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Defense Secretary, Joint Chiefs Chair Hold Briefing

Aired March 4, 2002 - 12:47   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Live to the Pentagon now. We've been waiting for this all morning. Now, Donald Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: ... been conducting a sizable operation over the weekend. It most likely will continue for the days ahead. General Franks will provide details on the operation at a press briefing this afternoon from Tampa, which I believe is going to be fed in...


RUMSFELD: ... in here.

We need to all remind ourselves that thousands of Americans and other nationals were killed on September 11. When we began the attack in Afghanistan on October 7, we made clear that our goals included removing the Taliban government and ending Afghanistan as a haven for terrorists. And we've made very good progress on both.

But as I've said repeatedly, the task is far from over. Not all Taliban and Al Qaeda forces have been defeated. Substantial pockets of resistance remain. They're determined, they're dangerous, they will not give up without a fight, they are hiding in the villages and in the mountains and just across the borders in a number of directions from Afghanistan, and they're waiting for their opportunities.

We have said that repeatedly. Their goal is the opposite of ours. Their goal is to reconstitute, to try to throw out the new interim government of Afghanistan, to kill coalition forces and to try to regain the ability to use Afghanistan as a base for terrorist operations, and as byproduct, repress the Afghan people, and we intend to prevent them from doing that.

The pocket of Al Qaeda at Shahi Kot (ph) area, where this operation is taking place, south of Gardez, appears to have several -- a number of pockets of enemy forces in reasonably large numbers.

They're, obviously, well-organized. They're dug in. They're well-armed. And they're fighting fiercely. We knew they would resist strongly, and anticipated a fierce fight. That is exactly what's taking place, together with a number of coalition countries, that include Australia and Canada and Denmark and France and Germany, Norway, some others, U.S. and Afghan forces are heavily engaged.

I deeply regret that a number of U.S. servicemen and several Afghan fighters assisting us have been killed in action. At last count, there were nine Americans; that includes those that were involved in the helicopter crash. And there have been several Afghans, as well. There have been a number of wounded, U.S. and Afghan. Although, close to half of those are already back in the battle, and of the remainder, relatively few have life-threatening wounds.

All of the individuals who were killed and wounded have been fully evacuated from the area and are en route to appropriate locations to receive medical attention.

We also mourn the loss of a U.S. Navy pilot who was killed after ejecting form his aircraft in the Mediterranean Sea. His battle group is en route to Northern Arabian Sea for service in Operation Enduring Freedom. We're deeply saddened by the loss of all these brave men, and I extend my profound sympathies to their families.

The enemy forces have sustained much larger numbers of killed and wounded, and there will be many more. We intend to continue to the operation until those Al Qaeda and Taliban who remain are either surrendered or killed. The choice is theirs. We have ground forces imposition to check any large-scale effort to escape, and we will continue to add pressure until they have been taken care of.

As I said, General Franks will have the current details on the operation at his briefing in the afternoon. I should also add that the coalition forces are operating at somewhere between 8,000 and 11,000 feet, which is -- it's cold. It's a difficult environment, and it is also a difficult environment, not just for the human beings involved, but for the helicopters. They're not really designed to fly at those altitudes.

But coalition forces are well trained. They're professional, and they're doing an excellent job. As intense as the activity in Afghanistan is today -- and this will not be the last such operation in Afghanistan -- it's important to remember that we've been very clear that this is a global effort against terrorism.

As I've noted, some activities will be seen, and other activities will not be seen. Activities elsewhere in the world have received attention of late, and we are keeping the pressure on Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. That's what we're doing in Yemen, the Philippines, and elsewhere. A global war on terrorism must be just that. It must be global to be effective. Terrorists do not have countries normally. They have cells in many, many countries, 30, 40, 50 countries.

As we drive them from Afghanistan, we must not allow them safe haven elsewhere. We'll continue to train and in some cases equip forces in selected countries that face terrorist threats. It is part of the global war on terrorism.

We'll establish or in some cases re-establish military-to- military relationships with nations committed to the war on terrorism as part of this global effort.

And we will, with our coalition partners, intensify efforts to identify and disrupt terrorist networks' activities wherever they exist in the world.

This may include direct military attacks as it has in Afghanistan, military interception of terrorists and their weapons, as with the maritime interception effort, stepped-up intelligence gathering in specific countries as we are doing in several now, training and in some cases equipping as in Yemen and the Philippines and possibly, at some future time, in Georgia.

