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DoD News Briefing - ASD PA Clarke and Lt. Gen. Newbold

Presenter: Victoria Clarke ASD (PA)
May 20, 2002 10:00 AM EDT

(Also participating was Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, director of operations, Joint Chiefs of Staff)

Clarke: Good morning, everybody. The first thing I'd like to do this morning is to offer our sincere condolences to the family of a West Virginia National Guard soldier who was killed in action in Afghanistan yesterday when his unit came under attack from hostile forces. There have been some reports that have named the individual. Once we are absolutely sure the next-of-kin notifications have been completed, we will put out a piece of paper from here. But -- and we expect that to happen shortly -- his death reminds us that Afghanistan is a very, very dangerous place. It also reminds us of the sacrifices that are being made every day from the men and women in the military, and I'd say it strengthens our resolve in the pursuit of the terrorists, the terrorist networks, and those who are harboring and fostering and supporting them.

The general will give you an update on the operations, but I did want to use this morning just to remind people, in addition to what happened this weekend, 36 American men and women have lost their lives in and around Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom. In addition, one of our CIA officers, one Australian soldier, and four Canadian soldiers, as well as many Afghans have given their lives in the pursuit of the terrorists.

We are deeply indebted to everyone who has suffered and sacrificed in this noble cause. They are performing an extraordinarily important role, and I just don't think we can emphasize enough how much we appreciate that.

I'd also like to take just one minute, on a nicer note, to congratulate the people out at Andrews Air Force Base who did such a great job on the Joint Services Open House and Air Show over the weekend. Despite some unpredictable and unhelpful weather, despite a water main break, and increased security measures, they did a fabulous job. I think they said about a quarter of a million people came out and got to see up-close and personal, what a fabulous job the people in the military are doing.

And in particular, I'd like to thank Brigadier General Glenn Spears, who is the commander of the 89th Airlift Wing and commanding general out at Andrews; Colonel Michael Wyka, who is the director of staff of the 89th Airlift Wing; and Major Jennifer Cassidy, the press officer out there, who did such a great job. So thanks to all of them.

And sir?

Newbold: Okay. Thank you, Ms. Clarke.

In Afghanistan, Operation Mountain Lion continues. As you know, that's an operation to locate, isolate, close with and destroy any of the remnants of al Qaeda, Taliban -- might exist still in eastern Afghanistan.

On one of the patrols in the area, as Ms. Clarke said, we lost one of our Special Forces soldiers, who was operating with the Afghanistan forces at the same time. He was killed in the vicinity of the Afghan village of Shkin, S-H-K-I-N. He died as a result of the gunshot wound. As Ms. Clarke said, our sympathies go out to the families of the soldier.

In the same action, an Afghan soldier was wounded. And those operations continue. Our forces did return fire, killing at least one of the enemy.

Other actions in the CENTCOM region:

Coalition aircraft observed a contrail [condensation trail] from a rocket or missile directed against them in the southern no-fly zone and took action against it. Coalition aircraft dropped precision weapons at a direction-finding system that supported the missile launch. And as you know, we'll review the battle damage assessment and get back to you with some results from that as soon as we know.

And that's the only update.

Clarke: Thank you, sir.

Charlie?

Q: General, you spoke about remnants -- that Operation Mountain Lion's searching for remnants of al Qaeda and Taliban in eastern Afghanistan. With warm weather here now, and the fact that British and Australian troops also ran into pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban last week, is there any indication that these people are regrouping in significant numbers at all, attempting to regroup or regrouping? Are these very small pockets that are involved in these firefights?

Newbold: I think what you're seeing is, as a result of Operation Anaconda, the willingness of the Taliban and the al Qaeda to form large groups that'll stand and fight against our forces has now dissipated. They've changed their tactics. They operate in small groups to avoid contact with our forces.

Over time, as we saturate the area with reconnaissance, coalition and U.S. reconnaissance, we essentially determine which areas they no longer occupy, and we narrow down the areas that they do. As we do that and we locate their forces, we go after them, and actions over the last two weeks are pretty symptomatic of that.

Q: Might I ask, what size groups are you talking about? Five or six? Ten or 12?

Newbold: I think both are right, to be honest with you. Sometimes we run into groups as small as three, four, five. Larger groups would certainly be in the area of a dozen.

Clarke: Jeff?

Q: General, in the case of -- where the soldier was killed, could you describe a little bit more about that engagement? Was it an ambush? Did they encounter a group of people? Do you suspect that they are al Qaeda or Taliban, or could they simply have been people in the area who were armed and there was some misunderstanding?

