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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Day's Pentagon Briefing

Aired July 3, 2002 - 11:30   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.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to go live now to the Pentagon briefing and get the latest on the situation in Afghanistan and at Camp Lejeune.

Here's Torie Clarke.

VICTORIA CLARKE, SPOKESMAN, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: ... to build a 21st century military that can adapt and can be ready and able to overcome the increasingly asymmetrical changes we face. And we've gotten there thanks to the hard work and the risk-taking and the dedication of nearly a million and a half people, men and women, who volunteered to serve in the military, at great risk and personal sacrifice.

So as we head into the Fourth, I'd like to thank them and their families who support them so much, and thank people like General Newbold, who have dedicated their careers.

Sir?

LT. GEN. GREGORY NEWBOLD, DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF NEWBOLD: Thank you, Ms. Clarke, very sincerely.

We are involved in, obviously, intense operations day- to-day, but on occasion on the 4th of July we have a little time to reflect, pause and not only look forward to things like transformation, but to look backward. And my personal expression of appreciation to the people who sacrificed to give us these freedoms will be on our thoughts this weekend, as we try to conduct day-to-day operations around the world and as we have people exposed and deployed around the world.

So happy 4th to you all and to the people that protect our freedom.

Some updates just to throw out in the beginning. We have a joint U.S.-Afghan fact-finding team that's been on the ground about four hours at the site of the strike the 1st of July, led by an Afghan colonel. They've just begun their inquiry. So it'll take some time for them to development richness of detail to know precisely what happened.

But we are providing all the support we can. And, for example, we have had medical teams that have visited the hospitals around Kandahar over the past two days offering any and all support -- not only medical doctors, but psychiatrists and other personnel to offer support in any way they can.

And I think that's the only update I want to provide now.

CLARKE: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: First, briefly, have you all received any report back from this team at all indicating they found bodies dead. I mean, the Pentagon has yet to acknowledge that people were killed here, only that you've found several injured, there are people in hospitals. Have you gotten a report from the team. Did they find dead bodies?

CLARKE: I'll preface the general's answer just by saying they've only been there for about four hours. They really just got to the site about four hours ago.

Sir?

NEWBOLD: That's exactly what I would say as well, four hours. We don't have anything from them that is substantive. So what we do know, though, is that there are a total of 21 individuals in hospitals -- 17 in Kandahar, 14 in Bagram (ph) -- that may be associated with this strike. The latest information I have is none have life threatening injuries, but all have been injured and are being treated.

QUESTION: Torie, you opened by saying that you had a significant way to go on this war on terrorism, including in Afghanistan. The Brits, as I understand, are about to pull their forces out.

Do you see any end in sight at all for the U.S. presence in Afghanistan? As witnessed by this accident or tragedy this week, isn't it becoming even more difficult -- this phase becoming more difficult of it if you all are going to be forced to look twice, three, four times before you do this kind of strike when you are trying to root out what's left of the Taliban, al Qaeda? Do you see any end in sight?

CLARKE: I'd say two things. One, we've always said the war on terrorism was about a lot more than just Afghanistan. It's about more than one country. Al Qaeda alone, as we often say, is in 50 or 60 different countries.

The road ahead in the war on terrorism includes working with countries like Yemen and the Philippines and Georgia to try to help combat terrorism in their back yard.

So that is a very, very long road. And we are talking years, not months.

Afghanistan, I don't know anybody who has or should put a date certain or even estimate on when we think we will be out of Afghanistan.

We'll be there as long as it takes. We won't be there any longer than is absolutely necessary. We have also said that as things went along in Afghanistan, it likely would become harder; it would become harder because you're going against the remaining pockets, tend to be made up of people who are, as the secretary said, the dead-enders, who've got nothing to lose. It's very hard to find them; it is very hard to combat them. So we knew it would get very difficult as things went along.

QUESTION: Is the idea to stay here until you've completed rooted the Taliban and al Qaeda out or until the government there has the ability to carry on?

CLARKE: I don't know if you can separate the two. We've got several objectives, and it involves very, very close coordination with the Afghan government, to root out the remaining pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban; to help Afghanistan get up on its feet and achieve some long-term stability and security so Afghanistan doesn't return to what it was, which is a free running field for the terrorists. So many of those things are related: our humanitarian assistance, the civil support.

