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General Tommy Franks Remarks War in Afghanistan

Aired March 4, 2002 - 15:02   ET


BILL HEMMER: We do anticipate Tommy Franks to brief reporters any moment now. First to the Pentagon. Jamie McIntyre standing by as we all are at this point.

Jamie, good afternoon to you. What more do you think we may learn from Tommy Franks now?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Bill. This will be the first operational briefing that the commander in charge of this operation will be giving to the press. Some of the questions earlier today were deferred to him about the specifics of what happened in these two helicopter incidents.

We are given to believe in the first of those instances a helicopter actually landed in a hostile area and was hit by a rocket- propelled grenade that did not explode and bounced off the side of the helicopter, and the second one we were told that the helicopter was brought down by ground fire, including possibly by anti-aircraft fire as well.

HEMMER: Jamie, I apologize. I'm sorry. Tommy Franks is ready. We will be back in touch when he is finished. Thanks.

Tommy Franks now from central command in Tampa.


GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: What I want to do this afternoon is provide an update, a situation report, if you will, on our ongoing operations in Paktia province in Afghanistan.

First, let me say that our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and the friends of the service members who have lost their lives in our ongoing operations in Vietnam (sic). Certainly, that sacrifice is appreciated by this nation.

Operation Anaconda -- and that is what this operation is called -- has been in planning for several weeks. We've been in the process of gathering intelligence and also of training Afghan forces to participate in this operation. The operation started late last week with the insertion of observation posts across Paktia province, to include the insertion of special operating forces from several other nations -- I'll talk more about that in a minute -- around the objective area, which I'll show you on the map here shortly. The terrain, as I think was mentioned earlier today up in the Pentagon, is very rough terrain at altitudes of 8,000 feet, up to more than 12,000 feet in elevation. The area that we're concerned with in Operation Anaconda is some 60 to 70 square miles. The temperature there in the evenings is somewhere between 15 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit; a very, very tough operating environment for our soldiers to be in.

Last Friday night saw the insertion of U.S. conventional forces into this area of operations. The 10th Mountain Division and the 101st Airborne Division had units inserted into the objective area, along with Afghan forces, which have assumed blocking positions, as I'll indicate to you in a minute.

Operation Anaconda is commanded by Major General Buster Hagenbeck, commander of the 10th Mountain Division, headquartered at Fort Drum, New York. His force, as we speak, is about 2,000 soldiers. About one half of that force, perhaps a bit less, is Afghan. And about the other half of the force is U.S. conventional and special forces and special operating forces and coalition special operating forces.

The mission of that task force is to destroy Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in and around this objective area. The fighting, as you all know, has been fierce. Enemy forces in this area are dug in. They're in caves. They're also in natural fighting positions. They're using small arms, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars. And I've also seen reports of man-portable surface-to-air missile systems, although we have not had any aircraft struck by those systems, to my knowledge.

Several of our helicopters have received ground fire in this operation. Two have been forced to land in the objective area, both of those were controlled landings, and both of those air frames remain intact at this time.

I know it was announced earlier in the Pentagon that we have suffered nine American service members killed in action. Right now, I know that number to be eight or nine. The fog of war will persist until we are able to have discussions with people who have been involved in this fight and, in fact, have been brought out of the objective area. And so, the total number killed in action, as it stands right now, is eight or nine, with about 40 of our people on the U.S. side having been wounded.

And as Secretary Rumsfeld, I think, said earlier, roughly half of those who have been wounded were minor wounds, and they have been returned to duty, whereas the others have been evacuated for further medical treatment.

FRANKS: And I am not aware at this point that the injuries suffered by the wounded are life threatening.

I will say at this point that I'm very proud of the troops and the leadership that is in the middle of conducting this operation. They are indeed taking the fight to the enemy. They're making good progress as we speak. Much remains to be done, but it certainly will be done, both in Operation Anaconda and in other parts of Afghanistan as Operation Enduring Freedom moves forward.

As I've said before, we'll continue to take intelligence from a whole variety of sources. Intelligence will almost never be perfect. We will perform the appropriate analysis of the information we receive, and then we will mount operations to confirm or deny the validity of the information we have.

We certainly will continue to destroy pockets of enemy forces as they exist in Afghanistan.

Give me the first chart please.

First off, for those of you who are not familiar with this area, Kabul, Gardez and Khost, the blue box indicates the area of Operation Anaconda.

Next chart.