There must be no safe harbor for terrorists. It's a threat that can not be appeased, and it can not be ignored. The power and reach of weapons today are too great and too lethal to do otherwise.

In addition to military force, coalition actions involve all of the broad instruments of national power, diplomacy, intelligence, law enforcement, financial tools designed to stop the receipt or transfer of money to terrorists and their supporters.

I've said from the first day that defense against terrorism requires that we go on offense and force terrorists to think about their defense as we take the battle to them. That is the only successful defense against terrorism.

As President Bush said last November, "We are coming to know those who have plotted against us. There is no corner of earth distant or dark enough to protect them. However long it takes they're hour of justice will come."

General Myers?

MYERS: Thank you Mr. Secretary.

As the secretary said, on Friday evening, we started this campaign with Afghan coalition and U.S. forces against what we thought was a large pocket of Al Qaeda and non-Afghan Taliban fighters.

To put it in perspective, I'll just piggyback on what the secretary said. This is a very difficult environment; this is like being out in the middle of the Rockies -- Rocky Mountains in the middle of winter. It's cold, ice, and snow. We have a map there that shows you some of the terrain they're dealing with. And of course, the higher you go, the air gets thinner for flight operations. So some of the helicopters are right up against their operational capabilities. So it's some of the very toughest sort of conditions.

As I said, we believe there are several hundred Al Qaeda fighters holed up in the mountains, in the valleys, in the cave complexes. They're well dug in, well reinforced, and apparently have lots of weapons.

When we began this operation, we knew that the Al Qaeda and their supporters there would have to choices: to run or stay and fight. It seems they have chosen to stay and to fight to the last, and we hope to accommodate them.

While we've hit resistance, there should be no doubt about the outcome in this case. The only choices for Al Qaeda are to surrender or to be killed, and we're prepared to go on as long as that may require.

We're using both ground and air forces. And since the operation began on Friday night, we have dropped more than 350 bombs, using about 10 long-range bombers, two to four AC-130 gunships and about 30 to 40 tactical aircraft each day.

And I would just like to end by adding my condolences to those family members who lost loved ones in the area of operation the last few days.

RUMSFELD: Questions?

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you said that I believe nine have been killed in the current operation. We were told earlier that six had died in the helicopter shootdown, that one had been killed early on Saturday, and that another was killed today...

RUMSFELD: The latest count is nine.


QUESTION: ... seven killed in the helicopter shootdown. We were told six...

RUMSFELD: General Franks will give details on that this afternoon.

QUESTION: OK. Well, could you comment on, then, reports from the area that Afghan forces are saying that perhaps U.S. Special Forces were not fully prepared when the operation started and were forced to retreat, do a strategic retreat to regroup before they went back into the battle?

MYERS: U.S. forces? No. Let me -- can I address that?


MYERS: During my trip to Afghanistan -- now it's been almost two weeks ago, exactly -- I was briefed on this plan at Bagram by the commander who is running the operation in Afghanistan.

And at that time, they had great detail. I mean, any thought that they went in there unprepared or didn't know the terrain they were going into is just not true. It's like we said before, look at the map; this is very difficult terrain to operate in. The enemy is a very determined enemy, willing to die for their cause.

Our brave men and women are over there to see that we take them out and we keep them from pursuing other acts of terrorism in the world. That's what they do. RUMSFELD: It's conceivable that that story is -- I don't know this -- but as they moved in, some Afghan forces took heavy fire, and a number of their trucks were destroyed, and some of their people were killed and wounded, and because they didn't have transport sufficient, they did go back, regroup, get additional equipment, and then have moved forward subsequently, and it may be that...

MYERS: And there were U.S. special forces with them, so that -- maybe that's how it got...

RUMSFELD: But that was a direct result of enemy fire.

QUESTION: Does this appear to be Al Qaeda's last stand in Afghanistan, or are there similarly large and similarly well organized groups elsewhere in the country?

RUMSFELD: I would doubt it. I think that it would be an incorrect reading of the situation to think that this would be the last stand.

I say that because it has -- as we've said repeatedly, and I hope it sinks in to everybody -- that it is, in that country, it is -- what? -- bigger than Texas, and with borders to four, five, six countries, it is very easy to move across borders and then come back in. It's very easy to slip into the mountains, into tunnels and caves and stay there for periods.

It's very easy to blend into the countryside, into the villages and then come back and reconstitute. So the thought that all of the people, all of the Taliban who oppose the interim government that now exists, that Karzai is leading, all of the Al Qaeda are gone and disappeared or changed their minds or gone (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I think it's just unrealistic.

