STAFF: All right. I think we have the technical difficulties worked out, so let's go ahead and get started.
Again, welcome. Thank you for joining us early this morning. Today we have the commanding general of the Combined Forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General David Barno. He's joined by Colonel Richard Perry, who's the commander of the Civil Military Operations in Afghanistan. General Barno is going to discuss the security strategy, and then Colonel Perry is going to talk to you about the PRTs -- the Provincial Reconstruction Teams -- and how the function and the value that they are bringing as a focal point to stability there in Afghanistan.
Just so the gentlemen on the other end know who they're talking to, when we get to questions and answers if you could identify yourself and your news organization, that would be very helpful to them.
With that, General Barno, I think you have a few words to say first.
GEN. BARNO: Well, thank you and good morning, and thanks to all of you for coming today.
Next to me on my right here is our relatively new Task Force Victory commander, Colonel Rich Perry, who's been on the ground here in Afghanistan for about six weeks. And as you heard, Rich leads our Civil Military Operations Task Force, which is charged in large measure for implementing our provincial reconstruction team, or PRT strategy here in Afghanistan. So what I'd like to do is give you a quick update and then Colonel Perry and I will be happy to take your questions.
With the activation of our Combined Forces Command Afghanistan headquarters here in Kabul, what we're looking to do is balance the ongoing need for focused combat operations against the remaining terrorists with a growing emphasis on what we call enduring security and aggressively enabling reconstruction. This balance in many ways reflects evolving new realities here in Afghanistan. With the help of our embassy here, we and our coalition partners continue to work very closely with the government of Afghanistan to ensure a more stable and secure future for the Afghan people.
Beyond security, reconstruction is perhaps the most critical part of our mission, because it impacts every citizen of Afghanistan. We recognize that our efforts here must be focused on the people of Afghanistan and PRTs are a huge part of reaching out to the people. In military terms, the Afghan people are our center of gravity. We currently have 11 fully operational PRTs with the 12th opening this week. Eight of these PRTs are U.S.-led, and the others are led by our coalition partners, to include New Zealand and the United Kingdom, as well as Germany, under the auspices of NATO. We expect to have 16 operational PRTs by this summer.
These PRTs are the cutting edge of stabilization here in Afghanistan. They're changing both the face of security and of rebuilding efforts here in the country.
A PRT is really a catalyst. It forms focal point in a particular area, with the goal of building not only relationships but also serving as an accelerator in the rebuilding of the nation and extending the reach of the Afghan central government.
Many relief agencies continue to accomplish their good work in areas where aid is desperately needed. Working together with the provincial governors and ministries, as well as the U.N. and international organizations, PRTs help enable and integrate this reconstruction process. Our PRT presence here helps extend the reach of the Afghan central government, establishing security in an area and encouraging nongovernmental organizations and other international assistance organizations to move in. Provincial governors and village leaders are learning that where PRTs go, good things follow.
A great deal of coordination has been devoted to encouraging maximum participation from our coalition partners and NATO. We've had great success so far in Bamian, Mazar-e Sharif, Harwan and Kunduz, and we expect to see additional PRTs rolling out in the coming year under the leadership of both NATO and other coalition allies. It's a great opportunity for NATO and our international partners to play an active, high-impact part in the reconstruction process here.
Hand in hand with our PRTs, we're also initiating new, complementary strategies; specifically, the Regional Development Zone, or RDZ, and also a concept called area ownership by our combat forces, which will maintain sustained presence in specific geographical areas. Establishing an RDZ will allow us to focus on the local integration of security and development assets in a particular area and thus gain a synergistic local effect. An RDZ in conjunction with a Provisional Reconstruction Team can deliver a very clear message to those who would interfere with the dramatic progress in today's Afghanistan. This combination of PRTs, Regional Development Zones, and sustained presence in areas by our combat forces will present terrorist organizations with an impossible situation, one where they cannot demonstrate any viable alternative of value to the Afghan people.
We'll continue to face challenges from terrorist groups that choose to operate in the south and east of the country. Their tactics have targeted innocent women and children, as well as targeting NGOs who are seeking nothing more than to help the Afghan people. We're focusing our efforts first in those areas. Our pilot RDZ has been established in Kandahar province, an area where recent attacks demonstrate both the criminal nature of the enemy and the need for our focused security effects. Kandahar's status as a regional development zone will help ensure that this critical province remains a strong model for the potential out there for the Afghan people.
