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DoD News Briefing - ASD PA Clarke and Brig. Gen. Rosa

Presenter: Victoria Clarke ASD (PA)
April 16, 2002 11:30 AM EDT

(Also participating was Air Force Brig. Gen. John W. Rosa, Jr., deputy director for current operations, Operations Directorate, the Joint Staff.)

Clarke: Good morning. We have identifications of the soldiers killed in the ordnance disposal accident yesterday, the U.S. Army soldiers killed near Kandahar, Afghanistan. And first is Staff Sergeant Brian T. Craig, who is 27, of Texas; Staff Sergeant Justin J. Galewski, 28, of Kansas; Sergeant Jamie O. Maugans, 27, also of Kansas; and Sergeant First Class Daniel A. Romero, 30, of Colorado. The first three with the 107th EOD out of San Diego, and Danny Romero was from the 19th Special Forces Group in Pueblo, Colorado.

And as the secretary said yesterday, our prayers go out to their families. We thank them for the commitment they made. And they're just -- you know, it's another example of the kinds of risks these people face every day.


Rosa: Thank you, Ms. Clarke.

And certainly our condolences go out to the families in the tragic accident.

We continue our efforts to find and destroy elements of al Qaeda and former Taliban in Eastern Afghanistan. Late yesterday a contingent of the British forces, that deployed to the region over the past few weeks, began a mission as part of a broader effort that you've known as Operation Mountain Lion. As we've described before, Mountain Lion consists of efforts to identify, isolate and destroy al Qaeda and Taliban in Eastern Afghanistan and deny them sanctuary and the freedom to maneuver or regroup.

Elements of coalition forces involved in missions in support of Mountain Lion at any given time vary in composition, size and location, and their missions vary in scope and duration. This mission, involving British forces, that began yesterday, exemplifies the diversity and versatility that coalition participants provide in the execution of operations in Afghanistan and worldwide in the Operation Enduring Freedom.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

Clarke: Toby?

Q: This British operation, is the reason why they were involved in larger force than others because of the intelligence that they received through their own channels or -- I mean, what is the reason why it went to them versus, you know, the American forces going out?

Rosa: Quite some time ago, General Franks, Central Command, made the request for coalition forces. They stepped up to the plate, as they have in so many times. I think -- we were counting before we came in; we've got over 31 coalition countries represented down at Central Command, as we speak.

But it was not what they based their threat on; it was part of the coalition. And we just want to reinforce that they're part of the team. And this is not the first time the British have been with us. They've been with us since day one. They've had their special forces with us. But this is the 41st Commando, Royal Marines, and they're just now becoming operationally -- fully operationally capable, and we just wanted to acknowledge their efforts.

Clarke: And I would just add to that; it's just another example of the kind of extraordinary support and depth and breadth of support we're getting from a wide number of coalition partners.

Q: Can you give us a little more specifics; how many Royal Marines were deployed? Are they part of a larger force? Are they acting upon intelligence, new intelligence? And where exactly are they?

Rosa: I can't tell you exactly where they are because we don't characterize where those forces are. There are about 1,700. These are the folks that came in over the last couple of weeks. They've actually been in country doing work-ups. But they will be integrated as part of the coalition, part of Operation Anaconda, which is to search and do surveillance, reconnaissance, and try and find out as much as we can about the enemy in the areas we've been looking over the last month.

Q: Can you say, with the addition of them, what is the size of the overall coalition team that's now doing search and reconnaissance? Like 1,700 plus how many other countries and how many other --

Rosa: I won't give you the exact numbers. But to realize, when you have a force of 1,700 for example, a certain percentage of those will go into combat area. A large percentage of them were combat support and combat service support, just like our armies and services are something that we call the tooth to tail. So the folks that are actually in that area are not the full 1,700; there will be folks supporting them back at the base station.

Q: Can you say how their addition enhances Mountain Lion? Allows you to go to more places? Allows you to -- what does it do?

Clarke: Well, I just -- I'll take a crack at it. I think it just -- it continues to help all of us pursue what we say the objectives are, which are to root out the al Qaeda and the Taliban to try to bring some stability and security to the country. So it's just a continuation of what we've all said we've been committed to for some time.

Q: (Off mike) -- do they help expand the programs into more areas, more provinces? Is there anything more to say about --

Clarke: I don't think so.

Rosa: I wouldn't characterize it that way.

Q: Why did you expand it?

Clarke: It's just part of the ongoing operations.

Let's go to -- over here.

Q: Has there been any contact with the enemy since this operation began? And was the contact that U.S. forces had on Saturday, as they called in an AC-130, was that part of Operation Mountain Lion as well?

Rosa: That was not in the Mountain Lion area. That was up by Sarobi dam, which is a little bit further north -- the operation that you referred to, where the nine folks were killed.

