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DoD Newsbriefing: Wednesday, April 24, 2002

DoD Newsbriefing: Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Source: News Transcript from the United States Department of Defense. DoD News Briefing: Victoria Clarke ASD (PA), Wednesday, April 24, 2002 - 11:30 a.m. EDT. Also participating was Air Force Brig. Gen. John W. Rosa, Jr., deputy director for current operations, Operations Directorate, the Joint Staff.

Clarke: You always hear comments from Jamie as you're walking in that are very disconcerting. (Laughter.) Some --

(Off mike comments.)

Clarke: All right. Good morning, everybody. As the secretary said yesterday, he will travel starting tomorrow to Afghanistan and the region to visit with the troops and our friends in that area. We currently have some 6,000-plus troops in Afghanistan, and for seven months they've done some extraordinary work. The secretary is very much looking forward to seeing them and thanking them for their efforts. He will also visit with some of our coalition partners in the region. It has been the strength of those coalitions; their willingness to participate that has contributed so much to our success thus far. So he is also looking forward to that.

And closer to home, earlier this morning President Bush named the 2002 Teacher of the Year, who's a former Army officer and a California high school teacher named Chauncey Veatch. And after some 25 years in the military he continued to make some amazing contributions. So thanks to him and congratulations.

And with that, sir, no comments?

Rosa: I have no opening comments.

Clarke: Okay.

Ah! Filling in for Charlie. Okay. Bob first.

Question: Could you elaborate at all on who the secretary will be seeing in Afghanistan? Will he be seeing Karzai? Will he also have people from the International Security Assistance Force?

Clarke: We're really putting together the final details of the trip. And so for a variety of reasons, part it's still being finalized, partly security reasons, we're just going to wait as we proceed.

Question: Are we going to have a briefing on the trip?

Clarke: Oh, we'll have several -- as we go along.

Question: No, before --

Clarke: Oh, before he goes? No.

Question: Is the secretary going to Houston or Crawford, Texas before he goes? What -- what is that all about?

Clarke: He is going to Texas to participate in the preparations for the visit of Crown Prince Abdullah.

Question: And to Houston, to meet with the vice president?

Clarke: This afternoon. To Houston. Right.

Question: Can you say what coalition partners he's going to be meeting on this trip, what --

Clarke: We're really going to announce it as we go along. So as we finalize it. Anybody who's traveled with the secretary knows things can change and timing can change. So we'll take care of them one by one as we go along.

Question: How long is the trip? Any idea?

Clarke: Due to get back on Monday night.

Question: Can you just give an overview of the importance of the trip, how he -- just an overview of the significance of the trip?

Clarke: Sure. To emphasize what I was saying earlier, it -- the dedication and the commitment of the troops is phenomenal. It is very hard work under very difficult conditions. And he really does just want to go and thank them and meet with some of the commanders to get an update straight from the horse's mouth, if you will. And two, the strength, a big part of the strength of this effort thus far has been working with our coalition partners. Circumstances change, conditions change, and he just wants to constantly be managing those relationships, working on those relationships.

Question: Is Tommy Franks going along?

Clarke: He is not scheduled to travel with them.

Question: Who on the higher military hierarchy is going with him?

Clarke: The secretary of Defense -- and he, you know, usually takes a couple of military liaisons, and I believe Dr. Crouch is traveling with us.

Question: How about the chairman of the Joint Chiefs or the vice chairman?

Clarke: No. No.


Question: Can you comment -- there's a published report this morning that Abu Zubaydah has been moved to Norfolk, Virginia. Can you give us any guidance on whether we should put much credence in that report?

Clarke: Well, you shouldn't put much credence in reports of detainees being moved around, because anyone who's talking about it, if they know something, shouldn't be talking about it, and they probably don't know something. But we're just not -- security is a big consideration with a detainee, so we won't be talking who's where and when and if they might be moving.

