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Pentagon Briefing

Aired March 20, 2002 - 12:04   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: To the Pentagon, Victoria Clarke and Brig. Gen. John Rosa, the latest on what's happening in Afghanistan and elsewhere.


VICTORIA CLARKE, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE (PUBLIC AFFAIRS): No, this was -- I'm sorry, repeat the question.

QUESTION: You said two artillery rounds (OFF-MIKE)

CLARKE: It was in the course of training.

QUESTION: How many dead and how many injured?

CLARKE: One dead, 14 injured.



Operations in Afghanistan continue. Overnight, there was an attack on a U.S. position in the vicinity of Khost. Mortars, small arms and rocket-propelled grenades were fired from several directions. The mortars landed in the general vicinity but never impacted the exact location of U.S. troops. Our forced returned fire, and B-1s and AC-130 gunships responded. The entire incident lasted about an hour.

The enemy fire seemed to be trying to harass our troops or trying to inflict quick casualties as opposed to conducting a more sustained deliberate attack. One U.S. service member was wounded in the fire fight in the left arm when he was hit by a bullet.

We still have teams operating in eastern Afghanistan looking for any remaining Taliban and Al Qaeda. They're searching caves and other positions that may be occupied.

We've searched numerous caves, bunkers, compounds. These searches have discovered mortars, weapons, ammunitions, documents, writings, maps and cassette tapes. They've all been turned over to the appropriate teams for detailed examination.

While our forces were searching one cave in the Anaconda area on Monday, they discovered a handheld GPS, global positioning system, unit.

The GPS had the name G. Gordon (ph) on it. We currently believe this GPS belonged to Army Master Sergeant Gary Gordon (ph), an Army Special Ops Force Soldier killed in Somalia in 1993. Sergeant Gordon (ph) was honored with the Medal of Honor for his actions in Somalia, and the army has notified his family that this item has been found.

With that, we'll be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Tori, You can't give us any basic information at all on these commissions? I mean, NPR is out with a lot of details on it including the fact there would be six or seven members on the juries or whatever you want to call them. But they would have the right -- that anybody convicted would have the right of appeal and the president would appoint a three-member group to handle appeals, and the media will be allowed to attend-cover these.

Can you give us any details at all on this? Otherwise, you're going to have piecemeal reports and perhaps incorrect reports in the paper tomorrow morning, and what you'll be doing is out here defending incorrect reports. Could you give us any details at all?

CLARKE: Well, to steal one of the secretary's lines, I could, but I won't. And to paraphrase what the secretary said last night, it is important to try to look at this thing in its context with all the parts and pieces put together.

But I do really believe, having seen how many people have been working on this and the kind of effort they've put into it, I think at the end of the day people are going to feel pretty good about this system, designed for very unusual circumstances. And I am confident they are going to say, "You know, this is based upon the principles that we really care about."

And, Charlie, I hear you. And it is unfortunate that bits and pieces are and probably will be leaking. It doesn't do the process any good, but we're going to try to hold this together and do it as a package.


QUESTION: Why does Congress get the entire thing, the American public via the press gets nothing today?

CLARKE: You know, if we weren't briefing and consulting with Congress then somebody would say, "Why aren't you briefing and consulting with Congress?"


CLARKE: Well, you raise an important issue. Consulting with Congress is an important thing, so I don't know the exact schedule but I do believe Powell, Moore (ph), and others have been making calls and making visits on it. It is appropriate to consult with Congress on this and somebody who used to work up there on the Hill, it is very nice to hear something from the relevant agency rather than hearing from it from the press for the first time.

QUESTION: You've given it to Congress. Why can't you give it to the American public?

CLARKE: Well, because we'd like to have the secretary come down and talk about it. We'd like to have the right people who have helped put this thing together like our general counsel and others help answer the relevant questions.

QUESTION: Will it be tomorrow?

CLARKE: It'll be very soon.

QUESTION: Can you say it's tomorrow?

CLARKE: I can say it'll be soon.

QUESTION: Why can't you say it's tomorrow?

CLARKE: Because I'm saying it will be very soon.

QUESTION: Why will people feel good about this? Because it will be close to the civilian justice system, where you'll have the right of appeal and...

