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Pentagon Briefing

Aired March 1, 2002 - 10:45   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And right on cue, the Pentagon briefing gets underway.


VICTORIA CLARKE, ASST. SECY. OF DEFENSE: ... was briefing on the contributions of our coalition partners in the war on terrorism. And as we said then, it's an evolving list, it's a list that's going to grow every day. We're always erring on the side of caution, in terms of making sure the information we put out was absolutely what the countries participating wanted us to put out. We put out fact sheets. We have added to them. We've changed them. We'll continue to do that.

Today, I want to call your attention to Japan, who has put together a very comprehensive package of support to help the United States and the rest of the world combat terrorism. And their efforts have included dispatching three destroyers and two supply ships to the Indian Ocean, where they are refueling at-sea U.S. and British naval vessels at their own expense. About half of Japan's fleet of C-130s and U-4 aircraft are also providing airlift support to Operation Enduring Freedom.

And just as a reminder of our appreciation for Japan's help on this effort, I want to read to you just a little bit of what President Bush said when he spoke to the Japanese Diet on February 18. And I quote, "Japan and American are working to find and disrupt terrorist cells. Your diplomats," speaking to Japan, "help build a worldwide coalition to defend freedom. Your self-defense forces are providing important logistical support and your generosity is helping to rebuild a liberated Afghanistan." I think that very accurately reflects how much we appreciate what Japan has done and is continuing to do.

And now, in keeping with our efforts to keep things interesting around here, I'd like to introduce Air Force Brigadier General John W. Rosa, Jr., deputy director for operations on the Joint Staff. He is a former commandant of the Air Command and Staff College. He is a command pilot who has served previously as an operation's group commander and three times as wing commander. He has more than 3,600 flying hours in eight different kinds of combat aircraft. He has extraordinary experience and knowledge, and we are very appreciative that he volunteered to join us.

(LAUGHTER) And as of last week, he is also a two-star select. So pretty soon there will be more of those up there.




CLARKE: You can thank the secretary.

ROSA: I will.

The situation in Afghanistan remains the same. We remain focused on locating and destroying the elements of Al Qaeda and Taliban.

An update on the detainees. We had 22 turned over to us from Pakistan in the last 48 hours. And that brings the total to 216 in Afghanistan, along with the 300 that we have in Guantanamo Bay.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Tori, could you bring us up to date briefly on military training and aid for Georgia, on the latest?

And has the president approved U.S. military training and aid for Yemen? And what do you plan to give to Yemen?

CLARKE: Georgia, we're about where we were the other day, which was ironing out the details of what the extent and the level of cooperation would be.

And similarly, with Yemen, we have been working closely with them on what we can do to work together in the war on terrorism. It is not -- the plans have not been finalized, but we're working closely with them on it and to give it some context, as we've said.

Especially since September 11 -- a lot of this work predates September 11 -- but especially since September 11, we've been working with a variety of countries to find what are the things we can do together? How can we help many of these countries with logistical support, with training, with the appropriate levels of equipment so they can better combat terrorism in their own countries?

One thing I did want to say. We saw a little trend going in some places that said, "This country is like this one, and this package is going to be very similar to that one." As we say all the time, it is a very unconventional war, and the circumstances and situations will be different in every country.

QUESTION: And then, on the situation in Yemen, have you agreed, as you have with Georgia, in principle, to provide training and military equipment, and you're just now ironing out and working with Georgia on what to do? CLARKE: We agreed to work closely with them on what is the appropriate connection, what's the appropriate level or nature of the relationship, so they can more effectively combat terrorism. I do not have information for you on what will be in that package.

QUESTION: Might that include military trainers, as you're considering for Georgia?

CLARKE: Well, I'm not ready to go down that lane.

ROSA: It may. We keep all options open, as you know. But until the final decision is made, it would be inappropriate to speculate on what we will put in there and what that package will look like.

QUESTION: Have they asked for training and military equipment?

CLARKE: It's an ongoing discussion, and it's very much a work in progress.

