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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

America Strikes Back: British Minister of Defense Press Conference

Aired October 8, 2001 - 06:31   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to take you now to a press conference that's just getting under way. The British minister of defense right now is giving an assessment of what happened.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

GEOFF HOON, BRITISH DEFENSE MINISTER: I want to pay tribute to our armed forces. In recent months and right across the world, they have shown time and again that they are amongst the very best in the world. We place immense trust in their courage, their sense of duty and their professionalism. We take immense pride in the fact that they never let us down. They are rightly held in high esteem throughout the world. Our thoughts are with them and with their families of what is an anxious time for us all.

Military action is never taken lightly. The United States sought a peaceful solution. We gave them our full support in their tireless diplomatic efforts. The Taliban regime had every chance to avoid what happened last night. We gave the Taliban the chance to surrender bin Laden and his associates for trial and to offer proof that they no longer supported terrorism.

They have had more than two weeks to comply. We warned them that they were running out of time. We warned them that they faced powerful military action. They did not believe us. They prevaricated -- enough was enough.

Last night, the United States acted in legitimate self-defense to protect their citizens; so did we.

In that, we were supported by many other nations. Many have offered military support. Last night, I spoke to my counterparts in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Belgium. They were united in their support for the actions that we have taken.

Preparations have been made within NATO to follow up the commitments that they made last week to support the United States.

I want to emphasize that this military action is only one part of our wider response, which also includes equally important diplomatic, legal, economic and humanitarian measures. Military action against terrorism has only just begun. We and all of our allies and partners are determined to root out terrorism wherever we find it. As the prime minister made clear yesterday, we are committed to a relentless, deliberate and sustained campaign aimed at securing our objectives. Our armed forces will play their full part in this, alongside their allies from the United States, France, Germany, Australia, Canada and the other countries who have indicated their willingness to participate.

We have no quarrel with the people of Afghanistan. They are equally the victims of the terrorists and their supporters. The United Kingdom is playing its full part in the relief efforts to prevent famine in Afghanistan this winter and amongst the refugees.

We were the first country to pledge aid for the refugees -- some 36 million pounds on top of the 35 million pounds we have given to Afghanistan since 1997.

We understand that last night, the United States dropped humanitarian supplies on an area near the border with Pakistan, where there is a known concentration of refugees.

We have no quarrel with Islam. We share many common beliefs, including a respect for the life of innocent people. Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and the Taliban supporters do not share these values. Far, far too many Muslims have suffered and died because of bin Laden, as so many people in governments across the Islamic world recognize. Their help and support in defeating terrorism is vital.

I will now hand you over to the chief of the defense staff, Admiral Michael Boyce.

ADMIRAL MICHAEL BOYCE, CHIEF OF DEFENSE STAFF: Good morning. Well, as the secretary of state has just told you, last night, American and British forces struck at 30 targets across Afghanistan in the first military response to the terrorist outrages of the 11th of September.

And what I'd like to do now is to give you a bit more detail on some of the military aspects of the strike and the involvement of our forces in it.

The strikes aimed to damage, disrupt and destroy all al-Qaeda's terrorist network camps -- and also, at the same time, those elements of the military infrastructure of the Taliban supporters that have allowed Afghanistan to be used as a base for terrorism across the world. And these targets included terrorist training camps, and also a range of Taliban military facilities, including air fields, a garrison and their defense sites capable of threatening our operations in the future.

Action against such very targets requires a wide range of forces, and most of them, of course, came from the United States. But as you have been well aware, the United Kingdom has got three submarines in the area: HMS Superb, HMS Trafalgar and HMS Triumph -- and Royal Naval Tomahawk missiles were fired at one of the targets during the course of this action -- the Taliban terrorist site. I'd very much like to reinforce the secretary of state's point that neither the Afghan civilian population, nor their homes or property, were targeted in this operation. All 30 sites that were struck were military installations. Three were close to Kabul and four close to other large settlements. But 23 were in very remote areas -- well in the countryside.

