(Also participating was Air Force Brig. Gen. John W. Rosa, Jr., deputy director for operations, Joint Staff.)
Clarke: Good afternoon. We just got in -- we have the identities of those killed in action in Eastern Afghanistan during Operation Anaconda yesterday. And I'd like to read these names and where they're from. We've got a piece of paper for you.
First, from the Army: Specialist Marc A. Anderson, 30, of Brandon, Florida; Private First Class Matthew A. Commons, 21, of Boulder City, Nevada; Sergeant Bradley S. Crose, 27 , of Orange Park, Florida; Sergeant Philip J. Svitak, 31, of Joplin, Missouri.
From the Navy: Aviation Boatswain's Mate-Handling Petty Officer 1st Class Neil C. Roberts, 32, of Woodland, California.
And from the Air Force: Tech Sergeant John A. Chapman, 36, of Waco, Texas; and Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham, 26, of Camarillo, California.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to them and to their families. And we thank them and all the men and women in uniform for what they do every day and for the risks they take.
Rosa: Thank you, Ms. Clarke.
And let me offer my condolences to the families and those service members who were killed in Afghanistan.
Our focus remains defeating al Qaeda and the former Taliban forces holed up in the Shahi-Kot region. We believe there are still hundreds of fighters there. We've been able to get into at least one of the cave complexes thus far, and we've discovered mortars, rocket- propelled grenade rounds, small arms. And in a different location we found more weapons and ammunition, as well as foreign driver's licenses and foreign passports.
Since the operation began Friday night, we've expended over 450 bombs, using long-range bombers and tactical aircraft. We've also provided close-air support with AC-130 gunships and A-10s.
Let me clear up some questions I believe many of you may have regarding the helicopter incidents we spoke about yesterday.
At approximately 5:30 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Sunday night, a MH-47 helicopter was hit by an RPG at a landing zone while attempting to insert Special Forces. It was able to lift off, but landed again some distance away after experiencing mechanical problems. As it was taking off, after being hit, an individual fell off. Soon thereafter, a second helo picked up the crew and passengers of the first helo.
A second incident occurred three-and-a-half hours later at 9:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Sunday night.
This helicopter was on a separate mission inserting Special Forces in the vicinity where the first one was hit. While approaching the landing zone, it was hit by what we believe to be machine gun fire, as well as a rocket-propelled grenade. The helo either crash-landed or experienced a hard landing. I don't want to characterize it either way right now. When the helo was on the ground, those personnel on the helo exchanged gunfire with the enemy. Six individuals from this helo were killed as a result of this firefight. When we evacuated the site of the second crash, we also found and evacuated the man who fell off the first helicopter.
So number of killed in action overall for Operation Anaconda stands at eight: One from Saturday night, Chief Warrant Officer Harridan; then from Sunday night, we have the sailor who fell off the first hello; and the six soldiers and airmen from the second incident. The current number of wounded stands at more than 40. However, 18 have returned to duty.
Today we have several videos of strikes in support of Operation Anaconda. The first two videos are from operations on Sunday, the 3rd of March. There are strikes by F-16s on dug-in al Quad-fighting positions. In the first, you can see the dug-in positions of adversary forces. In the second, you can see the adversary positions set within the rugged terrain. The third video is of an F-14 strike from yesterday. It's on a mortar position that was engaging friendly forces. As you can see, the building housing the mortar and a truck were hit by two weapons.
Q: What was the building?
Rosa: I'm not sure what that building was.
In general, you can see from these videos that our operations are ongoing in various terrain features, from mountainous to foothills and valleys, and in open valleys with structures.
And with that, we'll take your questions.
Q: General, have you any indication -- Afghan forces are saying in the region that while the fighting is very fierce, that the U.S.-led forces are pressing the attack on the ground now. And apparently the -- some of the resistance has waned some, that they might have been softened up. Can you give us a picture of that? Are you pressing the attack on the ground now? And are there any indications that there has been some softening up, some ease in the resistance?
Rosa: Since the outset we have been calculating, this is a very deliberate attack.
We've maintained the initiative on our terms and our pace. After a heavy night of bombing, yes, I would say we are softening up in certain portions. But there's still a lot of work to be done, Charlie. We're far from over.
