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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Briefing

Aired November 15, 2001 - 12:52   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.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: The Pentagon has started it's briefing. That briefing has now ended with the CENTCOM, commander of the central command, General Tommy Franks and also Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld,

We are going to show you now about the first 10 or so minutes of that, and it begins with the statement by General Franks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEN. TOMMY FRANKS, COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF, U.S. CENTCOM: Where we find ourselves today, I think it is important that we pause and reflect a bit and remember the mission that we undertook when we started these operations just after the 11th of September. That mission was the destruction of the Al Qaeda network. That mission involved the destruction of the Taliban regime that harbored the Al Qaeda network.

Now, since the 7th of October, there has been a lot of discussion and certainly there will continue to be discussions about the number of tanks destroyed. There will continue to be discussion about the air defense systems destroyed. We will continue to talk about the territorial gains or the geographical gains that have been made by opposition.

But what is important to us is the destruction of the Al Qaeda network, a terrorist network with global reach. So we remain fixed on that mission, as well as on the Taliban that provides safe harbor for that.

As we have moved through this, we have worked hard with the Department of State on humanitarian assistance efforts. That humanitarian assistance effort gets better. That situation gets better every day. I learned this morning that over the last three days, more than 6,500 metric tons of humanitarian supplies have been brought into the interior of Afghanistan for the Afghan people -- large numbers of people -- and we intend to continue to provide support to nongovernmental agencies, international organizations, other nations who are working humanitarian assistance.

Our operations are on the timeline which I have described each time I have spoken with you. We, in fact, have the initiative. We intend to maintain that initiative. And as the Taliban fracture, we will continue to be about the mission that I described initially -- the destruction of the Al Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban which sponsors Al Qaeda.

That objective has not changed. We will remain steady on the course. And I think at this point, Mr. Secretary, I will stop and take questions.

QUESTION: General Franks, you said that you remain fixed on the mission and that the destruction of Al Qaeda is paramount here. You have had two bombing raids in the past two days in Kandahar and Kabul that have gone after senior leadership. You say that the leaders have been killed, and you can't say whether they are senior or not. My point is, are you going to have to eventually put troops on the ground -- American and allied western troops -- to root these people out if they go to caves?

FRANKS: A different day, of course, but the same question -- will we at some point put conventional forces on the ground? I think our president, and I know the secretary has said many times that we will not take the issue of conventional forces off the table. This certainly remains an option. What I would do at this point is remind that we do have special forces on the ground now. We have our teams with these opposition leaders.

And so this gives us the capability to have situational awareness, not to an extent, I'd be quick to add, that we would like to have, because these small teams, these small numbers we have on the ground certainly can't be everywhere all the time. But we do have situational awareness and we believe that we will be able to know what is going on as a result of each one of these efforts which you describe.

QUESTION: General Franks, may I ask you on the humanitarian front, now that the Taliban have been largely removed from the north, is the environment there benign enough that international organizations, rather than the U.S. military, could take the lead on that humanitarian relief?

FRANKS: It is premature to say that things are stable enough in Northern Afghanistan so that we should feel very comfortable with all of our humanitarian resupply efforts. I will use the case of Mazar-i- Sharif. Mazar-i-Sharif is in fact, according to the accounts we have, as calm as a city could be after the years of turmoil that Mazar-i- Sharif has been through and the fact that we just had a major battle there but a few days ago.

FRANKS: The route from Termez, Uzbekistan, to the south, down to Mazar-i-Sharif, we have had our people on several times. And they have not been fired on.

However, what we want to do is we want to have an opportunity to look over the territory. We want to spend two or three days so that we satisfy ourselves that the environment in places like Mazar-i- Sharif is secure enough for these nongovernmental organizations and international organizations to be comfortable that they can do what they want to do. And I think it's important to note that we certainly will not be giving them instructions. What we will be doing is giving them information upon which they can base their decisions about where to move the humanitarian assistance.

QUESTION: General Franks, yesterday the teams in the south doing interdiction were talked about, that they were setting up roadblocks at some points. What are their rules of engagement?

FRANKS: Their rules of engagement are the standing rules of engagement that we use with all of our forces. When they are threatened, when property is threatened, when they come in contact with enemy forces identified as enemy, they destroy those forces.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: May I ask the two of you a question each? Is that permissible? I know only one question, but since two of you august gentlemen are there. I'd like to start with General Franks, if I may.

General, do you feel exonerated after the criticism in the past? The last time you were here, you heard that your campaign is too timid. And is the Taliban now destroyed as a viable fighting force?

FRANKS: Sir, the second question first. The Taliban is not destroyed as an effective fighting force from the level of one individual man carrying a weapon until that individual man puts down his weapon. And so, there still is a capable fighting force on the side of the Taliban. We'll continue to do our best to eliminate that force of the Taliban. The secretary has previously referred to this as "draining the swamp."

Your first question about, do I feel better about this in the face of criticism. I will tell you that this is like the National Football League. And if we were to go through this worrying about each time that a linebacker takes a shot for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, we'd get little else done. And so, no sir, I don't feel exonerated because I never felt vilified. I'm simply a soldier doing his job and I'll continue to do that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: General Tommy Franks, the central commander in charge of the fighting, the strikes against Afghanistan, saying the Taliban still is a capable fighting force. He went on to say a little bit later. This briefing was taped. It took place just about a half hour ago. He said, not only that, but the Al Qaeda taliban forces are very much fighting right now 2,000 to 3,000, he said, of them in the city of Konduz in the northern part of Afghanistan. He also said that they -- he and Secretary Rumsfeld said that they cannot confirm the city of Jalalabad has fallen, which is something has been reported yesterday. We were reporting that, but to be more accurate, today at the Pentagon they are saying Jalalabad is threatened.

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