Wednesday, November 7, 2001 - Noon EST
(Also participating: Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. Slides and videos shown in this briefing are on the Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Nov2001/g011105-D-6570C.html )
Clarke: Good afternoon. Just have a couple of small announcements to make, and then I'll turn this over to General Pace.
Pleased to announce that tomorrow, General Franks will be here to brief with Secretary Rumsfeld. We don't have the exact time, but we'll get it to you as soon as we can. [Noon.]
Secondly, tomorrow, the Association of the United States Army Seminar will begin at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel and continue through Friday. At 8:20 a.m. tomorrow, the chief of staff of the Army, General Eric Shinseki, will outline the principles of the objective force concept. And at noon, Secretary of the Army Thomas White will provide the keynote luncheon address. Senior Army leaders will also outline future combat system core technologies and advance capabilities needed to enable the objective force. Media interested in covering the seminar should contact the AUSA Public Affairs Office at (703) 907-2624. [ press advisory ]
I just wanted to say something. It's been one month since we started the military operations, and we were very clear on our objectives on October 7. And I just thought it might be useful to remind you what the secretary said. On October 7th he said the following:
"The current military operations are focused on achieving several outcomes: to make clear to the Taliban leaders and their supporters that harboring terrorists is unacceptable and carries a price. Two, to acquire intelligence to facilitate future operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban regime that harbors the terrorists; to develop relationships with groups in Afghanistan that oppose the Taliban regime and the foreign terrorists that they support. We want to make it increasingly difficult for the terrorists to use Afghanistan freely as a base of operations, and to alter the military balance over time by denying to the Taliban the offensive systems that hamper the progress of the various opposition forces. And finally, to provide humanitarian relief to Afghans suffering truly oppressive living conditions under the Taliban regime." [ transcript ]
And I would say to you, one month later, we are making progress and we're on track with what we set out to accomplish.
And with that, I will turn it over to General Pace.
Q: Torie, can I ask you a question about those goals?
Q: There's no mention of getting Osama bin Laden or eradicating al Qaeda. How does that fit into the secretary's goals?
Clarke: It fits into the broad picture that we are going after terrorists and those who harbor and foster and sponsor them around the world. As we've said repeatedly, this is not just about one man and one network; this is about terrorism globally. But that is definitely part of our objectives.
Q: Torie, can I do one quick follow up? After -- after -- all this began, and after laying out the objectives, the secretary said at least once from that podium -- using the word "destroy" -- that one of the objectives is to destroy the Taliban. That's a lot stronger than saying what you just said.
Clarke: I'm never going to do better than the secretary in choosing his words. I would just say, if you go back to what we've said all along about what we are trying to accomplish, and you underscore the fact, as we've said all along, that this is very difficult, it will take time, and it is an unconventional operation, I'd say we're making progress and we are on track with what we set out to accomplish.
Q: But destroy is a lot stronger than just saying, you know, to make it difficult for them, make them pay a price, or what have you. So at least in his rhetoric, it escalated to the point of using that word, "destruction," rather than just, you know, making it difficult for them.
Clarke: I don't think any person is going to say things exactly the same each time. I think we've been very, very clear in our objectives. The point I'm trying to make today -- one month -- four weeks after starting the military operations -- is that we're on track, making progress in what we set out to do.
Pace: Thank you, and good afternoon.
Yesterday we flew about 80 aircraft on strike missions inside of Afghanistan. About one-third of those were focused on support to the opposition forces -- about two-thirds of those, excuse me, were on opposition forces, and about one-third were against the cave and tunnel complexes.
We also had the Commando Solo broadcast flights. We had 34,000 humanitarian rations delivered. And as we promised you yesterday we would show you some pictures today, here are two still photos, and then four films.
In the first still photo, you see a picture of what is the -- what was the Piwar training camp, a major training facility for the Taliban, funded by Osama bin Laden in the eastern part of Afghanistan. You can see bunker complexes. You can see several buildings there. They do a lot of their training -- did do a lot of their training there.
