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General Tommy Franks Holds Defense Briefing

Aired December 7, 2001 - 13:31   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We go to Tampa, Florida where the head of the Central Command, Tommy Franks, the general, is going to be briefing reporters there and in Washington -- General Franks.


GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: ... it reminds me of the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform throughout the history of our country. And as I speak to you, we honor, we remember those sacrifices and we mourn the loss of three great soldiers in Afghanistan day before yesterday. I offer condolences to their families and to their loved ones, as well as to the families of those wounded in the service of their country in this honorable cause. These men are heroes, and America remembers.

I'm also honored to be one of the commanders of this coalition in our global fight against terrorism, and I'm honored to serve alongside soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and national leaders of more than 50 nations who stand side by side with us.

Today I'm especially pleased to be joined here by military representatives of two of these nations, Air Marshal Jack Stewart (ph) from the United Kingdom and Brigadier General Ken Gillespie from Australia. They've been with us since we first stood up this coalition out here at MacDill Air Force Base.

As we speak today, we have more than 230 representatives from more than 20 nations out here with us, a very visible sign of the international commitment we see to our overall effort.

Similarly, I want to recognize today the hospitality of the local community here in Tampa, which has opened its arms to our guests. It's an honor to have several friends from Tampa with us here today. I appreciate you being here.

Today's the 62nd day of this fight in Afghanistan. Our objectives have not changed: We will remove the Taliban, this illegitimate leadership, as the governing power in Afghanistan, and we will destroy the Al Qaeda network, and we'll do this as part of a global effort to rid the world of terrorist organizations with global reach.

We're progressing. Progressing well. But we have a long way to go. We're tightening the noose, but the way ahead has been correctly described as one where we'll find a dirty environment and a very dangerous environment. There remain pockets of Al Qaeda and very dedicated Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. The country is not yet stable. And we still have an awful lot of work to do.

With that, I'll bring Jack (ph) and Ken up here, and we'd be pleased to answer your questions.


QUESTION: First question for General Franks. I think a lot of us want to know what's happening in Kandahar today. There seems to be a great deal of confusion about the status of the opposition forces, and our forces in particular.

FRANKS: The situation in Kandahar is, interestingly, as you described it. It reminds me of the situation in Mazar-e Sharif some weeks back, as well as the situation in Kunduz and Taloqan and then Herat.

I think what we have seen reported is, in fact, true. We have seen the surrender of a great many Taliban forces inside Kandahar. We are not yet sure, we do not yet have a sense of comfort that there is stability in the city, and I don't expect that we will have a sense of comfort for, perhaps, two or three days, until we get a valid assessment of exactly what is going on in Kandahar.

QUESTION: If I could hear either the air marshal or the brigadier. Do you feel like you're a part of the team here?

JACK STEWART (ph), AIR MARSHAL, UNITED KINGDOM: Absolutely. We've been here from pretty much the outset. I think, as our prime minister and other leaders around the world have said, we stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States in its response to the attacks of the 11th of September. We're all committed to making sure that terrorism is removed as a force in international affairs. That's what this coalition is all about, and that's what we are all here to do.

It's a United States-led coalition. It's being organized here at Central Command, so that's why we are here. We are here to contribute our military capabilities. We're here to contribute our advice in the planning and execution of the campaign and to feed back to our national capitals the commander in chief's intent so that each of us can frame our military response appropriately within that overall intent.

But this is one coalition, with one aim in mind, and everybody is resolved to see it through until that aim is achieved.

BRIGADIER GENERAL KEN GILLESPIE, AUSTRALIA: If I could just add, not only do we feel part of it, but we feel like we belong. Many of you will remember that on the day of the attacks, on the 11th, that our prime minister was, in fact, in Washington and immediately committed Australians to the cause against terrorism. Many of our senior officers were, in fact, in the Pentagon at the time of the attack on that building. And, of course, tens of Australians disappeared in New York on the 11th of September. And so we feel like we belong as well as being part of what is a very happy and hardworking group here in MacDill.

FRANKS: It is, in fact, happy and hardworking. Although I must confess that the language characteristics of some of its members leave something to be desired.


