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DoD Newsbriefing: May 14, 2002

DoD Newsbriefing: May 14, 2002

Source: News Transcript from the United States Department of Defense. DoD News Briefing: Victoria Clarke ASD (PA), Tuesday, May 14, 2002 - 11:15 a.m. EDT. Also participating was Marine General Peter Pace, vice chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Clarke: Good morning, everybody. I do not have a statement, other than to say we promised to get General Pace out of here in about 20 or 25 minutes. So, he's got a few remarks and we'll get going.

Pace: Thank you, Ms. Clarke.

In Afghanistan, Operations Snipe and Iron Mountain concluded yesterday with all forces returning to their bases. Coalition forces were out searching for potential pockets of Taliban and al Qaeda. And all these operations fall under Operation Mountain Lion.

On Sunday, U.S. forces raided a compound about 50 miles north of Kandahar. We had intelligence that placed a senior Taliban commander there. During this operation, U.S. forces were fired on; our troops returned fire, killing five and capturing 32. The detainees were taken to Bagram for screening, where we will determine their identity.

Also, two weapons caches were found by U.S. troops over the last week, one in the vicinity of Orgun and one near Herat. They included more than 800,000 rounds of .55-caliber ammunition, almost a million rounds of machine-gun ammunition, over 600 rounds of rocket-propelled grenades, over 700 mortar rounds, and five T-54 tanks. They also found 15 CONEX boxes buried in the side of a hill with over 1,500 mortar rounds in them, and over 600 rounds of howitzer ammunition. The ammunition, depending upon its condition, will either be destroyed in place or turned over to the Afghan National Army for their training. And that training of the Afghan National Army begins today with the first 250 soldiers beginning their training, and another 160 to follow shortly. The training will go on for about 10 weeks and it will emphasize basic soldier skills in the beginning and will progress from there.

U.S. Central Command is also preparing to establish a combined joint task force in Afghanistan [Bagram]. The 18th Airborne Corps commander, Lieutenant General McNeill, will be the first commander of this joint task force. He will assume responsibilities for the majority of the forces currently in support of operations in Afghanistan.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

Clarke: Charlie?

Question: Torie, there's a rather amorphous television report out of Florida -- the local television station's reporting that the Coast Guard has reported to other federal authorities that over the past couple of months they've arrested as many as 25 what they call "extremists," who might have been taken off of container ships in Miami and Savannah and perhaps Long Beach, California, and that they might have been bent on raiding a nuclear plant. Do you have anything on that at all and --

Clarke: No, just -- we're aware of the reports. I could refer you to the Coast Guard, but I'm sure the Coast Guard, just as we do, have the policy they will not talk about any intel matters in detail. They wouldn't go into any detail about their security arrangements. So I've seen the reports. They seem to be attributed to unnamed federal officials.

But I will say this, we are in a very different world since September 10th or September 11th, however you want to peg it. And we have increased security across the board, including greatly increasing security, working with lots of law enforcement agencies, and the Department has increased security all around.

Question: Well, without going into any detail on what these people might have been bent on, could you at least disabuse us or support the notion that perhaps 25 people have been arrested on container ships or other ships coming into the country at ports?

Clarke: I haven't seen anything on it.

Question: You haven't seen anything to confirm that?

Clarke: No, I have not seen anything on it.


Question: Torie, a question for General Pace, if I may, Torie. Secretary Rumsfeld and others from that podium repeatedly say and keep saying that we're getting very good cooperation, excellent cooperation from Pakistan. And yet it seems obvious that there are large cells of the "unfriendlies" who have taken refuge in Pakistan and that President Musharraf is less than anxious to go after the so-called tribal regions, for reasons that he claims are that the country's spread too thin with its possible conflict with India, and also he doesn't want to antagonize a fragile lash-up. What's the solution? What can we do if he won't actually go after these people?

Pace: Well, first, I will echo what you've heard many others say from up here, and that is that the cooperation we have had from President Musharraf specifically and the Afghan people -- excuse me -- the Pakistan people has been superb.

As you know, the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is porous, very difficult to even know when you're on which side of the border, much less whether or not there's al Qaeda present on either side. It would not surprise me at all that there would be concentrations of al Qaeda that have slipped across into Pakistan.

I know that President Musharraf is working in cooperation and we're working in cooperation with him to assist in -- certainly in sharing intelligence and to assist in ways that he might see appropriate in terms of his own country. But when it comes to what President Musharraf is going to do inside of his own country, I really need to defer to him and what he thinks is appropriate to do inside of his own sovereign nation.

Question: And a quick follow-up. We know -- and it's been reported -- that we've done some quick and dirty missions over there. We've gone in, and there have been some arrests, working with the FBI. But are there any plans, without, you know, getting into OPSEC, you know, where large U.S. forces would move across the border and take part in some of those sweep operations?