What I want to do with this, just very briefly, is to give you a general scheme of what we see were the forces. I will not talk to you about precise disposition of these forces because, as you know, this operation is still ongoing.

We have special operating forces from the nations indicated over here on the right-hand side of the chart. We have Afghan forces involved, as indicated by the Afghan flags here. We have this objective area which we call the Shahikot area, as I said, perhaps 60 square miles in here. And I've indicated with a U.S. flag that this is the area where we're operating, and we refer to this as Objective Remington (ph).

I'm going to leave this map up on the wall and begin with your questions please.

QUESTION: Could you tell us -- General Myers said that this area had been under observation and this operation has been planned for weeks. Could you tell us why you waited so long for this force to be dug in so well -- well armed, well equipped -- before you struck?

FRANKS: Sure. Be pleased to.

It's not a matter of waiting while the enemy force digs in, it's a matter of determining the locations of the enemy force so that we satisfy ourselves that the intelligence information we have will indeed provide pockets of enemy force. And that's what we have found. As we have studied and worked the intelligence, we simply have built up the deck, if you will, of where these enemy formations are located.

FRANKS: And once again, as we have discussed before, there is art and there is science. And the business of taking this intelligence information, confirming, denying and putting it together in a mosaic that makes sense for a military operation is what's been happening, as General Myers said, over the last several weeks. QUESTION: Can you give us a breakout of the coalition forces, that is the U.S. forces as opposed to the coalition forces, and does this represent an increase over the last 24, 48 hours in the number of U.S. ground forces in that area?

FRANKS: As I mentioned in my opening remarks, about half this force, perhaps a bit less than half, is made up of Afghan forces, as you see generally indicated by the Afghan flags on this map. The American forces, and I don't want to -- let me give you an order and magnitude number. You will see 800 to 900 American forces in here, and you will see in the range of 200 special operating forces from coalition members.

We may have added perhaps 100 or 150 American troops over the last 24 hours, but it has not been in response to a specific fight. It has been if forces -- if American forces have been added, then it has been as a part of the scheme of maneuver for the operation.

QUESTION: Sir, I'm wondering, this portion of the war seems to be focused, obviously, on what's happening on the ground, as opposed to the beginning of the war when we were focused on air attacks. Can you explain that change in tactic?

FRANKS: Not really a change in tactic. What happens is any time we conduct a military operation, what we will do is we'll first off take into account the enemy and how an enemy may be disposed. And then we will look at the forces available to us with which we plan. We'll consider factors of time as well as terrain.

And in some cases, I think we'll find that it is more advantageous to us to work with local Afghan forces, through our liaison elements with them, our special forces troops; and in other cases it will be equally likely that we will work with Afghan forces and we will have our special forces people with them, but we'll find, for a variety of reasons, that we may be better served by the introduction of U.S. infantry forces, which is what you see in this case.

FRANKS: And so it is not really a sequential, sort of, proposition where we begin one way and then change to another. It could be either way, as the war has come out to this point, and as it moves forward.

And certainly I think all of us recognize that we've not taken anything off the table in this, to include conventional forces, and one would anticipate that the commanders on the ground and the people within my chain of command will continue to try to match the right force against the right threat given the period of time in which we want to operate.

One of the things that we know is -- that we'll take into consideration every time is points, places and times of our choosing. We refer to that as the initiative. And this operation has been undertaken at our initiative, and that's just the way we want it to be. QUESTION: General, was there an expectation going into this that this fighting would be more dangerous, and you might sustain more fatalities and causalities than in others?

FRANKS: Of course any time one has a higher concentration of forces on the ground, one can anticipate higher casualties. As you'll recall going back -- gosh, maybe two months, where both I and the secretary of defense have said on numerous occasions we are entering a phase where we will physically go to places on the ground inside Afghanistan to clear out pockets of resistance as we're able to find them.

And, yes, it is more dangerous, and that is the phase of the operation that we're in right now.

QUESTION: I've got questions about two issues that Afghans involved in this operation -- two facts that they've offered. One as the Afghans say, that there was an effort to negotiate a surrender with these Al Qaeda fighters in advance of the attack. Is that true, or did you seek to surprise them?

The second thing that the Afghans say is that at the beginning of the battle, they were actually attacked at a concentration point before they were ready to strike. Can you describe how this battle began from your perspective?

FRANKS: The second part of the question I really can't offer much into because I just heard that for the first time. I have absolutely to believe that our forces were struck in an assembly area.