With that, let me go to the Pentagon press corps, please.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about Kandahar again. You said you had seen the surrender of a great many Taliban forces. There are also reports from the area that many of these forces are leaving with their weapons.

I'm wondering whether either U.S. or opposition forces are pursuing or have, in fact, engaged or captured any of these forces.

FRANKS: Thank you. Yes, we have engaged forces who are leaving Kandahar with their weapons.

This is a situation that's very similar to the situations we found in Mazar and also the situations that we found in Kunduz, when opposition forces moved there.

I think a similar question was asked of Secretary Rumsfeld a few weeks ago. And he said, "As long as these people, as long as these Taliban fighters have their weapons and represent a threat, it's a war." Yes, they will be engaged.

QUESTION: General, you said that they will be engaged. Number one, are they being engaged in hot pursuit, or are you just doing a blocking action? Are they being engaged from the air as they retreat?

And what can you tell us about Mullah Omar, who supposedly was supposed to be facing justice and now apparently has vanished?

FRANKS: Let me begin at the end. I don't think that I would say that Mullah Omar has vanished. I think we have said all along, I think the president said, that we'll either bring him to justice or bring justice to him. So that's what I believe about Mullah Omar right now. With respect to what's going on in Kandahar, in an operational sense, we are blocking, in some cases, from the air. We are blocking, in some cases, with direct fires from the ground.

And yes, Taliban forces have been engaged as they have moved out of the city of Kandahar.

QUESTION: General Franks, are you getting any closer to locating bin Laden?

FRANKS: We're not sure. We think so. The situation that we have faced inside Afghanistan now for two months is that one will read dozens and dozens of intelligence reports, and it would probably not surprise you that they don't all agree with respect to where the key leaders are.

And so, we have said that we're tightening the noose. And I think I probably would describe it that way. There are certain areas where we have opposition groups very much in control in Afghanistan and, of course, there are other areas where we do not yet have opposition groups in control of territory. And so, I will tell you honestly, no, I'm not sure that I know where bin Laden is right now.

QUESTION: General, can you tell us about the Marines that have established this forward operating base? There was a report yesterday that they have, in fact, perceived some sort of a threat and they actually fired at something. Can you explain a little bit more about what happened there, and if, in fact, there was a threat to them at that forward operating base?

FRANKS: Yes. The Marines we have set up at Forward Operating Base Rhino, in fact, have a force from that forward operating base interdicting roads up in the vicinity of Kandahar. They also have security established around Forward Operating Base Rhino. They were involved in fights in both locations yesterday: one, interdicting roads up in the vicinity of Kandahar; and secondly, they identified what was perceived to be a threat, a small threat, to the forward operating base, and both of these enemy elements were engaged.

QUESTION: Hamid Karzai has said he would like to see the non- Afghan fighters expelled from the country. Do you support that? And if not, what do you plan to do to prevent them from leaving the country?

FRANKS: I think that the exact legal approach that we will take, I really can't comment on.

I will tell you that I think there is a possibility that a great many of the fighters that we see in Afghanistan will be treated as criminals. Additionally, there is the possibility that they may be brought out of the country of Afghanistan and be brought to trial, either by a tribunal in our own country. I think it's possible that some of the senior leadership of the Taliban may be dealt with in one or the other of those ways.

So right now, I really can't tell you. I'll stay by the line that says we will bring them to justice or bring justice to them.

QUESTION: You spoke a moment ago about tightening the noose, and you also said that you did not believe that Omar had vanished, and yet by all accounts on the ground he has escaped from Kandahar. Can you reconcile those?

FRANKS: I'll go back and say the same thing I said a minute ago about one receiving a great many intelligence reports. I will tell you that, as I stand here, I do not have reason to believe that Omar has in, fact, escaped Kandahar. I have not seen information that will prove that to me, nor have I seen information that he is still in Kandahar. So we simply don't know right now where Omar is.

QUESTION: Basically with the pace in Afghanistan seeming to shift somewhat, what's the command's interest now, perhaps, in Sudan, Somalia or Iraq?

FRANKS: Let me ask you to put up chart number four, if you would please, if you can on the screen here. No, number four please.

If the secretary was here, he'd use this plotter and he would have pointed out who those guys were, and I can go back and do that next time.