Finally, I will tell you that Afghanistan is moving toward a stable political and economic future and we're very proud to be part of that future. Provincial reconstruction teams are expanding at a very quick pace as the first of the series of regional development zones is also opening at the same time; all this in addition to more than $1.5 billion of reconstruction aid coming into the nation this year.
So again, we're in a period of transition; many challenges remain, but we here will stand resolute against any of those out there that would deny the Afghan people their rightful future in this country. Which should be free of terror, free of oppression and free of intolerance and bridging towards a democratic state. We stand firmly behind our pledge to foster enduring security here throughout the country.
So with that opening statement, we'd be happy to take your questions.
Q (Audio break) -- with Reuters. Do you still expect to apprehend Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar this year and if so what's the reason for this optimism?
GEN. BARNO: Well, I'll tell you that we have a very, very high priority in bringing to justice here the leadership of each of the terrorist organizations that we face. And we have significant efforts and people devoted on a daily basis to tracking the leadership of these organizations and in bringing them to justice.
Fundamentally, there's still unfinished business in this part of the world, and we're making every effort here during the coming months to close those efforts out. And as I tell people, for all of the terrorist organizations, it's very clear in my mind, as I look to the future, that the sands in their hourglass is running out.
Q Barbara Starr, CNN. With respect, sir, I think we're all very curious about your very specific previous public statements that you would get Osama bin Laden this year. Could we ask you to specifically address the statements you've made in the past? Why your optimism about him in particular? Is there anything you can tell the American people about the hunt for him? You say that you're making every effort to close out these organizations. What about him specifically?
GEN. BARNO: Well, Barbara, I would tell you that he's part of a leadership network in al Qaeda, and his significance is in the influence that he can continue to serve in the al Qaeda network. We also have other leaders of terrorist organizations -- Mullah Omar of the Taliban; we have Hekmatyar, the leader of the HIG [Gulbuddin Hekmatyr] group in Afghanistan -- who are also very serious leaders.
Clearly, Osama bin Laden has very much name recognition as a result of 9/11, and we take our mission to bring him to justice very seriously. I think our entire force here is energized with that mission here and the focus we have on it here in the coming months. But I won't want to get into more specifics, beyond that, in terms of the directions we may be heading.
Q Hi, General, this is Pam Hess with United Press International. I have two questions for you. Could you discuss the nexus that you're seeing with Afghanistan in the border region and with the work that's going on in Iraq? There was recently an interception of a courier that was apparently making his way down to you. What effects have you seen from the war, and maybe what intelligence connections are you making there?
And then, could you also just discuss in a little more detail the RDZs, how that's -- I don't think I understand how that's different from what the PRTs have been doing up to this point; why that's going to make such a difference.
GEN. BARNO: Well, let me take the first question here, and then I'll give Rich a chance to talk a little bit on the RDZs in the second part.
With regard to connections between terrorists between Afghanistan and Iraq, we certainly watch for evidence of that in our intelligence work. We see some potential indicators that there are some transfer of what we would call tactics, techniques and procedures between the groups that are fighting in each of these countries. Probably the most significant indicator there may be in some of their ambush tactics and some of their improvised explosive devices.
But we're continuing to be watchful in terms of any movement of these elements back and forth. But I don't think there's strong indicators that I've been able to see in that regard yet. But we do see what we would believe, at least preliminarily, to be connections in terms of them trading off lessons learned, and tactics and things of that nature.
And on the RDZ question, I'll ask Rich to pipe in with that, and then I can expand on that a little bit if we need to.
COL. PERRY: In regard to the RDZ, I might point out that down in Kandahar, in the south of Afghanistan, is the pilot project for the first RDZ. To distinguish it from a PRT, it encompasses a larger area. It's more regionally focused. Perhaps a PRT is somewhat more locally, semi-regionally focused. And we have focused our efforts in regard to the RDZ, in regard to bringing in outside help, development, focusing the efforts of USAID, the U.N. and so on. In regard to Kandahar, we have a lot of projects in the hopper right now. It's only a couple of months old, but we're moving on down the road and we're going to make that happen.