FRANKS: Now, that is not to say that additional forces may not have been moving on the Afghan side into an assembly area when forces already present there were beginning to move out, perhaps, and encountered hostile fire. And so very difficult for me to address that.

As to your first question, this was done, in my view, with tactical surprise. There was no effort made whatsoever to negotiate surrender of anyone. This, as I said, is an operation where we had been keeping operation security very much on our minds, and it was conducted with tactical surprise.

QUESTION: Already comparisons are being drawn between this battle and the battle at Tora Bora in December. Can you explain if you learned any lessons from Tora Bora that you're applying here and what similarities and differences might exist between the two? One think I'm thinking in particular is the fact that so many Al Qaeda were able to escape that area. It looks as though you have intentionally surrounded to stop that from happening.

FRANKS: Believe it or not, I suspected that someone would ask the question. And let me say that, of course, we considered not only Tora Bora operations, we also considered operations in the vicinity of Kabul, we considered operations in the vicinity of Kandahar, we considered operations we constructed up in the vicinity of Mazar-i- Sharif. And I think others have said, each one of these operations has a bit of a different, sort of, characteristic. If you think about the mission, the enemy, the troops available, just those three points, and you think about what happened at Tora Bora, and you think about the mission, the enemy and the troops available at that time, then one is able to gain some insight.

So it is not, in my view, a matter of having learned the negative lesson from Tora Bora, and I read that to be the implication of your question. I think we learn both the positive and the critical lessons from each one of these operations. And so, of course, Tora Bora was considered as we decided what we were going to do for Anaconda.

QUESTION: Will you retaliate for the attack or strengthen the forces of Operation Anaconda?

FRANKS: Will we retaliate?

QUESTION: Yes. FRANKS: Yes. Retaliation is not part of the lexicon from my point of view. When we started the operation, on the 7th of October, we said, "Here's what we're going to do: We're going to destroy the Al Qaeda forces inside Afghanistan and we're going to destroy the Taliban that harbors those forces."

If you think back about each one of the steps along this path, whether it's early success in Mazar-i-Sharif or Kabul or Herat or Tora Bora or Alakael (ph), or whether it's in this operation, every one of these operations has been aimed at doing precisely what we said we were going to do, and that will be what we continue to do in the future.

QUESTION: From the actions that you've seen -- I know you didn't want to get into exactly how they're behaving, but is there anything that you can tell us about the way that they are behaving reference...


QUESTION: ... does it seem that they are fighting for themselves or perhaps they're defending someone inside, albeit whether bin Laden or Omar is close by?

FRANKS: Difficult to say whether they're fighting for themselves or whether they're fighting to protect someone.

The general characteristics of the fight we see are small groups of people, --and I'm not sure how to characterize small. We might find five enemy soldiers in one place and then perhaps some distance away from there we may find three and then some distance we may find 15 or 20.

I don't have a sense of whether they're trying to protect someone or whether they are just very simply very hardcore Al Qaeda, Taliban residual, perhaps Chechen, perhaps Uzbek fighters. But there are a good many of them in this area. People have asked me, as a matter of fact, "How many are there?" FRANKS: I'm not going to give a precise sense of that. Inside that blue circle up there, we may see perhaps only a few hundred in that circle. But in the areas that surround that circle, it's possible for there to be a good many more. And so, this is just the area of this operation.

The way we have configured our forces for this -- and this is probably about as low-level tactically as I'll go -- the way we configure forces is to cover avenues that would permit people inside that blue circle from egressing. And so that's how we see the force inside the objective area Remington (ph) and that's how we see them disposed right now.

QUESTION: Earlier at the briefing, Secretary Rumsfeld mentioned the expanding role of U.S. forces in the war on terrorism in Yemen, Philippines and possibility Georgia next. Are you concerned at all that the White House is broadening this war on terrorism too far and too fast and without clearly defining the mission, the number of troops involved and the length of time that these troops might be deployed?

FRANKS: The short answer is no. I have no concern about that at all.

I think when we started post-11th of September, where we saw so many people lose their lives that we were going to conduct a global war on terrorism. I mean, that's what the commander in chief said to those of us in the military.

I believe that we have, around the world, been prepared to do that since we started this operation. And I see absolutely no reason why we should not enter the next phase of this operation and continue to do that work to destroy terrorists worldwide, which have organizations which have global reach. And that's what I think we'll see now.

QUESTION: Can you describe, in as much detail as possible, what happened with the two helicopters, and how there was the loss of life, whether it is eight or nine, in that series of instances? Was one coming to the rescue of the first, et cetera?

