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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Press Briefing

Aired March 26, 2002 - 11:00   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to join Brig. Gen. John Rosa at the Pentagon briefing, live right now.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

QUESTION: There are reports circulating that bin Laden and also (UNINTELLIGIBLE) have been spotted in the coastal area within the past week. Do you have anything on that?

JOHN ROSA, SENIOR OPERATIONS OFFICER FOR THE JOINT STAFF: I saw those reports. We're not getting those same reports and, again, for the last six or seven months, we've had several sightings not only of those two individuals, but of Omar. We continue to search them out. Our intelligence folks look at them and...

VICTORIA CLARKE, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE (PUBLIC AFFAIRS): We get reports of sightings.

QUESTION: You mean, you've had reports of several sightings.

CLARKE: Right.

QUESTION: But you have no credible evidence then. But do you still think that they're in that area along the border of Pakistan?

ROSA: We just don't know.

CLARKE: It is almost a weekly occurrence though that there seems to be a couple of reports, but what has stayed very, very consistent is, we get reports that they're here, we get reports that they're there. We get reports that he's alive and we get reports that he's dead. But we just don't know.

QUESTION: Do you still both believe he's alive or dead?

CLARKE: We don't know.

ROSA: We don't know.

QUESTION: General, you said you flew a 150 sorties, but there was no direct -- what was the purpose of these missions?

ROSA: A certain percentage of those are broken down into intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance. Many of those missions are put on what we call close air-support standby in case we find pockets of resistance, enemy resistance. But over a 24- hour period, that's really not that many sorties.

QUESTION: Does that include unmanned aircraft or is that...

ROSA: Those are manned aircraft sorties.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. been asked to provide any help for the earthquake, and what sort of help? On your own, have you done anything?

CLARKE: We have been working with the Afghan interim government, and they're talking through the kinds of needs they'll have. So the request just started coming in, I think, very early this morning our time. So we're working with them on what kind of assistance we can provide.

QUESTION: Also on the subject of humanitarian assistance, have you see any reports that challenges or questions the effectiveness of your (OFF-MIKE)

CLARKE: Well, we have the facts, and it's always helpful to put things in context. Prior to September 11, the United States was the largest food aid donor to Afghanistan. I think it was about $170 million worth prior to September 11. After September 11, it's been, I think, about $325 million worth of humanitarian aid and assistance to Afghanistan.

One of our military objectives has been to provide the kind of security that was necessary to bring in large amounts of humanitarian aid. One of the thing we did in the earlier days and weeks was to do, I believe, about 2.5 million...

ROSA: Right. Over 2 million.

CLARKE: ... over 2 million humanitarian daily rations were dropped in the areas that need it the most. And when you're talking about a nation in which millions of people were suffering, that may not seem like a lot, but if you were one of those people who got those rations, it was enormously helpful.

And there have been quite a few humanitarian organizations on the record as saying what was expected to be a massive disaster, in light of the conditions prior to September 11, in light of a rough winter, they are on record as saying a massive humanitarian disaster was largely averted.

I'm aware of this report. I have not really had a chance to take a look at it. But I know we continue to work hard with the Afghan interim government, with the coalition partners to provide secure roads, environments, land bridges so meaningful amounts of humanitarian aid can be brought in.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) was specifically the 2.5 million packets dropped. Do you have any numbers on how many of those might have gotten to people, how many of those might have spoiled? CLARKE: I do not.

ROSA: I haven't seen them.

QUESTION: For either of you, on the homeland security front, is the Pentagon at all involved in providing security for U.S. nuclear facilities? And if so, what does that involve?

CLARKE: General?

ROSA: Part of our combat air patrol or random combat air patrol at certain times and periods, depending on threat base, will provide security.

CLARKE: I'm guessing you're talking about -- raising this because of the story today involving Congressman Markey?

Clearly, since September 11, there's a heightened state of awareness and security and sensitivity to homeland security to making sure important facilities, such as those, are adequately protected.

We are confident that they are being adequately protected. We're constantly looking at practices and policies to make sure they're appropriate. It's one of those things that we're not going to get into too much detail about, because if you give out a lot of detail about what you're doing, you're going to lose some of the deterrent value.

QUESTION: But can you say whether U.S. troops are being used, whether National Guard? I mean, is any Pentagon involvement as far as on the ground?