I think we have to expect that there are other sizable pockets, that there will be other battles of this type.

QUESTION: Sir, to follow up on Bob's question. Do you know -- an estimate on how many Al Qaeda may be in the country as a whole? Several hundred, you're saying non-Afghan Al Qaeda south of Gardez, but...

RUMSFELD: It's not knowable, because in the country could be just across the border and in the country tonight and not tomorrow, or vice versa. In the country could be someone who changes their mind.

The stronger the interim government gets, the more effective the security situation in the country gets, the less likely that there will be substantial operations like this. But that's some distance off.

QUESTION: Have you seen any intelligence that indicates Al Qaeda is operating or planning things in Herat, Kandahar, Khowst, other specific places?

RUMSFELD: We don't get into intelligence-gathering. Yes?

QUESTION: Sir, what do you think the Al Qaeda strategy is at this point in time? Is it to seek refuges in inhospitable regions lie low, try to escape detection by the United States, or do they have a more active, offensive strategy to work against the Karzai government and the American forces there? For General Myers...

RUMSFELD: I think both. I think it's opportunistic. I think to the extent they feel they can do the latter, they'll do that. And to the extent they can't, they'll wait for the time being.

QUESTION: General Myers, can you address that?

MYERS: Well, I would just add on -- I mean, the secretary is absolutely right. I think it's both of those. And we have indications that the folks that are under attack now were planning to do exactly.

QUESTION: Planning to...

RUMSFELD: We also know that their leadership of Al Qaeda stated from the outset that their intention was to kill enough Americans so that we would flee and leave the country over to them and that they had a series of terrorist attacks planned to create an environment that was sufficiently inhospitable that we would leave the country. And we found information to that effect; it's been said on videotapes. So we know what their strategy was, and we don't intend to let them succeed with it.


QUESTION: General Myers, just please respond. He said, indications that...


MYERS: Well, the secretary essentially did. I mean, we have a mind meld in this room.


QUESTION: I would hate to get in the middle of a mind meld.

RUMSFELD: Hope it's not illegal.

QUESTION: Can you both talk about the role that American forces are playing here in terms of being at the cutting edge of this assault as opposed to the earlier example in Tora Bora, where the Afghans were more forward and were allowed to do more of the direct combat. There appears to be a lesson learned from there with the size of the force and the way it is constituted.

RUMSFELD: Tora Bora was a very different situation -- a different part of the country, a different terrain, somewhat different time in the conflict. We learn everyday, but the Afghans are very much involved in this effort today -- this operation. And they're doing a good job as are the coalition forces and the U.S. forces.

QUESTION: Was there an over reliance on local Afghan fighters in the Tora Bora campaign, especially when it came to cutting off the escape routes, and have you learned something from that?

RUMSFELD: Well, as I say, one hopes that one learns everyday, that life is a learning experience for all of us. I don't know that there's been a lessons learned effort on the Tora Bora activities specifically. So I really can't say. But it was a different circumstance at a different time and we're on (ph) .


QUESTION: General Myers. Can you help us understand if the military knew the threat and knew how entrenched these people were and knew how well-armed they were, why did you send in U.S. ground forces so quickly -- why not more days of air strikes -- soften it all up, get rid of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) before you sent in ground troops?

MYERS: That's a kind of tactical level decision that's made by General Franks and his subordinate commanders.

QUESTION: But certainly you'd be aware of the answer?

MYERS: I might be, but I don't think I'm the right one to tell people that. The last thing you want me to do is to second-guess General Franks and his folks, and I won't do that. In this case, I think it's totally inappropriate. I think the plan they have -- like I said we were briefed on this -- I was briefed on it over about two weeks ago. It was a sound plan. It combined ground operations with air operations I think appropriately so.

QUESTION: Can you help us better understand what role U.S. ground troops have been fulfilling in this campaign since Friday?

MYERS: Sure. They're trying to root out the Al Qaeda and the other fighters, amidst...

QUESTION: Certainly, but what exactly? Are they going cave to cave? Are they doing very short-range fighting, longer-range fighting? What exactly are they doing?

MYERS: Well, I think we'll leave that -- General Franks is on at 3 o'clock, and he'll talk a little bit more about the tactical situation. And I'd personally feel more comfortable if he would do it. He's the one responsible for executing the operation.

