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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Briefing

Aired April 24, 2002 - 11:40   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.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We're off now to the Pentagon for the daily briefing.

We've said that all along.

BRIG. GEN. JOHN W. ROSA JR., DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR OPERATIONS, JOINT STAFF: we've said that all along. These types of spurious attacks lead to instability. And it's even more key, as we've said before, the importance of training the Afghan national army, which is due to begin in the near future, is key to our existence there.

QUESTION: Could you give us an update on the Philippines, and particularly in light of the recent bombings and reports coming out of there about concerns about possible internal involvement in some of these -- military or other involvement with these bombings?

ROSA: Right. We've got a couple of operations ongoing in the Philippines. In the northern part of the Philippines, on the main island of Luzon, our Balakatan (ph) exercise is ongoing. It's peacekeeping, peace making. There'll be some limited flying going on in that part of the country.

We've got roughly 600 folks down in the southern part, in the island of Zamboanga and Basilan Island, and those people are training, advising and assisting the Philippine troops at their request.

On General Santos Island, which is 150 to 200 miles east of Basilan, where our main troops are, that's what I think you're referring to the explosions this weekend. The last I saw, several groups had taken credit for that. You know that we've been most concerned with Abu Sayyaf. In the last reports I saw there are, like I said, several folks have taken credit for that.

QUESTION: In terms of the training and working with the Philippine military, have you gotten more of them trained? Are there more of them, you know, completed with the training? Anymore armament that we've given them, anything lately that we've sent over?

ROSA: The training thus far has been at the battalion level and above. It's centered on their upper echelon, focused on intelligence gathering, intelligence dissemination, those types of efforts.

Over the weekend, we also deployed just over 300 engineers that came in. They're going to be working roads, bridges, some seaports, fresh water wells.

QUESTION: In the south?

ROSA: Right. They're in the southern part of the Philippines.

VICTORIA CLARKE, ASST. SECY. OF DEFENSE: And Admiral Blair, I believe it was just a few days ago, or maybe last week, was talking about the relationship, and I think he was saying he was surprised and impressed with how quickly the cooperation had worked, that things were moving along at a better pace than they expected.

QUESTION: General Rosa, how does that road building engineer work you described, how does that fit into the war on terror? Why is that part of this?

ROSA: That's a good question, and I will tell you that if you've got a line of communication, a road that is in disrepair -- and I've been pretty much all over the Philippines in my career, and some of the roads are well maintained and some of them, quite frankly, it's a difficult area with the rainfall to maintain roads. So if you've got a rutted out road, if you've got a bridge that's out, you must stop, and it tends to get folks to bunch up and you become more of a target.

So if you've got a thoroughfare that you can keep spaced, you can keep at different speeds like we do, you become a little bit less of a target.

QUESTION: So it's force protection?

ROSA: It's not necessarily force protection, it's...

CLARKE: It's a matter of efficiency.

ROSA: Yes. Not only that, but I guess it would be a form of force protection, where you don't want your folks to group up and to get caught crossing a river or where roads get bad slow the pace.

CLARKE: Or a helicopter has to land in a difficult condition...

ROSA: Right.

CLARKE: ... on dirt or something like that.

ROSA: We're going to do some...

CLARKE: Better to land on an LZ

ROSA: We're going to do some LZ prep, some landing zone prep.

QUESTION: I thought American troops are not out on the front lines or near where they could get shot at anyway.

ROSA: They're not. But if you know the demographics, Basilan is not very big, the Basilan Island. So our folks, as you know, have the right to defend themselves, but they're not in the what we consider hot zones. QUESTION: Are you contemplating -- I don't know what the right word is -- moving down the level of training below battalion level to company level, somewhere where these people would be out there on those roads?

ROSA: That's being contemplated. And when Admiral Blair -- that's one of the areas they talked about when he was out there last week.

But to clarify, the force protection and the improvement of roads and those types of things are not just for our folks, it's for the Philippine folks that are living in that island.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about sending military advisers to Nepal to help the government combat Maoist guerrillas? There's a report that that's taking place. Do you know how many advisers, when they got there, what they're doing?

CLARKE: Don't have anything on it.

ROSA: No. Don't have anything.

QUESTION: Do you have updated information about possible threats to U.S. interests in Yemen?

CLARKE: No.

QUESTION: There were reports yesterday about threats...

CLARKE: I was aware of them, but I don't have anything on it.

ROSA: Nothing else.

QUESTION: May I go back to Cuba for just a second. Could you give an overview of what's happening now at Gitmo and how things are going there, sort of an update?

And also, how is the new Northern Command going to -- if at all -- could you explain how the new Northern Command will affect Cuba? In other words, it's supposed to take Cuba but not Gitmo, as I understand?

CLARKE: Well, I'll tell you what I know, which is I think things are proceeding approximately along what we expected in Guantanamo. They are finishing up the more permanent facilities they can use, continuing the interrogations. I think it's going about as planned.

It is not our desire to have large numbers of detainees for any length of time. We want to get the information we can get out of these people so we can prevent future attacks. We want to figure out what's the appropriate next step for them. That's what we're trying to work through.

HARRIS: And with that, we find out things are going along quite as planned in Guantanamo Bay with the detainees down there, and things are, in cooperation-wise, going better than expected in the Philippines as U.S. troops are over there training Philippine troops to do their own fighting, there against Abu Sayyaf and other forces that are trying to wreak havoc in that country with terrorism. We'll keep an eye on that at the Pentagon.

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