Next slide, please.
And here you can see, perhaps not that clearly from your seats, but up close in the picture you can see that many of the buildings and the underground tunnel-works and the other facilities there have been destroyed.
We have four videos for you. The first video shows a strike on a Taliban personnel bunker south of Sherberghan.
Q: (Off mike.)
Pace: Sherberghan. S-H-E-R-B-E-R-G-H-A-N.
The second video is rather unique. You'll see two vehicles, one pull up next to another. You'll see an individual walk between the two vehicles just before a guided munition destroys both vehicles.
Q: What do you think those vehicles are?
Pace: I couldn't tell from that imagery.
Q: Can you tell how old it is?
Q: What kind of model it is?
Pace: Excuse me.
Q: Was that the one that was -- (inaudible) -- again? Two vehicles?
Pace: No, those two vehicles were a different location. The first still photographs were from Sherberghan. The next is from a location that I do not currently have data on the precise location, but it was two -- what looked like some types of armored vehicles, but not clear.
Q: So what kind of weapon was used on that one?
Pace: It was a precision-guided munition. That's all -- the only thing I would tell you on that.
Q: Those are not fuel tankers? They sort of look like fuel tankers.
Pace: I couldn't tell in that photo.
But the next reel, if I could show it to you, is a direct hit on a Taliban trench and bunker complex. This is outside of Mazar-e Sharif, so this strike was flown in support of the opposition.
And then lastly shows you a direct hit on a tank near the city of Herat.
And with that, we'll take your questions.
Q: General, has the dust settled at all in the North, up around Mazar-e Sharif as to what appears to be the situation -- gains claimed by the Northern Alliance?
Pace: Very fluid situation, as you would imagine. We know that the opposition is making gains. We do have, as you know, some of our Special Forces folks on the ground with them. They are able to help in directing airstrikes. They're able to report on some of what they see on the battlefield, but of course, they don't see the entire battlefield, so we don't know the precise locations right now of all units, but we do know that the opposition forces have been making progress.
Q: Have they gained ground that they didn't hold before?
Clarke: I'd just -- I'd repeat what the secretary said yesterday. Information is hard to come by; it's very fluid. There is an ebb and flow to these situations, and it can take days or even longer before you can really characterize how something is going.
Q: General, can we come down a little bit in a follow-up, if you will? We have been told that there were some 45,000 to 65,000 Taliban troops at the outset of this air campaign. And when you look at what many of us refer to as the "gee-whiz" gun-camera footage and the still photos, and we realize the thousands of tons of ordnance that have been fired and dropped, one would tend to get the impression that there are no Taliban troops left. And yet the secretary and you briefed yesterday that they are now dispersed, that they are hiding out in mosques and hospitals and other areas.
Do we have any intelligence at all -- not necessarily from the ground, but our own intelligence telling us -- the word "substantial" was used, but how substantial? How badly are we taking out these troops?
Pace: I can tell you what I know, and I'll tell you what I don't know. What I do know is that we've flown over 2,000 sorties since 7 October, in support of the campaign. And in the process of doing that, we have taken down their air defense systems, we have taken their command and control communications equipment, we have disrupted their lines of communication, we have provided support for the opposition forces on the ground. So we do know that these -- and the cave complexes and the like that you've been told about. We do know that during the course of this month, that there have been significant military effort applied against the Taliban.
We do not have anyone on the ground who can give us specifics on how many of this and how many that has been disturbed.
Q: Do you have a feeling, sir, that based on everything you're telling us and the intelligence we get from various means, that we are inflicting damage to the point that maybe one-third is taken out, one- half is taken out, anything at all?
Pace: No, I wouldn't even try to guess that. And I would do you a disservice to try to guess.
Q: If I could follow up on this, specifically, General, seeing this individual walking between the trucks and then the weapons taking out the two trucks, and seeing this war from afar, one gets no sense of the kind of casualties on the ground. Are there any estimates, any intelligence that tells us how many Taliban have been killed in the attacks so far?