QUESTION: General, you said early on that Al Qaeda fighters had basically two choices: to stay and fight or to run. If they had chosen to run, are you confident there are enough U.S. forces on the ground to cut off their escape routes? And was that part of the original plan as it was briefed to you (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to ensure there were enough forces on the ground?

MYERS: Yes, and it's not just U.S. forces. It's -- Afghan forces play a large role in that as well, not only in the assault itself, but to contain them and coalition forces were a big part of that as well.


QUESTION: You talk about allied U.S. and allied forces hit some resistance. Could you expand on that a little bit? There were stories over the weekend that there was a retreat by U.S. and allied forces, a withdrawal, and also that the attacks stalled.

MYERS: I think the secretary covered that pretty well when he talked about one of the Afghan pushes where they lost most of their transportation. So they had to regroup, get refitted, and went right back in.

QUESTION: Was that the only time there was, you would say, a stall?

MYERS: Well again, it's a tactical situation. It's evolving, and we're not going to know all of that detail. Only the folks here on the ground will know, but that's the only time that I've heard anything...

RUMSFELD: The fact that people are not moving may not mean that things have stalled. They may be using air power to deal with concentrations of Al Qaeda, while ground forces maintain positions. So I think that the word "stall" is a little like "quagmire," and it may be premature.

QUESTION: One last thing: Is there any U.S. artillery up there? And if not, why not?

MYERS: I think the artillery is coming from the attack helicopters, from the AC-130 gunships and from the bombers and fighters overhead.

QUESTION: There's no ground-based artillery?

MYERS: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Secretary Rumsfeld, was there any indication that Osama bin Laden is in with this concentration of people on the ground?

RUMSFELD: I have no current information that he's anywhere.

QUESTION: To follow up, Mr. Secretary, to follow up on that...


QUESTION: In the past, the United States has kind of judged the seniority of the leadership based on the fierceness of fighting. Is there any indication, not necessarily of bin Laden, but that high- ranking Taliban and Al Qaeda people are in charge of their forces in this particular battle?

RUMSFELD: I don't know what you mean by high level, but there's no question that these people didn't just happen to all meet there. There's large numbers of them. They're very well armed, they're very well equipped, and they're not milling around, they're engaged in a very fierce battle, so there's clearly leadership involved.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, may I follow up on Bob's earlier question, that you say this is not -- it would be wrong to say this would be the last operation in Afghanistan? Could you just explain to the American people, do you anticipate other similar operations in other areas that would also involve large numbers of ground troop, just in general?

RUMSFELD: You can be certain that as we find additional Al Qaeda and Taliban forces on the ground, large or small pockets, that we will go after them.

QUESTION: Involving large numbers of U.S. ground troops?

RUMSFELD: Whatever it takes.

QUESTION: Your spokeswoman said this morning...


QUESTION: ... U.S. troops were involved. Are you calling in reinforcements? There are reports that you're calling in reinforcements.

RUMSFELD: Why don't we try to get a few more hands from people who have not asked questions yet, just in fairness?

But in answer to your question, obviously, the longer things go on, the more you might replace some of the forces that are currently engaged and give them a rest, but to the extent additional capabilities are needed, you can be sure additional capabilities will be provided. But we're not going to get into speculating about what might or might not be going in day one, two, three, four, five days ahead, other than I am sure it will be a well-run and successful operation that will have an ending other than a stalling.


QUESTION: This area of Paktia province has long been considered an Al Qaeda stronghold.


QUESTION: Several weeks ago, U.S. forces seemed surprised when they found large caches of weapon and residual Al Qaeda at Zhawar Kili, and now five months into the war...

RUMSFELD: I don't think they were surprised. We know there are caches of weapons all over that country. We've said it. It's one of the most heavily armed nations on the face of the earth.

QUESTION: And it took five months into the war to go after these Al Qaeda here in -- around Gardez with ground troops? Was there just a lack of intelligence, insufficient forces to go after these people? Why five months into the war is the U.S. military now confronting this large contingent of Al Qaeda, when that area has long been considered Al Qaeda?

RUMSFELD: Well, I suppose, Dick, that's a good question for Tom, but it's a tactical question. What he deals with is the entire country, and he goes about it in a way that is rational from the standpoint of a combatant commander.

And you don't go everywhere at once. You tend to work in places where you have the most support, the most information. And that obviously was the case. You tend to go in places where you can use the capabilities that you manage to arrange in array. And that's generally been the case. I don't find it unusual at all.