CLARKE: It's based on some very important principles that people in this country care about.


CLARKE: We're going to stop there.

QUESTION: For General Rosa, what significance do you place on the fact that this GPS was found that came from Somalia? What does that say about previous suspicions that Al Qaeda was linked to the forces of Mohammad Farah Aideed back in 1993 in Somalia?

ROSA: That's a good question, one we've been doing some thought about. There's a couple of conclusions you may draw. First of all, we've said all along that we suspected Al Qaeda, being a worldwide network and in fact this piece we currently think originated from Somalia will obviously tie -- could obviously tie Al Qaeda to Somalia.

The other side of the coin, you might ask yourself, if it was stolen, and sold on the black market, we don't know how it would have gotten there.

QUESTION: Was it in working order?

ROSA: I believe it was, and it's important to realize that this was a civilianized GPS unit. Back in those days -- if you remember, back in '93, the units were a little bit bigger and more cumbersome, and I remember a lot of our special forces folks would by the off-the- shelf ones, the small ones. I think it was turned on, but I don't know if it works.

QUESTION: What kind of use would that have to forces in the field that aren't commanding air forces and on positions?

ROSA: Well, it would help in command-and-control because a global position system is just like one you would buy -- the civilian folks would buy for your boat, the hunters buy. It gives your exact elevation and location. So for command-and-control, it would be able to help them.

QUESTION: They'd be able to say, "We're located in this cave."

ROSA: Right. Yes.

QUESTION: So just to be clear, this was not a piece of U.S. military equipment; it was available commercially off-the-shelf in the early '90s.

ROSA: Right. And what we're doing is we're going back and checking with the manufacturing, checking the serial number and seeing if we can tie that to where it was purchased, any information that we can glean.

QUESTION: How was Gordon's (ph) identification? Was it etched into the GPS thing?

ROSA: Don't know if it was etched. It was written on the pouch that contained it and it was also on the instrument itself.

CLARKE: And it was in a military pouch of some sort.

QUESTION: Is it the only one that's been found in the searches so far?

ROSA: To my knowledge, it is the only one that's been found.

QUESTION: Going back to the attack -- I'll defer to Barbara and then come back.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, but could you just help us? This was Master Sergeant Gary Gordon (ph).

ROSA: Right.

QUESTION: And he was U.S. Army Special Forces?

ROSA: Right.

QUESTION: And we should assume he was one of the men killed?

ROSA: He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, along with Sergeant First Class Randy Shugart.

CLARKE: And we have, if you want later, we have the background information on both of them.

QUESTION: One of the 18 killed, right?

CLARKE: Right. QUESTION: Could I just ask to understand? Is it a humanitarian jester that you made to notify his family, just because his name came up again?

CLARKE: The first thing, I think all of us said when we first heard about this was, "Wow, this is going to bring up some very sad memories for the family." And the first thing I heard several people say when they heard was, "Before anything, let's make sure we notify the next of kin.

QUESTION: Torie and General -- basically for the General, but Torie, jump in if you like.

QUESTION: Going back to that attack, that harassing attack, CENTCOM says they were members of Taliban and Al Qaeda. The first part of the question is, how do we know?

Secondly, I know you're not doing body count, but did you inflict heavy casualties on the attackers or did they fade away into the night?

And thirdly, do you think this is the kind of harassment or attack that our forces are going to be facing now, this guerrilla kind of activity, in Afghanistan?

ROSA: First of all, we assume that folks that fire on us are the bad guys. And in that area, as you know, in Khost, seems like everybody has got a weapon. And sorting the good from the bad is difficult. And as you'll recall, a couple of weeks ago we were fired on in that same area. So we suspect that if they fire on us, they are Taliban or Al Qaeda.

Casualties -- we located, we pinpointed, when the AC-130s came in, one area that a lot of the fire came from. It was a former prison. And the AC-130 inflicted some damage there. Afterwards, the troops went out through the night and looked. We found spent shell casings and we found blood. We didn't find any bodies.

And third, is this what the future portends? I would expect to see more of this. We knew, as we break these folks down into pockets, we could expect this. It's not unexpected.