Question: There was a lot of speculation over the weekend about an additional detainee who was moved to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Can you tell us whether or not that's anyone of particular significance -- either a high-ranking or senior al Qaeda or Taliban member or --

Clarke: No. I really nothing to add to it. We've said before and continue to say we will be moving detainees periodically, moving them Afghanistan, Guantanamo, moving them back to Pakistan. We continue to look at ways, when appropriate, we might be able to return some detainees to their countries of origin. But it's just not going to be useful or helpful to give a blow-by-blow.

Question: In this case, did he move -- did this person move from Afghanistan or from other counties?

Clarke: Just not saying. Not talking about the movements of them.

Question: Torie --

Clarke: (Inaudible) -- switch over to Andrea?

Question: Yes. There was also a published report about American advisers helping to track down al Qaeda in Pakistan, with the Pakistani authorities, forces. Can you tell us, will the U.S. military be involved in any role inside Pakistan?

Clarke: I'm just going to repeat -- and the general can pile on to this one -- what the secretary said on these sorts of issues I guess just a week ago: We think it is best to let countries talk about what goes on in their country. Different countries have different concerns, different domestic considerations. Pakistan has been extraordinarily helpful. Their commitment to this war has been very, very helpful. The cooperation continues to get better and better all the time. And we'll just leave it at that.

Rosa: Yeah, I don't have anything else to add. They have been great with us from day one. We've had military forces working with them, and to go below that level I think is really not warranted.

Question: Can I do a follow-up on that?

Clarke: Actually, let's keep moving around.


Question: Back to Abu Zubaydah: How would you assess the types of information he has been giving up? Has he said anything about bin Laden or whether bin Laden's still dead or alive or perhaps his whereabouts?

Clarke: I wouldn't say anything in particular about him, as I said before, about what any individual detainee might be doing or moving or what they might be saying, but -- we were talking about this before we came out -- I do think it's somewhat incomplete to talk just about what might be coming out of interrogations. Of course, we think interrogations are important. We've always said one of our objectives is to surface information, intelligence, to help prevent future attacks. But you can't look at it in isolation. Very often it is information you get out of some interrogations that is put together with a piece of paper that you found somewhere else that is put together with some other document. So it's putting together that mosaic, if you will, that's really, really important. And that is going on at this time.

Question: And how does one interrogate somebody who supposedly is willing to die for the cause? I mean, are there techniques that perhaps border on the "t" word that are being used?


Clarke: Her voice softens.

I am not an expert on interrogations at all. But one think we do know is that these interrogations would be very difficult, they'd be long, they would be arduous, that members of the al Qaeda were trained to resist interrogations.

Question: Is the U.S. military or Pentagon, however, considering changing the interrogation procedures, techniques, at Guantanamo There have been a recent number of stories come out of Gitmo that indicate that perhaps the techniques and procedures employed down there aren't having the kind of effect that the U.S. had hoped for. Is there any consideration of changing the process down there in terms of interrogation?

Clarke: I think you have to start with what your expectations are, or were. And it's only been a few months since --

Rosa: Four months.

Clarke: Four months since we've had these people. And interrogations tend to take a long time. And when you have people, as I said, who have been trained to resist, the expectations are that this will take a long time, it will be difficult, you will use appropriate means.

Question: Torie?

Clarke: Let's do Brett.

Question: General, yesterday some U.S. troops near Gardez were fired on, three mortar rounds near them. You've said at this podium before that in Operation Mountain Lion, troops are seeing the enemy or seeing evidence of the enemy. Can you give us an update of what's going on in eastern Afghanistan and if these sporadic attacks are signs of al Qaeda?

Rosa: Right. You say they were fired on. There have been sporadic attacks over the last couple of weeks. It's hard to -- it's a challenge in that part of the world to figure out where these are coming from and who they are. It could be factional, and we've seen factions -- there are so many weapons, anybody can get their hands on them. It could be criminal activity. We've seen reports of folks killed in criminal activity. Or it could be former Taliban and al Qaeda. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly where they're coming from. And we've been fortunate in the past. But to say that our troops were targeted, it's hard to tell who's been targeted.

Question: But overall, about the operation, are they seeing signs of groups of al Qaeda fighters?