People look at those sometimes and say, "Well, what does that have to do with what you all are about?" General Newbold can speak to it better than I can. There are very clear military objectives there. There are very clear objectives in terms of defending the American people, helping Afghanistan get going forward again so it does not become a heaven for these people.

QUESTION: Even though your team is just getting to the site where this supposedly occurred, you did have this medical team talking to the injured yesterday. Of those who your medical team have talked to or those around them, are the injuries consistent with an air attack? Do you know anything more from that visit yesterday?

NEWBOLD: I'm getting my information through filters, of course, as it comes up, so the information I have is simply that we had teams, medical teams there. They were dealing with the Afghan doctors and medical personnel who are at the hospital. So I would be surprised if they spent time talking...

(CROSSTALK)

CLARKE: And I think...

QUESTION: There are pictures of them talking and looking at the injuries and looking at X-rays.

CLARKE: But I think...

QUESTION: But you're saying you still don't know whether...

CLARKE: I think their primary focus is determine what kind of medical assistance is needed for those people, if anything. That's their primary...

(CROSSTALK)

CLARKE: Sure. But they're looking at the injuries to determine how can we treat these or how can we help the treatment of the injuries. I think that is their primary focus right now.

The only information we have back, in terms of looking into what happened, is the team has gotten there. They know they have a lot of hard work ahead of them. They want to talk to a lot of people. They've got more than one site to take a look at. So it'll take some time.

QUESTION: Can I just clarify one more thing also from yesterday with the AC-130? General Pace said there were six individual sites. Were all those sites engaging aircraft? Were all those anti-aircraft batteries or weapons firing? Or were some of those targets preplanned? And if some of them were preplanned, then how many were firing?

NEWBOLD: The information we have now is consistent with what General Pace told you, and that's that we had people on the ground who, over the course of actually several weeks, had been operating in the area and had been engaged on the ground and in the air by local forces, as was mentioned yesterday. This is an area of enormous sympathy for the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Having engaged our forces and clearly establishing protective patrols, when we got closer and our forces were there on the day of the engagement, they were observed firing at our aircraft and were under control; that is, our personnel observed them firing before these 130s engaged.

QUESTION: Six on that day?

NEWBOLD: Yes. But I would tell you -- reinforce, rather: This is preliminary information. And frankly, our experience is that information develops only over time, and some of the information we get preliminarily is invariably inaccurate. I would rely on the fact- finding team to give us ground truth on this.

QUESTION: There is a heavy reliance on this fact-finding team.

QUESTION: And I asked this yesterday, but I'll try it again. I mean, you keep on saying that you had people on the ground calling in these strikes, U.S. military. Are you not hearing back from them what happened? I mean, wouldn't they be able to distinguish between a wedding party and some anti-aircraft gun on the ground there when they're calling in the strikes?

NEWBOLD: There are people on the ground who have good, detailed knowledge of the incidents that transpired. But that's why the fact- finding team is there. We have found that it is not generally productive for people like me in Washington to micromanage that because the results invariably are skewed as a result of that.

There is a difference between firing that goes on in celebration and clearly directed fire of a different caliber, a different mix of munitions, and that's apparent to our crews.

But the fact-finding team will piece all of this together, not only the U.S. forces and what they saw, but the Afghans on the ground. As you know, there were a number of Afghan forces with the U.S. military and, in fact, coalition forces -- this is not just U.S. forces that were engaged in the operation -- and with the local Afghans who were in the village.

So the cumulative results of all the interviews will probably give us a better perspective.

QUESTION: Just to follow-up. The U.S. military eyes on the ground, did they say people are dead, believed to be dead, civilians? And secondly, I assume there are a number of enemy fighters dead if this was a successful...

NEWBOLD: But I haven't heard that people on the ground described casualties that occurred as a result of the strike. What I'm saying is, I haven't heard that. I don't know it.

QUESTION: But given the fact that the U.S. military has now seen only 21 and helped treat some of those 21 injured, is there any reason to believe these accounts that 40 civilians are dead and 100 are wounded?