FRANKS: I'll give it a shot, but the caution that'll go along with this will be the same caution, I think, Dick Myers and the secretary issued earlier. And that is that. as we know more about this we're going to know more about this. But my appreciation at this point in time is, you know, this sort of an operation will have constant repositioning of forces. And in this objective area we position -- we reposition our forces, we take forces out, we add forces by helicopter.

My understanding of this operation is that we were conducting an insertion of a reconnaissance element -- and I won't point out exactly where -- but we were inserting a reconnaissance element. That element came under fire. When the element came under fire it was very close to the ground. The helicopter was, in fact, struck, but was still flyable. As the pilot lifted the helicopter off, I believe, one crew member may have fallen from the helicopter. I do not believe that that was recognized immediately. The helicopter repositioned under its own power. And the helicopter landed and immediately recognized that one crew member had been left behind.

Immediately following that, there was a force which was also to insert in that same area, and so that force inserted. When one of the two helicopters of that force first came in and began to land in not exactly that same area, but close to that area, it also came under fire. It also landed under full control of the pilot. The forces on that helicopter got off the helicopter and immediately came in contact with the enemy force, and that is the place that the casualties came from. That is my appreciate of it right now.

QUESTION: Wanted to ask you, with the countries involved, their expertise in winter operations, high-elevation operations and the use of the Chinooks for extra lift power, has the mountain regions presented you with specific problems towards...

FRANKS: Sure. When we're dealing at an altitude of 8,000 to 12,000 feet, we find that our helicopters certainly will operate in that altitude. But they certainly don't operate at that altitude the same way that they operate at sea level. And so it's a factor.

And what that factor does is it instructs us on the numbers of people we put on each helicopter, which then in turn instructs us on how many helicopters we use for a given operation.

What I will say is that when you're dealing in temperatures of 15 to 20 degrees, a little bit of sleep from time to time, at the altitudes that we're talking about, and in this very, very rough terrain, this is just very hard work for these soldiers who are up there doing it.

And so the soldiers are performing great. The equipment is performing great. We just have a lot of work left to do before we get this mission done.

QUESTION: Do you have any estimate on Taliban and Al Qaeda casualties, and have you captured any of them?

FRANKS: I've told the U.S. casualties in this, and I think the secretary mentioned that there have also been some Afghan casualties in this operation as well.

It's very hard when we begin to quantify the numbers of enemy casualties in here. I will say that, based on the information which I have received, I would say at this point there have been between 100 and 200 Al Qaeda and enemy soldiers killed in this fight, up to this point.

That number may turn out to be dramatically higher. The number may turn out to be a little bit lower. But the evidence that I have seen has indicated that the forces on the ground have, in fact, done a hell of a job with the enemy formations they've encountered.

We have taken several detainees. I wouldn't characterize them as prisoners. Right now, the detainees are being debriefed, and we'll determine whether they're local friendlies, in which event they'll be released. Or whether they're part of the enemy force in the area.

QUESTION: One of the concerns you hear up here among Army officers is that there's no artillery being used in this operation. Others mentioned that Bradley fighting vehicles or M-1 tanks would be helpful here as well. Can you talk a little bit about that? Did you request artillery and it just didn't get there in time, or did you see it just wasn't necessary in this fight?

FRANKS: There are a lot of forms of artillery. Some of it -- I never was a very good artilleryman, but I do appreciate the necessity of having massed fire. Massed fire can come from an artillery weapon, ground-to-ground fire. I will say that we have some such weapons in this fight now, specifically mortars that we have up there.

Another form of, quotes, "artillery" is air-to-ground fires.

FRANKS: We right now are employing strike aircraft, to include A-10s, F-15s, B-1s, B-52s, AC-130 gunships, as well as some French aircraft involved in providing close air support. And so as a combat arms officer, I will tell you, you always want to have indirect fire support available, and that fire support has been and will continue to be available on the forces on the ground.

QUESTION: General Franks, could you go back and explain in a little more detail your thinking about why send in ground forces so quickly, within hours of beginning the air strikes? Why not have sustained airstrikes over a longer period of time, soften up the enemy targets and then send in ground forces?

And could you also just explain in a little more detail, the generic position that the U.S. forces are filling at the moment. Is it the Afghans are around the perimeter, and the U.S. forces are in the center of this battle? That's what I took from your map, but I'm not sure I understood it.