GEN. BARNO: Yeah, I might expand on that a bit to tell you a little bit about the origins of this concept. We did some analysis back in the fall time frame that led us to believe that trying to integrate all of the efforts of the international community to include the United Nations, the various U.S. efforts going in there through AID [Agency for International Development] and other projects, the efforts that were being delivered by Asian Development Bank, World Bank, by the Afghan government itself in terms of its projects moving forward with good governance, the expansion of Afghan police, Afghan National Army. The intent and the plan in the fall was that this could all be integrated from Kabul here in the center.
The RDZ concept came out of the recognition that the most effective integration to get synergy, to get the whole being more than the sum of the parts had to happen in the provinces, on the ground, face to face, with all these actors sitting down around a table and discussing how the efforts could be integrated and deconflicted to create the most powerful effect in support of the Afghan government.
In Kandahar, we have Governor Pashtun, still relatively new, very strong governor. We have a PRT that's stood up down there. We now have Afghan national police being delivered down there, Afghan National Army arriving. We have a significant military presence. We have all these things coming together in a natural nexus in that part of the country, and we said this is where we need to build this model for local integration of all these disparate efforts to get the more powerful effects and what we think we can do back here in Kabul, and the initial results of that I think have been very promising. We're hoping to take those lessons on down the road into other parts of the country.
Q General, it's Tom Bowman with the Baltimore Sun. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the strength of the al Qaeda/Taliban fighters in the south and the east, particularly around Kandahar, and what kind of cooperation you getting from Pakistan? And also, Omar. Do you get a sense that he is still around the Kandahar area?
GEN. BARNO: Well, a couple different questions there.
I think in terms of the strength of the fighters, we see the groups clustered in different areas down there. I think the area around Kandahar, in the south-central part of the country there, is the area where we see more predominant -- or more influence, if you will, of the Taliban than perhaps al Qaeda or Hekmatyar's group.
In terms of giving you numbers on that, I'm reluctant to put a great deal of faith in specific numbers, because we have fighters, we have supporters, we have couriers, we have interlocutors. Those are all different parts of a terrorist network; not all of those are people that are going to pick up a weapon and fight the Afghan government or fight coalition forces. But I do think that the Taliban -- clearly they've got a traditional home in the Kandahar area; that's one of the primary reasons why we're delivering the RDZs starting in that area, why we're expanding our PRTs in the south and east of the country -- to counter that influence. Al Qaeda, we see more commonly up in the Paktia, Paktika host area, kind of the -- essentially a little bit more to the east from Kandahar; and we have a little bit of a different approach in that area in terms of how we're working with the local population out there.
With regard to the question on Pakistan, I'm very actively involved in continuing to develop better military cooperation between coalition forces here and the Pakistani military across the border. Tomorrow, in fact, I'll travel again to Pakistan for meetings with Pakistani military officials in our embassy country team over there. We've seen great progress, in my judgment, since I've been here -- in the early October time frame -- in what the Pakistanis are doing in the tribal areas. They never had been in those areas at all in the history of their country until this last year. We now see them operating periodically there with their regular army. We also see them taking on, I think, some pretty innovative programs over the last six weeks to get in and use the tribal leadership in the Fatah area, in the northwest provinces area, to get after foreign fighters who may be in those locales. So again, I've seen some very positive developments from Pakistan, and I'm going to continue to encourage them to do more in those areas.
Q General, Bret Baier, Fox News Channel. Sir, not to harp on this too much, but you know the statements made by Lieutenant Colonel Hilferty and yourself generated a lot of news coverage here -- definitive statements that the U.S. will capture Osama bin Laden this year.
I'm wondering in retrospect if you now believe you should have chosen different words or different phrasing, or if this is developed from specific intelligence that you feel that this confidence needs to be expressed, because as you know, it sparked a lot of coverage, and also continued some of these urban myths that the U.S. knows exactly where Osama bin Laden is.