Pace: I cannot answer that.

Clarke: Okay, Pam.

Question: As we were coming in here, I heard that Pakistan I think just today or in the last 24 hours arrested 25 believed al Qaeda or Taliban members in Western Afghanistan. Does that sound familiar to you? Western Pakistan -- sorry.

Clarke: I have no idea.

Pace: No, I haven't seen it, although the Pakistan government has been working hard and has, in fact, over the past several months arrested folks throughout their country, so the fact that they might --

Question: Any in the last 24 hours?

Pace: No -- not to mean it didn't happen; I'm just not aware of it.

Question: Okay. Could you actually explain to us the significance of the creation of the Combined Joint Task Force, how that changes the structure that's in there now and why the change?

Pace: Sure. It -- this is a decision made by General Franks, the commander in chief of U.S. Central Command, to provide on-scene command-and-control structure in a joint task force that will be headquartered in Afghanistan. And all the U.S. forces in Afghanistan will work for Lieutenant General McNeil who is the current commander of the 18th Airborne Corps but will go to Afghanistan as the commander of the Joint Task Force.

Question: Where will it be headquartered, and how is that different from the structure that currently is there?

Pace: Initially it will go into Kandahar, and then between General McNeil and General Franks, they'll determine the best long-term location.

Question: Does that signal a more permanent presence for U.S. troops in Afghanistan? Sounds like we're setting up a homestead there.

Clarke: I'd say two things and then turn it back to the general. We have made it so clear every step of the way that we'll stay as long as it takes to get the job done, but we have no desire to stay one day longer. And my sense of it is that we're constantly assessing what's the appropriate mix of people and resources, and this is just a natural evolution in that process.

Pace: Great answer.

Clarke: Tom.

Question: Yeah that's been my question, too. Why wasn't this done earlier in the campaign? I mean, what is the logic of doing it now? And what does it do to -- (inaudible) -- Pakistan, the 101st -- I mean, the other units in there in terms of the command and control structure?

Pace: I can give you a generic answer to that, and then I really need you to go ask Tom Franks, because it's his command decision to do this. And what Tom has done is determine that now is the time when he wants to have a subordinate to him who is doing hands-on, day-to-day Combined Joint Task Force works. So --

Question: (Off mike) -- take some of the pressure off him, in a sense?

Pace: I think it allows him to be able to spend perhaps a little more time on the rest of his region. But again, the specific timing of this and why General Franks believes that now is the time is really a question you should ask him because it's a commander's decision on how to organize his force.

Question: General, you said that he'd be in charge of the majority of the forces there. What forces would he not be in command of?

Pace: I said majority because it's not clear to me that he'd have 100 percent of the forces, and I didn't want to mislead you. Again, the best person to ask that is in Central Command to find out exactly which it is, Eric. I did not want to say 100 percent because it's conceivable that there might be some forces that, for whatever reason, General Franks might want to retain under his own control.

Clarke: Let's go to (Johnson?).

Question: General Pace, can you talk a little bit more about

who was arrested and who was shot yesterday, or I guess it was two days ago, in this raid north of Kandahar? And any idea whether the senior Taliban commander that you had the intelligence about was among those casualties or those taken?

Pace: I can help you a little bit there. All I know -- all we know for sure is that when they went in for this raid, which was a result of the combined intelligence that we had gathered, that when they went in, they were fired upon. In firing back, they killed five, still to be identified, and captured 32, still to be identified. And that's all we know right now.

Question: What about the commander? You said that there was some intelligence that a senior Taliban commander was there. I mean, was he in fact there?

Pace: We do not know that yet.

Question: Who was he?

Pace: Cannot tell you that.

Question: Do you know whether the people detained are even Taliban or al Qaeda? Do you know that?

Pace: I do not. They are just now in the initial interviewing process. We have folks who are detainees now, who have been detainees for several months, who we still do not know the exact identity. They do not carry ID cards. They do not always tell you the truth. So we do not know whom we have right now.

Question: Why do you suspect that they were Taliban and al Qaeda?

Pace: Because of the intelligence that was -- we collected prior to the operation.

Question: Do you have any identification of the bodies that were taken from that grave, that mass grave in Tora Bora yet?

Pace: I do not. I do not and I'm not aware of that.

Clarke: No. Back here? Let's go back.

Question: The people who were killed and captured, were they in a single compound? Was this in a village? How were they -- what was going on at the time that the raid was made, and what did you find? Were these all men who were taken into captivity? Were they all men -- (inaudible)?

Pace: I do not have the specifics on that. I -- the details I gave you, which is five killed and 32 captured, is all that I personally know about the operation's results. To get the details of how that unfolded tactically on the ground, I need to refer you to Central Command.