FRANKS: That would be exactly the correct thing to take from the map. We have Afghan forces in blocking positions at this point, and we have the American forces engaged as you see them. The coalition forces indicated by the flags I have not put the precise locations in there for reasons that I know are obvious to you.

With respect to -- why would we conduct this operation in this way rather than conducting a B-52 arc light (ph), for example. Because there are -- this as 60, 70 square miles inside Afghanistan, where we're dealing with very small groups of enemy fighters as I indicated earlier in the presentation. One, I think, wants to be very careful about arbitrarily bombing. The precision with which we're able to identify where each group of five or each group of three or each group of 10 or 15 maybe is not such that that one would want to do that.

And so at the end of the day, it is as I think many people have said, the sure to do work against the enemy is to put people on the ground, and that's what we've done in this case, and that's the reason we did it that way. QUESTION: I don't know if anybody can live up in those mountains, but are there any villages, you know, communities -- refugees: have they been able to get out? Are you keeping an eye on them too, and how are the people affected?

FRANKS: As best we can. We do that in a couple of ways. Yes, there are villages at these altitudes.

FRANKS: And the very first way we do that is to coordinate with the Afghan government. And we have been in coordination with the Afghan government to try to determine generally where the civilian populations are up inside this objective area.

Will we be perfect? I doubt it.

One of the things that happens when one enters into a war fight on the ground like this is that, as soldiers begin to prosecute the attack through this area, where they move and receive no mortar fire and they're not brought under fire, then they simply bypass and continue to move. When they receive volumes of fire from buildings, then they will certainly attack those buildings.

And so, has that gone on in this case? It certainly has.

And so as our forces continue to move through the area, we'll see how it goes. But we are, as we have been all along in this campaign, very careful and very attentive to watch out for civilians on the battlefield.

QUESTION: Just a clarification. Was it 100 to 200 Taliban and Al Qaeda killed in this?

FRANKS: Right.

QUESTION: Well, who is left then? Or how many are left?

FRANKS: It's very difficult to say. I think one of the estimates that we saw early on inside this objective area we marked in hundreds. And I hesitate to say how many hundreds. People have talked to me about it, and I have looked at a great deal of information, and I've seen assessments of 200 to 400 in this area.

So I will not say exactly how many there were in there to begin with. I will say that there were hundreds inside this area. And certainly in Afghanistan, in the surrounding areas, we are likely to find even more Al Qaeda and Taliban. And that's why this is a very, very dangerous area for us to be operating in.

QUESTION: I had a two-part question. Number one, how long do you anticipate this operation is going to take? And since it looks like it's going to be a long operation, the reporters that are embedded now, can you let them file?

And number two, why was this operation begun with 2,000 forces? Why not a larger ground presence?

FRANKS: I'm sorry. Say the third question again please.

QUESTION: Why 2,000 ground troops involved in this operation? Why not a larger ground troop presence?

FRANKS: Anytime you look at the terrain, what you do is you match the force structure to the terrain and the enemy that you're going in against. My believe was and continues to be that the force structure for this objective is matched against the enemy and the terrain that we see there.

Now, with respect to your first question, about how long will it take and will reporters be able to file, I'm not sure. My view is that reporters may have an opportunity to file from the forward edge of the battle area inside the objective area. To my knowledge, that has not been implemented, but I think it may be implemented at some point in the next day or two.

Now, as to how long the operation's going to take, I'm really not sure, and I get tired of using the timeworn expression, but it will take as long as it takes, because we surely will clear this just as we started to when we started Operation Anaconda.

QUESTION: We've heard from the beginning that there are pockets of Al Qaeda in a number of different locations. This is obviously a fairly large pocket. Are there other things that you're seeing throughout the country showing that Al Qaeda is reconstituting itself? And if so, do you have enough boots on the ground to deal with that?

FRANKS: Latter part of the question first, I won't take anything off the table. So I won't tell you, "Yes, you'll never see another American soldier added to this equation inside Afghanistan." I have not made such a recommendation to the secretary. I don't know whether I will make such a recommendation in the future or not.

I will say, for the operation that's being conducted there right now, the number of troops is just right for the task.

Now, let me ask you to say again your first question; I missed it.

QUESTION: The first part is, as far as reconstituting -- Al Qaeda reconstituting all throughout Afghanistan, are you seeing signs that that is happening in significant numbers, perhaps as big as the numbers here south of Gardez?