MYERS: I would only add that there's a pretty good likelihood that these Al Qaeda fighters and the others in there were fighting with the Taliban forces early on this conflict -- up north, other places in the country, Kandahar region. And as the Taliban were driven out of power and destroyed, that they started to get together in a place where they could have enough mask to be effective. And we've been following that, allowing it to develop until we thought it was proper time to strike. So I think that's probably....

QUESTION: To what extent are German soldiers involved in combat action?

RUMSFELD: I'm going to have Germany and every other country characterize their roles themselves. There are some sensitivities. And I would prefer to let coalition forces characterize what they're doing.

QUESTION: Was it the first time they joined U.S. forces in combat?

RUMSFELD: You must not have heard me.


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do you have anything that you can share that the helicopter was brought down by a Stinger missile, the U.S. helicopter that went down? Do you have any indications of whether it was a Stinger?

RUMSFELD: We have no indication that it was a manned portable surface-to-air missile at all. We have an indication that one of them was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

MYERS: That's correct.

RUMSFELD: And I have not -- I don't recall being told on the other, except that it may have been a hard landing.

MYERS: I think it was machine gun fire or small AAA type fire. But first reports were


MYERS: But first reports, again, can be an inaccurate. RUMSFELD: That's important to remember. That what we're dealing with here is an ongoing operation and the facts change every two or three hours -- the reports change, the facts stay the same. But the facts are only revealed over time. And so, one ought not to be surprised that they see a number one time and then the number is somewhat different later. And we all ought to expect that and have a certain degree of tolerance for it.

QUESTION: Could the general go into an explanation of what happened with the helicopter? How many people were injured? Whether there was a fire fight on the ground? Whatever you know.

MYERS: I'm going to leave that for General Franks at 3:00. He can get into that as much as he wants to.

QUESTION: This was the first use of this thermobaric bomb we learned about in December (inaudible) silver bullet kind of weapon. Was this aimed at a large concentration of potential Al Qaeda leaders in a cave where you wanted to incinerate them all in one fell swoop?

MYERS: It was aimed at a cave complex that we thought was tactically significant. Now, I have no indications they thought -- it was just -- we knew it was an active cave, that's all we know.

RUMSFELD: And it tends to be more pressure -- a pressure effect, as opposed to an incineration.

QUESTION: Explain in layman's language, pressure meaning...

MYERS: A blast effect.

RUMSFELD: Over pressure.

MYERS: Over pressure.

QUESTION: And you think it was active in terms of people or gunfire?

MYERS: People, correct, right. Yes, the reconnaissance said this was an active cave, we'd like to take it out.

QUESTION: A strategy question for either of you. You've said you've been observing them coalescing for sometime in this place. Was it an act of strategy to let them coalesce and strike them as a large body rather than to strike them in small pieces? Because a lot of us have questioned, you know, if you're seeing these people, you know, why aren't you doing something before? Was it an act of strategy to do nothing, let them gather?

RUMSFELD: I would ask General Franks that this afternoon, but, I mean, the reality is, as you see small pockets of activity and you're in an area that has been reasonably hospitable to both the Taliban and the Al Qaeda, you then begin to plan an operation. And you have a choice: You can go after and pick off one person individually and ask him would he please surrender; or you can plan a major operation knowing that it's area that has been hospitable to those folks and then do what we're doing. It seems to me that the latter is preferable.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can I take you to another part of the world for a change?

RUMSFELD: You bet.

QUESTION: It's been six months since you had a CINC in SOUTHCOM, and there's some reports that some of the Latin American countries are beginning to feel that they're being left out during the war on terrorism and that they're afraid that you're going to downgrade that position.

Do you intend to nominate or recommend a new CINC for SOUTHCOM...


RUMSFELD: The answer's yes.

QUESTION: So there will be a...

RUMSFELD: The answer's yes.


RUMSFELD: Yes. We've got a lot of pieces on the board that we're moving, and we have a number that are coming up during this year. We have one that's vacant, we have a number that are coming up this year, we have a number that are coming up early next year, and this being a year when the Congress may very well not be in session late this year, it means we have to look at some six or eight or more key spots.

And we're looking at them together. And that is the reason for the delay on SOUTHCOM. And we intend to rectify that soon.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary or General Myers. Can you indicate whether you believe as this regrouping take place, are they regrouping at a place that was predesignated say prior to October 7, or does this indicate to you that there is some kind of ability among the Al Qaeda and for many Taliban fighters to communicate among themselves, and find their way back to this concentration?