GEN. BARNO: Well, I think the way I'd respond to that is to say that clearly there are no certainties in the war-fighting business out here, and clearly that the delivery and the bringing to justice of the senior leadership of these organizations remains a stop priority. We're very committed to that effort. We are reenergizing that effort and spending a great deal of effort looking at how we can ensure that our military efforts continue to focus on targeting the leaderships of these organizations. But again, I would tell you, as we all fully understand, there's no 100 percent certainties out there. What we're shooting for is energizing and focusing the force on the importance of going after the leadership of these three terrorist organizations, not simply al Qaeda, here in this part of the world, which will have dramatic effects on other parts of the organization.
Q General Barno, Barbara Starr again from CNN. I also apologize for harping on this. But in your last answer you said we are reenergizing the effort regarding Osama bin Laden. I guess I don't understand that. That suggests if you're reenergizing it that it wasn't at some point in the last 2-1/2 years at the top energy level. Why are you reenergizing it?
And my other question is regards to your statement about the Pakistani military working with the tribal leadership. Can you expand on that? Can you confirm reports that what the Pakistani military is doing is going through villages and really pressuring those tribal leaders to cough up al Qaeda?
But my main question is, why are you saying you're reenergizing it? Wasn't it at high energy?
GEN. BARNO: Well, let me take the second part first, on the Pakistani efforts with the tribal leaders over there. We do have confirmed reports that over the last six or eight weeks that the Pakistani military and their local paramilitary elements in the tribal areas have been undertaking a very serious effort, working with the tribal leadership, to uncover and disrupt terrorist organizations that may be living and operating in their midst. And again, we see indications of that on a fairly regular basis there.
So I'm encouraged by that. I think that's one of several new initiatives that I see the Pakistanis undertaking that are very encouraging and I think will have effective results. And I think it's quite innovative, in terms of their approach.
And going back to your -- the first part of your question there, I'm not sure it's -- it would not be fair for me to say that there was any diminuation (sic) of energy on this effort over the last one or two or three years. And so I can really talk to the time I've been here, which is about four-plus months.
And during that time, we have revisited how we're conducting operations in the country. We've adjusted our strategy here in Afghanistan, to focus on enduring security across the country, expansion of PRTs, realigning how and where our combat forces are operating. So we've done an overall complete reassessment, which is normal when a new commander comes on board.
That's no reflection of any efforts in the past. It's a reflection of changing relates on the ground over here. Afghanistan is maturing. The political environment here is changing in a positive sense every day. And so we've adjusted our military operations in country to mirror that and to stay ahead of the enemy over here.
As we look at the enemy, we also see him adapting and changing his tactics, based upon the progress the Afghan people and government have made. We see him moving from large formations. Where last summer we would encounter hundreds of Taliban in the field and other terrorists in large groups -- and as a result of their contacts with us, they found that that was a non-habit-forming way to encounter coalition forces -- they were destroyed in large numbers. So they have adapted their tactics, based on that.
We then looked at how they operate and are assessing how we can best target them in their new operating conditions. Part of that is -- part of this assessment is looking at the leadership and ensuring we're focused on the leadership targets in all these organizations. So I think it's a natural evolution of our military operations over here in Afghanistan.
Long answer to a short question.
Q Sir, this is Kathy Rhem from American Forces Press Service. You had mentioned that you expect to see other international PRTs rolling out overt the next year. Could you expand on that a little bit? What countries are they coming from? Do you have a firm commitment from these countries? And when might these PRTs stand up?
GEN. BARNO: Well, we do have a continued interest from a number of countries out there. Many of these are now approaching the NATO leadership in Brussels about the possibility of opening up additional PRTs.
As you may know, NATO has set a commitment internally to deliver about five more PRTs in addition to what they have today between now and the Istanbul summit in June, and exactly what countries those will come from has not yet been officially determined. There are a number of NATO nations out there that are very interested in putting PRTs on the ground, either in a combination of countries in a single PRT or with a full-up PRT belonging to a single nation. I'm not sure I would want to put them on the spot by naming who they are, but I can tell you that there is over a half-dozen countries that I'm aware of that are interested in that and have been working on that closely with NATO.
STAFF: About three more, three -- you haven't had a chance to ask a question. Let's go to Jim and then back over to you two.
Q General, Jim Mannion from Agence France-Presse. Could you talk a little bit about the al Qaeda presence in Pakistan in the tribal areas; how many you think they are, how they're organized, how they operate from there, and what will be required to drive them out?