CLARKE: There isn't any reason to believe or disbelieve anything. There's a reason for the team that's on the ground, which includes us, the Afghans themselves, including the Afghan colonel who's running the team, the State Department personnel, to talk to all the appropriate people, visit all the appropriate sites. We just don't have enough information to believe or disbelieve anything at this point.

QUESTION: And this is a heavily Pashtun area, with known allegiances to the former Taliban leaders. Is there any suspicion that some of this information coming out of that region, the preliminary reports about civilian dead and injured, may be part of a larger disinformation campaign?

CLARKE: I think it is way too soon to make any assumptions at all.

QUESTION: General Newbold, you mentioned that there had been engagements both on the ground and in the air over the last few days. General Pace talked about how the AC-130 had taken fire over the last several days. Can you talk a little bit more about what kind of ground engagements in this area had taken place? And was there actually a ground engagement early that morning that precipitated this whole specific event?

NEWBOLD: As you know, as we approach these operations, which are literally happening every day over there, we do it with reconnaissance elements, coalition and U.S., who scout out the area and determine what they can before we conduct operations.

In this area, as you say, known to harbor sympathizers to al Qaeda and the Taliban, our reconnaissance patrols came upon local armed personnel or the armed personnel came upon them and engaged in fire fights, exchanged fire, et cetera.

I don't know if a ground action occurred on the day of the incident; may be, but I have not heard that.

QUESTION: Over what period of time did these fire fights take place? And were there casualties on either side?

NEWBOLD: Several weeks.

QUESTION: So there have been sporadic ground engagements over several weeks in this area that pre-date this specific event that we're now all focused...

NEWBOLD: That's correct. And as I think was pointed out yesterday, virtually every time an aircraft was flown over there it had fire directed at it.

QUESTION: Were there casualties on either side from these fire fights?

NEWBOLD: Yes, there were.

QUESTION: American and...

NEWBOLD: No American and coalition or Afghan army forces were casualties.

QUESTION: But they were on the other side?

NEWBOLD: We believe so.

QUESTION: Is there any indication -- do you all have any indication from the patients that you've talked to or other information that there was a wedding celebration going on and they were in any proximity to the AAA batteries?

CLARKE: We don't have it.

NEWBOLD: No.

CLARKE: Again, I don't know if the people on the ground, who are there primarily for the purpose of trying to determine any medical assistance that is appropriate, I don't know if they have it, but we don't have that information.

QUESTION: Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz said yesterday that when the Taliban regime was overthrown, the Taliban and the al Qaeda tended to go in different directions, with al Qaeda going more easterly to Pakistan and Taliban going up into this area. And he said that this area is actually more Taliban than al Qaeda.

If so, isn't the job of going after the remnants of Taliban something that really should be handled by either local Afghan forces, by the International Security Assistance Force? What is the U.S. military concern with remnants of Taliban who may not have any connection with al Qaeda at this point?

NEWBOLD: It's a fair question. But as you all know, has been discussed here numerous times, U.S. and Afghan and coalition forces are engaged quite frequently by rocket attacks, rocket-propelled grenades, small-arms firing and ambushes. As you know, we've lost personnel to them. To the individual that's subject to the ambush it is a moot distinction whether they're Taliban or al Qaeda, both of which have as a pretty intense goal inflicting casualties on U.S. forces.

Now, I would tell you that the forces in this area on this operation were about 50-50 coalition and Afghan.

And that proportion may shift in different operations, different parts of the country.

QUESTION: Does that make this more of a force protection mission in a sense than a counterterrorism mission?

NEWBOLD: I'd say those two are probably...

(CROSSTALK)

CLARKE: I think it's so hard to see where one ends and the other begins. And the secretary has talked often about, in the wake of the overthrow of the Taliban government, it gets harder and harder to distinguish between Taliban and al Qaeda. It certainly gets harder and harder to distinguish between their intent. Clearly, there are pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban who wish to do harm to us, who wish to do harm to the Afghan transitional government.

And I think what's really important is, whatever the threat is, the Afghan government and the coalition forces are pretty intimately involved in every step of it.

QUESTION: General Newbold, could I just ask you to go back and clarify to make sure I understand a couple of points in what you were saying to Eric (ph)?