FRANKS: In my view, it's not so much as reconstituting. There are general areas inside Afghanistan which have historically been harbors for people like Al Qaeda. This area around Gardez is one of those areas, and there are other such areas inside Afghanistan.

FRANKS: I'm not sure that one can accurately say that these forces are reconstituting. I think it is just as likely to be that the forces we find in here have been in this area before, may well been serving alongside Taliban in the early days of this fight. And once Taliban was removed from power in Afghanistan, it may well be that these forces simply returned to areas with which they're familiar.

I'm not going to stand here and tell you that that is exactly what happened, but I do not have a sense of large reconstitution efforts inside Afghanistan. There will be some of that, to be sure. And where we find it, we will we go eradicate it and kill the enemy.

QUESTION: It was mentioned in the Pentagon briefing that the Chinook helicopters are operating near their operational limits because of the high altitude. And has that fact forced troops to operate them in a manner that puts them in greater danger, perhaps operating at a lower altitude relative to the average height of the terrain?

FRANKS: That's a tough question. I think it's accurately characterized as tougher to operate helicopters at higher altitudes. My sense is that the altitude is one factor, but the rough nature of this particular terrain is another fact that makes flying helicopters in there very, very difficult.

And so, is there risk to operate in this area? There certainly is, just as we have said.

The equipment that we are putting into this area, though, is operating very, very well, all of it, as the troops are operating well, as I mentioned earlier.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what kind of success you've had this weekend with the cave bombing, and if you believe, from what your estimation is, the Taliban-Al Qaeda fatalities, casualties, have been most -- largely a result of the bombing or the ground fighting or both?

FRANKS: My sense is that a combination of ground direct fire and air power have provided the greatest success inside the objective area up to this point. Right now, I simply don't know how the single thermobaric weapon that we put in up on the cave complex did. I will not stand here and confirm for you that it did a good job or that it did not do a good job. I simply haven't see anything on it yet. QUESTION: I'd like to take you back to your description of the helicopter casualties. In the second helicopter, if I heard you correctly, you said it landed under -- it came under enemy fire and landed under full control. The forces got off and then experienced enemy fire. I think we've been led to believe earlier the sense was it was...


FRANKS: ... at all. My sense is that the operation in Afghanistan -- and it may be eye of the beholder, in terms of winding down. And so, I wouldn't take issue with what the senator said at all.

FRANKS: I think that what one sees up to this point is a reasonably steady state in terms of the end strength of forces operating inside Afghanistan, and I think it's very easy to see -- coming off of the destruction of the Taliban and the installation of the interim government in Afghanistan, I think it would be possible for someone to say, "Well, now that all that's done," and so I take it as -- I take the senator's comment as part of that context.

So I wouldn't take issue with him at all, and I would doubt that he would take issue with the operation that we have ongoing today.

QUESTION: I'd like to take you back to your description of the second -- the casualties in the second helicopter. You had said that it came under enemy fire, landed under full control, the forces got off and then also came under enemy fire. I think the sense around here earlier was that it had been shot down and crash landed. I'd just like to get an understanding did the casualties occur -- was it a crash landing? Did the casualties occur in the crash? How many were from the enemy fire?

And, lastly clean up the eight or 9, is that in this helicopter, seven or eight? Help us understand that.

FRANKS: In terms of the numbers, we know that we lost a special forces trooper in the very early hours of this, and that was the first killed in action.

The helicopter incident -- the one that you just made reference to -- that number is seven or eight, and the reason that I'm not going to nail that yet is because it's only been over the past few hours that that force has been exfiltrated, all of it having been brought out of the area. And I'm just not going to get in front of -- I'm not going to get you programmed with some number that turns out to be wrong, until I have a chance to talk to the people who are in a position to know, and I simply haven't had a chance to do that yet.

With respect to the way the activity went down, the second helicopter, the one that I described a minute ago, that I said landed under its own power, in fact it did that. That helicopters is still sitting on the side of that mountain in one piece. I have seen it. I've had visual of that helicopter. My understanding is that when that helicopter went in, it may have gone in hard and so I wouldn't debate the notion of crashed or crash-landed.

Right now, I don't know whether to associate the injuries from this activity with the helicopter going in, or with the people getting off the helicopter and engaging in a fight. My impression right now is that when they got off the helicopters, they in fact came under -- came in contact with the enemy immediately. And I think we should leave it that way until we have a chance to get the precise facts from the people who were there on the ground.

QUESTION: Wondering if you could go into a little bit of detail about what you've seen the enemy doing. Have they all decided to stay and fight, or have some tried to flee, and if so, have those trying to be flee been captured by U.S. or Afghan forces?

