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Pentagon Briefing

Aired May 20, 2002 - 10:04   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Over to the Pentagon, the morning briefing just getting underway.


LT. GEN. GREGORY NEWBOLD, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: ...locate their forces, we go after them, and actions over the last two weeks are pretty symptomatic of that.

QUESTION: Might I ask, what size groups are you talking about, five or six, 10 or 12?

NEWBOLD: I think both are right, to be honest with you. Sometimes, we run into groups as small as three, four or five, but larger groups would certainly be in the area of a dozen.

QUESTION: General, in the case of where the soldier was killed, could you describe a little bit more about that engagement, was it an ambush? Did they encounter a group of people? Do you suspect that they are Al Qaeda or Taliban, or could they simply have been a group of people in the area who are armed and there was some misunderstanding?

NEWBOLD: We had a mounted patrol operating in the area. It was Afghanistan military forces with U.S. special forces. As they moved to through an area they were surveilling, they were taken under fire. And rounds struck the vehicle hitting the soldier and one of the Afghan soldiers at the same time.

Returned fire, as I mentioned, killed at least one of the enemy.

We are pursuing the enemy. We don't know precisely the identity, but we do know they fired on our forces.

QUESTION: Did they flee across the border?

NEWBOLD: No, they did not.

QUESTION: By mount, you don't mean horses, you mean on military...

NEWBOLD: Good point. Mounted in SUVs.

QUESTION: General, could you speak at all about where these pockets are coming from? Are they hidden in caves? Or do you have any sense that any local ethnic groups are supporting them? What is keeping them out there separate in those small groups? How are they sustaining themselves, basically is the question.

NEWBOLD: This is, as you know, a very mountainous, rugged, isolated harsh area of southeastern Pakistan. Traditionally, this area had supported the Taliban. At one time, they had been sympathetic. In some cases, these are remnants of Taliban forces or Al Qaeda that have come from other portions of Afghanistan. But, in some cases, they may come from local villages.

I'm certain that some of them are living in caves, but others may come from villages, and, therefore, it's difficult and requires a very thorough effort. It's only substantiated and supported by the saturation reconnaissance units that I've talked about.

QUESTION: After the engagement this weekend, General, was quick reaction force sent in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of any kind? Was air power summoned to assist?

NEWBOLD: There was air power. As you know, we do maintain a combat air patrol over Afghanistan 24-hours-a-day.

These were diverted from their site to the incident and provided support, and they do in virtually every instance.

QUESTION: What kind of aircraft?

NEWBOLD: The AC-130 gunships were overhead. We also had fixed- wing aircraft and later, as a matter of fact, we had bomber aircraft that were in the vicinity. Did not drop munitions, but they were available.

QUESTION: There's a report today that the May 12 raid in Afghanistan with, I think, U.S. Special Forces, those killed were civilian villagers, I believe, including a 13-year-old boy. Do you have any more information on that?

NEWBOLD: No, we don't. We have a post-operation review, as we always do. We feel very comfortable that the intelligence that prompted the raid was accurate and decisive and the raid was fully justified, and we took 32 detainees, as you know. And as we go through them -- and it'll be painstaking -- we'll find out their affiliation and the real identity of the people we hold.

QUESTION: What about the 13-year-old boy, anything more on that?

NEWBOLD: I read the report, but I don't have more on that.

QUESTION: General, could you step back for a minute from the tactical situation and address this issue? Over the weekend, we've heard about chatter that U.S. intelligence has picked up of potential Al Qaeda attacks being planned against the United States. Yet, we're hearing here of a force that's largely dissipated throughout Afghanistan, their leaders are on the run and they seem to be on the ropes. Can you kind of... (CROSSTALK)

CLARKE: Actually, let me take this one and then...

QUESTION: The point being, on one hand there's a concern that the Al Qaeda can plan major attacks against the United States and, yet, they seem to be on the ropes in Afghanistan. But militarily, are they still capable -- their cells around the world -- of executing a major attack against the United States?

NEWBOLD: I would make a distinction there between what I've described as a military operation and the larger one -- the global terrorist network.

CLARKE: As we've said all along, Al Qaeda has cells in some 50 or 60 different countries alone. The level and type of activity in those different places ebbs and flows.

But clearly, any organization that could pull off what they pulled off on September 11 -- you think about organization and the planning and the resources that went into that -- clearly, they have some organizational capabilities that aren't going to go away overnight.

What we're trying to do in addition to root out the remaining pockets of Al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan is to work with dozens and dozens of countries around the world so we can not only return Afghanistan to what it ought to be, but we can use law enforcement, we can use shared intelligence, we can use a multifaceted effort to try to disrupt their capabilities around the world. We believe we have made it more difficult for them to do business.

But clearly, you just look at the kind of organization it was. There are still elements there that can and want to do harm to the United States. I don't think too many people here missed the vice president yesterday when he said we do expect another attack. They've made clear their intent.

Secretary Rumsfeld has talked often. We've had some success at getting some of the leadership, but there are probably a handful of people who easily could run that organization.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) victory in Afghanistan doesn't translate into overall just a diminishing worldwide of their capabilities.

CLARKE: We've always said this is about more than one person, one network. It certainly is about more than Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Can I follow-up, though? The chatter that the administration has talked about anonymously, has any of the chatter emanated from the region that you're aware, in terms of planning another attack against the U.S.?

CLARKE: Well, I don't know if I want to talk about anonymous sources chattering about chatter.

QUESTION: It's been out there enough. I'm just asking, has any of this intelligence is chatter coming from the region?

CLARKE: You mean Afghanistan when you say the region?


CLARKE: Comes from lots of different places. And again, that's part of putting the puzzle together, is to take intelligence we have gathered in Afghanistan -- sometimes it's from the people we get, sometimes its from the things we pick up in the caves and tunnel complexes or compounds we've taken over -- and it gets pieced together with information and sources from around the world.

So it comes from a variety of places.

QUESTION: Could you describe, General, a little bit more of what you mean by saturated reconnaissance, and could you also give us a sense of the number of bombs that were dropped or planes that were used in this and how long this battle continued? Was it just a brief fire fight followed by pursuit, or was it something larger?

NEWBOLD: To the first question on the saturation with reconnaissance, this is a well orchestrated plan developed by the forces in Afghanistan to isolate the areas that pose the greatest potential for Taliban and Al Qaeda to exist.

They provide the strategic reconnaissance forces that move in, and they provide, for overhead detection, a variety of platforms to locate and discern the enemy.

A lot of the coalition forces over there with us are forming teams that go into the mountains. They operate along traditional routes of movement and along routes of movement in which we've detected the presence of fires.

And as you probably inferred from my description, we're moving in rather checkerboard fashion throughout this area to isolate areas that have the greatest potential.

As far as dropping munitions, the incident in which the special forces soldier was killed had overhead air cover in support of it. But as far as I know, they did not drop munitions.

HARRIS: We are going to step away now from the Pentagon briefing there. We were still waiting to see whether that the Pentagon was going to announce the name of the soldier who was killed over in Afghanistan. They are still in the process of notifying the family, so they did not reveal that information.




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