Pace: I can't give you an estimate, but I can give you a flavor for the type of war, because we do have our Special Forces, who are able to report back to us on the types of things that are going on. You have had one of -- or more of your American service members who are in harm's way over there reporting back about cavalry charges -- and this is opposition forces -- riding horseback into combat against tanks and armored personnel carriers. So these folks are aggressive. They're taking the war to their enemy and ours. We are supporting them as best we can, and I'm not going to make any guesses about how many casualties are inflicted.
Q: Can we return for just a moment to Mazar-e Sharif? Some of the reporting on the ground indicates that the Taliban forces withdrew from some of the front lines. Can you tell us whether or not your indications are that the Taliban and the opposition are actually fighting, or are we having pieces of real estate vacated and the Northern Alliance then occupying vacated real estate?
Pace: It is fluid. They are fighting. It is true that some units move without being forced to do so. It is also true that other units are in direct contact.
Q: But you do see a marked difference today than you did several days ago, both in terms of a level of activity by the Northern Alliance and in the ground that is being taken? There is a difference over 48 or 72 hours?
Pace: I wouldn't characterize it in that way. What I would say is that for about the last week or so, we have been able to concentrate a great deal more of our aviation in support of the opposition forces. And because of that, we have been able to assist them more in their ground campaign.
Q: General, as a military man, just in one month since the aerial campaign -- in effect, again, the aerial campaign, could I ask you to comment about, A, the limitations of air power, including the operation, and B, the inevitability of a substantial ground operation, U.S. ground operation, in the months ahead? I'm not asking to pin you down operational details, but I'm asking you to speak in a more general concept. I know you're a Marine, so it's going to color what you're saying, but --
Pace: I will tell you what I can. And what I will say to you about aviation is not going to be startling news to you. There are certainly things like weather that impact aviation operations. Sometimes we can work through that. Sometimes we cannot. Some of the UAVs that we have are impacted by weather as well. So weather is your main constraint on aviation.
Also, it is true that there are certain formations on the ground that -- dropping bombs on them has some effect, but not the final effect that you need, and it requires what the opposition forces are doing very aggressively, from the reporting we have, in attacking the enemy.
Q: But if I could, the question was really not about opposition ground forces, but the inevitability that at some point there will be a more substantial U.S. ground presence in the months ahead.
Pace: I would not comment on that.
Q: General, a minute ago you talked about -- just a minute ago you talked about the methods by which the opposition forces are charging into combat, and while it may seem courageous, doesn't it seem a little strange to you, as a military man, that the forces backed by the United States are going up against tanks on horseback?
Pace: From 8,000 miles away or however far away we are, I would not judge a fellow soldier from a friendly nation and how they are employing their resources. I would tell you this: that they have the resources that they have. We are providing equipment, food, ammunition, weapons, water, food for their horses, support from the air. And as we work with them, as we are able to determine what other assistance might be useful to them, we will work through that.
Q: Let me follow up. Let me follow up. Is this a sign, though, that it's going to take a while for the Northern Alliance to break through some of these Taliban lines, given the situation that you're seeing?
Pace: Oh, I think it's fair to say that we have not put ourselves on a time line and we should not put them on a time line, that this is going to be a process that we will stay focused on as a nation, as far as what are doing, and we will assist them in what they are doing. But I would not put either of us on a time line.
Q: General, the opposition is saying that these recent gains they made south of Mazar-e Sharif were done in conjunction and coordination with U.S. airstrikes on Taliban lines. Are they -- are those claims unverifiable? Are those claims untrue? Or if it is indeed in coordination with the United States, why aren't you able to verify them?
Pace: I'm not sure I understand the question, so let me try answering it and see if I get to what you're asking.