In fact, if you look at this, this represents the area of responsibility of the United States Central Command, and you will see within this area of responsibility over on the left side Egypt, and all the way down to the horn of Africa and Kenya. Certainly Sudan is within this area. You'll also find Somalia. One finds Yemen in the Arabian peninsula there. Moving over to the northeast, Afghanistan, and then to the northwest of that, at least on this graphic, Iran and Iraq.

In terms of what we expect to do next, I will only say that Central Command retains interest in the countries that are represented within this AOR, and the list of terrorist states, I think, has been published by our State Department, and so one can surmise where we're paying the greatest amount of attention.

QUESTION: General, as a result of the friendly fire, if you want to call it that, accident, has anything changed policy-wise either in the air or on the ground how we're doing things to prevent something like that from happening again?

FRANKS: In a policy sense, no, nothing has changed. What we have done with this incident, as well as with the incident up in the vicinity of Mazar-e Sharif, is to investigate the incidents so that we can determine precisely what the cause of the incidents are, so that if it has to do with a technological solution, we can take that solution; if has to do with the training issues, so that we can take that kind of decision. But the short answer to your question is no, we have not made a policy change.

I think several of us have said, this is a war. It's a hard thing. We mourn and I grieve for those who are lost in this. And it's our obligation to do the very best we can with the technology and the training that we have to avoid a repeat of these kinds of accidents and incidents, and we certainly will, within our power, do everything we can to do that.

But it's also been said that there is no such thing as the perfect scientific war. There's a great deal of art involved in this.

And so we will treat this as a war in which we're engaged, and that will be the way we'll continue to pursue it.

QUESTION: Is there any indication of what might have been the cause of the incident? FRANKS: I do not yet have that. I think we -- my view is that it's possible -- in dealing with a global position weapon, it's possible to either have an incorrect target location provided from the ground or to have a correct target location provided from the ground and to incorrectly program it into a weapon system. It's also possible to have a technical malfunction.

And so what we have done is we have created an investigating body to take a look at that, to review the facts and circumstances to determine which of those possibilities we may have here. And that investigation is ongoing now.

QUESTION: Opposition leaders near Tora Bora were warning earlier today of their concern that senior Al Qaeda members might be slipping over the border into Pakistan.

Can you bring us up to date on what the U.S. effort there consists of to keep that from happening, and also what the Pakistani effort consists of?

FRANKS: The Tora Bora area certainly is an area that's of interest to us. We would like to prevent these senior Al Qaeda people from escaping to go anywhere, that's for sure.

We have opposition forces in the Tora Bora area, as you know, and we have some of our special forces people with those forces.

We're in coordination, certainly, with Pakistan, as well as with our opposition forces, watching carefully to do the best we can in this terribly rugged terrain to prevent the escape of these leaders.

QUESTION: General Franks, what conditions has the government of Uzbekistan set on their reopening of Friendship Bridge? And specifically, what are they asking of the U.S. military in that regard?

FRANKS: President Karimov has made it clear to us that he wants to reopen Friendship Bridge. And obviously we want to get it opened as soon as we can, because we want to be able to open that humanitarian pipeline up there.

No specific condition has been placed on the opening of Friendship Bridge, with the exception of making sure that the bridge can stand the heavy traffic and to be sure that it not booby trapped or mined, and to settle himself, in Uzbekistan, that the security situation in northern Afghanistan is such that he can do that. And so no specific demands have been made on us to take security action or anything like that.

I believe that the bridge will be open in the next two or three days. That's my belief right now.

QUESTION: With the situation so confused around Kandahar, how do your forces know who's friendly and who isn't?

FRANKS: The way they know who's friendly and who isn't is just by being not conservative, but by being cautious.

One of the difficulties that one has any time you have a whole lot of people all wearing generally the same-looking clothing is the business of identification, friend and foe; we say IFF. And so the business of IFF is very much an issue, it was an issue in Mazar-e Sharif, it is an issue in Kandahar, and it's just something that we have to pay attention to, using all the means at our disposal.

QUESTION: The current situation between Israel and Palestine, how is that impacting holding the coalition together?