Rosa: We don't want to characterize exactly what they're seeing and how they're seeing it, what kind of movement. As we've talked about before up here, if we say from up here what we thinks important and what we're seeing, it's an obvious counter for them. But there are bad people in that part of eastern Afghanistan; we've said that all along. These types of spurious attacks lead to instability. And it's even more key, as we've said before, the importance of training the Afghan army, which is due to begin in the near future, is key to our existence there.

Clarke: Let's go way back.

Question: Could you give us an update on the Philippines, particularly in light of the recent bombings and reports coming out of there about concerns about possible internal involvement in some of these with the military or other involvement with --

Rosa: Right. We've got a couple of operations ongoing in the Philippines. In the northern part of the Philippines, on the main island of Luzon, our Balikatan exercise is ongoing. It's peacekeeping, peacemaking. There will be some limited flying going on in that part of the country.

We've got roughly 600 folks down in the southern part of -- in the islands of Zamboanga and Basilan Island, and those people are training, advising and assisting the Philippine troops, at their request.

On General Santos Island, which is 150 to 200 miles east of Basilan, where our main troops are, that's what I think you're referring to, the explosions this weekend. The last I saw, several groups had taken credit for that. You know that we've been most concerned with Abu Sayyaf. And the last reports I saw, there are -- like I said, several folks have taken credit for that.

Question: In terms of the training and working with the Philippine military, have you gotten more of them trained? Have you are there more of them completed with the training? Any more armament that we've given them, anything lately that we've sent over?

Rosa: The training thus far has been at the battalion level and above. It's centered on their upper echelon, focused on intelligence gathering, intelligence dissemination, those types of efforts.

Over the weekend, we also deployed just over 300 engineers that came in, and they're going to be working roads, bridges, some seaports, fresh water wells.

Question: This is in the south?

Rosa: Right. They're on the -- they're in the southern part of the Philippines.

Clarke: And Admiral Blair, I believe it was just a few days ago, or maybe last week, was talking about the relationship. And I think he was saying he thought -- he was surprised and impressed with how quickly the cooperation had worked that things were moving along at a better pace than they expected.

Question: So how does that road-building engineer work you described, how does that fit into the war on terror? Why is that part of all this?

Rosa: That's a good question. And I will tell you that if you've got a line of communication, a road that is in disrepair -- and I've been pretty much all over the Philippines in my career, and some of the roads are well maintained, and some of them, quite frankly, it's a difficult area to -- with the rainfall to maintain roads. So if you've got a rutted out road, if you've got a bridge that's out, you must stop -- and it tends to get folks to bunch up, and you become more of a target. So if you've got a thoroughfare that you can keep spaced, you can keep at different speeds like we do, you become a little bit less of a target.

Question: Force protection, then?

Rosa: It's not necessarily force protection, it's --

Clarke: It's a matter of efficiency.

Rosa: Yeah. Not only that, but -- yeah, I guess it would be, a form of force protection. We don't want you folks to group up and to get caught crossing a river or where roads get bad, slow the -- slow the pace.

Clarke: Or a helicopter has to land in a difficult condition on dirt, or something like that are not on an LZ.

Rosa: Right. We're going to do some -- we're going to do some LZ prep, some landing zone prep.

Question: Sometimes American troops are not out on the front lines or near, you know, where they could be shot at anyway, correct?

Rosa: They're not. But if you know the demographics, Basilan is not very big. Basilan Island. So our folks, as you know, have the right to defend themselves, but they're not in the what we consider hot zones.

Question: Is there something -- are you contemplating moving down the level of training below battalion level to company level or somewhere where these people would be out there on those roads --

Rosa: That's being contemplated. And when Admiral Blair -- that's one of the areas they talked about when he was out there last week.

But to clarify, the force protection and the improvement of roads and those types of things are not just for our folks, it's for the Philippine folks that are living on that island.

Clarke: Max.

Question: What can you tell us about sending military advisers to Nepal, to help the government combat Maoist guerrillas? There's a report that that's taking place. Do you know how many advisers, when they got there, what they're doing?

Clarke: Don't have -- don't have anything on that.

Rosa: I don't have anything.

Question: Torie? Torie?

Clarke: Let's move it around. We'll come back.