QUESTION: May I follow up on who actually started this. You say you assume that they're the bad guys. Is there any chance that this may have been some sort of accident, that it might have involved some troops who support the Afghan government? Or is there any chance that it's not Al Qaeda or Taliban forces?

CLARKE: I think it's likely they're Al Qaeda or Taliban. I think anybody who is firing on our people goes into the category of bad guys.

ROSA: And I will tell you that we've seen time and time again, if folks fire on our troops, those folks are going to respond.

The classic case, you remember Monday we talked about the 31 detainees west of Kandahar. That was actually a site that we went back and relooked. We had looked at the site some time ago. And what happened, through intelligence, we saw more ammunition, more weapons in that area. We also saw folks that we didn't necessarily recognize. More importantly, the Afghanis that were with our troops did not know who was in that compound.

We went to the compound. No shots were fired. Found out who these folks were. Temporarily detained them. I mean, we never processed them and they never became detainees. But no shots were fired, and those folks were released.

QUESTION: When were they released?

ROSA: Shortly after. I don't have -- I tried to get that information.

QUESTION: As recently as last night, CENTCOM was saying they hadn't been released.

ROSA: They have been released.

QUESTION: How about the 11 who were taken in western Afghanistan earlier? Some question of whether or not they were Iranians. Has any determination been made...

ROSA: Yes. I think there were actually 12. Our count had 12. They were deemed not Iranians, and I think they were Afghanis. They were actually determined to be Afghanis, and those folks have since been released.

QUESTION: All been released?

ROSA: Yes.

QUESTION: To change the topic slightly, would it be in the interest of the Pentagon or the U.S. military to reestablish military- to-military relations with Indonesia?

CLARKE: What's in the interests of the United States and the American people is something we're actively engaged in, and that is working with countries and friends and allies and people around the world in the global war on terrorism. We've made it very clear that an important part of the road ahead is with friends and allies where we can equip and train and assist them in fighting terrorism in their backyards, we will do that full stop.

Very separate and distinct thing with Indonesia. There are real constraints put on us by Congress as to what we can do with Indonesia in any kind of military-to-military relationship. So before there is any consideration given to what you might do with Indonesia, there would be extensive consultation with Congress and there would be action by Congress.

QUESTION: Is there a desire on the part of the administration to change existing barriers so that military-to-military relations could be resumed? This building and Denny Blair, as I understand it, is a strong advocate of military-to-military relations so that a number of things can happen.

CLARKE: The secretary of defense is a very strong advocate of military-to-military relationships. And he's stood up here and he has talked about them prior to September 11 and since September 11, about the value that it can bring.

QUESTION: But I'm talking about Indonesia.

CLARKE: I know what you're talking about, but context is important. There are very, very special concerns and considerations with respect to Indonesia. So I'll repeat myself: Nothing would be done, no consideration would be given, until and unless there is very close coordination, consultation with Congress. And there would have to be action on their part.

But to try to answer your question more directly, do we want to work with every country, with every friend and ally that we can around the world in efforts to fight terrorism? Absolutely.

QUESTION: Do you think that the trail of the terrorists and Al Qaeda leads increasingly to Indonesia in the aftermath of U.S. operations in Afghanistan?

CLARKE: I'll say something, then General Rosa can clean it up.

I get very nervous about talking about individual countries, because I get mixed up, what I've seen that is classified, what isn't classified. So I am very careful about not talking about a specific country unless I know it is something that we have discussed publicly, we have discussed with that country.

We have said repeatedly, Al Qaeda alone is in 50 or 60 different countries around the world, to varying degrees.

QUESTION: Are you pressing Congress on...


CLARKE: Let's stop and see if General Rosa...

QUESTION: ... if the general can address Indonesia specifically.

ROSA: To my knowledge, we are not working at this time, currently working, any kind of plan for military force, or military presence I should say, in Indonesia.

QUESTION: Does the trail of many Al Qaeda terrorists, some, lead to Indonesia in the aftermath of American operations in Afghanistan? Is it a country of concern?

ROSA: I would say it's a country that we've looked at the trails. I don't want to be specific and tell you how or what we found. But as you might expect, that is a vast, vast array of islands. Are there easy places to hide there? You betcha.