FRANKS: The situation in the Middle East, essentially, while certainly problematic -- and I think I would join all of our leadership in hoping for a cessation of the violence there -- but it has not affected our ability to conduct this operation inside Afghanistan. I have seen no change in the willingness of the states in the region to support this effort.

QUESTION: Are you concerned at all that Hamid Karzai cut a deal with Mullah Omar for his safe passage out of Kandahar?

FRANKS: One never knows precisely.

Well, I'll say that the secretary and I have both communicated in no uncertain terms with the leadership, with Hamid Karazi, our expectation, and we believe that he shares the goal of a better Afghanistan that we share. And we believe that he will remain a part of our effort to bring Al Qaeda to justice, as well as to be sure that we have no opportunity to have the senior Taliban leadership be able to negatively influence the stability which we're working for inside Afghanistan.

And so, of course, I'm concerned. I'm concerned until we are able to assure ourselves that there will be no loss and no escape of any of this Taliban leadership. But I will also say that I believe Mr. Karzai knows what our expectations are now.

QUESTION: General, if I may just follow-up, too, just to clarify, you said, "I don't think Omar has vanished." And then you said, "I don't think we know where he is."

FRANKS: If I said, "I don't think he's vanished," let me correct that. What I will say is that, I do not have a reason to suspect that he has vanished.

We continue to work on the area around Kandahar. And we simply do not know where he is right now, but that does not lead me to believe that he's vanished, if that makes sense to you.

QUESTION: There is a wire service report out of Kabul today quoting a spokesman for the Northern Alliance who says that the caves in the Tora Bora complex have been secured now by Northern Alliance forces, that a mopping up operation is going on, that the main base of Osama bin Laden has been taken by the Northern Alliance.

QUESTION: And he quotes his commander in the area, saying that some wives -- or some women, I should say -- some vehicles and some weapons were recovered, but no Osama bin Laden, and this commander believes that Osama has now escaped into Pakistan. Would you comment on that please, sir?

FRANKS: I read the report, and the report simply does not square with what I believe to be the situation on the ground right now. There certainly is movement by opposition forces in the Tora Bora area. but that area is by no means completely secured and searched.

And so that operation in Tora Bora continues.

QUESTION: General, I'm curious, from your coalition partners here, I'd like to hear if you all can tell us what -- whether your forces are involved in what's happening in the southern part of the country right now, and in particular, how much you, General Franks, are relying on them to carry out the coalition mission?

STEWART (ph): Well, as regards to where our forces are currently operating, I mean it's certainly not our policy to comment on the details of operations while they're ongoing.

I mean, what I will say is that, as far as the United Kingdom is concerned, we've had a substantial military contribution from the very start of this campaign. We have contributed air assets, particularly in those areas where the demand is greatest, particularly in the areas of intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, air-to-air refueling and on those sorts of things, and materiel transport, maritime patrol and so on.

We have and have had for a considerable time a substantial of surface vessels in the area contributing to the maritime component, as well as Tomahawk-armed submarines that have launched missiles against targets in Afghanistan.

And we have had and we do have forces operating on the ground in Afghanistan.

But as I say, those operations are ongoing, so you'll understand if I don't comment on any detail.

GILLESPIE: And from an Australian perspective, we do have forces operating on the ground in Afghanistan. I, too, won't venture as to what they're doing at the present time. And the Australian forces are also taking part in other military operations in the region. And we have ground, maritime and air assets currently working, either with General Franks' coalition or with other U.S. commanders.

And, I mean, we think they're making an important military contribution, but you'd better ask the commander.


FRANKS: First off, I'm sure that you all understood what Air Marshal Stewart (ph) said. I'm not really at all sure you were able to understand what Ken said.


He said we do have...


Yes, we do have forces of the services of both the U.K. and Australia involved in the region and, in fact, in Afghanistan. And they have been major contributors to the ongoing work there in both cases.

QUESTION: Speaking of troops, General, as we draw closer to Christmas, are we thinking of sending more people, more troops from the United States? And what can some of the, you know, military people here expect?

FRANKS: Our practice throughout this is to say that we continue to plan for a variety of activities. And so it really would be premature, it really wouldn't be right for me to tell you whether I think we'll increase the number of forces that we have on the ground in the region.