So it's probably better to get those details worked out in private. And then, again, going to what I was saying earlier, we are very sensitive to talking about what the countries feel comfortable talking about. So we'll work out substantively what it is we're going to do together and then figure out what we can talk about publicly.

QUESTION: The question is, have you decided to go ahead regardless of what the details may turn out to be?

CLARKE: To work with them?

QUESTION: No, not to work with them, but to provide training for them.

CLARKE: The elements of what we do with them, to be determined. But working closely on what those elements will be.

QUESTION: Military to military we're talking about here?


QUESTION: What else woudl it be besides training or equipment?

CLARKE: I think it's just better for the discussions to be completed.

QUESTION: No decision has been made, you're saying?

CLARKE: As of today, correct.

QUESTION: General, just for our benefit, could you just define the problem in Yemen and what you might be seeing and why you might consider this, then?

ROSA: Well, as you know, the CINC, General Franks, was in Yemen I think as recently as a couple of weeks ago. And we also put out a list, probably a month, five weeks ago, of several folks that we were looking for. And in that country, there were seven or eight already detained. So we feel that there may be Al Qaeda in that country. Historically, if you look back, that's where bin Laden was born.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) end on Georgia. When, I think, you were last before us, on that day I think an assessment team actually arrived in Tbilisi and was photographed. So it seems that there is a decision that there will be advisers, it's just a question of how many do we need and that kind of thing? But it would have been helpful to know that day that that assessment team, you know, was there for that.

CLARKE: I wasn't aware of the assessment team there that day. I know there were some State Department people, I know there's some activity going on. I was aware of an assessment team that was there that day. But I agree with your point.

QUESTION: Tori, question's to the general.

And, General, I know this is your solo flight, but I don't believe in friendly (inaudible), so I have two tough questions.

The first tough question is, do you prefer Budweiser to Guiness?

And the second question is, how many stars does a major general wear? And congratulations.


But seriously, the question: We have a little bit of a loose end in the Joint Chiefs.

QUESTION: Admiral Blair, the CINCPAC, is overdue to retire, and I understand the secretary has asked him to stay on, so there'll need to be a replacement.

We also hear there may be a change in the way the CINCs are lashed (ph) up. There could possibly be a CINC for all U.S. fleets worldwide, comparable to what Admiral King was during World War II.

Can you give us your read on where we stand? And if there's going to be just a replacement for Admiral Blair, when will that decision come out of the White House?

ROSA: Well, there's one thing I can tell you. At the one-star level, they don't consult me.


But seriously, we are, as you know, developing a new unified command plan that has yet to be approved by the president. It's going to be presented to him. And until that plan comes about, I think we'd be premature in talking about CINCdoms, the number of four-star combatant commanders. But I think that that decision is imminent.

QUESTION: It could change the existing (inaudible). Is that possible?

ROSA: It could. It could very much.

QUESTION: Tori, could you tell us to what extent the Pentagon and U.S. military are involved in this so-called shadow government, the continuity of operation plan?

And then, General, could you tell us to what extent the U.S. military already has a continuity plan in effect, should there be some kind of manmade or nuclear disaster?

CLARKE: The general will know a lot more about it than I will, but I push back at the words that people use. It is absolute common sense. It is absolutely appropriate that the government should have all the parts and all the pieces in place, so in case of a crisis, in case of an emergency, the government can and will continue to function.

This has been in place for years, for decades, I think probably since the earliest days of the Cold War. So that's been in place for some time, and everyone in the government is doing what's absolutely appropriate.

QUESTION: But post-September 11, did the president ratchet that up? Did he heighten the plan or the efforts to ensure continuity of government?

CLARKE: Well, continuity of government always -- the plan has been in place, has worked, has been very effective. September 11 was a great example of that.

Since September 11, across the spectrum, everyone looks at every practice, at every policy and says, OK, do we have everything buttoned up absolutely the way it should be? Are we accurately reflecting the changes? Those sorts of things.

So absolutely, but we're looking at every aspect of government. And particularly when you talk about the national security apparatus, we're looking at things in new and different ways in the wake of September 11.