Question: Do you have any updated information about possible threats to U.S. interests in Yemen?

Clarke: No.

Question: There was a report yesterday about threats --

Clarke: Right. No, I was aware of them, but I don't have anything on it from up here.

Rosa: Nothing else.

Clarke: Yeah. Yeah?

Question: May I go back to Cuba for just a second? Could you give an overview of what's happening now at Gitmo and how things are going there and sort of an update? And also, how is the new Northern Command going to, if at all -- could you explain how the new Northern Command will affect Cuba? In other words, it's supposed to take Cuba but not Gitmo, as I understand.

Clarke: Well, I'll tell you what I know, which is, I think things are proceeding approximately along what we expected in Guantanamo. They are finishing up the more permanent facilities they can use, continuing the interrogations. I think it's going about as planned.

It is not our desire to have large numbers of detainees for any length of time. Now we want to get the information we can get out of these people, so we can prevent future attacks. We want to figure out what's the appropriate next step for them. That's what we're trying to work through.

Question: And on the Northern Command, could you explain that, how that's going to work?

Rosa: I wish I could, and I know there's a little -- that's not my area of expertise.

Clarke: But we can take it for you. [Cuba (GITMO) falls in the AOR of NORTHCOM as shown on the CINC AOR map. However SOUTHCOM still has responsibility for contingency planning operations.]

Rosa: We'll take that. I know there's a little niche around the Dominican Republic, I think, but to get any more detailed than that, I think it better just to give it to you as background.

Clarke: Mm-hmm. Eric.

Question: General Rosa, pending the outcome of this inquiry into the friendly fire incident with the Canadians, have the U.S. or any of its partners taken any kind of immediate steps to prevent a recurrence of that kind of accident, in terms of tactics, techniques, and procedures?

Rosa: Right. That level of detail would be at General Franks' -- the commander's level and below. I don't have those types of details, but I can assure you that there's been a thorough, thorough scrub into those procedures.

Clarke: And --

Question: Are you aware of any changes that have been made in those procedures?

Rosa: I wouldn't get that kind of level of detail up here. But I can tell you I know there's been a thorough, thorough scrub of those procedures.

Clarke: Mm-hmm. I was just going to add to that. I know some people were asking. The team is going to be headed, for us, by Air Force Brigadier General Stephen Sargeant -- that's S-A-R-G-E- A-N-T -- F-16 pilot, and Canadian Brigadier General Marc Dumais, D-U- M-A-I-S.

And also some people have been asking -- the chief of staff of the U.S. Army, General Shinseki, is going to attend the service, the memorial service, in Edmonton on Sunday.

Question: Torie?

Clarke: Let's go -- Dale?

Question: Just to follow up on Eric's question, specifically with regard to the National Guard, is any thought being given to changing their involvement? I realize you -- there's total force here, but some people were surprised to find National Guard units involved in Afghanistan. We sort of thought they were filling in for active-duty units that have gone forward. Is there any change being contemplated in the National Guard -- (off mike)?

Rosa: No. Our National Guard folks and our Reserve folks are a key, critical part to our total force, in all of our militaries. Those folks in the Air National Guard take the same check rides at the same standards, are trained the same way. If you go to the average National Guard unit -- Air National Guard unit -- you'll find highly experienced aviators, many of 'em professional airline pilots. We don't anticipate any changes.

Clarke: I would just pile onto that: Their participation in this has been extraordinary. I think we've got close to 80,000 Guard and Reserve involved right now. Air Guard pilots have done some 20,000 sorties since September 11th. When we were out at Scott and Ft. Lewis last week, everywhere we went, the commanders and the people with whom the secretary meeting (sic) were emphasizing the importance of the role of the Guard and Reserve.

Rosa: Can I just add that: It's not since 9/11 that the Guard and Reserve have been critical. Since we've been flying and patrolling the no-fly zones in the North and the South, the Guard and Reserve have been critical participants for the last 10 years.

Question: If I could just follow that for a second: The fact that you had to call on the Guard and Reserve so heavily for what I think most people would say has been a relatively small-scale war as wars go -- what does that tell us about the strain that's being placed on the active force and the need for more manpower and equipment in the active-duty component?