QUESTION: Speaking of military relationships, there's a suggestion today that, ultimately, to achieve any kind of enduring peace in the Middle East that it may require some kind of international peace force, including even the presence of U.S. military.

What is the Pentagon position on that, and is there any consideration at all in the administration to providing some kind of U.S. military presence as peacekeepers in the Middle East, specifically Israel...

CLARKE: I think the best thing to do on issues regarding the Middle East are to direct them to the State Department and Vice President Cheney, and I think he's coming back from his trip as we speak.

QUESTION: But in the Pentagon, is there any active consideration to putting U.S. military forces into Israel to achieve some sort of peace?

ROSA: I have seen no proposals.

CLARKE: I have not seen anything.

QUESTION: Change the topic drastically. Yesterday...

CLARKE: I think I know where this is going.

QUESTION: Yesterday one of our photographers, are a credentialed member of the Pentagon press corps, who had just passed through a security checkpoint, was arrested and handcuffed, after shooting what looked to him to be a suspicious traffic stop on Route 110. At that time, his video tape as confiscated. Right now, as of this hour, Fox doesn't have that tape back.

One, when will we get that tape back? And, two, what is the policy for covering spot news events by credentialed journalists on or around the Pentagon property?

CLARKE: A couple of things that I think are important. One, I know Greg (ph). Greg (ph) is a photographer at Fox. He is very professional, very responsible journalist. We've worked with him a lot here. He's traveled with us. DPS, Defense Protective Service, is an extraordinary organization that does a very difficult job, under difficult circumstances, every day.

And in terms of photography in an ongoing basis, as all of you are well aware and there are signs posted all over the Pentagon reservation: "Photography Not Permitted," unless, as many of you have done, you've requested escorts and the escorts have taken you out. I saw an ABC photographer out there the other day with an escort, shooting some footage of the building. Everyone is aware of the general policies and guidelines. I think everybody adheres to the policy and guidelines to the greatest extent possible.

My understanding of what happened yesterday, Greg (ph) saw something out on 110 that looked like it was news happening before him. He began to shoot it. The DPS people did what the DPS people are supposed to be doing. We have had several conversations with DPS about it. My deputy, Dick McGraw (ph), met with the DPS deputy this morning on this issue to try to do a few things. One, get the tape returned, which my understanding is it should be sometime within the next hour or so, to Fox; and two, more importantly, you know, address these issues. What happens when news occurs? Prior to September 11, I don't think it really occurred to us that a plane could fly into your building. We need to figure out what the policies need to be if news does break out in front of someone.

I totally understand the need and desire of journalists to want to cover news.

CLARKE: And I think Greg (ph) did exactly what his instincts told him to do. I think the DPS did exactly what their instincts and their training and their policies told them to do. I think it'd be very...


QUESTION: ... was confiscated and why don't we have it back yet?

CLARKE: People who have worked here far longer than I have are aware of what the policies and the practices are. I think what's important is we have sat down with DPS. We will sit down more. I've talked to you a couple of times. I've put in a call to Kim Hume (ph) last night. We'll sit down with you more on this specific issue.

And then I think the more constructive thing to do going forward, I'm going to ask Chief Jester to come down and meet with the Bureau chiefs -- actually I wish this had happened a few days ago, because we had them in here -- and talk through these sorts of things, saying OK, how do we deal with the uncertain circumstances.

QUESTION: Is 110 not a public highway?

CLARKE: 110 is a public highway. But he was on -- again, I have not gotten the actual blow-by-blow from everybody. I was out of the building yesterday afternoon and...


QUESTION: ... security checkpoint, he was on the walkway to the Pentagon, and the traffic stop happened. There was a pickup truck...

CLARKE: He was on the Pentagon reservation. And again, I know how these things can happen, but I think everybody was doing what their instincts and their training told them to do. But he was on the reservation.

QUESTION: But if the Washington Monument falls down, and the photographers walking into the Pentagon...

CLARKE: Fortunately, I'm not responsible for the Washington Monument. But I think the most...