CLARKE: I can't tell you about the exact combination of resources.

ROSA: I know that we had Air National Guard folks in our airports. We've got them now on the northern and southern borders. I can't tell you.

QUESTION: Going back to the coast region, what's your assessment of the activity there right now? Are there Al Qaeda forces regrouping? Are they regrouping in a different manner than they did in the Shah-e Kot Valley area, maybe in smaller groups? What's your assessment of the...

ROSA: The Khost area is a tense situation. I mean, like we said last week, folks on both sides are armed. There was a skirmish earlier between Afghan troops. So it remains a dangerous place. We are continuing to surveil that area, gather intel and to characterize that now I think would probably be inappropriate.

CLARKE: But it's always worth repeating, we expect and anticipate additional pockets of resistance. It is the MO of these people to try to regroup in some shape or fashion, so we fully expect it and that's one of the reasons we're still there.

ROSA: In that area of eastern Afghanistan, as you know, we've seen evidence of that before.

QUESTION: Would you describe how it is that they are regrouping? What is the level of their command and control, such as it is? Are they using satellite phones, runners? Do you have a sense for intelligence that there were predetermined rallying points after Anaconda? Because if they're regrouping in that rather sparse area, there must be some sort of system for them to communicate.

ROSA: I think that's a good question. But I will tell you, at this time, to give that type of information about what we're seeing and what we know, I think would be inappropriate.

QUESTION: Could you describe how organized their command and control -- I mean, would you call them an organized -- would you call this organized or disparate or what?

ROSA: Again, what we're seeing there right now is -- I think it would be premature to start trying to characterize what we're seeing.

QUESTION: And also, do you feel that, in terms of the command and control, that they're receiving orders from within Afghanistan or perhaps their Al Qaeda outside, perhaps in Iran and in Pakistan or elsewhere? Or is all the communication within Afghanistan internally?

ROSA: Again, I'll go back to the answer for this gentleman over here. We're just simply not going to provide that kind of information about how we're surveilling and what we're finding. It's just -- it's inappropriate.

QUESTION: How many of them are you think Al Qaeda, these people regrouping in numbers?

CLARKE: Don't know. We see lots of different numbers, and you see some different pockets of different sizes. But we don't have a number.

QUESTION: And we don't know whether Osama bin Laden is dead or alive, whether he may be still directing them from underground from somewhere?

CLARKE: We don't know if he's dead or alive. We don't have many comments about the ability of the Al Qaeda to communicate.

We know we've degraded their capability somewhat. We know we have made it more difficult for them. But then I'll just echo what General Rosa said: We're not going to go into too much of the information we have about the communications we do know about.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from the Karzai government at this time, other than food? Are they asking the United States that they should remain engaged in Afghanistan as far as military operations are concerned, or do you agree with Musharraf that military operation in Afghanistan is over?

CLARKE: Oh, we're working very closely with the Karzai government. I'm not aware of what you were saying about President Musharraf.

We're working closely with the Karzai government, and it is very clear it is not over. We have achieved or we have begun to achieve quite a few of the objectives we set out, but it is very clear it is not over.

QUESTION: Operation Anaconda is over. But could you give us some sort of sense of what you're doing in terms of looking through that area, what you're finding?

ROSA: We continue to clean up that area, if you will. And the information -- we don't really have any new information other than what the chairman gave yesterday, the types of things we're finding. We found some radios. We did find those GPS receivers. We're finding books, writings, that kind of stuff, but it'll all go to Central Area and be analyzed. But other than those types of ammunition, we haven't really found anything that we'd characterize differently.

QUESTION: How much do you have left to search in that area, and what kinds of places are you searching? I mean, are there more caves or...

ROSA: We continue to search caves. Again, some of these -- I think when we use the word cave, the big deep cave comes to mind. Some of these are smaller facilities, ammunition storage facilities. Really, to the naked eye, it looks like a crack or a crevice in the mountain. We continue to search those. Are we halfway, three quarters of the way? I don't have a feel for how far we are along in that area.

QUESTION: General, when you talk about the GPS equipment -- and night-vision things have also been mentioned -- some of that clearly came from American troops. Do we think that they had their own before they got them from American troops or this...

ROSA: I don't know. I've heard reports that they do have some type of night vision devices. But I don't know exactly what they have.

CLARKE: Or how much.