Our target and selection processes are absolutely meticulous, and we have taken enormous care to minimize risks to the people of Afghanistan -- a people who, as the secretary of state has already said, are also the victims of terrorism by the al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

I'd like to say something about our future operations, but of course, there is going to be more to come. In addition to our submarines, we are currently, as we speak at the moment, deploying air force -- royal air force tanker and reconnaissance aircraft to the region. And they are going to be able to support further operations within the next couple of days.

And also other nations, apart from the United Kingdom and the United States, will also be involved. NATO, this morning, has announced the deployment of five airborne early-warning aircraft to the Continental United States in support of the USA. And the NATO standing naval force, Mediterranean, which is at sea at the moment, is awaiting final political decision to authorize their engagement and force protection. And as you already be aware, Germany and France and Australia have offered forces as well.

All of these deployments show that we are committed to the long haul. Last night was not just a single strike. We know that defeating international terrorism and its supporters can be neither easy nor quick. Our armed forces are ready -- ready for a long haul, and their resolve to make their full contribution to the victory, which I'm sure I am confident of that we'll have at the end of the day.

Thank you.

PAUL ADAMS, BBC NEWS: Paul Adams, BBC. You said that no civilian targets -- no civilian areas were targeted. Is it too early to talk of any kind of damage assessment? Have you received any information to suggest that your weaponry went where it was supposed to go, and that there was no damage to civilian lives or property?

HOON: The battle damage assessment is beginning to be available, but no thorough analysis has yet been possible because of time. But obviously in the course of the day, we will be looking carefully at the information we receive and making judgments accordingly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE JOURNALIST: Can you tell us the -- you mentioned that the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of al-Qaeda terrorist camp (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and what (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the training camps (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

BOYCE: Well, I don't think that we should particularly comment on which training camp it was. The camp was a very large one, and certain aspects of the camp were targeted. As the secretary of state has said, the battle damage assessment is still coming in. I don't have a precise answer of the success of the strike yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE JOURNALIST: (INAUDIBLE QUESTION).

BOYCE: The Superb is -- I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE JOUNALIST: (INAUDIBLE QUESTION).

BOYCE: That is correct.

KEVIN DONNE, ITN: Kevin Donne of ITN. And the prime minister spoke last night of using our air assets in the coming days. Will they include tornadoes and/or harriers, which are in the region?

HOON: I'm not going to go in precise detail for the moment, but can I say that in the early stages of this operation, it is much more likely to be reconnaissance and other support aircraft than the ones you mentioned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE JOURNALIST: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) World Service. The Americans in their briefings have spoken very much of these operations as being the initial effort to ensure the safety of air operations over Afghanistan. Do you think in looking ahead in the days and weeks to come that it is inevitable that Western ground troops in some form will have to take action on the ground inside Afghanistan?

HOON: That's clearly an option, but can I emphasize that it's too soon to make that judgment. And certainly it is perfectly possible that the impact of these initial strikes, and the ones that are likely to follow, will have such a seriously destabilizing impact on the Taliban regime. The use of ground troops may not be possible -- certainly not in a hostile environment. But obviously, we are preparing a range of military options, and the use of ground troops is clearly one of them.

LOUISA BALDEENI, CHANNEL 5 NEWS: Louisa Baldeeni, Channel 5 News. You have 23,000 men and women on exercise in Oman. Have you got any plans for them now?

HOON: We have lots of plans for them, including the completion of the exercise. But obviously, in response to the earlier question, it's important that we keep our options open as far as their use is concerned. But our initial expectation is that the exercise will be completed successfully.

PAUL BRENNAN, SKY NEWS: Paul Brennan from Sky News. The training camps were reported to have been abandoned by many of the al- Qaeda network fighters, who were said to have fled to the mountains at the prospect of air strikes. Can you tell us what intelligence led you to target the one that was attacked last night? And whether or not it was actually currently being used by the al-Qaeda network?