You said that you believed some of the injuries occurred in an exchange of ground fire, if I understood you correctly. Do you now believe that the four children who were initially medevaced out with injuries by U.S. forces sustained those injuries in some initial exchange of gunfire? And is it possible that they actually were injured inadvertently by U.S. forces?

And I'm also not clear why the subsequent injuries, the people who wound up having to drive to Kandahar City hospital, were not medevaced out by U.S. forces? Why did we not render assistance to those people?

NEWBOLD: Two questions. In answer to the first time, I probably wasn't clear enough. The casualties I referred to in the ground action were completely separate and distinct from any of the air strikes that were conducted later on, preceded by a number of days. So I would disconnect those two.

QUESTION: Irrespective of that, do you believe the four children who were medevaced out by the U.S. military were injured in some sort of ground action? NEWBOLD: Not at all.

QUESTION: You believe that was a result of the air action.

CLARKE: I don't think we know at all. I don't think our information has changed much since last night, in which they were brought -- someone came to the U.S. military and said these children are injured and requested assistance, which was then given.

QUESTION: And why were the other people not assisted? Why did we not medevac the other injuries?

NEWBOLD: I can't really answer that. I could speculate, but that's probably not useful. I can find out, but...

CLARKE: I don't even -- I'm not sure we even know how they were transported, how they got to the hospital. We can check on that.

QUESTION: The other thing I did want to ask, what challenge faces the U.S. and the Afghan investigation team in actually determining the number of people that died. Since this is a Muslim/Islamic area of course, they bury their dead as quickly as they possibly can? Do you have some notion that it may be difficult for you to ever determine how many people died? Are you simply going to have to accept the word of the people in the community?

NEWBOLD: I'm not sure that our prime concern will be the exact number, but I would also suspect we will defer to the Afghans with their greater sensitivity and connection to their own people to determine that. So I suspect that that will be their principal objective and not ours, although we're concerned about any of the casualties. I think determining whether they were buried or not will probably be up to the Afghans.

QUESTION: General, just a quick follow-up. Does the United States routinely take injured Afghans? If an Afghan showed up and said, "I'm injured," would you routinely take them?

CLARKE: I don't know what you mean by routinely, but we often have. There have been many, many, many, many instances in which U.S. military personnel, medical personnel, have helped wounded Afghans, including civilians, have assisted people at all levels, including journalists.

NEWBOLD: And as you know, we would treat Taliban or al Qaeda if they were wounded and came into our hands.

QUESTION: There was an attack yesterday on some of the soldiers who were visiting one of the hospitals in Kandahar. Do you know anything about who was behind that? And is there a concern that, you know, the emotions raised by this incident may lead to revenge attacks on U.S. troops?

NEWBOLD: The team that was ambushed had been in Kandahar to the hospital where the injured were being treated, they were returning back to their base when they were ambushed. The one Army lieutenant was shot in the heel as a result of that. The rest of that team returned today to offer their assistance again. We do not know who conducted the ambush and...

CLARKE: We don't know if it was related to anything.

QUESTION: Do you know whether it was professionally done? I mean...

NEWBOLD: No, we don't. No, we don't.

QUESTION: I want to take you back to an incident (UNINTELLIGIBLE) more should be known. Last week, the Central Command gave a briefing on that friendly-fire incident involving the Canadians. They refused to deal with the question of whether the pilots knew that live-fire exercise was under way. The Canadian report was very clear, that the pilots did not know. And the Central Command refused to deal with the question of whether any administrative or procedural changes were being made to correct that kind of deficiency.

The question, the pilots are now being -- probably going to be put on trial for their part, but there doesn't seem to be any action being taken to correct the command deficiencies...

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold and Torie Clark, telling CNN they now believe that a large group of people were standing near that anti-aircraft artillery site in Afghanistan on Monday when it was struck by the air by an AC-130 gunship, possibly resulting in the death and injuries of dozens of Afghan civilians. We have been talking about this since Tuesday morning.

So far, the U.S. military has not publicly disputed what the Afghan government is claiming, that 40 people died in that attack, and dozens more injured. A U.S.-Afghan team is investigating the site today, as they were telling us there in the Pentagon briefing.

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