ROSA: Or how much.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

ROSA: Don't know. You can buy them on the open market. You can draw your own conclusions there.

QUESTION: General, I have a question about the after effect of the thermal-barrack bomb, the bomb that's been described as a 90-day wonder from an acquisition standpoint. What actually did it hit and what's the after action report? Tom Ricks from the Post is reporting from Afghanistan that he heard it didn't hit much, that it actually missed its target a little bit and didn't really hit much. From the podium here, what actually did the 90-day wonder accomplish?

ROSA: I wouldn't call it a 90-day wonder. Those are your words.

QUESTION: Those are Aldridge's words.

ROSA: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

CLARKE: And good words they are.

(LAUGHTER)

ROSA: I've done a lot of great days in 90 days.

(LAUGHTER)

But I'll tell you, that technology, I should say, is not new. It's been around for a long time. Obviously, this weapon was developed relatively quickly.

CENTCOM has not released those reports. General Franks, I think, will be up here Friday.

CLARKE: Right.

ROSA: That would be a good question for him. I don't know what it hit or what it didn't hit.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a question, off the defense, the 2002 defense supplemental? There's been publicity about continuity of government. Within the supplemental, you're asking for $74 billion for something called Site-R, that apparently it's a continuity of government facility, and this is for upgrades for power, cooling, and to incorporate principal staff and the Joint Staff into an organized system. Can you talk a little bit of what actually is Site-R and how does this fit into the overall continuity of government plans of the Bush administration?

CLARKE: Well, it fits into the overall continuity of government plans. It fits into plans and planning that has been in place for some time, well before September 11. It has been going on, I think, since start of the Cold War probably to make sure that in times of emergency or crisis the government, in this case the Pentagon and the military, can and will continue to operate. So I don't know the specific details about that piece of it you're talking about, but it is to make sure we do have all the communications that we want to have.

Again, a lot of these things were in place before September 11. Given the heightened state of awareness and the concerns, people are taking a hard look.

Do we have everything we want to have in place? So I'm sure that's what it's dedicated to.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) physical location, which you're not going to disclose actually, but is it a location on one of the -- a plan -- is the name for a plan?

CLARKE: It is part of an overall plan, to make sure that the military -- the Pentagon -- can be up and operating, and I'll just leave it at that.

QUESTION: And it's a physical standing location that you're upgrading?

CLARKE: I'll just leave it at that.

QUESTION: From a military standpoint, what challenges are posed if the Al Qaeda, in fact, are breaking up into small groups and potentially able to stage more classic insurgency operations? What challenges does that pose to the military in trying to go after them? And similarly, as the spring weather comes and the snow begins to melt, what challenges are posed by them potentially being more mobile, more able to move around?

ROSA: I'll direct your first question with the spring thaw. It is much easier to get around in that country in the springtime and in the summertime for both sides -- for both the U.S. coalition and the enemy. So I would expect people would have the potential to be more mobile.

When folks break up into small pockets, it's more difficult. Obviously, you'd like to have them in one big cluster and be able to mount an attack and do as much damage as you can. When they get in smaller clusters, it makes it a bigger challenge to locate them, to track them, and each one of those small pockets, you have to develop a plan of attack. It makes it a little bit more intense from our perspective.

QUESTION: Is that what you think you're facing now?

ROSA: It's hard to say. I would say that, in many instances, they will be in smaller pockets.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) earlier when we were discussing the coast region...

ROSA: Right.

QUESTION: ... prior to Operation Anaconda -- in fact, the day before or the day of, you stood up here and you were asked, were you monitoring a build up and you said yes, hundreds. Would you make a similar type of statement about what you're observing in the coast area at the present time?

ROSA: We continue to observe, but to start to characterize it at this point in time what we're seeing, I think is a bit premature.

QUESTION: You spoke about some skirmishes between Afghan and these militias. Could you talk a little bit more about that? And are you referring specifically to a case that happened in the last couple of days -- maybe to close the loop on it -- apparently, some Afghan shot someone else and was trying to escape to maybe an American military base.

ROSA: We saw those reports. The incident I was referring to I know very little about. It was an Afghan verses Afghan. The American troops were not involved in that and there was some shooting. I don't know the level of shooting.

But I did see the same reports that you refer to that said these folks fled into an American compound, and we have no confirmation. I talked to Central Command this morning, and they did not confirm that.