Question: Nighttime raid, General?

Pace: I'm sorry?

Question: Nighttime raid?

Pace: I think that's true.

Question: So you're saying you don't know what the compound was being used for or what kind of activity was seen that may have been --

Pace: I'm saying that I cannot tell you -- I will not tell you the intelligence that led us to the operation. I do not know the tactics on the ground that was used with regard to taking down the compound.

Question: Can you tell us a little more about the operation into the Herat -- I believe this is the first -- you said there were some weapons recovered in Herat. Did I --

Clarke: Two weapons caches --

Pace: One in Herat, one in --

Question: Yes, you mentioned two locations --

(Cross talk.)

Pace: No, let me get the right names for you. One was Orgun -- O-R-G-U-N.

Question: Right.

Pace: Hold on; let me make sure I get it right.

Question: Herat?

Pace: And one near Herat; that's right.

Question: Where is Orgun, General?

Pace: South of Gardez.

Question: I may be mistaken, but that's the first I've heard about an operation like this out in Herat area. Can you tell us anymore about that? Do you have any more details?

Clarke: We actually were --

Question: (Inaudible.)

Clarke: No, we were talking about these sorts of things this morning, anticipating people that say "Where are we in the -- what are these significant -- what's the significance of these things?" It's almost exactly what we've said all along would happen. There would be different pockets of resistance. We would continue to scour a lot of different places, trying to surface intel, trying to root out the remaining pockets, trying to find these large caches of ammunition, so we can make sure they get out of the bad guys' hands. This is pretty much what we've expected all along.

And expect the unexpected. Everyone's focusing on one part of the country; something will pop up somewhere else. That's the nature of the business.

Question: When you find these large weapons, storage areas -- especially the one in Orgun -- 1.8 million rounds of ammunition is a lot of ammunition.

Question: Not if you have 54 tanks.

Question: Are some of the warlords in the area, saying "Hey, that's mine?" Anybody claimed it?

Pace: At the time that it was found and at the time that the caches were destroyed -- the parts of the caches that were destroyed, there was no indication that it was other than the Taliban or al Qaeda. But the fact that someone might come along a day or two from now and say something different from that is certainly possible, but we have, as you know, Special Forces with the warlords, very, very open and good communications there. So when we find these caches, they are in areas that we have received intelligence about Taliban and al Qaeda, so the presumption when we find this is that, in fact, it is not a warlord's cache.

Question: I ask the question because, as you may know, the British destroyed the weapons cache that they blew up late last week. Now one of the warlords has stepped forward and said, "That's my stuff they blew up. I told the interim government that, and I told anybody else who would listen, and they went ahead and blew it up anyway."

I'm just trying to get a sense of who owned this stuff. Would you care to comment on that mix-up?

Pace: I won't comment on the Brits. I will let them comment on their own operations.

I can tell you that when we go in to these areas on the search operations that we've been doing, that we go there based on intelligence, and that when we uncover arms caches like this, that are deep in the mountains and that are in the locations that we find them, and because of our liaison with -- between our special forces and the warlords, that our presumption is that what we have found is in fact contraband. We then take -- if it's usable, it gets sent back to Kabul for the Afghan national government. So if in fact we did make a mistake, it is still available to the government. If it's unusable, we blow it in place, which means it would have been unusable to a friendly government in any case. So I don't see that there's a risk here in capturing this ammunition and delivering it to the central government.

Question: So would it be the policy -- let's say this was a mistake. Would it be the policy to either confiscate or destroy 1.8 million rounds of ammunition, no matter whose it was, given the long-term instability and volatility of Afghanistan? Whether it belonged to a warlord or al Qaeda, it would seem to me that the interim government doesn't want 1.8 million rounds of ammunition sitting around waiting to be fired at somebody. So is it the policy to confiscate it no matter whose it is?

Pace: I wouldn't say it like that.

I'd turn to the policy lead.

Clarke: I'd say the policy -- (laughter). No, it's a good question. The policy is to ensure that it's not used for the purposes that in some cases it was intended. That it is -- you know, one of our military objectives is to ensure that Afghanistan doesn't return to what it was, which was a free running field, a free -- an open haven for the terrorists to operate. And so one of the things we have to do is make sure those sorts of things are either destroyed, so the bad guys can't use them, or they're put in the hands of the appropriate authorities, who will use them for the right reasons, such as establishing the Afghan national army.

Question: Are these the biggest finds to date, so far, in the world?

Clarke: Don't know.

Pace: If they're not, they're close. We have found tanks in the past. We have found large ammunition caches in the past. Whether or not this is the largest, I don't know. But it's a good-sized take.