Q: But are you pressing the attack on the ground today as you have --
Rosa: We are and we have been. We'll continue.
Clarke: And I'd add on, pressing very hard. And if you want a characterization of our posture on this, it is very aggressive and very forward-leaning.
Q: Have there been any additional casualties, either Afghan or allied or American?
Rosa: None have been reported.
Q: Yeah. In the incident where the six U.S. soldiers were killed, do you know what kind of damage they did to the people they were fighting?
Rosa: We're still piecing it together. And to give you a specific number of how many killed or wounded, I really don't have that information.
Q: And that was six out of how many who were in there, in the group who were in there?
Rosa: I'd rather not say. They came in from two helicopters. And if I told you that, then you would know exactly how many folks were carried on each helicopter.
Q: Could you --
Q: How many were -- I'm sorry. How many were wounded when the six were killed?
Clarke: I have not seen a breakdown --
Rosa: I don't think we break it down that way.
Clarke: No. We have an overall number of the wounded, approximate number of the wounded. I have not seen it broken out according to --
Rosa: Just from that incident.
Q: Well, could you tell us what happened after the firefight and how long it took to get those forces extracted and rescued?
Rosa: Okay. We're talking about the second incident, the 9:00 p.m.
Q: Yes, the second.
Rosa: Actually, there were two helicopters associated with that. They were flying in a two-ship formation. When the first helicopter took the hit and could not get airborne, those forces dispersed. The second helicopter dispersed its forces and egressed. It was sometime thereafter that we initiated a rescue operation and extracted, took out all the folks on the ground there.
Q: General Franks indicated that that extraction took quite some time, that it -- kind of like it was maybe 12, 14 hours later. Is that -- is that correct?
Rosa: I don't have the exact time, but it was quite a time. But we have to -- when you're going to set from a -- when you're going to go do a rescue operation, things have to be just right. You have to be very careful, because you have another one or two helicopters down. But that was a very successful operation. We got everybody out.
Q: Was that an Air Force operation, or?
Rosa: I think so, but I have to check for you.
Q: General, can you explain why these helicopters went in at that time in a hot landing zone without air cover?
Rosa: Well, you don't know that they didn't have air cover.
Q: Did they have air cover?
Rosa: I am not sure if they had air cover or not. But when you -- we get down to the tactical level and we're questioning the tactical commander from back here in Washington, we just don't want to get into that. But that tactical commander made the decision to land those helicopters in those landing zones.
In combat, you can never be sure that you're risk-free and that the landing zone will be completely free. Since that time, we've made several in-fills and ex-fills and have had -- have had quite a bit of success.
Q: Has something changed as a result of this operation, as far as how we're getting people in there?
Rosa: I think the biggest thing to change, and not to be flip, is we've killed a lot of people. We've killed people. They're not roaming around freely like they were; they're dug in. They're hunkered in. We've got a simultaneous attack at times with air from the U.S. and coalition forces. But I think it's tougher on them right now, and they're not moving quite as freely.
Q: In the 9:00 p.m. incident with the two helicopters that came down, were the people ultimately able to take off, or is one or both of those still on the ground?
Rosa: No, Pam. One airplane -- one helicopter stayed there.
Q: What about the other one -- the one that had the mechanical problem -- the first incident -- the --
Rosa: Right. That airplane (sic) egressed, left the area and landed eventually, due to mechanical problems some time away.
Q: Right. But is that still on the ground?
Rosa: I don't know. I don't know if we've been able to fix the airplane and get it out, but it was out of enemy action.
Q: And it was in a fairly safe area, which is why they were able to stay there for a couple of hours while they waited for --
Rosa: I believe so.
Q: And was this mechanical problem as a result of the fire, or do we know?
Rosa: You're talking about the ground fire?
Q: Right. The helicopter that landed is some distance away.
Rosa: What we suspected was that --
Q: Were the mechanical problems caused by taken hostile fire or some other problem?
Rosa: We suspect it was due to hostile fire.
Q: Torie, could you both provide a sort of a picture for the American public of the difficulties that the troops are facing in this battle? And also, I understand that the commanders were seeing a video of this firefight as it was going on -- a bloody firefight. Can you give a description of what's happening out there for the U.S. forces so that they can understand all of us? And describe this bloody firefight.