FRANKS: Some have, in fact, attempted to flee from one part of this objective area, and they have been killed.

QUESTION: Have any of those attempting to flee been captured? FRANKS: As I mentioned earlier, we have taken several detainees from this battlefield, and I'm not ready yet to characterize whether they're Al Qaeda or whether they're simply civilians who were taken into custody during the operation. I'm not sure right now. I will be sure in the next 12 hours.

QUESTION: Some indications that the 6th Battalion of the 101st is going to be going to Kuwait in the next several weeks. Is that in support of operations in Afghanistan, or is that something else?

FRANKS: To tell you the truth, I've not seen that. I would suspect if that were the case, the 101st going into Kuwait, since that's part of my area of responsibility as well, that I would know that.

FRANKS: But now I say that, sort of, tongue in cheek, because the United States Army does force rotations into the area -- we train in Kuwait along with the Kuwaitis. And so I would say at this point, if there's an element of the 101st going in there, it would be to flip-flop or to change with some unit that is in there training.

QUESTION: General, I'm just wondering if you can share with us or characterize in any way the nature of the fighting here. What you've described kind of creates an image in my own mind, and I'm just wondering if you can describe it a little...

FRANKS: Tell me about your image.

QUESTION: I just have this notion that this is very close contact, very dangerous, and when you factor in the terrain and the temperature, things are very scary.

QUESTION: And I'll do this imperfectly, but I will try to answer your question. You really can't see it very well, but this side over here is very high ground. These dark places up here indicate ridgelines, high mountains. This is where we see the elevation of 12,000 feet -- perhaps a bit higher. We also see the same but to a lesser altitude over here on the western side of this operation.

And the way this fight develops is that these groups of -- the small groups, as I said, perhaps five perhaps 10; in some places perhaps as many as 20, have rocket-propelled grenades, they have mortar systems, these indirect fire systems that fire at very high altitudes and then bring -- the munitions are not very large, but they have the effect of a hand grenade but larger than that -- very small bits of shrapnel.

So my appreciation of this particular battlefield is that these pockets of resistance, some armed with RPGs, rocket-propelled grenades, some armed with mortars, and some armed with machine guns and simply rifles, are in the crags of the nooks and the crannies of this high ground. And our forces are right in there mixing it up with them. And so where we have seen the injuries, in some cases the injuries have been from flying rocks. In other cases, the injuries have been small shards or small fragments from mortar rounds. And so it is that sort of close-end kind of combat that our forces are engaged in now.

QUESTION: General, when this operation unfolded yesterday, it was described to us that the Afghan forces had the principal fighting role; that the Americans were in support and carrying out the blocking functions. Now the way you're describing it today, the Americans are doing the main fighting and the Afghans are in the blocking positions. Have the roles flipped over the last two days? Has there been a change in the way this operation is unfolding?

And a related question: When you look at your adversary, are you dealing with an enemy who's in disconnected and uncoordinated pockets around Afghanistan, or are you dealing with a coherent military organization that's still in communication with each other and have some sort of offensive strategy?

FRANKS: It's very difficult to characterize whether these forces -- the enemy forces have a strategy.

Are they able to communicate with one another? To be sure, by a whole variety of means: in some case runners, in other cases perhaps telephones.

How coherent is the effort at communications between the various groups? Not at all certain. What we do is we watch that carefully, and that's the reason that I've said that there may well be additional pockets inside Afghanistan that we'll surely go into.

I don't think it would be correct to say at this point that large forces are being brought together for some major effort -- enemy forces. But at the same time I say that I'd be very quick to point out that it's very possible for a very small group of enemy forces to undertake operations that are anti-interim government in Afghanistan, or that are anti- our coalition effort in there.

And so it should not surprise any of us that these small groups of very hardcore fighters would attack our people and attempt to destabilize the interim government inside Afghanistan. And so I would not be at all surprised by that.

And again let me ask you to go back and repeat your first question.

QUESTION: Yesterday it was described to us that the Afghans had the main role; the Americans were in a supporting role or blocking role. Now it seems to be the reverse. What's changed, and or how has this operation unfolded? When did the Americans assume the principal combat role?

FRANKS: Actually it's eye of the beholder. And we have Afghan forces, in fact, who have moved into this fight.