GEN. BARNO: Well, I think ultimately the responsibility for driving al Qaeda out of the tribal areas of Pakistan belongs to Pakistan and, as I've described, they're undertaking a number of new efforts to do just that. I'm relatively skeptical about giving numbers for the reasons I mentioned before because we're talking about enablers, we're talking about couriers, we're talking about supporters and we're talking about fighters, and those numbers are very broad, they're intermixed, and they're somewhat nebulous in terms of pinning them down. But I do think that the efforts that I see that have evolved with the Pakistani military here over the last two to three months show the greatest promise we have seen in a while of ensuring that those al Qaeda forces in those areas are driven out.
I would also, I think, add to that that, as we work with the Pakistani military, we're moving in the direction of cooperative operations on both sides of the border, a hammer-and-anvil approach if you will; whereas al Qaeda may be driven from the Pakistani side that we're ready to receive them on the Afghan side, use our forces in concert with Afghan forces on this side of the border to be able to, you know, crush the al Qaeda elements between the Pakistani and the coalition forces.
Q General, Eric Schmitt with The New York Times. Can you expand on your last comment there about the hammer and anvil? I mean, we've been hearing about that as a desired strategy for a couple of years now, but do you have regular meetings or regular communications with your counterparts in Pakistan?
And the second part of the question; if you could just elaborate on this concept of area ownership that you described, and how is that different from what existed before?
GEN. BARNO: Yeah, absolutely. And on the first part, we have a series of meetings that are now very regular with the Pakistani military. I go over there at least once a month and meet with my counterparts. I also host about a monthly to six-week meeting called the Tripartite Commission that brings together senior security leadership of Afghanistan, of Pakistan and the U.S. here in a three-way talk. That has produced tremendous benefits over the last several months. We now have two subcommittees of that group that meet monthly to deal with border issues, and they actually go to the border post between Pakistan and Afghanistan, with the Afghan military, with the Pakistani military, with coalition military, to look at issues and challenges there. We also have a second subcommittee that meets every month that looks at military information and coordination exchange.
So these are all outgrowths of, I think, dramatically improved and routine cooperation with the Pakistani military to help address these issues across this border.
On the second part of the question regarding area ownership, I would probably describe what we're doing is moving to a more classic counterinsurgency strategy here in Afghanistan where -- in the past our units had oftentimes go out, gone into areas for short periods of time to conduct a focused operation, then returned to their base area for planning and preparation, then gone out on another focused operation into a completely different area and returned, and that was the more common cycle.
What we've moved to over the last three months is a system of areas of operation battalions, and oftentimes companies and sometimes even platoons now own specific large chunks of the countryside; stay in those areas, operate continuously out of those areas; maintain and develop relations with the tribal elders, with the mullahs, with the local government officials; work hand in hand with the PRTs that are now going into those areas. And the units, then, ultimately get great depth of knowledge, understanding, and much better intelligence access to the local people in those areas by "owning," as it were, those chunks of territory.
That's a fairly significant change in terms of our tactical approach out there on the ground. Part of the results of that we think is we've seen turned in to us the highest number of caches in the last month that we've seen in over half a year. And there's other very, very positive indicators of how that more long-term relationship with specific groups of Afghan people and government officials have paid off for us in terms of having a collective security outlook for an area as opposed to being in an area for a very short period of time. We think that's the way to go. We've already seen some very good success with that in the last two months.
STAFF: (Off mike) -- not a multi-part question, we might be able to squeeze Pam in for the last one.
Q General, Rick Whittle with the Dallas Morning News. I wonder if you could -- you talked about how the Taliban have changed their tactics over the past year, that they're not appearing in large groups anymore. Could you elaborate on that some and describe what tactics they're using now? And could you -- I don't know if you have statistics at hand, but could you talk to us a little bit about the sorts of attacks that are taking place by the terrorists and where they happen?
GEN. BARNO: On the change of their tactics, what I would describe is that the Taliban -- and in general terrorist organizations here, but certainly the Taliban in particular -- have moved from feeling that they could operate in large groups in areas that they traditionally viewed as friendly to them to realizing if they did that, they would be destroyed in large numbers. And they found that out last August in some of our operations in and around Oruzgan province.
