms of the detainees. Instead of being walked to a latrine however many times a day, that will be in the facilities themselves. So I think it's just an appropriate evolution of what we said all along we would need to do.

Question: When that new facility opens, will the rest of the detainees in Afghanistan be moved -- flown over to Guantanamo Bay?

Clarke: I don't know what all the circumstances are. We are -- in Afghanistan itself, we'll take some here, move them there, give some back to the Pakistanis.

Question: That's the reason you built one that large, I assume.

Clarke: I don't know, you know, what the concept is going down the road in terms of what we'll do with them, but we'll let you know as we proceed.

Question: Another detainee question. If -- you know, the secretary and you have said numerous times that there's no want to hold a large amount of these detainees for any longer than you have to. Is there more of a determination which ones will be sent back to their countries to be tried or dealt with there? Or how is that determination going? Is that moving forward? What's --

Clarke: Very deliberately. They're still interviewing, interrogating the detainees to get as much intel as possible and to get as much information as possible about their circumstances. They're working through that progress. Jim Haynes is working with a team of people to come up with the system, if you will, by which you determine who goes in which one. But again, I'd say, if you need to put a priority on something, put the priority on what kind of intel are we getting to prevent future attacks.

Question: And are they cooperating?

Clarke: We're getting information.

Question: Just to follow, can you comment on the report that some of these al Qaeda held at the U.S. base in Cuba will be interrogated by the ISI, which were invited by the U.S. officials? And can you trust them? Because they are the ones who trained them, and they were -- (inaudible) -- and now they will be interrogated by them because they speak Pashtu.

Clarke: I don't have anything on that.

Question: (Off mike) --

Clarke: I saw a press report, but I haven't seen anything else on it.

Let's go back there.

Question: Have the recent incidents in Afghanistan and those arrests caused you or the international force to change your deployments, change the training schedule, change your relationships with the interim government?

Rosa: The -- you're talking about the --

Question: Bombings, the arrests, and the shootings.

Rosa: It -- those have happened pretty good ways, in the last couple of instances, from our troops. There were no U.S. troops involved in those. So to say that it changed the way we operate or the way we would deploy people in and out -- I wouldn't characterize it that way.

I think what it proves is that Afghan (sic) is still a dangerous place. The training of the Afghan national army is of utmost importance to us. It's on the front burner, and we need to get that started for long-term stability in that country.

Question: Will you or the international force provide greater security, greater support for interim government officials, particularly when they go out beyond big cities?

Rosa: That's part of the overall program. And I can't say that we'll give increased security, but each one of those events -- when part of the interim national government moves, the ISAF is very much involved in that, much -- they take each one of those cases individually. But I can't say that we're going to change and alter over the events of the last couple days.

Clarke: Charlie?

Question: Following on to you-all's earlier comments about constantly assessing and reassessing U.S. basing and force structure in the Gulf region, General Myers made clear earlier that while you might not be actively considering pulling U.S. forces out of Sultan Air Base, that you were looking at in fact actively working on improving command and control structure elsewhere in the Gulf, so that you would have overlapping facilities. Could you fill us in on how that's going, whether or not you're improving command and control in Kosovo, for instance, and other areas, so that if the Saudis suddenly say "Go," that you would not have a void?

Rosa: Well, as we -- as I talked a couple of months ago up here, when we first started, we always have backups. In almost every thing we do in the military, we've got a primary and a backup. We're constantly working to improve not only security at Prince Sultan, which is very good, I might add, but also the communications, the command and control throughout that theater. To give you specific details of where we are and what event's taking place today -- I don't think really I can give that to you.

Question: Have you brought command and control ability elsewhere in the region up to the level that it is in Sultan, so that you would have overlapping command, for instance, for an attack on Iraq?

Rosa: We've made improvements, but to say that they're equal or slightly less or slightly better, I don't think -- I don't think I can say that.

Question: Are you in the process of doing that now actively?

Rosa: We're continuing throughout that region to work force protection, to work command and control. And I kind of would leave it at that.

Question: Do you have a preliminary assessment on the accuracy of the American bombing campaign in Afghanistan since it began?