Clarke: Or rephrase it -- (off mike) --
Pace: Or rephrase it, yeah, as -- we are on the ground with them. We are providing airstrikes against targets that our U.S. service members on the ground with the opposition forces are able to identify as proper targets, and we are striking those. If the opposition is telling us that in fact that is helping them advance, that is exactly what it's supposed to do.
Q: General, can you address the question -- broadly speaking, this is a mission that the chief has described as the most important since World War II. It seems to some people that you've thrown your lot in with a force that from this podium you said is poorly organized, poorly armed, and has a different agenda than the United States. Can you address the question of why, if it's so, the United States is letting others fight this fight for the U.S.?
Pace: First of all, I have not said they are poorly organized, and I have not said they are poorly armed.
Q: The secretary of defense has said that they're not well coordinated, that they're -- that the U.S. doesn't know when they're going to launch offensives. The different elements of the Northern Alliance are not coordinated with each other. Now that's been said from the podium. You've just talked about horses. We're having to deliver them arms, which would suggest they need more arms. All that's been said from up here.
Clarke: What he said fairly repeatedly is, to the extent we can be helpful to those who oppose the Taliban, we want to be as helpful as possible. And he has also said there is not one -- the Northern Alliance; there are different factions. And there are tribes in the South, and there are people within the Taliban itself that oppose the Taliban regime.
And we'll do what we can to be helpful to them.
Your -- the premise of your question is somewhat derisive. What he has said is there are special and unique challenges to this that don't make it as neat and easy as some would like. You're not dealing with one entity. But to the extent we can be helpful in a variety of ways to those different forces that oppose the Taliban, we will do so.
Q: Is the United States going to rely on this force, whatever its quality, or is the United States going to fight the fight, itself?
Clarke: Well, again, you keep referring to it as "the force" or "a force." There isn't "the force" or "a force." In trying to achieve our objectives, both in Afghanistan and elsewhere, we're going to look to lots of different parties and entities to try to root out the terrorists and those who harbor and sponsor them.
Q: If they don't get the job done for you, then what?
Clarke: Well, it's just -- it's a hypothetical.
Q: General, can you say anything about the Taliban reinforcing their troops with volunteers from Pakistan? There have been reports of hundreds, if not thousands, crossing some of the borders -- border areas to get in?
Pace: I have read the same reports you have read; I have not seen any intelligence confirmation of that.
Q: None whatsoever?
Pace: I have not seen -- I'm not saying it's not true. We just don't have confirmation of that.
Q: General Pace, over the weekend, General Myers said that the U.S. had successfully been able to insert more Special Forces in. Since that update we've received from General Myers, can you tell us whether since then any teams of Special Forces have gone into Afghanistan? Have we succeeded in increasing the number at all since then?
Pace: When was the last time that the general said that?
Q: General Myers said that over the weekend they had gotten a couple of more teams -- I think actually Secretary Rumsfeld said it, as well. And I'm just wondering -- and Secretary Rumsfeld said yesterday there were teams prepared to go in at the appropriate time. I'm just wondering if you can tell us if any have gone in since then?
Pace: Without knowing --
Clarke: Since yesterday? Is that the question?
Q: Since the last time you acknowledged some had gone in.
Pace: Again, not to be obtuse about it, but since I don't know exactly when the last comment was made -- within the last several days, we have increased the number of teams on the ground.
Q: But I guess the question -- is there more than two-and-a-half times now? Last time we heard from Rumsfeld, there was two-and-a-half times the number that had been in before. Are we higher than that now?
Clarke: And that was --
Pace: I don't know what two-and-a-half times -- what point in time you're talking about. Let me just put it to you this way: There were initial teams put in. There have been additional teams put in. And if we need to put more in in the future, we will put them in. We are working to provide the right number of teams to the right opposition leaders to be able to give them the kind of support that we've been giving them.
Q: North and south, General? North and south for the teams, or just north?
Pace: North and south, and --
Q: In Afghanistan?
Pace: I prefer not to get into exactly where they're located.
Q: Do you have any idea about any European troops?