Clarke: (To Gen. Rosa.) Why don't I start, and you can finish?
Clarke: Two very important points: We have always said that the further this went on, the harder it would get. The people who are left fighting the al Qaeda are among the toughest -- the most violent, the most committed to fighting this out to the end. So we always knew it would get extremely difficult. Then you add into that the conditions, the terrain in which they are -- we saw a map of it yesterday -- is extraordinarily difficult -- high altitudes in many cases. The weather -- it is very, very cold there. So they were operating under extremely difficult conditions. But as I said, they are forward-leaning, and they are approaching this very aggressively.
Rosa: As I've been able to travel around the world, one of the things that always amazes other countries when they talk about our services in the United States is the training and the caliber of our enlisted force. You know, side-by-side, officers and enlisted folks are flying both in the air and on the ground.
But I will tell you as I think the chairman yesterday described, this is like fighting in the middle of the Rocky Mountains in the wintertime. It's tough. We have members of the 101st and members of the 10th Mountain; they're trained in cold weather and they're doing a fantastic job.
Q: To give the American people a sense of what it's really like there, can you give a better description of the terrain and also the bloody firefight, just to give them a sense of what -- the difficulties that they're facing?
Rosa: I guess, being an airman, the closest I've come to ground combat is a live firefight that I got to witness at a demonstration at Fort Bragg. And I can tell you, in my 29 years, that was probably the single-most impressive display of firepower I've seen, from helicopters overhead, troops on the ground. The noise is absolutely incredible. Everybody on night-vision goggles. Blacked out. You don't see anything. But I can tell you that the noise and the tracers and the coordination, the fire shoot maneuver is just absolutely amazing.
Q: I want to make sure -- Central Command last night seemed to indicate that after the soldier fell out of the helicopter, a second helicopter picked up the first helicopter's crew and went back essentially to retrieve the soldier.
Rosa: Is this the first incident?
Q: I'm trying to understand how that sort of fits together with what you were saying, where you seemed to be talking about two helicopters going back and inserting troops. Was that actually a retrieval mission for the person who fell out, or was that a whole separate thing?
Rosa: Okay, that's a good question.
There are two separate incidents here with two helicopters a piece. There are a total of four helicopters. The incident you're referring to is the one that happened around 5:30 Eastern Standard Time. They went in as a two-ship, took the ground fire; both aircraft egressed. They went back out, and when the aircraft was forced to land because of mechanical problems, some distance away, the other crew, the other airplane, picked up all the folks and passengers, flew them to a safe zone, dropped off the aircrew, and now they went back to that same general area to try and find the sailor that was missing, and also to reestablish and -- reinsert that special tactics team.
Q: Then walk us through the second pair of helicopters.
Rosa: Okay. The second set of helicopters, at 9:00, came in. The first one took ground fire, and that's where the machine gun or the rocket-propelled grenade hit it. It either did a hard landing -- and again, we didn't want to characterize that as a crash or a hard landing. Those folks dispersed. That airplane could not fly. The other airplane dropped its folks off and egressed. That helicopter that took the RPG-7 and machine-gun fire stayed there. Those folks dispersed. And through the night -- and that's the folks out of that helicopter that we rescued.
Q: This -- I'm sorry. This helicopter then came in and rescued.
Rosa: I think, Pam, there may have been one or two that did the rescue.
Q: So then which troops were killed in the firefight? Which of these four helicopters put out the troops that were killed in the firefight?
Rosa: The sailor in the first firefight was killed in that event. There were six out of the second one at 9:00. That's where six --
Q: The six that were killed, then, were not actually going back to get the first sailor.
Rosa: No. Those are the folks that were -- that were --
Q: Were being inserted.
Rosa: They egressed off of that helicopter.
Q: But they did retrieve his body.
Rosa: Yes, they did.
Q: Who did?
Clarke: The second set.
Rosa: The second set -- the second team that came in also went over to that other --
Q: (Off mike) -- behind from the first.
Q: And both of these incidents -- both these incidents are at essentially the same spot.
Rosa: They are separated by some distance.
Q: Can you be more specific as to how much?