QUESTION: And, General, what plans and operations were already in effect to ensure continuity in military command?

ROSA: As a commander, one of my biggest concerns was always continuity of command. Starting out at our squadron levels, at our battalion levels, during exercises and conflicts, you always have an alternate site. In case you get attacked, you have to move. It's no different from what we're doing up here. It's been that way since 1973 when I came in.

But at times, you'll be fully manned, depending on a threat, and at other times you'll come down to a caretaker status. And where we are in that evolution we really cannot say, but based on the threat and based on the environment, we make that decision on manning alternate command posts.

QUESTION: You're making sure, for instance, that the Joint Chiefs of Staff don't all go together to a cocktail party outside of this building, that kind of thing?

ROSA: Right.

QUESTION: Has that been heightened since September 11, that kind of awareness?

ROSA: I think the awareness has been heightened among all of us because of 9/11, but the plan has always been in place, and we haven't had to alter that plan.

QUESTION: Tori, can you just give us any idea of whether there's been an increase in either the number of military personnel or even top civilians who have been assigned to secure locations or bunkers to conduct their business post-September 11?

QUESTION: And is there, as a secondary question to that, is there a back up for Tori Clarke, who's working somewhere in a bunker...


CLARKE: Nobody's irreplaceable. That's for darn sure.

You know, I don't think it's appropriate to go into too many details of what we're doing and how we're doing it, because one of the things you want to do is ensure the continuity of government. So you don't want the bad guys to know where you're putting your people, what your plans are.

But I feel very, very confident of the plans that are in place and the practices the people are engaging in to make sure, if something bad happens, the government will continue to function.

QUESTION: Well, let me put it this way: Are there some key people at the Pentagon who normally would be working here who have pulled some duty at a secure location since September 11 for some period of time where they've worked away from their families?

CLARKE: We move people around. I'll leave it at that.


CLARKE: You know, I just really don't feel comfortable going into too much detail about it. So we move people around. We do what is appropriate. We make sure, on any given day, anything that happens the government can and will continue to function.

QUESTION: Are they primarily military, or does it include some of the civilian leadership? Because we see Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld all the time, unlike Vice President Cheney, for example.

CLARKE: Just not going to go into too much more detail.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a question about the Japanese cooperation you had mentioned earlier? Can you talk about any reciprocal agreements that we may have made from the United States side to encourage them or help them in their support for the global war on terrorism? Are there arm's deals or anything else, cooperative arrangements?

You know, I know that they've been helping us in missile defense and some other areas before. Have we stepped up cooperation other areas in order to encourage them to help us in the war on terrorism?

CLARKE: I'm not aware of any specific programs, the kinds you're talking about.

I don't think it takes or took much encourage. You've heard the secretary say from here, September 11 had such a huge impact on the world. It wasn't just a huge impact here in the United States. It had a lot of people and a lot of leaders around the world reexamining roles and relationships and what they wanted to do.

The support from dozens and dozens of countries around the world has been phenomenal. And it's not as though we had to go out there and do things to get that kind of support going. It is being offered. It is being committed on their own behalf very, very willingly.

QUESTION: Is the United States going to pay for the deployment of the Japanese ships to the Indian Ocean area, or is that...

CLARKE: I don't know if that's even under consideration.

QUESTION: Going back to Yemen for a second. The general mentioned that you want -- the United States wants some of the terrorists in Yemen turned over to the United States. But Yemen has said it believes it has responsibility for bringing the terrorists to justice in its nation. And also it wants the United States to release the Yemenis in Cuba to Yemen.

What is the reaction to that?

CLARKE: I have less knowledge about what may be going on with people in their own country at this time. So I can't help you too much on that.

In terms of detainees in Guantanamo, as we've said often, we have no desire to hold large numbers of people for any great length of time. And we will have, as we figure out the practices and policies about we handle the detainees and who might go into which sort of basket, we have and will have ongoing conversations with individual countries about the disposition of detainees from their countries.