Q: How about in this operation, I think it's called Operation Ptarmigan or something, the British name.

Rosa: The British are calling it Ptarmigan, and it's part of our Operation Mountain Lion. To my knowledge, we haven't had contact with the enemy.

Clarke: We just haven't heard anything.

Q: Well, if you haven't had contact with the enemy, you might not have a lot to say here. But can you describe for us what the enemy is doing here exactly? I mean, how many people are you searching for, opposing -- your best idea of that. And what exactly are they doing?

Rosa: If I told you exactly what the enemy was doing and exactly where they are, that wouldn't be that smart.

Q: Can you tell us approximately what they're doing and in what province they are?

Rosa: We can tell you that they're in the area that we've been occupying in Eastern Afghanistan for quite some time now, down near the Pakistani border in the Paktia Province, in the Gardez, Khost area -- all that area is where we've been doing our surveillance and reconnaissance.

Q: General, to follow up on that, do you believe that there is an al Qaeda command structure in that area or that these just very small pockets are kind of operating independently, if you will?

Rosa: That's a good question, Brett. And I will tell you that if we characterize how they're made up, how they're structured, how they're communicating, it makes a little bit easier for them because then they'll know what we know about them. It's kind of a -- when you're out doing surveillance and reconnaissance, you really don't want to tell people what you're seeing. You don't want to tell people how you see the enemy reacting and what they're doing. But it's a very determined program; it will take some time. And as we gather that information, at some point in time in these different pockets or areas, that information, as we've said before, will come together and dovetail, and that's when we go do an operation.

Q: Do you still believe senior al Qaeda leaders are in that area?

Rosa: We don't know.

Q: Has there been any attempt, or has the U.S. military engaged in any hot pursuit across the Pakistan border in pursuit of any al Qaeda, or has the U.S. military been engaged in any joint operation with the Pak military or any other Pakistani agency?

Rosa: We've been working hand in hand with their special forces on the border, and also their conventional forces, to attempt to seal that border. Hot pursuit, where folks are leaving Afghanistan, going towards Pakistan, I don't believe we've engaged in that situation.

Q: And when you say "working with the Pakistani special forces and regular forces", exactly in what capacity? Do we have, for example, as we have in the Philippines, do we have special operation forces embedded with the Paks, advising them?

Clarke: I'd just -- excuse me -- say what the secretary was talking about, I think yesterday, from here. We've been very, very pleased with the cooperation we're getting from the Pakistani government. It has been very, very close. It has been very cooperative. They are keeping close, close tabs on the border, on that region. We don't feel comfortable going too much past that.


Q: A quickie question, and then I have a broader question. How many American forces are involved in this?

Clarke: In -- ?

Q: In the operation of the -- is it strictly British troops, or --?

Rosa: No. They're part of Operation Anaconda, which they've folded in --

Q: Mountain Lion.

Rosa: I'm sorry, Mountain Lion.

Clarke: That's helpful.

Rosa: I'm glad you all were paying attention today. (Laughter.)

And we thought they weren't paying attention.

Clarke: Always. Always. (Laughter.) Oh, I think they do. (Laughs.)

Rosa: These -- now you're just throwing me off, Jim. I'm telling you.

But they are. They've woven into part of Mountain Lion. And to tell you exactly how many troops we've got out, I really don't think we ought to be telling you that.

Q: But there are some American --

Rosa: Oh, yes. Yes. There's not just Americans and British. This is part of a coalition. There are several coalition folks in that region. It's not just two countries.

Q: And my other question was, how secure now is Afghanistan? I'm really asking about Karzai now has gone to Rome to bring back the king. What's your reaction to bringing back the king, how secure is the country -- what is your reaction to that?

Clarke: Boy, on the one hand, it's safer and more secure than it was. On the other hand, as we've said repeatedly, there continue to be pockets of resistance, there continue to be spots and dust-ups, and that will continue for some time. It is still a dangerous place, but it's better than it was.

Q: And the king returning to the country; is that a good thing?

Clarke: I don't know if I'm qualified to address that. Clearly it's important to the Afghan interim government.

Q: A return to stability, maybe? Or some stability?

Clarke: Well, the -- you know, one of the most rewarding things, I think, is to see the reporting over the last couple of days and the information about what they're trying to put together for the loya jirga, and the fact that they are trying to move toward their permanent government. Clearly they're taking steps, in my opinion, in an extraordinarily short period of time to return to a stable and secure environment, which is a very good thing.

Q: Torie, kind of a broad question for the general. The -- if you go back to the Soviet era, the Soviets rather quickly succeeded in turning over a government that they opposed and establishing order. And trouble for them came in the ensuing years with the sort of, you know, slow-bleeding, pecking-away kind of problems that kind of wore them down.