Clarke: Boy. I'd say two things and then let the expert take over here: The Guard and Reserve have played an incredibly important part in the U.S. military for a long time -- well before September 11th and I know, without knowing what was going to happen going forward, always anticipated that in any military conflict they would play an important role.

And I just challenge a little bit about what you said about a small conflict as conflicts go. You know size is different; this is a very, very different kind of war. It's a very unconventional war. And that means you do things in an unconventional way, which is what we're doing.


Question: Torie, what do you make of these media reports -- most of them have come out of France, including a book -- about the suggestion that on September 11th, no plane actually hit the Pentagon? Now many of us in the room here were here on September 11th. We saw the wreckage of the plane. We know a plane hit the Pentagon. But nevertheless, a lot of people around the world apparently reading these reports have believed them, to some extent. Perhaps you've even fielded inquiries from French news media about this. What do you make of this phenomenon?

Clarke: A, I don't agree with you that lots of people believe it. I just don't think they do. B, I think even the suggestion of it is ludicrous. And finally, it is just an incredible, incredible insult to the friends and the relatives and the family members of the almost 200 people that got killed here on September 11th and the thousands who were killed in New York.

Question: Torie?

Clarke: Let's go way back.

Question: The House International Relations Committee is holding hearings today on links between the Colombian guerrilla groups and international groups, not least the IRA. Could you say something about the Pentagon's assessment right now of the international terrorist threat in Colombia and anything about contingencies that might be in play for increased military aid there?

Clarke: Well, I can only talk about what we're doing, and what we're doing is what we have done for some time, and that's providing support in the form of training and advising to help Colombia with their drug production problem. That's what we do. The numbers of people that can be -- U.S. military that can be involved is capped at 400. I think it usually has been in the range of 180 to 200 lately. And that's what we do; we train and assist in their counter- drug efforts. And we do not anticipate changing that.

Question: Is there any reassessment going on in the light of 9/11, in light of looking for links generally in terms of an international terrorism network?

Clarke: Not talking about any specific country or any specific example, but we are always assessing every situation around the world. September 11th caused a lot of people, including the United States, to look hard at roles and relationships and threats. So we are constantly assessing those sorts of situations all the time.

Question: Torie?

Question: Torie, as many as 10 U.S. Marines were injured, some seriously, in what's being described as a "street fight" in San Juan. The Marine Corps version is that this attack was unprovoked when these Marines who were on leave were set upon by a gang of Puerto Ricans armed with baseball bats and bottles. Is there any indication that this attack was somehow provoked by anti-U.S. military sentiment connected to the U.S. bombing training on Vieques?

Clarke: I haven't seen it. I really have just seen the reports and we asked a couple of questions this morning. But I'm sure the Marines can give you more information than we can.

Question: And is anybody considering changing shore-leave policy in Puerto Rico for U.S. military as a result of this --

Clarke: Haven't -- haven't heard it. Yeah, and I'd just say again, you talk about 1.4 million people in uniform, some 600,000 or 700,000 deployed overseas -- the overwhelming majority of them perform in an exemplary fashion, and most of them go through their days and nights without any incidence whatsoever. So I'd like to sort of put that in context. But for this specific incident, direct it to the Marines, because I just don't know anything more than what I've seen reported.

Right there, sir.

Question: Yesterday, Congressman Weldon said that the FY '03 markup will be starting on the Hill. He also talked about the need that Congress needs to possibly add to the budget request. Have you heard anything back on specific requests on any kind of individual add-ons or additional equipment?

Clarke: I have not. I have not.

Tony! Tony's back.

Question: The Washington Times today had an interesting story on page three about the Navy and General Dynamics close to settling the largest defense contract or lawsuit in history, in the A-12 case. Do you have any insight whether the Pentagon has approved the broad outlines of the settlement at this time?

Clarke: I do not. I --

Question: Can you check into that?

Clarke: Sure. We can take that one.

Let's go way back.