So, in some instances, and I won't pick out a country, it is indeed likely that some of those detainees may go back to those countries.

QUESTION: What about...

CLARKE: Without picking a particular country and in any way saying it's going to happen here or there, conversations with many of them. QUESTION: What about, though, if Yemen does not turn over the terrorists that the United States requested? Would that be a snag in this military-to-military cooperation?

CLARKE: I'm sorry, can you repeat the first part for me?

QUESTION: What would happen in Yemen refuses to turn over the terrorists that the United States wants? Would that be a snag in this new cooperation?

ROSA: Well, I think if I led you to believe that we wanted those people, it was probably incorrect. We want them brought to justice, and it was actually UBL's father that was born in Yemen, not UBL obviously. He's from Saudi Arabia. I think the more important part is we want those people brought to justice, not necessarily that we control them.

QUESTION: General, you mentioned that you feel there may be Al Qaeda in Yemen, in the country. Do you mean that there's evidence Al Qaeda fugitives from Afghanistan have migrated into Yemen or escaped there? Or did you mean there was an active -- you think there's an active cell in Yemen that needs attention?

ROSA: I think it would be common knowledge that that would be a refuge that one might expect him to go to. I don't think we have evidence of an active cell there, but I'm not sure.

QUESTION: But what about evidence that actually they have escaped to Yemen, some members of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan?

ROSA: Well, the evidence of the list of, I think, 17 or 18 that we provided and it just so happened that eight or nine of them were already there in custody in Yemen.

QUESTION: Back on Guantanamo Bay, understanding that the security procedures are always very stringent there, nonetheless with the hunger strike and some of the problems there in the last couple of days, what are the concerns about the health of the detainees, the policy about force-feeding them? When are you going to medically intervene? And do you see a way to get past some of the current situation there?

CLARKE: You know, it's always -- I might push back on you slightly and say problems. Lot of things that are happening at Guantanamo are things that are absolutely expected.

The detainees continue to get very, very good treatment. They continue to get excellent medical care. They continue to get exercise. They continue to have the right to worship of their own choosing. They continue to get, when they want them, culturally appropriate meals. And we have every confidence that the commander there is doing a very very good job of taking care of them.

The issue arose yesterday with the hunger strike. He's addressed it. That problem seems to be alleviated somewhat. So we're absolutely confident that he's going to continue to take very good care of them, with all the backdrop, as you said, of the security concerns that are involved with these people.

The general might want to add something on that one.

ROSA: Yes, ma'am.

These are bad folks, and let's don't forget that. Our two primary goals are humane treatment for the detainees and the security of our own folks. So we have to be careful and draw that balance.

I spoke to the folks down at SOUTHCOM this morning, and the commander and the chaplain have been out and around, speaking to the detainees. The tensions have eased, in their opinion. Less than 70 of them refused meals this morning. But we are cognizant of their religious needs.

But, again, humane treatment and security of our folks are utmost important to us.

QUESTION: However, I honestly feel I didn't get an answer to the question, if there is an answer. What is the Pentagon policy now regarding the medical situation there? You still do have people refusing meals. What is your policy on medical intervention for those who are refusing to eat?

CLARKE: I'll try...


QUESTION: I didn't hear an answer to my question.

CLARKE: I know. Our policy is to make sure they get very, very appropriate and adequate care, and we will make sure they get that kind of care. I think it is going too far down the road right now, a hypothetical, to talk about medical intervention.

QUESTION: Well, two of them have been taken to the hospital and been given intravenous. So my question, is the policy now force- feeding?

CLARKE: The policy is to make sure they get very good care.

QUESTION: Tori, you said -- could you just elaborate on, you said the situation had been handled. The general said the tensions have eased somewhat and you think that the problem -- can you just tell us what happened and what's been done to alleviate the problem, why you think tensions are easing?

ROSA: Actually, there are several reports, and as you glean from these reports, there was a detainee that was praying. He had some type of instrument, whether it was a towel, a blanket, a sheet, wrapped around his head. Two of our security forces came up and asked him to remove it. Now, we don't want them wrapping up in towels and blankets for security reason. So he wouldn't remove it, they went in and removed it. The next day the hunger strike, if you will, started.