MYERS: I think there's no doubt that the Al Qaeda still has the -- and the Taliban still have the ability to communicate among themselves certainly. And this has been an area that somebody mentioned earlier -- this is an area where they've gotten support from the local population for some time. And so it's not surprising of the area they picked -- the fact that they would be concentrating in a relatively small portion of that area was what was interesting I think.

QUESTION: How threatening is that capability then as you look in terms of their operations and the threats they posed to you?

MYERS: I think it's like we said before -- the Al Qaeda organization still has capabilities. And all the work that's going on, not just the military work, the law enforcement work, the arrests, disrupting their financial strings and so forth -- all a piece of this.

And it's going on around the world. And a lot of that we don't see. We don't talk about, but it's just as important as this military operation.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you alluded to this in earlier question about never changing information and that an ongoing operation like this, for example. But what do you say to the argument that the American public has been denied an objective or unfiltered account of the war on terrorism, because of Pentagon policies that tend to restrict reporter access to U.S. soldiers and their battles as they're ongoing?

RUMSFELD: Well, I don't hear that from the American people. I hear it from very small numbers of people in the press. And there are people embedded in this activity, as I understand it. So I think it is not a fact. That is to say, there are press people who are embedded in the activities that are taking place. This is one of the few situations where special forces are actually engaged in an activity where press people have been embedded with them.

QUESTION: So are they allowed to go...

RUMSFELD: Just a minute. Just a minute. Let me finish my thought. And there have been press people embedded with other special force units, but not particularly when they were actively engaged in a moving activity. Second, there have been press people embedded in ships and other activities.

It seems to me that if I were trying to assess this in an objective, unbiased, Rumsfeldian way...


... I would step back and look at it and say, "Not bad." This is a most unusual conflict. It is not a set of battle lines where Bill Mauldin and Ernie Pyle can be with the troops for week after week after week as they move across Europe or even across islands in the Pacific.

This is a notably different activity. It's terribly untidy. We have bent over backwards to see that every opportunity that we could imagine that press people could be connected to that they were connected to, and they have been. And I think there are a notable number of firsts in this case from the standpoint of the press.

Second, anyone who wants to in the press can get into Afghanistan and go anywhere they want. It's a free country. It's dangerous. And people are being killed, but it's a free country. Now we have done a lot to see that they're involved. Therefore, your question kind of surprises me, given the current situation. Maybe you weren't aware that they are embedded in this operation.

QUESTION: I was not. I was also thinking of the historical perspective of other wars, going back to World War II and on up. And there was a lot of contention about this early on.

RUMSFELD: Well, there's been contention in every war. There's always been that series of questions that get raised, and that's fair. How are you going to handle it? And the answer is if you know -- if you said are we going to fight World War II again, I'd tell you exactly how we'd handle it. There's a model for that. There is no model for this, so we've been reaching around trying to find ways that people can report on things that are happening that are terribly important for the American people to know.

I mean, the young men and young women there engaged in this effort, not just from our country but coalition countries, are doing a first-rate job. And they're having a lot of success. This has been a very successful operation, and they deserve to be noted. And not just if they're killed or wounded. They deserve to be noted if they're not killed or wounded, because...

QUESTION: Are those reporters who are embedded currently allowed to actually report?

RUMSFELD: I would have to get briefed on precisely what their instructions and guidance was, but it's -- I believe I am correct when I say what I said, that there are Special Forces units -- Americans -- embedded in Afghan forces. There are Special Forces units not embedded in Afghan activities. There are American soldiers, infantrymen, engaged in this, and there are coalition forces engaged in this.

And in one or more of those activities, there are press -people who have been with them since the outset, I think even during the pre- conflict portion, when we had people for days located all around doing reconnaissance and watching. And I think that Torie undoubtedly was involved, and Craig Quigley, in what their instructions were, and I'm sure she or he would be happy to answer that question.

QUESTION: But that's an important point, isn't it? If they're there...


QUESTION: ... whether they're allowed to report would make a big difference...

QUESTION: What time frame.

RUMSFELD: Of course. Obviously. And I'm sure someone won't like it. Whatever they may be, the guidance, I'm sure there'll be somebody who won't like it. But the fact remains they're in there and they will be allowed to report; in what time frame and with what protection for the people's names or faces who are engaged in this, who are in units where their names and faces don't get report.