BOYCE: I think that it is definitely true that some of the camps may be reported empty -- that people moved away. But they do flow backwards and forwards. And also by the creation of these camps in these very inhospitable climates and difficult places. It will be difficult for them to recreate once they've been destroyed. So there is certainly merit in denying those camps for further use, and that is what we've done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE JOUNALIST: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Could you tell us whether it was Trafalgar or Triumph that fired cruise missiles yesterday?

HOON: I think that it would be better not to comment on which submarines were actually involved last night specifically.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE JOURNALIST: Richard (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Could you say how much of the similar kind of targets, which you attacked last night, are around? And how many more days will you attack, do you think, a similar kind of priority targets that you attacked last night?

BOYCE: I think that we can imagine, because as I've already said, some of these camps (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And certainly we want to have taken out all of the air defense assets in one night, but I imagine that further attacks, we'll be looking at the similar sorts of targets that we actually had last night.

As to the length of time, it will take -- we will spend as long as it takes to eliminate the air defense threats particularly and ability of the Qaeda and the Taliban to mount any sort of military operations from their camps or from their air fields.

JOHN PENCIL , "WASHINGTON SUN": John Pencil , "Washington Sun." Can I ask how many Tomahawk missiles were fired by British submarines last night? And second to that, following up on Richard's question, you were talking about going to the second phase of this operation maybe by the beginning of next week or the weekend. Can you just be a little bit more specific? And lastly, during the Kosovo crisis, remember the first briefing after the first night's operation, it was described by the MOD as running on rails. How would you describe last night's operation?

BOYCE: I think so far as the number of Tomahawk is concerned, we're really not prepared to give that sort of level of detail about our submarine operations. As to when the next phase might start, a lot of will depend on how this first phase has gone. As the secretary of state has already said, if this particular phase leads to, for example, the destabilization of the Taliban government, we certainly want to take very careful measure of what that means and what the outcome of that is before we decide to do any other military phases.

KEESON GUPTA, "THE INDEPENDENT": Keeson Gupta from "The Independent." The reports yesterday that the commanders of the Northern Alliance were foretold -- were warned in advance about the attack last night. Is that the case? And if that is the case, is there further cooperation in the future between the allies and the Northern Alliance? HOON: Well, I'm not going to comment precisely on what the Northern Alliance may or may not have known. What I can say is that our ambition is rather -- in answer to the earlier question -- is to create the conditions in Afghanistan where there is a government that does not tolerate terrorism within its borders, and does not encourage terrorism outside its borders. And therefore, our action is designed to achieve that end.

ALAN COWELL, "NEW YORK TIMES": Alan Cowell from the "New York Times." For the record, could you tell us what the exact legal basis for the attacks was last night?

HOON: Yes, I can. Under the United Nation's charter, any state is entitled in self-defense to protect its citizens. And as I indicated in my opening statement, these attacks are designed to protect citizens in the United States and the United Kingdom, and indeed in the wider world that are threatened by the activities of Osama bin Laden and his associates and are threatened by those who would support them -- that is the Taliban regime.

JULIAN RUSH, CHANNEL 4 NEWS: Julian Rush, Channel 4 News. Two things: First of all, could you be a little bit more specific with the location of the humanitarian air drop last night -- the refugees in Afghanistan? And secondly, could you tell us why in a little more detail the decision was taken to act now when there have been some very strong signs the Taliban have been crumbling: There is an Islamic conference coming up in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Wednesday, at which there was a strong possibility the Taliban might have been prepared to have done a deal about handing over bin Laden? Why did you decide to act now and not wait for the two days?

HOON: Well, I indicated in my statement that the supplies were dropped along the border with Afghanistan where we know there are a considerable number of refugees. Clearly more humanitarian aid will follow, and I emphasize the importance of the humanitarian effort alongside the military efforts that we're making.