Since that time -- the policy was under development as I spoke to him this morning. Since that time, they're allowed to have garments on their heads while they pray.

It was explained to the detainees, and they've talked back and forth to the commanders and the chaplain several times. And we are hoping it will ease the tension.

But what I might add, this is the normal evolution. It doesn't surprise us. It's the normal evolution in a detainee's life. Many of them, the first group got there seven weeks ago. So they are going through the shock and amazement of being someplace that they're not familiar with, and now they're starting to settle in. I think the real issue is: What's their fate? What happens to them?

QUESTION: So while you initially believed -- the initial policy was that having some sort of garment wrapped around your head during prayer time was a security concern, you've now subsequently decided it's not really a security concern and you've decided to allow that. Is that correct?

CLARKE: I'd answer it this way. They will be allowed to wear something fashioned as a turban, because that is being sensitive, my understanding, to their religious beliefs. We will do periodic checks because of security concerns.

ROSA: They are still subject to security checks.

QUESTION: If I can ask, if you can address a different subject, for the second time today, NATO forces have attempted to capture Radovan Karadzic. Can you just tell us to what extent the U.S. is involved in those operations, both yesterday and today?

ROSA: Sure. As you know, since 1995, Dayton Peace Accords, we and SFOR, the coalition, has pursued persons indicted for war crimes. To this date, we've been successful. There are still folks out there that are indicted for war crimes; Mr. Karadzic is one of them.

We got an intelligence tip. We reacted on that tip. Several dozen buildings were inspected. We found small arms, machine guns, rifles, mortars, anti-tank weapons, but we didn't find Karadzic. Shortly thereafter, reacting to another tip, we made a more scaled- down operation, and, yes, U.S. troops were involved.

QUESTION: Can you say to what extent -- were they among the troops that went to these sites to attempt to...

ROSA: Yes, they were. American troops went to those sites.

QUESTION: Now, there were years that went by since Karadzic's indictment in which no attempt was made to capture him. Does this reflect the new, more aggressive policy on the part of NATO to bring these war criminals to justice?

ROSA: I really don't think it does. It's the same policy that we've had. Some intel came together, and when it comes together, we reacted.

And we're a part of the coalition. We've got about 5,000 troops there. And as you know, it's divided into three sectors; there's a French sector and a British sector. And we're part of that coalition.

QUESTION: And yet, yesterday a senior administration official made clear that the administration would like to wrap up the war crimes tribunal by 2008 at the latest. So doesn't that, after six years now, add some incentive to push for these arrests now, to take a more active role in trying to bring these guys in?

ROSA: I'm not familiar with the latest information that you have, but I would not tie these two together.

QUESTION: Were there coalition troops on the ground, or was it purely an American operation?

ROSA: The first operation was purely American. The second operation was coalition. I'm not sure of the numbers.

QUESTION: But were Americans also involved in the second?

ROSA: I don't know that. They were in the first.

QUESTION: Can you give us any idea of the scope of the purely American first operation? How many troops? What kinds? What they did?

ROSA: That's a good question, but if I gave you that, just like if I gave you the intel reacted on, those folks would know the size and the makeup of the forces that we're using to find him, and I just don't think that would be appropriate.

QUESTION: In whose sector was that first operation that was purely American?

ROSA: It was in the French sector.

QUESTION: And that was yesterday?

ROSA: Yes.

QUESTION: And the other was today?

ROSA: It's nighttime over there now, so I guess it was today. Early this morning, our time.

QUESTION: I'm still curious about this development of this new intelligence. I mean, Mr. Karadzic has given an interview recently.

Why is it that suddenly the United States is developing this intelligence after five years of trying, or at least seemingly trying, to pursue Mr. Kadarzic?

I mean, you can go to Bosnia and you can hear from just about anybody in local officialdom in Republika Srpska that this man is in a particular place or he's been staying in a particular place. I don't understand why suddenly we're developing this intelligence.