I can assure you of this: Anyone who's in there accepted the ground rules when they went in, and they decided, of their own free will, that they would rather do that than not, which seems to me to be not bad, pretty fair. QUESTION: Both of you mentioned early on that the helicopters in this mission are being pushed to the limits of their capabilities operating at 8,000 to 11,000 feet. Can you elaborate on that a little bit? And also, does that make them more vulnerable to the types of RPG attacks and small arms attacks that they came under?

RUMSFELD: Anytime they're low, they're vulnerable, low to the ground.

QUESTION: But what was it about -- how are they being pushed to their capabilities at that altitude?


MYERS: It's the load you can carry at what altitude. Maybe they couldn't carry as big a load as they wanted or as much fuel as they wanted, and that would restrict them somewhat. And just as you operate higher with helicopters, the control effectiveness starts to diminish a little bit. So they're just against their operating (inaudible).

QUESTION: What I'm saying is, does that make them more vulnerable, then, to the attacks that they came under?

MYERS: I think the secretary's point, once they're low to the ground where there's enemy, that they're vulnerable by virtue of that. I don't know if there's any direct correlation with that. There may be.

QUESTION: So the RPG hit the one that went down with six casualties or the...

MYERS: No, no.

RUMSFELD: The other one.

MYERS: No, that was machine gun fire or some kind of fire, we think.


QUESTION: ... hit the second one that had the hard landing?


MYERS: Nope.

RUMSFELD: Hit the first one.

MYERS: Hit the first one. Bounced off. They recovered.

RUMSFELD: Apparently did not explode. It was the first report. The RPG hit it, but may not have exploded. And the person may have been knocked out.

MYERS: What's important to note... QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

MYERS: ... we've been talking about a lot of helicopters. You can ask General Franks at 3 o'clock, but as I count them up, we've had one that's been disabled. It's one on the ground. It's not -- it's intact, and whether they can repair it or not, I have no idea. The rest of them have all been fly-able, and some have been repaired and put back into action.

RUMSFELD: And the one that was hit by an RPG was fly-able and was moved out.


RUMSFELD: There were casualties in both cases.

QUESTION: multiple casualties, multiple deaths (OFF-MIKE)

RUMSFELD: Why don't you save it for Tom Franks?



QUESTION: I just wanted you to comment on the reports that the Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters have family members with them.

RUMSFELD: The reports? Who reported them?

QUESTION: Villagers in that region who had, in places that previously hosted these people...


QUESTION: ... are reporting that they did retreat up into this mountain stronghold with family members? Would you comment on that?

RUMSFELD: We have assumed that where you find large numbers of Al Qaeda and Taliban, that there may very well be noncombatants with them who are family members or supporters of some kind, who are there of their own free will, knowing who they're with or who they're supporting, and who they're encouraging, and who they're assisting.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for the general. Earlier, you said there were non-Afghan Taliban in this fighting force. Are these Uzbeks, or who are these people?

MYERS: Again, ask Tommy Franks. We think there are...

RUMSFELD: You mean the enemy or our side?

QUESTION: The enemy -- I think he said there was non-Afghan Taliban.

MYERS: Well, we think there's some IMU embedded in there, but that -- I'm just going to leave it at that. QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you said earlier that we're now training and equipping troops in the Philippines and Yemen. Did you mean to say that that training and equipping of Yemeni forces has already begun?

RUMSFELD: We have indicated to the Yemeni government that we would assist with intelligence-gathering and some training. And actually, when it starts, I'm not sure.

But we have not gotten quite to that point with Georgia, despite all the stories that we're there. There was an assessment team in Georgia. It had made a report back. General Myers is awaiting that report and then will come to me with it. And then, we'll have a discussion about it within the government and make a judgment as to what we might end up doing.

But Georgia, of course, is a country that's in the Partnership for Peace in NATO, a country that we have provided some modest assistance to already; as I recall, helicopters.

MYERS: That's right.

RUMSFELD: And I think there is one American there now who is assisting with helicopter parts, or something -- a military person -- but that also has not started.

The Philippines assistance has, obviously, started.

Thank you very much.

HEMMER: Clearly, there are more questions at this point. We do know a little more, though, what took place in eastern Afghanistan several hours ago.

Two separate helicopter incidents, at least nine American dead at this point as a result of these two separate incidents and apparently a bitter firefight that erupted there in eastern Afghanistan. The fighting now taking place at elevations between 8,000 and 11,000 feet. It is cold, quite obvious with the Afghan winter there and it's difficult for helicopters to fly as well. General Myers saying the enemy, the Taliban, the al Qaeda, well dug in, he says, well reinforced. They have lots of weapons, in his words.