As far as your indications are concerned, I'm afraid I simply don't accept that that is the case. And moreover, as I indicated, we have become increasingly concerned that the efforts to prevaricate on behalf of the Taliban regime we do not judge that any of their comments in recent days have been sincerely motivated. And indeed, we did not judge that it was appropriate to wait for further efforts on their behalf. They have been given every opportunity to do what they were asked to do as far as suppressing terrorism in their own country was concerned, and they have refused to act upon that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE JOURNALIST: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Can I just get back to your answer to Keeson Gupta's question? And I am slightly unclear if about what you say about the regime that you wish to see installed, given what you said in answer to some military questions earlier, is it a possibility that the Northern Alliance will take over in Kabul? And is that a desirable outcome within the criteria that you have said?

HOON: Well, I think that is one of the possible outcomes that may follow from military action and the removal of the Taliban regime. It is clearly not the only outcome, and it is something which I believe that the international community, and particularly the countries in the region, will have to look at later in this process.

But the first stage of the military response, I am not going to predict what the outcome will be. What I am saying is that the outcome, as far as we are concerned, must be a government in Afghanistan that does not tolerate terrorism within its own borders.

MATTHEW HICKLEY: Matthew Hickley from the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Are there any plans for U.K. aircraft to be involved in dropping humanitarian supplies? Secondly, you described the first phase of the operation as being designed to degrade air defenses and to strike at camps. Can you tell us anything about the goals of the second phase (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

BOYCE: As far as the dropping of humanitarian aid is concerned, we were not involved last night in the -- what happened last night. And we are looking to see whether we can be of a help in the future.

As far as the second phase is concerned, I think it would be inappropriate to start discussing in public what the next operational phase might consist of.

ROBERT POXLEY, "EVENING STANDARD": Robert Poxley of the "Evening Standard." Can you make any comment, either of you, about involvement of British ground forces, either present or future?

HOON: Well, I believe I've set out the position as far as British ground forces are concerned. We are preparing plans based on that as being an option. But obviously it is something that we will have to make a judgment about when the time comes and when the military conditions on the ground are justified.

KEVIN CORDON , PRESS ASSOCIATION : Kevin Cordon of the Press Association . You said that your ultimate outcome is to ensure that there is government in Afghanistan that would not tolerate terrorism. But how are you going to ensure that happens if the Taliban toppled, but there's no definite government takes over in their place? That maybe it's just (UNINTELLIGIBLE) civil war? Or how do you achieve that objective?

HOON: Well, that is why it is so important that the wider international community and the countries of the region immediately surrounding Afghanistan are part of that process. That it would not be sensible at this stage to predict how that will turn out on what is after all the very early stage of a military and wider campaign.

ALAN FRIEDMAN , "GLOBAL MAIL": Yes, Alan Friedman from the "Global Mail" . Mr. Hoon, you mentioned military targets. Has any of the targeting included such facilities as power installations or broadcast locations -- radio transmitters, et cetera? And if they didn't last night, will they perhaps tonight or in the future?

HOON: No. Well, certainly none of the targets to date have included those facilities. JASON GROSS , "WEST MORNING NEWS" : Jason Gross , "West Morning News." You mentioned the standing force fleet in the Med. What U.K. bomber is there in that? When is the decision going to be taken? And will it then be repositioned to the Gulf?

BRYCE: It is the NATO standing force -- Mediterranean is one of two standing naval forces consisting of frigates and destroyers. One is known as NATO Standing and Nava Force Atlantic, and one is Standing Force Mediterranean. We have one British ship in that force, and it so happens at the moment we are in command of that force. It's a rotational command, and it is the U.K.'s -- it is the U.K.'s turn for this coming year.

And there is also a standing naval force for (UNINTELLIGIBLE) counter measures, which could also be brought to play if necessary. The actual role of the force at the moment is likely to that of force protection, but of course, that is up for NATO to decide, and that's still being developed (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE JOURNALIST: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We have been told a lot in the last few weeks that this was not going to be a conventional war. It will be nothing like the attacks -- the air strikes against Kosovo. In what sense were last night's attacks not like because of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and not conventional?