It, sort of, depends how one characterizes blocking positions. We see Afghan forces in blocking positions. We have also seen one Afghan force, and I won't describe which one, in a movement-to-contact operation. The effort has not flip-flopped one way or another. It's only a matter of -- in my description -- at which point Afghan forces become blocking forces. As I think you know, the earliest causalities that we took when we had our Army warrant officer killed in action was with one of the Afghan forces, and they were moving to contact for the purpose of getting themselves into positions to be able to be part of this operation.

And so were one to talk to that particular force, then it's possible that he would say, "Now wait a minute, the Americans are blocking and we're moving." The character of the operation has not changed. We see Americans involved in offensive operations.

FRANKS: We see Afghans involved in blocking operations. We have also, and it's correct to point it out, seen an Afghan unit in a movement-to-contact operation against enemy forces.

Is that reasonably clear enough? Because if it isn't, then I'll pause and try to give you a better answer.

QUESTION: I have a couple of questions on the helicopter issue. Can you give us a sense of how many helicopters had actually brought in troops, infiltrated, exfiltrated, before the two attacks, so we have a sense of context?

And also, you said the first group had only been exfiltrated in the last several hours. Was there a rescue conducted under gun fire for several hours? There was the impression there that those men were trapped until rescued.

FRANKS: With regard to the number of helicopters, I really can't give you a number. Let me just say, a great many helicopters have been moving into and out of this area, repositioning and resupplying forces in the area. And so, the two that you and I are talking about are only two of large number of helicopters that have been moving in and around this area and providing support.

The way the fight has gone on the ground with this is, when the helicopter went back in and brought the quick reaction force, if you will, for the purpose of going back into this reconnaissance area to pick up the one trooper that had fallen out of the helicopter -- when that was done, that force, in fact, came under intense hostile fire, as I described it earlier. That force secured the ground, secured the helicopter. And we put in place a search and rescue operation, which, in fact, was conducted; conducted successfully.

I watched the operation as it went in. But I have not talked to the people who were involved in the operation, and so I do not have a sense of whether the extraction operation was under enemy fire or not. My thought right now is that it was not, based on what I saw. And that operation was successfully completed only a few hours ago.

QUESTION: Five months into this now, and I know you said we're getting into a very dangerous phase of this operation.

FRANKS: Right. QUESTION: Can you give us any sense -- I know you said you don't want to get into time frames -- but any sense, for the people, how long you think Operation Anaconda will last?

FRANKS: Operation Anaconda is going -- as I said, is going very, very well. The reason that I won't give you an estimated duration of it is, not that I know and simply won't give it to: We're simply not sure. Because as our forces continue to operate inside Objective Remington (ph), we're not precisely sure where they may come up against additional hostile forces. And when they come up against enemy forces, they will not rush to judgment. We'll use all the tools at our disposal in order to kill the enemy that they encounter.

And so, I think it just wouldn't be right for me to say, "Well, gosh, you know, one more day or three more days," because we're just not sure.

QUESTION: In your opening remarks, and I'm not trying to be picky here, but you said, "the ongoing conflict in Vietnam," not Afghanistan. And I'm wondering if there was something about this day or this incident that sparked a memory or if there was some...

FRANKS: Absolutely not. I guess, it just comes with being an old guy. Afghanistan, not Vietnam. I appreciate the correction. Vietnam was a long, long time ago, and not at all like what we're seeing now.

OK. Thanks very much.

HEMMER: A rather lengthy briefing there from Tommy Franks, head of central command there in Tampa, Florida. He says, somewhat contrary to the Pentagon earlier, that apparently eight or nine Americans have been killed as a result of the recent fighting. Up to 40 have been injured. The reason why there is confusion here about eight or nine, simply Tommy Franks indicating the fog of war has interfered with this, but he explained in part, anyway, what happened with these two helicopter incidents.

Apparently, again, in this Paktia Province, in fact we've got a map we can show our viewers here exactly what we are talking about along the border with Pakistan. In this area right here is where apparently helicopters were inserting reconnaissance elements, perhaps special forces on the ground there.

They came under fire. The helicopter was struck. One crew member then may have fallen out. After they landed they noticed the missing soldier there. Then another helicopter landed also in a different location. It came under fire. The forces got off the helicopter and then were met with force immediately.

What we know right now: eight or nine American dead. More information as we get it here. Up to 40 injured as that fighting continues. There Tommy Franks saying ground forces are necessary at times. Apparently this is one of them. We'll continue to track it and update from Judy Woodruff on INSIDE POLITICS when our news continues. Have a good Monday. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT



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