QUESTION: Understood. But do you understand my question? CLARKE: I absolutely understand your question. And we're trying to address it. The tape should be back any minute now. But I think the constructive thing to do, not to belabor this too much, but we're constantly talking with you all and with the bureau chiefs, saying, OK, let's accept the fact unusual circumstances, unconventional things happen, how are we going to handle that, and how are we going to deal with that?

QUESTION: Torie, what is the status of plans to train up an Afghan national army?

QUESTION: Could I just follow up on this? Could I follow up on this one issue...


QUESTION: ... before we go back to that.


QUESTION: I just want to continue this thought while we're on this thought and then...

CLARKE: We'll come back.

QUESTION: The problem here is a blanket policy that prohibits all photography either, you know, directed at the Pentagon or directed away from the Pentagon, when you're standing on the Pentagon reservation.

CLARKE: Correction. The policy, as I understand it, is if you get prior approval and you have an escort going around the reservation, then you can shoot.

QUESTION: So in other words, things that are not sanctioned by the Pentagon, they just happen spontaneously, you can't take pictures. And it seems that two things I would things I would just suggest. One is that the simple solution would be not to have that applied to credentialed news media who are covering spontaneous news events, because under the current policy, anyone covering September 11 or anything like that would be subject to arrest.

And the other point I would just make is that any policy that's a blanket policy usually is better off if there is some judgment exercised instead of just having a blanket policy.

QUESTION: And individual police officers ought to be trained to make a judgment about when something is suspicious -- something that might be a terrorist casing the Pentagon with a video camera -- and a credentialed member of the news media simply doing his job. And I would just urge that they use some judgment in these kind of situations and that those kind of issues be addressed as you have these ongoing discussions.

CLARKE: Urging taken on. I just push back on one thing and then we will move on. There are no simple solutions to any of these things.

QUESTION: Status of plans to train up the Afghan national army -- or an Afghan national army -- can you tell us if there's any plans on the table? Who would be doing the training? Where it would be taking place?

CLARKE: I do not have an update on the details. I'll tell you why we're intent on it, and I don't know if General Rosa has anything on the details, the last report I had. But, clearly, and we said all along, one of our military objectives and one of the administrative's objectives is to make sure Afghanistan does not return to the wonderful haven it was for terrorists.

Helping the Afghan interim government achieve some longstanding security and stability is in everybody's interest. Helping them build an Afghan national army can contribute to that significantly. I know that the major general who was in charge of the assessment team was back here a couple of weeks ago. I do not have many more details beyond that.

ROSA: I don't have much more to add. I really don't. I don't know the status of the training.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) follow up on that with your people there?

CLARKE: We can take your question. I just don't know if there's much more information to provide at this point.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) report from Tommy Franks.

ROSA: Right.

QUESTION: Has that been passed onto the Joint Staff and the SecDef?

ROSA: I haven't seen it. I don't know that it's come back up.

QUESTION: General Rosa, can you give us an update on the number of U.S. forces right now in Afghanistan? And including the 1,700 British that were announced arriving on their way to Afghanistan, how many total non-Afghan foreign forces -- or allied forces -- are in Afghanistan? And is that number intending to rise?

ROSA: Rather than speculate with detailed numbers, we've got that information and we'll provide it to you.

QUESTION: Is a build up going on?

ROSA: Is a build up of forces...

QUESTION: Is a build up of forces going on in Afghanistan...

ROSA: To my knowledge, no. The Central Command asked for the British forces, and the British forces were sent. And somebody asked that question on Monday, are we building up for a big. To my knowledge, we're not. This is standard operations of people moving in and out of the theater.

QUESTION: Different subject entirely. I understand congressional Republicans are expressing a lot of concern about a certain portion of the Pentagon budget request, the $10 billion war contingency fund. The secretary's been on the Hill talking about this yesterday. Republicans are going to the White House today to talk to the president about it. Kind of odd that Republicans would be concerned about increased defense spending.

How much is this war contingency fund a must for the Pentagon and for the secretary? Are you absolutely committed to getting that extra $10 billion if the Republicans really object? Is there negotiating room on this?