QUESTION: What is this Afghan verses Afghan thing? I know you said you don't know a whole lot about it, but maybe what day?

ROSA: It was, I think, sometime last week -- late last week.

QUESTION: Late last week. Did it seem to be just a gunfight in the street or was it...

ROSA: Again, I don't know very much about it, but it was characterized as very quick, not a long detail, but an exchange of gunfire.

QUESTION: Did the U.S. forces have anything to do with stopping that?

ROSA: No. They were not involved.

QUESTION: Could you bring us up-to-date though on the trainers for Yemen and Georgia, when they're expected to begin arriving?

CLARKE: We're about where we were last time we talked, I believe, which is no update for you. We're still working through the details of who's going to be there and when and how many.

QUESTION: Are there specific plans now for when they will arrive or are you still working on it?

CLARKE: (OFF-MIKE) I'm happy to take that question but I don't believe so. I don't think we have a date certain for a start. QUESTION: In the Philippines, you said you have about 600 trainers there. Are there plans for a larger follow-up exercise in the near future?

ROSA: There's an exercise that -- we started moving troops yesterday, I believe. It's an exercise called Baliugaton (ph). Where we have our 600 folks in Zamboanga in Bolansa Island is down in the southern -- off the big island of Luzon. Most of the troops that are going to participate in Baliugaton (ph) will be up in Luzon, and it's an annual exercise. We've been doing this for many, many years.

CLARKE: That's the important thing.

ROSA: It's been planned for several months.

QUESTION: And about how many folks will have draw?

ROSA: About 2,700 U.S. troops.

QUESTION: Any thoughts on the Roosevelt coming back and your thoughts of their work over there? That sort of thing.

CLARKE: I'll tell you, the secretary was asked the other day about what's the best part of his job, and it just came right down to -- and I was reminded when I was watching it this morning -- it is the men and women in uniform. They are shamelessly -- saying this with him next to me -- they're just amazing. Their commitment is amazing, their training is phenomenal.

Barbara's (ph) question, I started to smile, about, you know, with spring coming on and the fall, does it make this easier for the Al Qaeda and Taliban to move around?

And I remember all last fall, how many times did we hear people say, "Gosh, with winter coming on, isn't this going to be difficult for our troops?" Our troops are incredible. They are adaptable: they are flexible. Their training is phenomenal, and they are taking on these very unusual circumstances.

So I'd just say, it is a great reminder of how wonderful they are, and they must be extraordinarily happy to be coming back.

ROSA: And I'll tell you, although I wear a blue uniform, my dad did 30 years in the Navy. And I've had a couple of catshots (ph), and I'll tell you -- when you go out as a non-Navy flier, go out onto those carriers, it's absolutely amazing when you see the coordination these young people, these 18, 19 year olds on that flight deck, and all the people that support that, 5,500 people -- they've been gone for six and a half months. And there's a lot of families waiting for them at Norfolk.

CLARKE: That's a lovely question to ask.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: I have a substantial question, which is...

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Karzai's government goes out in June. And it's about the same time that the U.S. is going to start training the Afghan national army. We don't know what's going to follow, who's going to follow Karzai. What -- how is that being taken into account in the plans that we have? What if they don't want us? What if they want more than we're prepared to give? How are you all planning for this gaping question in the months ahead?

CLARKE: Well, I don't think it's so gaping. One, I don't know that we have a date certain for when the training will actually begin. I just -- again, I'd just say I don't know if we have a date certain.

Two, it is very much in our interests for Afghan to achieve, largely on its own, the kind of internal security and stability that it needs.

Three, I think there are probably a lot of people in Afghanistan who would say the same thing, "Help us do this for ourselves, so we can achieve this kind of security and stability," (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that there are a lot of people above and beyond Karzai who want to make that happen.

I think that's an important thing, to make that happen.

And then, to your question about, what if they don't want we're offering? We aren't in the business of forcing ourselves or forcing our systems on anybody. We're in the business of helping Afghanistan get back up on its feet again.

Thank you.

LIN: Victoria Clarke, spokeswoman for the Pentagon there, and Gen. John Rosa, giving a briefing on the latest out of Afghanistan, as well as other parts of the world, saying that do not know if Osama bin Laden is dead or alive, despite reports of him being seen on the Pakistani border.

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