Question: General Myers talked the other day about the Iraqis moving missiles around in the no-fly zones. I'm just wondering, do you have any concern that the Iraqis are interested or want to force a confrontation with the U.S. in order -- on the theory that we're going to attack them anyway?

Rosa: Let me put it in a little bit of context. Over time our operations in Iraq have kind of moved back onto the fifth and sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth page of papers. It's important to realize that since the early '90s we've been patrolling the northern and southern no-fly zones in support of U.N. resolutions. The coalition's been flying there around the clock for that many years. And recently, as we've seen in the past, we tend to move air defense systems around that country. Sometimes they come down into the no-fly zones. When we do, we monitor that very closely. The bottom line is if they're going to move and set up in the northern and southern no- fly zones, we have every right to protect our aircrew. And we'll do that. We've done it in the past.

As far as a spike, a slight increase in activity, but nothing that hasn't been done before.

Clarke: Sir.

Question: You mentioned earlier, Torie, about the training that members of al Qaeda have received for handling interrogations. What do we know about that training, and have we seen Abu Zubaydah use any of that training?

Clarke: I'm sure there are experts on interrogation who knows more about it than I do. Just know that it is -- it's well known that resisting interrogation is a part of their training. They were a well-trained organization. But again, I just wouldn't comment about an individual. Just won't do it.


Question: General, going back to Yemen for a second, can you give an update about the size of your force there and whether progress has been made in terms of finding al Qaeda cells? Have you found cells, and can you give us an indication of what the presence is in that country?

Rosa: The footprint right now, the presence in that country is less than 20. We will very shortly begin a training program at their request. It'll be a small footprint. I don't want to characterize a number, but it'll be small. And training, advising and assisting, the folks that are in there noware the initial folks just setting up, getting everything ready. And that's about all I can tell you.

Clarke: Let's do two more. Jim?

Question: General, could you explain or describe how al Qaeda is using Pakistan as a haven for its activities in eastern Afghanistan? And how do you deal with the problem in eastern Afghanistan without dealing with the problem of a sanctuary in Pakistan?

Rosa: I want to stay away from characterizing where, what and how in movements and what al Qaeda's doing. You used the term "safe haven." I don't think it's any secret that folks are moving back and forth across that border. General Franks is working with the Pakistanis. He's working with President Musharraf. And to go any further than that, I think, would be inappropriate.

Question: But can you deal with the problem in eastern Afghanistan without dealing with that problem?

Rosa: I think it's too early to tell.

Clarke: Well, I might say we are dealing with that problem in our cooperative efforts with Pakistan. That is one way of addressing that issue. And they've been very helpful.

Question: But they're moving back and forth across the border, apparently.

Clarke: There's always been a recognition of a very porous border all around, very large country. But the cooperation and participation from the Pakistani government has been very helpful. So I'd shy away a little bit from calling it such a safe haven.

Question: Torie?

Clarke: The last question.

Question: Thank you. May I -- before I ask you my question, could I ask you to take a codicil to Thelma's question. Under the terms of the new structures we were told NORTHCOM will have under its area of responsibility Alaska, and yet U.S. forces in Alaska will still answer to Pacific Command. It seems cumbersome. Can you find out why and tell us why?

My question is -- and either one of you, but General, probably to you -- going back to the Philippines. What is the latest count that we are getting from intelligence about the number of Abu Sayyaf operating in Basilan and Zamboanga? And two, is there any plan, U.S. or otherwise, to do a snatch job for the two missionaries that have been held there almost a year, two American missionaries?

Clarke: One, we wouldn't talk about any Intel. Two, I just, you know, remind all of us what our purpose is there and our focus is there, and that is to help the Filipinos pursue the terrorists in their backyard. And then I'd just go so far as to say the fact that they have the Burnhams has heightened our interest, but I certainly wouldn't speculate about what we might do with regard to that aspect of it.

Question: A follow-up. We're told now that the number of Abu Sayyaf is very, very small, numbering less than 200. Is that --

Clarke: I don't have a number for you.

Rosa: I don't know, but if I did, I wouldn't tell you.

Clarke: Thank you.

Question: Thank you. Have a great day.

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).