Let's go to map right now and show you what part of Afghanistan specifically we're talking about here. And if we look to the eastern edge of Afghanistan, specifically Paktia province. You might recall back -- even going back to mid-December. This area right above it is the area known as Tora Bora, right along the border with Pakistan and Afghanistan. If we advance this one frame here, specifically in the Paktia province, where there could be anywhere between 1,000 U.S. forces, possibly more, 1,000 Afghan forces, possibly more.

Specifically, what we are gathering right now is the area right between Gardez and Khowst, somewhere right along here, this mountain range known as Shah-e-Cote (ph). You may have heard Don Rumsfeld mention that. That appears to be right in this area, where the bulk of that fighting apparently is taking place. Some of the military strategists that we've been picking up on throughout the morning here indicate to us that somewhere between this road and the road leading into Khowst is where the U.S. forces and their coalition forces, Canadians, Australians and others, are trying to cut off an area where al Qaeda fighters would be essentially boxed in and trapped in. That is the area of military conflict that we're picking up on right now.

We also heard Donald Rumsfeld asked a question whether or not this would be al Qaeda's last stand, final stand in Afghanistan. He said -- and quoting now -- "I doubt it." In his words, "It's easy to cross these borders. It's easy to blend in to various villages throughout that part of eastern Afghanistan and that is only what we are talking about in-country." There is no telling, based on what Donald Rumsfeld was talking about, what might be taking place in Pakistan just to the east.

And with that, let's get back to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon who is watching and listening as well. Hey, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, yes. Well, we just heard from Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. They gave us a briefing with an overview of what has transpired in the last 24 hours in eastern Afghanistan, but offered very limited details. We expect to hear later this afternoon from General Tommy Franks down in Tampa, Florida, the head of the U.S. central command, the man running the operation. But both men, Rumsfeld and General Myers, did run through the basics of these two incidents in eastern Afghanistan, in which now nine soldiers have died. Here's what they had to say.

Well, what they talked about mostly was the fact that there was two incidents. In one, six soldiers died when an MH-47 took on small- arms fire. It crash-landed. A firefight broke out on the ground. It's not clear how many of those soldiers were killed due to the crash landing or in the firefight that ensued.

Another MH-47 earlier was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. It managed to take off, but apparently one soldier may have fallen from the helicopter as it was beginning to move from this very hot combat zone. Now the Pentagon is offering really very limited details and they don't want to talk about one crucial thing. And that is this: Why did they send in almost 1,000 ground troops, U.S. and coalition ground troops, if they knew that this entrenched group of al Qaeda and Taliban, very well dug in, very well armed, were still posing such an opposition?

We asked General Myers about this. He declined to answer the question. He said there might be more information on that later. But what's not clear is why they didn't send in more airstrikes and soften up some of these enemy positions before the U.S. ground forces went in.

The fighting is still ongoing. It's happening at a very high altitude in Afghanistan, about 8,000 to 11,000 feet. Very cold, the air is thin up there. And we're told the U.S. combat helicopters are operating right at the edge of their capability. So it is going to be very tough going. So far, the U.S. has dropped about 350 bombs. They are using about 10 bombers and 30 to 40 fighter aircraft in continued airstrikes up in that region. Back to you.

HEMMER: Barbara, quickly here, back to a point you just made there. It came up as a question, in the form of a question, during that briefing. Is the U.S. military relying too much on Afghan forces? Is that possibly why we've seen better than 1,000 U.S. troops go in on this mission? I know they would not answer that. What are you hearing, though, from military analysts there at the Pentagon? Is that a strong possibility right now, that they have learned from that mistake in the past several weeks and months ago?

STARR: Well, that is the key question. Now, you will remember in Tora Bora, they were relying on Afghan fighters on the ground to go in there and it wasn't a very successful experience. They didn't find a lot in Tora Bora and there was a sense that local warlords had been paid off and people had slipped away and things just sort of dissolved up there.

They didn't want to make that same mistake here. And one of the strategies to get around that problem was to use the U.S. ground forces to encircle the several hundred Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, seal off all of their escape roots that cross into Pakistan or into other areas in Afghanistan. But apparently these Afghan -- these Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, are fighting back very, very strongly and there's every indication this fighting is going to go on for several more days.

HEMMER: And one has to wonder if the U.S. military is satisfied, at this point, with the Pakistani army and whether or not it has been able to truly seal that border between these two countries. Perhaps Tommy Franks will shed some light on it, 90 minutes away.

Barbara, thanks. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.




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