What they then shifted to from what we've seen over the course of the fall is very small targeted attacks. We thought we had a trend -- and we may still see more of that, I suspect, this spring -- where the Taliban are looking to attack those that have no defenses, those that are nongovernmental workers helping to support the Afghan people, those that are innocent women and children in a bazaar in Kandahar, those that are working on the ring road project to allow the key cities of Afghanistan to be connected to each other.
So we have seen them move from a strategy where they realized they couldn't confront the coalition military power to attacking those that were weaker than they were, that did not have the defenses. And we have adjusted our tactics in the same way to be able to go after them with this approach.
But they've found that they get some media effect by doing this, that they can disrupt some of these very worthy nongovernmental programs of aid across the country by doing this. So it's -- again, it's classic terrorism. It's murder and mayhem, and it's sowing terror among those that don't have defenses. And so we anticipate that we're going to see them continue to operate this way, because they are essentially powerless to confront the coalition out here.
So we're working very much to adjust our security apparatus with this area ownership, working with the Afghan security, the new police coming out, the Afghan national army coming out, to be able to have a integrated network of security that confronts this threat.
In terms of their attacks, I'll mention a couple of those. You know, we've seen bicycle bombs, attacking innocent people in Kandahar, downtown. That's even killed numbers of schoolchildren, which has been particularly tragic. We've seen them using improvised explosive devices, some of them remote-controlled, some of them vehicle-borne, some of them individual-borne. So they're really the classic individual, very small commitment in terms of resources, but a impact disproportionate, particularly on the media side, from the size of the attack that they actually produced. The tragic and unfortunate part of this is that they have taken on targeting innocent civilians, which we absolutely abhor.
Q Thanks, General. It's Pam Hess with UPI again. Could you tell us what leverage the Pakistani government has with the tribes in the tribal areas, why the tribes are cooperating with them? And would you also update us domestically on factional fighting? In the briefing charts that we got, there was a mention that you guys settled the problem between Dostum and Atta in November, and I'm wondering what other areas you're seeing similar fighting and what you're doing about it.
GEN. BARNO: In terms of the Pakistani leverage against the tribal areas, I think that their presence is their leverage. As you heard earlier, the Pakistani conventional military had never gone into the tribal areas in the history of Pakistan until this last year. So the fact that they are now there, that they have got a presence, that they're confronting the tribal elders and they're holding them accountable for activities in their areas of influence is a major step forward, and it's something that we're watching with great interest and with some cautious optimism that it will have a positive effect. They're obviously having and adding to that enforcement mechanisms for those that do not comply that include, I think, destruction of homes and things of that nature in some of the reports I've seen. So they are confronting the tribal elders and making them be accountable for the behavior in their area. That's a traditional approach that has not been used till now in that particular part of Pakistan. And so, again, we're watching that with great interest.
On your question of factional fighting and factional engagement, the PRT in Mazar-e Sharif I would showcase is a critical node in terms of the success we've seen up there. That issue is not fully resolved at this time, but we've been a huge movement since early October, when we had significant factional fighting in that part of the country. That movement was facilitated by the PRT. It was actively engaged by the Afghan government, their senior leadership, President Karzai, Minister Jalali and the minister of interior, Jalali going up there and actually getting personally involved in sorting it out. And that has all the makings, I think, of a major success story for us here in the country. We still have final closure to bring on that.
I would tell you as part of that, though, the PRTs can help play that role in each part of the country. Their ability to deliver security effects where we plant them will have a significant intimidating and enforcing effect on local militia forces that may not be compliant with the desires of the central government. And we really find that wherever we put PRTs that the good central government, the good police, the good national leadership there are very much reinforced in their desires to bring to justice those perpetrators out there who do not support the movement of the Afghan people forward. So Mazar-e Sharif was a terrific example of that. There's going to be others here in the future.
STAFF: General Barno, Colonel Perry, thank you very much for taking some time to be with us this morning. We hope that we can call on you again soon, as this has been very informative. Thank you very much.
Q Thank you, Bryan.
GEN. BARNO: Thanks very much, folks. Have a good rest of your day.
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