Q: I'm still confused about your comments on Mazar-e Sharif. You started out the briefing by saying opposition forces have been making progress. But I'm not clear. You said you couldn't verify any reports that they had taken any villages that they have claimed to take. Could you just go back over that? What do you mean by they've made progress? Have they taken territory? Are they holding territory? And are they encountering any fire from the Taliban when they make these cavalry charges?
Pace: Thank you for letting me be a little more precise in my choice of words. In that particular context, I was talking about the fact that we do know that they had been -- the opposition had been attacking. They had been defending. They had inflicted casualties, and with our assistance, we have been putting air strikes onto the Taliban forces.
So what I meant by progress was that there is military activity ongoing. It is also true that the situation is fluid and at any given time, a particular hill or location may switch hands, but the opposition are in fact working with our assistance to take the fight to the Taliban.
Q: Overall, do you feel that they are making progress in their goal of taking Mazar-e Sharif? And again, when you -- I thought the secretary or perhaps you yesterday had said that you had some evidence the Taliban had been so decimated they were not shooting back. So are they -- is the opposition making overall progress towards Mazar-e Sharif, and what Taliban responses are you seeing?
Pace: My understanding is that the Taliban are shooting back. My understanding is that the opposition forces are attacking. I know that we are in fact providing assistance from the air, and that's about as far as I can take it with the knowledge that I have based on reporting we have.
Q: General? May I follow up on that? You have --
Q: Do you have any plans for the European troops -- for the deployment of European troops, especially Italian troops?
Pace: As the secretary said yesterday, we very much appreciate the offers of assistance in many kinds that we've received from many nations around the world. But like him, I would like to leave it to those governments to announce what that assistance is and when they will or will not be involved in various aspects of the campaign.
Q: General Pace, can I ask -- following up on Barbara's question, not just in Mazar-e Sharif, but do you see any areas where opposition forces, no matter which forces, are taking any ground anywhere in Afghanistan? Say, for instance, Bagram Airport, or anywhere? Are they taking some ground, making some progress anywhere in Afghanistan?
Pace: The short answer to your question is yes. Then you will ask me where, and then I would be giving the kinds of information to the enemy that we do not want to give them. Where we are feeling strong or weak is not the kind of thing we would want to talk about.
Q: General, wouldn't the enemy know -- wouldn't your enemy --
Q: Just to follow up. Are you saying besides the northern area, and besides Kabul? Might there be other areas besides the northern area and Kabul where you are seeing some progress?
Clarke: I just -- we could go around on this one for a long time. The truth is, we, like you, get different kinds of information. There is an ebb and flow to the level of the activity --
Q: But are you encouraged by the fact that you might be getting some progress in other areas?
Pace: I may --
Clarke: The best thing to say -- I'm sorry.
Pace: Excuse me.
Clarke: The best thing to say is that it is better to wait -- in certain areas, it is better to wait for the dust to settle, when we have real information -- rather than to give you something at 12:25 on a Wednesday that might not be accurate six or 12 hours from now, we'd rather get real information. And it's just best not to try to give hard characterizations for things at this time.
Q: But what's your premise for claiming progress when you don't have real information? I don't understand.
Pace: As I redefine my use of the term "progress," with the reporter over here, progress to me is the fact that we have been able to continue to provide air support to the people on the ground. We do know, through some of these videos and other reporting that we have in fact destroyed installations, people, and equipment. So that is what I am defining as progress.
Q: But how does that translate into progress for opposition forces? Have they progressed?
Pace: What is your -- what is your question with regard to progress? What do you mean? I don't know how to --
Q: A plus situation, moving forward.
Q: Taking ground.
Q: Taking ground, as opposed to losing ground or a stalemate.
Pace: They have been attacking. We have the after-action reports and the film that shows destruction of enemy installations and equipment and personnel. I cannot draw for you on a map right now the frontlines of the individual units. We don't have that kind of fidelity on the battlefield.
Q: General Pace, have you heard back from these military assessment teams in Tajikistan? And if so, can you tell us anything about U.S. access to these airfields?