ROSA: If I gave you the impression that all of a sudden we woke up and developed this intelligence, then that's not the case. We have, and we will continue to, develop intelligence on these persons indicted for war crimes.

As you travel around the countryside, I'm sure everybody thinks they know where UBL is, everybody thinks they know where Omar is, Karadzic. And it's just that you have to sift through this information and draw your own conclusions. But to say that it's some new project would be incorrect, I think.

QUESTION: Could there be a new emphasis put on Karadzic because he's alleged to have committed war crimes against a Muslim population, that this is an effort to appear more evenhanded in the war on terrorism?

ROSA: I really don't know.

CLARKE: Why don't we take one more.

QUESTION: One more for you on Afghanistan, General. To what extent do you see Al Qaeda regrouping in the Gardez area? Can you describe a little bit what you see in that?

ROSA: I think it would be inappropriate to describe exactly what we're seeing. But we are seeing pockets of Al Qaeda and pockets of Taliban.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) pockets, for example?

CLARKE: Bigger than a bread box, smaller than a bread box?

ROSA: Hundreds.

QUESTION: Hundreds?

ROSA: Hundreds.

QUESTION: Of Al Qaeda?

ROSA: I wouldn't say specifically Al Qaeda, but there's hundreds of folks. And we don't know the make up, but they're certainly not friendly.

QUESTION: Has this divulged more recently or has this been true for weeks and months?

ROSA: I don't think so. I think we've been tracking this for several months. But they are grouped up in the area that you described.

QUESTION: Can I follow up? What is the role, if you can talk about it, if any, of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the former Taliban minister of tribes and border affairs, in trying to bring these people together?

ROSA: I really do not know. I can find that out.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) pockets of Al Qaeda and Taliban. What are the forces...

CLARKE: You are the last question.

QUESTION: ... doing about these pockets?


ROSA: I'm sorry. I missed the last part of your question.

QUESTION: The pockets that you just referred to that you've seen, have U.S. forces taken action against these pockets, and have they been added to the list of detainees? Have they been killed? I mean, you just spot them.

CLARKE: It's been going on for some time, as we said it would. We have done a lot in terms of debilitating the Al Qaeda, for instance, we've done a lot of damage to training camps. But we've said all along that it is not over, it is not over in Afghanistan, and that for some time there would be pockets of resistance in a variety of places, that there would be Al Qaeda, there would be fire fights, there would be lots of things, different sizes and shapes. Those are the kinds of things we're referring to.

QUESTION: But it still begs the question, these pockets that you just referred to, can we assume they've been eliminated?


CLARKE: Cannot assume they've been eliminated. No, absolutely not, just the opposite. There are still more, and we're going to pursue them.

QUESTION: What about these, what have you done to these pockets? It seems to me that there's kind of unanswered question here. You've seen pockets...

ROSA: I understand where you're coming from. We've observed, we've gathered intelligence, but to this date we haven't acted. And that will be up to General Franks when he decides to act.

QUESTION: Where are they primarily?

CLARKE: Thank you.

ROSA: They're in the Gardez area.


CLARKE: I'm sorry, what's the clarification?

QUESTION: Well, up until a couple days ago, anyway, the policy on the head covering was they had the skull caps or they could put the towels loosely draped, not wrapped. And we have seen pictures of that, and that's obviously been OK for them to do.

What is the policy now? Has it changed? CLARKE: The policy is to allow them to wear the material in some fashion as a turban, but they will be checked periodically for security concerns.

QUESTION: So turbans weren't OK before; now turbans are OK now?

CLARKE: With security checks.

Thank you.

HARRIS: With that, we wrapped up today's Pentagon briefing, getting some good information there at the end about two raids that U.S. troops participated in, in trying to trap and capture the war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic in the town of Chelobichi (ph). We understand that U.S. troops were acting on tips that U.S. intelligence agencies have come up with. U.S. troops went on one raid by themselves, and a second one participated in one with coalition troops. We will talk more about this later on.




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