I will simply say that the possibility of increasing forces on the ground is certainly on the table, the possibility is on the table.

QUESTION: General Franks, can you give us any better sense of the number of specific engagements that the Marines have encountered with fleeing Taliban, the degree of resistance that they're facing from those retreating troops, and also whether you anticipate Marines going into Kandahar, the city itself?

FRANKS: Let me begin with the end of that one. I will not say that we anticipate the Marines going into Kandahar. I would simply leave it on the table. We certainly have not ruled out the possibility of the Marines going into Kandahar. We have not ruled it out.

In terms of the overall number of engagements by the Marines, I'm not sure. Since they moved into Forward Operating Base Rhino, I can tell you in the last 24 hours they have been involved in several fights, both from -- both ground-to-ground and air-to-ground.

QUESTION: General, I know a lot of people around this building have expressed concern about Taliban troops reorganizing east of Mazar-e Sharif. What's the level of stability in Kunduz, in particular? We've gotten indications that special forces need to reinforce Kunduz. Is that accurate? And if you can describe the scene there.

FRANKS: Pull up that map, please, that shows Afghanistan.

The question had to do with Kunduz. And Kunduz, in the city itself, we are not seeing any, sort of, dramatic instability. The area that I think was probably being reference is down south of Kunduz in the general vicinity of Baghlan and just a bit further to the south. In fact, there is a pocket of Taliban down there. We have not seen that body of people threaten anyone, but they do continue to have a dialogue -- they, being that group of Taliban -- with the leaders who are currently up -- the opposition leaders up in Kunduz.

We do not believe that the road between Kunduz and Mazar-e Sharif is a very safe road to be using right now. Inside Mazar-e Sharif we are not seeing any great difficulty in terms of turbulence. One will find the occasional instability of looting food and so forth like that, but Mazar-e Sharif remains essentially calm.

The same thing out here in Herat. The same thing over here in Kabul.

Kandahar I talked about, and it's just going to take us two or three days, probably, to be sure that we understand everything that's gone on in Kandahar, as well as down here on the border by Quetta at Spin Boldak.

QUESTION: On the redeployment of the Rangers yesterday back to Fort Benning, should we read into that any sign that the U.S. military commitment is starting to pull down now? There's been a theme in some of the coverage that with the fall of Kandahar and the redeployment of Rangers the mission may be starting to ebb down.

FRANKS: The mission has not started to ebb down, and the short answer to your question is, no, one should not read the redeployment of these Rangers as an indication that we are going to pull down the force structure over in the theater. That is not the case. And that would be a misread.

QUESTION: Last week you talked about evidence of weapons of mass destruction research found. What's changed with that?

FRANKS: The short answer is, we have not yet found evidence of weapons of mass destruction in the sites that we have been in. I mentioned last week that we were somewhere over having identified 40- plus potential places to look. As of this point, we have been more than 20 of those to take samples and to pick up evidence, if you will, but we have not yet seen anything that convinces us that there were WMD assets in those facilities. That doesn't mean we're going to stop looking, though.

QUESTION: General, those Taliban fighters who have left Kandahar without being disarmed, what is your sense of their numbers and their offensive capabilities at this point?

FRANKS: It's a fair question, and I can't give you an honest answer. My assessment is that there certainly have been some who have left. We do not know the numbers. I do not know the numbers. The last update that I had was probably six hours ago, and I have not seen Taliban leaving in large numbers, armed, up to this point.

QUESTION: You said there's still a focus in Tora Bora. Locals there in Eastern Afghanistan say there's another mountain complex called Malawa (ph) about 50 miles southeast of Jalalabad along the Pakistani border, that's a lower elevation and also possibly a location that's easier to get into Pakistan. Do we have U.S. soldiers around there, and is it a focus in the hunt for bin Laden?

FRANKS: Each place where we do not have opposition forces in control of a piece of geography remains a focus for us, and I won't break the practice, I think, of not describing exactly where our special forces and special operating forces are.

But I will acknowledge that the area you mentioned, as well as several others certainly are interesting to us.

QUESTION: Can you say whether the engagements involving the Marines from the air, have they been with helicopter gunships? And also, have U.S. special forces been involved in those firefights on the ground around Kandahar?