Rosa: By a few miles.
Q: So when they went in -- I'm sorry, just geographically, it sounds like they went into the same place, because if they found the guy that fell out the first time --
Rosa: But they rescued within a few miles once they -- remember now, we went back in -- the second helicopter from the first incident went back in and inserted that team. So that team was on the ground fighting, and they recovered the body.
Q: Do you have any idea from what altitude he fell out?
Rosa: No, I don't know.
Clarke: We're going to go to the back to Tom and then back up here.
Q: Are fresh American forces being sent into this battle? Are there plans to do so now? And if so, will this be an increase in the number; or because of altitude and cold, are you having to rotate troops out faster than expected?
Rosa: In any combat scenario, you're going to rotate folks in and out. I can tell you that the numbers -- the total numbers of folks that General Franks spoke to yesterday have not changed significantly.
Q: But you're finding the climate and the altitude is prompting some early rotation?
Rosa: I wouldn't characterize it as early rotation. We'll rotate -- in the way we fight, we rotate, we move people where we need to move them according to the threat and the terrain. So I think it's -- it's going as we have it planned.
Clarke: Let me give Charlie one update, and then to you, Mr. McWethy. Where the six -- this is from Admiral Quigley. Where the six were killed, they have 11 injured. So we did have that one incident broken out.
Q: Two quickies. One, do you have any estimate of how many prisoners have been taken, or is it virtually none? Number one. And -- well, answer that, and I'll --
Clarke: I think it is virtually -- I have not seen any numbers at all.
Rosa: Early on, I think General Franks spoke to two or three that we had detained, but those ended up being friendly forces.
Q: One of the provincial governors said that al Qaeda had come into this area more than a month ago and basically bought a village, and they told the people to leave. They laid down a fair amount of money on this village that apparently is central to some of the combat.
Do you know anything about that? Is that so? Does that square with any intelligence that the --
Rosa: I have heard nothing.
Q: And has there been any indication of any high level of leadership other than the fact that these guys are fighting and there's a lot of them in this area?
Clarke: I've not seen that, either.
Rosa: No. As the secretary said yesterday, Jamie, we don't -- we don't know if they are there or they're not there.
Q: Can you confirm that most of the American forces who were based in Kandahar have, in fact, been shifted now to Bagram Air Base as backup for this operation? And secondly, can you comment on reports coming from the field that additional Afghan forces are being inserted into the fight?
Clarke: Let me take a shot at this, and then you can correct what I screw up.
Clarke: We are trying very hard to put out as much information as we can with all the concerns, given that this is an ongoing operation. And so we're trying to give you approximate numbers and approximate directions, those sorts of things, without painting a very clear picture. And so we start to break up exactly how many of this type and exactly where did they come from and the mix, we're trying hard not to do. But we are working closely with coalition forces, as we have before, and we're working closely with Afghan forces. I don't think -- (To General Rosa) unless you want to overrule me on this -- we want to start talking about exactly how many or where.
Q: (Off mike) -- Bagram Air Base on the record, an American spokesman has said this. And I'm just trying to get your feed on this.
Q: Aside from the operation.
Rosa: Folks move -- General Franks and that Central Command moves folks back and forth all the time. The movement that you're talking about I really can't -- I really don't know. But I can tell you that without getting any kind of permission from certainly up here, General Franks moves those forces where he needs them in the theater. And I agree with Torie: to characterize how many and where I think would be inappropriate.
Q: And that the -- the report about additional Afghan forces being inserted into the fight?
Clarke: Well, we're working very closely with Afghan forces. I have not seen any signs of more or less. Just haven't -- we're working very, very closely with them. They're playing a very important role. I haven't seen anything about numbers changing.
Q: But the local command, in fact, is reporting that there had been progress made towards this hub village in the last 24 hours.
Rosa: I really don't -- what you may be hearing is that at one point in time, when the primarily Afghan forces got their vehicles shot up early on, they backed off. But since that time they've come back. And in a battle like this, we're going to ebb and flow. There's going to be forces brought up to the front, back to resupply, refit, and it's kind of a synchronized plan.
Clarke: Mm-hmm. Tony?