CLARKE: Well, it's part of the president's budget and we think it's very important in terms of dealing with the unconventional circumstances and this war, which we did not anticipate or ask for. I have not been involved in any of those briefings on the Hill. I do know there are extensive, extensive consultations and meetings and hearings every morning. I looked at the schedule and I see five or six of our people from the services are up there. The secretary's been up there. The deputy's been up there. They're on the phone constantly.

So we're working very, very closely on all of these factors, including the budget. You know, perhaps we should get Dov Zakheim down here again at some point to talk through some of these things.

My sense is that there is very, very strong bipartisan support for the war effort. Clearly, there are members of Congress who care deeply about being engaged in this process. And they should be engaged. Having them engaged and having them be active partners and participants in the war effort is important.

So not having been in every one of those meetings, I can't tell you exactly what's going on. But I can tell you that we welcome all the involvement and engagement of the members of Congress.


QUESTION: ... close the loop on the 1,700. Are the British soldiers rotating in and Americans rotating out, or is there a basic one-to-one exchange here, or will there now be an additional 1,700? If you could address that.

And then, a Taliban web site reported on March 17 that Mullah Omar contacted Gul Agha, the governor of Kandahar, to basically threaten him. And this would be the first communication from Omar in about three months. Do you all have anything separate from whatever you might have collected through intelligence channels that indicate did Gul Agha contact the U.S. and say he's been in touch, or do you have any other reason to believe that Omar is out there alive and kicking?

ROSA: I have seen no intel...

CLARKE: I don't have any information. (CROSSTALK)

CLARKE: There's a Taliban web site?

QUESTION: Yes. The 1,700, is it a one-for-one exchange? Will they be rotating out Americans...

ROSA: I think that is in addition.

QUESTION: Have you found other items like the GPS that you can trace directly to other countries, or arms bazaars or specific places?

ROSA: To my knowledge, I don't know of any. But again, that information is still being investigated, still being looked at, and it probably hasn't fed up to this level.

QUESTION: There are published reports that show a direct link between the Al Qaeda and some of the Kurdish troops, or Kurdish forces, in northern Iraq, loyal to Saddam Hussein. One, is that true?

Two, if so, and since the U.S. is engaged in a world war on terrorism, is this a smoking gun? Does this give us now "permission," quote/unquote, to go in and invade Iraq and dump Saddam Hussein?

CLARKE: Boy, any information we'd have on something like that I'm sure is of the classified variety. So I won't go there.

QUESTION: Can I get one more on the legal issue? Whose product is this? Is this an exclusive product of the secretary...

CLARKE: I'm sorry, which issue are we talking about?

QUESTION: The legal...


QUESTION: The military tribunals.

CLARKE: The military commissions? Is it an exclusive product...

QUESTION: Of the Pentagon? Is it Pentagon? Is this Justice and Pentagon? Who is presenting this?

CLARKE: Who is presenting...

QUESTION: Who is responsible for this plan?

CLARKE: The secretary of defense is responsible for it. The president tasked him with putting together the policies and practices. But it has been an extraordinary -- I really mean that -- extraordinary level of participation and involvement from a variety of people throughout the administration.


QUESTION: ... that once people see it, they will approve of it and support it. Have the senior Judge Advocate General Corps endorsed this plan unanimously?

CLARKE: Let me say this.

I'm not going to put words in other people's mouths. And people, when we put this whole thing out, can judge for themselves.

I think -- this is Torie Clarke's personal opinion -- I think when people see the whole thing and hear the questions get answered, I think they'll say, "You know what, that's a pretty good product. And that is a fair and a balanced and a just system. And that's one that the American people can be proud of."

In terms of involvement and endorsements and things like that, when we roll it out, you can ask those questions.

HEMMER: Reminders today at the Pentagon briefing about how dangerous Afghanistan still is today, with that firefight breaking out in Khost, in eastern Afghanistan, one U.S. serviceman injured there.

Also questions about Indonesia, certainly, at this point, the Pentagon says, with al Qaeda operating, they believe, in 50 to 60 countries, Indonesia is on the list right now. But again, Victoria Clarke stressing special concerns and considerations given before any action is taken there, in Indonesia.

Also a very interesting item there, a GPS system found there in Afghanistan belonging to a member of the Special Ops killed in Somalia about nine years ago. Clearly, a fascinating find there.




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