Rosa: I saw the reports today, and it -- I think it's best left to the services. The one report -- I think the Navy was quoted, and the Air Force had some comments -- but I will tell you that it's only, I think, obvious that the weapons were improved -- the satellite weapons, the joint direct attack munition -- the JDAM -- we've heard so much about. When we induced -- introduce those into the inventory from Desert Storm, from Kosovo, we're bound to get more accurate. But as you know very well, trying to put a number, a specific number -- I think I saw the number 75 percent -- I would be very careful.

Clarke: I would just pile on with that. I think the Navy and the Air Force people in the story were trying hard to say very early, very preliminary estimates. But I agree with Tony Courts or whoever it was that was saying it is way too soon to be trying to say these are hard and fast numbers with any accuracy.

Question: (Inaudible) -- overall assessment?

Clarke: Nope. No.

Question: These are individual services, but from what you are picking out from the individual services, this air campaign, compared to Kosovo, compared to the Persian Gulf -- I mean, can you give us a sense of the continuum here?

Clarke: Well, I'd say it's a continuum. It's greater accuracy. But I sure wouldn't put a number on it at this date.

Rosa: The only thing I would tell you, from the fighter pilot's standpoint and the bomber pilot's standpoint. The terrain in Afghanistan early on lent itself to an easier target set -- trying to pick targets out in Kosovo, for example, where it was very tight, very much different terrain. A lot of the targets, quite frankly, in the early part of the campaign in Afghanistan were out in the open. But then they began to get harder and harder. And as they got harder and harder, we adjusted the types of munitions and types of weapons platforms we attacked those with.

Question: But what about looking at it from a different persecutive, of the cost of some of these munitions versus -- obviously the JDAM is cheaper than some of the other positioning things you've used.

Rosa: Well, if you try and do a cost comparison, you get into the argument of quality versus quantity. You can go back -- and I don't have the numbers -- but if you go back and look at Vietnam, the number of iron what we called "dumb bombs" -- unguided bombs that we dropped -- gosh, thousands and thousands. Nowadays, with a precision-guided munition, you drop far fewer, and you put aircrews at much greater or much less risk in doing so.

Question: The difference it made to have forward air controllers on the ground, as opposed to forward air controllers in the air, which you did in Kosovo -- is there a qualitative assessment that you could give us on that?

Rosa: We've -- we've researched that and studied that for years. If you have a good forward air controller, whether he or she's on the ground or in the air -- there's a world of difference between a really good one and one who's not quite as good. But to say that one in the air is better or worse than one on the ground -- when you have a good forward air controller, it doesn't matter where they are.

Question: Do you have update on the report of an American casualty in Afghanistan? I noticed you were passed a note. I was inferring --

Clarke: Oh, no. Sorry -- that was a few very sketchy details on the Greek minister of defense, and I want to get more. So no. I'm sorry.

Question: Okay.

Clarke: Let's do one more.

Question: Follow-up on the suicide-bombing report, however -- I'm sure that you've always worried about force protection in Afghanistan. I wonder, has anything new been done to step up any force protection that, because of the Mideast situation, is also because of those flyers? I wonder how great a concern this is right now for you.

Clarke: We're always -- force protection is always a primary consideration. We've always said, and it's been borne out, that it's a dangerous place. And things can happen in unpredictable ways. My sense is -- and General Rosa can speak to it better than I can -- you change and adapt depending on the circumstances on the ground in a particular area. But always concerned about the threats to the servicemen and women.

Rosa: Our force protection conditions vary from site to site. We've been at times in Afghanistan to what we call Delta, which is our heaviest under attack, all the way up to, I think, Charlie or Bravo. So it fluctuates. But force protection is the number-one concern.

Question: Can you say what it is now in terms of --

Rosa: It varies. And I don't know, truthfully, what the overall is. I'd hate to speculate. But it varies from region to region.

Question: Torie, can you just update, please, about the food, the U.S. food program now in Afghanistan? Where do we stand?

Clarke: I can't from here, other than to say we're continuing to work very, very hard so meaningful amounts of humanitarian aid can be provided, but we can get some details for you.

Question: Housekeeping?

Clarke: Housekeeping.

Question: Is Lord Robertsn coming over here tomorrow?

Clarke: I do not believe he is scheduled here. I know the secretary spent a good chunk of this afternoon over at the White House with him. I do not believe he is scheduled to be here.

Question: So he's not going to come over --

Clarke: Do not believe so.

Question: I was just wondering if they're going to have availability.

Question: (Off mike.)

Clarke: I want to get more details on that.

Thank you.

Question: 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).