Q: Sir, based on the ferocity of the fighting and your knowledge of the motives -- the motivation of all the fighters you're facing, do you expect many prisoners, if any, or do you -- are you, from a planning standpoint, assuming this is going to be a fight to the finish and victory will be largely defined why the number of bodies you carry out of there and bury?
Rosa: That's really up to the enemy. They always have the opportunity to surrender. I have heard -- I think it was spoken yesterday from this podium -- that the enemy has decided to stay and fight.
Q: Have you seen anything in the last 24 hours that indicated a shift, that there may be pockets of surrender?
Q: Are there people surrendering?
Rosa: No, we have no reports.
Q: A fight to the finish, probably?
Rosa: As far -- the way it looks right now.
Q: Torie and General Rosa, do you have any home bases for the soldiers -- U.S. soldiers killed?
Clarke: I do not, but we're going to have -- we have a piece of paper for you with the names and locations, and we'll see if we can get those.
Q: With their home bases --
Clarke: We will try. Mm-hmm.
Q: General, could you explain why -- in these helicopter incidents, why -- after the first episode, when helicopters were taking ground fire, why additional helicopters would go into that same LZ, which appeared to be pretty hot at the time?
Rosa: In the first instance, again, I don't want to question tactical commanders, but there was an American, for whatever reason, was left behind, and we don't leave Americans behind.
Q: But the second set of helicopters or the third set -- I'm a little bit confused about that -- but the final two helicopters that went in, in which the one was forced to make a hard or crash landing, whatever that was, in which the six were killed -- why would they -- because they were not apparently directly involved in the rescue effort --
Q: Why were they brought into that hot landing zone area at a time when it was quite obvious that other helicopters that had been in there were taking heavy fire?
Rosa: Well, first of all, again, I don't want to question those commanders, and I'm not sure of all the circumstances. But I can tell you that those two LZs were separated by distance. And as I spoke earlier, there's no way, with perfect intelligence, that you can tell that there's never going to a round fired. And we were inserting at that time the Special Forces teams that we needed to get inserted.
Q: General, there was some question yesterday about whether there were six or seven killed from that second helicopter. Does that mean that one of those crewmembers or one of the soldiers was very seriously wounded? And are there -- of the 40 or so wounded, can you tell us how many are seriously wounded?
Clarke: I think all it means is that, as we say all the time, this information, particularly when the operation was continuing, it is very difficult to get hard and fast information.
We're trying very hard to maintain the balance of getting out what we can, being as accurate as possible. But you all know better than we do, first reports are always wrong. So we just got to more solid ground as we got to it.
Rosa: And of the 40, I am not sure how many are critically or the status of those 40.
Q: One final detail on that helicopter thing. In the first set, the Special Forces team that went down on the ground and retrieved the body in the one landing zone, were they evacuated with the second set of people?
Rosa: Yes, they were.
Q: So that's how that man's body was -- the sailor's body was recovered, is they had him, and then they met up with the rescue team --
Q: -- that was in there to get out the folks from the second set of helicopters?
Rosa: That is the way I understand it.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Have any other thermobaric bombs been dropped or any other special weapons?
Rosa: To my knowledge, there have been no other special weapons dropped.
Clarke: I have an update on detainees. This just in from CentCom. Since the operation started, one was identified -- I can't read this writing -- but identified and released; four remain under coalition control. So we have four detainees at this time.
Q: The six soldiers who were killed, which helicopter did they come out of? I'm still a little confused about the picture you drew.
Rosa: They came out of one of the two helicopters that were in the second insertion. The one that was at 9:00 at night.
Q: The one that was hit or the other?
Rosa: I don't know.
Q: Or possibly both?
Rosa: I don't know if they all came out of that one helicopter or not. But remember there were two helicopters that went in there.
Clarke: Let's go way in the back
Q: Can you describe this complex? How much of it is above ground? How much underground? How extensive are the caves? Does it compare to the Tora Bora region? Are they highly developed caves, complexes, like they were there?
Rosa: I cannot. I will tell you that most of those caves that we've gone into in sensitive site exploitations have been complex facilities, but I can't characterize that in this area. We simply haven't been in. And I don't know -- the one that we went into, I'm not sure of the complexity.