Clarke: Jonathan, I don't think we have heard back. We can take that question, but I don't think we've got anything back from the assessment teams at this point. [No reports yet.]
Q: Would you mind taking that question?
Clarke: Not at all.
Q: Are they also exploring bases in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan?
Clarke: All I know about is the assessment teams in Tajikistan.
Q: So there are no assessment teams in Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan?
Clarke: I don't know that. All I know about is the assessment teams we were going to send into Tajikistan.
Q: Two questions: would it be possible for DOD, the military, to share with us the film you have of the destruction inflicted by the Northern Alliance, as you were just talking about a second ago? One. I realize that's something you're going to have to take.
Two, in regard to the U.S. personnel on the ground with the opposition forces, what else are they doing in regard to helping the opposition fight the battle besides calling in airstrikes? Are they, in fact, engaged in any tactical decisions with the Northern Alliance? Are they, in fact, giving them on-the-ground instruction as to where to go, where to probe, what to strike?
Pace: If the commander on the ground were to ask for their opinion, they would certainly give it to them. Their purpose in being there is to be able to coordinate U.S. support to the units on the ground, and not to be giving guidance or direction to the commanders on the ground.
Q: But if obviously, if they see that the Northern Alliance is making an egregious error or walking into an ambush or something like that, they're going to share that kind of tactical information on the ground. So aren't they, in effect, serving as tactical advisors in that war?
Pace: They are there to do what I said. And I have not walked that ground with them; I don't know how far forward they can see. That's not a very precise answer, but they are there to coordinate U.S. support to the opposition forces, and if asked their opinion, I'm sure they would give it.
Q: General, more than 52,000 reservists have been called to active duty -- more than the 50,000 expected. There are some senior officials who are suggesting we need three times that number to be successful. First of all, can you confirm that? And secondly, would they be used primarily for homeland defense or security, or does this represent some sort of troop operation in Afghanistan?
Clarke: I'd just talk about the numbers. We've never said we had an exact number that we thought we would need. As needs and opportunities arise, the services come to us and say, this is what we could use here and there. So we just -- we move as the needs and the priorities dictate.
In terms of going forward, right now, primarily it is homeland defense. In terms of going forward, I don't know what those needs might be.
Q: General, can you discuss a little bit what the effect of the U.S. bombing has been on the Taliban? You said you can't give numbers about how much they've been reduced, but do you see changes in their behavior, especially over the past week or so, when the frontlines have been hit and when these daisy-cutter bombs have been used?
Pace: We know that we have been successful in reducing their strength, both personnel and equipment. I would not hypothesize what that reduction in strength and these attacks have done to their psyche.
Q: Well, I mean, have they been less aggressive? Are they digging in? I mean, can you describe in any way what the effect is?
Pace: I cannot describe that.
Q: General, has CENTCOM asked for the --
Clarke: And make this the last question.
Q: Has CENTCOM asked for the Bataan with 2,000 additional Marines to come to the scene?
Pace: I cannot discuss future force deployments.
Q: Has the Bataan received deployment orders? (Off mike.)
Pace: I cannot tell you that.
Q: (Laughs.) (Off mike.)
Q: General --
Q: General, can you just clear up the confusion about yesterday the --
Clarke: Last question.
Q: -- Secretary Rumsfeld said from the podium that the United States had dropped supplies, ammunition in the South, to Hamid Karzai. He seems to have indicated in a number of interviews that they've received no such supplies. Can you resolve that for us at all?
Pace: I can't right now, but we can take it for the record.
Clarke: Yeah. I don't know the answer.
"THIS TRANSCRIPT WAS PREPARED BY THE FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE INC., WASHINGTON, D.C. FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE IS A PRIVATE COMPANY. FOR OTHER DEFENSE RELATED TRANSCRIPTS NOT AVAILABLE THROUGH THIS SITE, CONTACT FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE AT (202) 347-1400."