Obviously, understanding that there -- it's not a one-to-one analogy, but are -- is the U.S. military taking certain approaches to the campaign to avoid that kind of wearing-down factor? Because you yourselves are saying this could go on for some time. Are there some certain strategies and tactics and approaches you're taking to avoid that kind of wearing-down factor?

Rosa: I think that broad type of a question is better answered by General Franks. But I will tell that we worked closely with the Soviets at the outset, and we -- I'm sorry -- the Russians --

Clarke: Russians.

Rosa: -- and we continue to have -- I'm having a bad day, huh? -- we continue to have talks. We've talked lessons learned. They've provided some very valuable information for us over the last six months.

Q: Can you elaborate at all on that or what kind of things they're saying? You know, "don't go into convoys, or don't move in mass" --

Rosa: I would rather not. I would rather not.

Clarke: But I -- since it's a broad question, I'll give a broad answer to it. I don't think it's even -- you said it's not a one-to-one analogy. It's not an analogy at all in terms of our situation. The intent of the Soviet Union now some 20-some years ago was very, very different than ours. We never had any aspirations to have or own or keep any of the land in Afghanistan. We've made it very clear all along what we want to do, and that is to go in and remove the al Qaeda, the Taliban, the threats to the American people. And we want to get out when we can. When it's the appropriate time, we want to get out. I think that is a huge difference between us and what the Soviet Union was about.


Q: Different subject. Can you just update us on what the status is of the combat air patrols that have been part of the homeland defense? Where does that stand now?

Rosa: Sure. We -- our combat air patrols that we kicked off shortly after September the 11th have continued and will continue. The latest iteration that we are -- I'm sure you're referring to is we've adjusted and made some -- another tiered approach to the CAP posture.

The combat air patrols are threat-based. So to say that you have all of your airplanes up or many of your airplanes up, regardless of the threat, the same number of airplanes at the same places at the same time -- I think the American people would understand that's not the best way to use your force.

So we have a tiered approach. When the threat is high, we will have more airplanes and more forces up. When the threat is low, we will have fewer. And we will always have folks on ground alert. Those numbers varied.

But it's important to remember that the number-one purpose of those combat air patrols is security of this country, is yet just one piece of a large security program that we have --

Q: Does that mean that you've ended the constant combat air patrols over both Washington and New York, and they've gone to a different threat base --

Rosa: As I said, that's part of the overall program. And to tell you which airplanes are airborne when, I think, would be -- I'd be remiss to do that.

Q: When did the adjustment actually take place?

Clarke: You know, we -- for lots of different reasons, especially right in the wake of September 11th, we were very clear and open, direct about what was up and where it was and those sorts of things. To make sure we have the kind of deterrent effect we want as we're moving into a different phase, if you will, we're not going to be commenting much at all about where they are, when they're in different places, those sorts of things. But I think it's important to understand that changes are made when you have a different context. And as the general is saying, it's a very different context now, security arrangement, than we had September 10th. And you start with better security and screening at airports. You go to hardened doors in cockpits. You go to heightened awareness of passengers and flight attendants and pilots. So it's best to look at the combat air patrols as one piece of a broader security arrangement.

Q: What is the current threat assessment?

Clarke: I don't think we discuss this --

Rosa: Our threat assessments and our force postures, our force conditions we don't announce.

Q: What was the cost -- what was the monthly cost of that CAP running? I think a hundred million -- that strikes -- I remember that bit. And what will it now be, given the new tiered approach?

Clarke: I vaguely remember a number, but not close enough to give it from here. But we could see if we can get that for you.

Okay. Let's go back there.

Q: Can you give us the number of U.S.- and coalition-held detainees in Afghanistan and whether that number is declining?

Clarke: And whether that number is --

Q: Declining, whether they're being turned loose.

Clarke: You know, we were just talking about them before we came out, and we are in the midst of what we've said all along, which is some detainees will be returned. We continue to get some. There's a processing that goes on at all times. I think it is roughly somewhere north of 500, altogether, including the close to 300 we have in Guantanamo.

Rosa: This morning, for example, the numbers have changed slightly. We have -- in our control, we have 256 in our control, outside of Guantanamo and Norfolk.

Clarke: Yes?

Q: And did that number go up? And why? Did we --

Clarke: Well, the number will go up. It'll go down.

Rosa: It fluctuates. Sometimes it fluctuates as much as 10, 12, on occasions where we collect people from surveillance and reconnaissance. We detain them, find out who they are, then let them go. So it just kind of varies.

Q: Is it still 300 in Guantanamo and Norfolk?

Rosa: Yes.

Q: Question on another subject. There have been some published reports that have suggested that the U.S. military provided intelligence or other assistance to the Venezuelan military as it conducted its recent coup. Can you say for the record whether or not the U.S. military provided any intelligence and other support to the Venezuelan military when they were conducting the coup against President Hugo Chavez?