Q: Just a clarification on the forces. Yesterday General Franks put up a map and it showed the Afghan forces on the outside of his blue circle there. Is it still that the Afghans are providing this blocking move on the outside, or containment, whatever you want to call it, and the U.S. forces are doing the fighting on the inside of that circle? Is that what --
Rosa: I think the map that the general put up yesterday is still accurate. There are blocking forces. The Afghanis are still where you saw them. The one thing that is different is -- I talked about the fluidity of the battle. There will be folks that are in contact that are part of the coalition and they'll be out.
But I think the map that you saw yesterday is still an accurate depiction.
Q: So the Afghans are on the outside, and the U.S. is doing the fighting --
Q: For the most part.
Rosa: They're -- that would be wrong. There are Afghans where you saw those pictures yesterday in blocking positions, but there are also Afghans engaged in combat.
Q: Yeah. But what is --
Q: (Inaudible) -- about movement, contact yesterday on Afghan forces?
Rosa: Again, they move in and out as the battle goes.
Q: What about the troops from allied nations? General Franks yesterday had this list of countries -- Australia, Canada, France, Germany -- and it indicated that they have commandos there or troops of some kind. Can you just describe in general terms what role they're playing?
Clarke: We have probably said everything we feel comfortable saying at this time about what they're doing. The secretary said, we have all said --
Q: Well, are they fighting, or are they at the rear, blocking or --
Clarke: They're playing very important roles in the overall war on terrorism. They're playing a very important role in this particular operation. But it really is up to them to decide what and how they want to characterize specific things they might be involved in.
Q: But the things that you have found in caves, General, tells you what about the people that you are fighting against?
Rosa: It tells me they're well-armed. It tells me they've got good defensive fighting positions. The foreign passports and driver's license - you can probably draw your own conclusions there. But it's not atypical from what we've seen in the past.
Q: U.S. driver's license?
Clarke: Make that the last question.
Rosa: I don't know.
Q: (Off mike.)
Rosa: You said foreign; I don't know.
Q: On the cave thing, did you fight your way in, or was it a cave that was abandoned?
Rosa: I don't know that. I'm not sure.
Clarke: One, then last one.
Q: Slightly different subject: On the International Security Force that's operating under British control. Torie, I have a question for you on that. What is the Secretary Rumsfeld view on expanding that numerically and geographically inside Afghanistan?
Clarke: Well, he's spoken to it a couple of times from up here, I think -- is we are working closely with the coalition partners, most importantly with the Afghan interim government, to figure out what is the best way ahead to help them achieve the kind of internal stability and security they need. They're looking at a wide range of options, including the ISAF, including how do you expedite the creation of the Afghan National Army. But it's an active conversation, discussion, and work in progress right now.
Q: And whether that's a good way to go --
Clarke: He thinks having a very active discussion and deliberation of what's the best approach is the right way to go. And that's actually what is going on right now.
Q: But the question, would to expand it or not -- he hasn't expressed a view on that?
Clarke: He expresses his views privately.
Q: Not publicly?
Clarke: What he says publicly happens to be the truth, which is, it's very good to have a very active conversation, a very active dialogue going on with all the appropriate people to figure out what's the best way forward, what's the right combination. That's what they're doing.
Q: He and Crouch and other people in this building indicated early on that they weren't hot on the idea of expanding this force into cities all over Afghanistan because it might get in the way of pressing the war. Has he changed that attitude at all?
Clarke: He has always made clear the importance of keeping our military objectives first and foremost. We continue to maintain that. But it is -- it's not an either/or situation. One of our military objectives also is to keep Afghanistan from returning to be a safe haven, a free-ranging field, if you will, for terrorists. So, helping them achieve some internal security and stability will help us achieve one of our military objectives.
And this is the last one, because we're both going to be late for a two o'clock.
Q: A federal judge has passed down an opinion that the Army's promotion system for officers is unconstitutional because it discriminates against white males. A, does the Pentagon think that this judge has jurisdiction? And does the Pentagon have any sort of response to that?
Clarke: I am aware of the decision. I am not steeped in it at all. So we would be happy to get a lawyer to talk to you about it. But I, with everything else going on, just have not been able to dig in.
Q: Thank you.
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