FRANKS: The Marines had been involved from air to ground. My understanding is that they have used some helicopter firepower. They have also used some of their ground systems. They have been in constant contact with our people who are with the opposition groups, and they'll continue to do that.

As we consider whether we want to keep all of our forces positioned just as they are right now or whether we intend to shift some of their locations will be the business of the next two, three days in front of us.

QUESTION: The special forces, have they also been involved in those firefights on the ground around Kandahar?

FRANKS: Our special forces have certainly been involved in the fights around Kandahar. As a matter of fact, these three brave young men that we lost the day before yesterday were involved in firefights up to the north of Kandahar. So yes, we have had our forces involved in the fight in the vicinity of Kandahar.

STAFF: Ladies and gentlemen, just a couple more please. Maybe one more.

QUESTION: Are there any countries in the Middle East represented in the coalition, specifically Iraq? And also, what have their contributions been?

FRANKS: Iraq is not in the coalition.


But, yes, there are states in the region who are in the coalition, and we're very thankful for that. We have states from the region who have representation out here with us, right here in Tampa. And I think I'll let them tell you who they are.

QUESTION: If I heard you correctly earlier, you said our goal in Afghanistan is to bring justice to the Al Qaeda leadership, but said that, regarding senior Taliban leadership, we want them in a position where they can no longer negatively influence stability inside the country.

Are you drawing a distinction between how we might handle Al Qaeda leaders and senior Taliban leaders such as Omar, and suggesting the possibility there could be something -- we could be satisfied with something less than international tribunal, military tribunal or imprisonment for folks like Omar?

FRANKS: Well, I think it's a fair question, but on the latter point about the Taliban, I really can't give you what the overall policy would be with respect to Taliban senior leadership.

What I am sure of is that there is a sense that they must be brought to justice, and that goes without saying. And I think the thing that causes the question to keep coming back is the business of, do we demand to take them ourselves out of Afghanistan, or could they be perhaps handled in some other way in terms of the law by a government within Afghanistan?

And so, that's the reason that I gave you the answer I did.

I'm not sure what the appropriate -- what the policy decision will be that is taken on that issue. And so for me to say that the foreign fighters inside Afghanistan will be treated exactly the same way as the Taliban leadership, I simply can't say that because I don't know it to be true. And that's what I was trying to communicate.

OK, thank you very much.

WOODRUFF: CENTCOM Commander Tommy Franks there in Tampa, Florida, where the Central Command is headquartered, answering questions from reporters in both cities.

I think there are a couple of things we want to stress right now. And that is that he painted, I think, what you have to say is a pretty -- well -- less than optimistic picture at this point of how the allied forces are doing in finding not only Osama bin Laden but also Mullah Omar, who is the Taliban leader. He said, and I just want to quote a couple things, he said, "We are progressing well, but we still have a long way to go. We are tightening the noose, but the way ahead -- he said -- is a dirty environment."

He said, "there remain pockets of al Qaeda and dedicated Taliban fighters. The country is not yet stable. We still have an awful lot of work to do."

With regard to Kandahar, he said some Taliban soldiers have been apprehended. He said those with weapons are being stopped and they are being attacked, he said, both by allied and opposition forces on the ground. But he said when it comes to finding Omar, at one point, he said, "Well, I wouldn't say he's vanished," but then went on to say, 'We don't have reason to believe that he's escaped but neither do we know where he is."

The same answer almost virtually with regard to Osama bin Laden. He said -- reporters said, "Are you any closer to finding Osama bin Laden?" He said, "I'm not sure. We think so. We read dozens of intelligence reports and they don't all agree. I'm not sure I know where he is."

Just quickly, two other points, one is with regard to how much longer this engagement will go on. He said there is a possibility that we will increase the number of forces on the ground in Afghanistan. He said that is something that is on the table. And when one of the reporters asked him whether the fact that the Army Rangers have been redeployed back to the United States, if that indicates that this war in Afghanistan is starting to ebb down, he said not at all. You should not read that as any lessening of the effort on our part.

Again, Central Command head, General Tommy Franks, briefing reporters there in Tampa, where his headquarters is and the Pentagon.




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