Clarke: We wouldn't talk about any intel. matters, but I can say emphatically that we had somebody from our policy shop who met recently with the chief of staff, who made it very, very clear that the U.S. intent was to support democracy, human rights, that we in no way would support any coups or unconstitutional activity. It was very clearly stated.

Q: You're not aware of any support that was given in -- shared intelligence or other logistical or other support?

Clarke: I'm not aware of that. And I know that our policy staffer made his case very clearly.

Q: When you say "chief of staff", do you mean the Venezuelan military chief of staff --

Clarke: Yes.

Q: -- and not the government --

Clarke: General Lucas Romero Rincon -- R-I-N-C-O-N, chief of the Venezuelan high military command.

Q: And where did that meeting occur?

Clarke: I don't know. I can try to find out.

Q: What was the purpose of it?

Clarke: I don't know what the original impetus of the meeting was, but I know that they were told in unequivocal terms what we supported and what we did not support.

Q: Where was that meeting?

Clarke: I can find out for you. I don't know exactly --

Q: So, what, then, you seem to be implying that there was an indication in that meeting that there was a coup brewing, otherwise why would there --

Clarke: I'm not implying anything. I'm telling you what I was told took place in the meeting.

Q: In what context was he asserting that the U.S. would not participate in any coup? There must have been some discussion of a coup, or otherwise why would he say that?

Clarke: I'm just telling you what I know about what went on in the meeting.

Q: Who was it on the U.S. side?

Clarke: It was -- the assistant secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roger Pardo-Maurer -- M-A-U-R-E-R. I want to say that was in December of 2001. (The meeting was held Dec. 18, 2001)

Q: Was there any communication between SouthCom and the military leadership of Venezuela between, say, Friday and now?

Clarke: None that I'm aware of.

Yes, sir.

Q: Torie, going back to Afghanistan, after eight months of war, still incidents are taking place there. That means we're talking about terrorists are still there, Taliban and al Qaeda. Now, my question is that, who's assisting them, because they must be -- they must be not in the open, but in caves or underground, and somebody must be feeding them. So why it's taking long and who is assisting them?

Clarke: Oh, I'd just say after decades of strife and turmoil and warfare in the country, you're not going to have peace and long- term stability overnight. We've made significant progress. We've made significant progress in our military objectives; I think significant progress is made toward helping the Afghan government get up on its feet and having the long-term stability it wants. It is a country that is heavily armed; it is a country that has had a lot of ammunition and ordnance in it for a long time. Again, it's just not surprising that these incidents do occur, and it's not surprising that people have the means access for those sorts of things.

Q: Just to follow. But some people are saying now that how long this operation will continue and U.S. should now leave Afghanistan. But what is the position of the Karzai government? Or are you waiting for the new administration to come there, or how -- are you listening to the people or --

Clarke: Well, you'd have to ask the Karzai government what their opinion is. We're working very closely with the interim government.

Q: Can you shed --

Clarke: Let's do two more.

Q: Torie, can you shed any new light on the bin Laden tape that the secretary referred to? Is it the same as the one that Al Jazeera had? And after the analysis that's been going on, are there any indications of when it might have been made?

Clarke: I can only repeat what he said. He saw a tape. It was in Arabic, which he does not understand. He was told that based on what we know about the tape he saw, it wasn't anything new. That's all.

Q: Any analysis on what those tapes contained?

Clarke: Not that I know of. Not that I've seen.

And we'll do Brett and finish up.

Q: Anything on the investigation into the accident yesterday that killed the four soldiers? There was some indication from Afghanistan that perhaps it might have been booby-trapped.

Clarke: (To General Rosa) I don't think we've seen anything, have we?

Rosa: We're continuing the investigation. In that country there's so much ordnance, and after 23 years of warfare some of that ordnance is very old. We don't know yet -- we've had reports that it was a 107mm rocket, Chinese-made rocket. But anything further than that, they're still investigating.

Q: But were they -- were they -- there are some reports that there were just many, many of these put together and that they were basically trying to explode it in place and that it was a bigger explosion than they anticipated.

Rosa: It could have been. I don't know the details.

Q: Has the secretary been meeting with the service secretaries to tell them that they're going to have to consider big cuts in some of their future weapon systems in order to make budget? Did he have such a meeting yesterday?

Clarke: Without commenting about individual meetings, the secretary meets constantly with the service secretaries, with the chiefs, with the chairman, with the vice. The senior military and the senior civilians work constantly on figuring out what do we need to do to have the military we want for the 21st century. And that involves making sure we have consensus on the strategy, it means we have consensus on the kind of organization we want, and it means we have very clear guidance on what kind of parts, what kind of resources, what kind of training and equipping are we going to have. It is very much an iterative process. It is ongoing; it's going to be ongoing for some time. He has met with the service secretaries; he'll meet with them again.

Thank you.

Q: Thank you.