BRYCE: I think the obvious one is first of all the size of the attack last night as, I think, was mentioned -- as I mentioned earlier on, the secretary of state did and these 30 targets were actually looked at last night. And they were very specifically military ones, as I said, air defense sites, air fields, training camps. That is somewhat different to the size of the volume of the attacks that went into Kosovo a couple of years or so ago, and certainly the range of targets, which were much more extensive in Kosovo as well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE JOURNALIST: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Give us an idea of how much cost to defend military action has been so far.

HOON: The cost -- no.

KEN PATRICK , "GRAPHIC NEWS" : Ken Patrick , "Graphic News" . You said that you will continue this for as long as it takes. But the weather is going to deteriorate very badly which is going to severely affect air operations in the area in about five to six weeks' time. Are you confident that you will have achieved your military aim before the bad weather sets in?

BRYCE: I think we're fairly confident having achieved the air campaign objectives, although I don't necessarily agree that the onset of winter will necessarily deny us the opportunity to carry out further air attacks if required. But you are perfectly correct that the winter there is very fierce, and it was said to constrain our feet-on-the-ground options when we get around to that.

NEIL PATRICK , ROSSI : Neil Patrick from Rossi . There's obviously going to be a variety of regional actors in neighboring countries very interested in very different ways in the final outcome of a post-Taliban regime in Afghanistan. There's also going to be something of a debt of honor owed to Uzbekistan and Pakistan, in particular, who have directly a conflict of interest in the nature of that government. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to suggest one, a great delicate political balancing act on the part of Britain, but also a very long- term military role and to stabilize things and indeed shape that future government.

HOON: Well, I've been asked already to try and predict the outcome of the initial military action. You are asking me to predict the situation in the region for a very long time to come. And frankly, it simply would not be sensible to do that at this stage.

But I would emphasize that stability in Afghanistan will depend crucially on the attitude of its immediate neighbors in the region, and that's why they must be involved, as well as the wider international community in the arrangements for the future of Afghanistan.

But first of all, let me make it clear, we have to create conditions inside Afghanistan where there is a government that does not support and condone terrorism, and that must be our military priority.

ABDULLAH HUDA , JOURNALIST: Mr. Hoon, Abdullah Huda from (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in Kuwait and the northern Oman newspapers. In the light of the difficulty in pinpointing where bin Laden is, and the difficulty (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there, the campaign could be a longer drawn one in order to find the stability in Afghanistan. But countries in the region which are involved in the support of alliance, like Pakistan, are facing the instability right now due to the demonstration and also the rules that explosion in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Saudi Arabia. Have you accounted for the possibility in the light of a longer drawn campaign that instability could spread around the region?

HOON: It's obviously important that we maintain the stability of Afghanistan's neighbors. That was precisely why the prime minister chose to make such a long and difficult flight to Pakistan to the region in order to emphasize the importance that we attach to their participation in this process. So I'm in no doubt of the risks, but equally that is why we are putting such a great effort into that region at this stage.

Thank you very much, indeed.

HARRIS: Now, we've been listening this morning to the British minister of defense, Geoff Hoon, and Admiral Michael Boyce there, briefing the press on the strikes yesterday that Britain -- British troops did participate in with the U.S. troops.

The headline here as we understand now: some 30 targets were hit in Afghanistan. They were hit by Tomahawk and cruise missiles. We understand that the bomb damage assessment is just now beginning to get under way. Nothing has been analyzed as yet, so there still remains to be seen exactly how much damage was inflicted there on the ground. There is special note being taken of one particularly large terrorist camp that was hit, and that is one that is going to be getting a lot of scrutiny today.

We understand that they believe that some of those camps could have been emptied. However, the emphasis is that they are difficult to recreate once they have been destroyed, so therefore, they must be destroyed.

And the next phase will depend upon the assessment of this one. And of course, we'll have much more analysis of what happened yesterday throughout the day right here on CNN.

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