Clarke: Let's go behind Pam and --

Question: General --

Clarke: Charlie, let's move around a little bit, and then we'll come back.

Question: General, you said you don't know the whereabouts of the Taliban commander that you were looking for. Does that -- just to clarify, does that mean he could conceivably be among those who were killed or you have in custody?

And separately, Brigadier Lane, the British commander, said that he felt it was strategically good news that his troops and other troops in the coalition hadn't been finding pockets of Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Would that be your reading of the missions?

Pace: It is possible that the leader we were looking for is among the dead. It is possible that he is amongst the detainees. And it is possible that he was not there or that he slipped away.

With regard to when you're going on a sweep operation and you don't find enemy in the area you're sweeping, if in fact what your purpose is, is to go out and make sure that the area is not re-infiltrated, then I would agree that that's good news.

Question: Was the commander Omar, by any chance?

Pace: I will not confirm who it was.

Question: Is that the area where he grew up, is it not?

Pace: I do not know that.

Clarke: In back.

Question: Yeah. From -- (affiliation off mike). I have just a question about Vieques. The Navy has just finished her exercises last month. Do you still plan to leave the island by May 2003, and do you have plans to have this exercise somewhere else in the U.S.?

Clarke: We plan -- and I'll ask the general to help me out on this -- we plan to make sure we have the means and the capabilities to provide the best training and readiness for the people in the Navy and the Marines. So that's what we are continuing to pursue. Mm-hmm.

Question: Do you plan any reparations for the people of the island, what they claim?

Clarke: I'm sorry?

Question: Do you plan any -- to pay any reparation to the inhabitants of the island?

Clarke: There are already funds paid -- you guys keep me straight on this -- but funds paid to Puerto Rico as part of our arrangements for the training exercises that are there.

Question: (Off mike) -- 50 and 40.

Clarke: Yeah. Charlie, and then up --

Question: General, perhaps you made clear and I just missed it. When did you say these caches were found at Orgun and Herat?

Pace: That was over the past weekend, last couple of days.

Question: Over the --

Clarke: Mmm-hmm. Yeah?

Question: The joint task force -- when do you anticipate that headquarters being set up and General McNeill going over there? And will this entail any additional staff being sent to the area, or will it be cobbled together from forces that are already there?

Pace: It will be stood up the end of May-beginning of June. General McNeill will go over. He'll have a staff with him of less than 500. It will not be cobbled together; it will be a staff that he has been working with, that he has trained with. They will then go over, get acclimatized. And when General McNeill feels that he is situationally aware and ready to take command, he'll report that fact to General Franks, and the two of them will decide the exact date of the turnover. But probably the end of this month-beginning of next.

Question: His staff from 18th Airborne Corps, or will they will staff coming out of CENTCOM?

Pace: It'll be a large chunk of his staff from 18th Airborne Corps, plus he'll have Army -- excuse me, he'll have Navy, Air Force and Marine augmentees to that staff so that his joint staff can work in a joint environment.

Question: Does the task force have a name; does the JTF have a name?

Pace: Right now it is Joint Task Force Afghanistan.

Clarke: Let's do Fama and then Dale to wrap up.

Question: A question for you on Iraq. The U.N. Security Council today passed the resolution of Iraq. Could you just reiterate your thoughts on what this resolution means in terms of whether there's -- this will absolutely guarantee that no military equipment get into Iraq?

Clarke: Well, I don't know --

Question: The secretary has spoken on that before.

Clarke: Sure. And I'd refer you to the State Department on the resolution itself. The secretary has spoken. And given the Iraqi regime's history and patterns and practice, there's a high degree of skepticism of any commitments they make.


Question: The Senate version of the DOD authorization bill cuts about $800 million, I think, out of the Department's program for missile defense R&D next year and shifts it to other programs. Is the Department's position that missile defense is untouchable, or are you open to negotiation with the Congress on what that funding level ought to be?

Clarke: You know I was just talking to our legislative affairs people about that this morning, and evidently we did have some communications back up in the form of a letter expressing our concerns about that. And I wasn't able to dig it all out. But we'll try to do so later today.

Thanks, everybody.

Question: Tori, one more. Do you --

Clarke: One more?

Question: Do you have the details on the amendment, budget amendment deciding what was going to happen with the money that you had originally planned for the Crusader?

Clarke: No, I believe the Army is going to come back in a few days with a more specific or more detailed plan of how they would devote the funds to other technologies that would have benefits across the board.

Question: Or Secretary Rumsfeld's testimony on Thursday?

Clarke: It's in a few days. I don't have a date certain for it.

Question: How about a big party for the press, if you -- (laughter).

Clarke: Thanks, everybody.

Pace: (Laughs.)

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).