Newbold: Okay. We had a mounted patrol operating in the area. It was Afghanistan military forces with U.S. Special Forces. As they moved to an area they were surveying, they were taken under fire. And rounds struck the vehicle, hitting the soldier and one of the Afghan soldiers at the same time. Returned fire, as I mentioned, killed at least one of the enemy. We are pursuing the enemy. We don't know precisely the identity, but we do know that they fired on our forces.

Q: Did they flee across the border?

Newbold: No, they did not.

Q: By mounted, you don't mean horses. You mean military --

Newbold: Good point. Mounted in SUVs.

Q: General, could you speak at all about where these pockets are coming from? Are they hidden in caves? Do you have any sense that any local ethnic groups are supporting them? What is keeping them out there, separate, in those small groups? How are they sustaining themselves, basically?

Newbold: This is, as you know, a very mountainous, rugged, isolated, harsh area of southeastern Pakistan. Traditionally, this area had supported the Taliban. At one time, they'd been sympathetic. In some cases, these are remnants of Taliban forces or al Qaeda that have come from other portions of Afghanistan. But in some cases, they may come from local villages. I'm certain that some of them are living in caves, but others may come from villages. And therefore, it's difficult and requires a very thorough effort. It's only substantiated and supported by saturation reconnaissance units that I've talked about.

Clarke: Tom?

Q: After the engagement this weekend, General, was a quick reaction force sent in -- (inaudible) -- of any kind? Was air power summoned to assist?

Newbold: There was air power. As you know, we do maintain a combat air patrol over Afghanistan 24 hours a day. These were diverted from their site to the incident and provided support. And they do in virtually every instance.

Q: What kind of aircraft?

Newbold: The AC-130 gunships were overhead, and we also had fixed-wing aircraft. And later, as a matter of fact, we had bomber aircraft that were in the vicinity -- did not drop munitions, but they were available.

Clarke: Tom?

Q: There's a report today that the May 12th raid in Afghanistan that -- by U.S. Special Forces -- those killed were civilian villagers, I believe, including a 13-year-old boy. Do you have any more information on that?

Newbold: No, we don't. We have a post-operation review, as we always do. We feel very comfortable that the intelligence that prompted the raid was accurate and decisive, and the raid was fully justified. And we took 32 detainees, as you know. And as we go through them -- and that'll be painstaking -- we'll find out their affiliation and the real identity of the people we hold.

Q: What about the 13-year-old boy? Any more on that?

Newbold: I read the report, but I don't have more on that.

Clarke: Tony?

Q: General, could you step back a minute from the tactical situation and address this issue? Over the weekend we've heard about chatter that U.S. intelligence has picked up of potential al Qaeda attacks being planned against the United States. Yet we're hearing here of a force that's largely dissipated throughout Afghanistan. Their leaders on the run, and they seem to be on the ropes. Can you kind of square the circle here?

Newbold: Just not -- (inaudible). (Laughter.)

Q: Are they still capable -- excuse me?

Clarke: Preempted the question, but let me -- actually, Tony, let me take this one and --

Q: Let me -- okay. The point being --

Clarke: Yeah.

Q: -- on one hand, there's a concern that the al Qaeda can plan major attacks against the United States, and yet they seem to be on the ropes in Afghanistan. That's -- (off mike) -- reason for. But militarily, are they still capable -- their cells around the world -- of executing a major attack against the United States?

Newbold: I would make a distinction there --

Clarke: Yeah.

Newbold: -- between what I have described as the military operation and the larger one, the global terrorist network.

Clarke: And as we said all along, al Qaeda has cells in some 50 or 60 different countries alone. The level and type of activity in those different places ebbs and flows. But clearly, any organization that could pull off what they pulled off on September 11th, when you think about the organization and the planning and the resources that went into that, clearly they have some organization capabilities that aren't going to go away overnight.

What we're trying to do, in addition to root out the remaining pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan, is to work with dozens and dozens of countries around the world so we can not only return Afghanistan to what it ought to be, but we can use law enforcement, we can use shared intelligence, we can use a multi-faceted effort to try to disrupt their capabilities around the world. We believe we have made it more difficult for them to do business. But clearly, you just look at the kind of organization it was; there are still elements there that can and want to do harm to the United States.

I don't think too many people here missed the vice president yesterday when he said we do expect another attack. They've made clear their intent. Secretary Rumsfeld has talked often -- we have had some success in getting some of the leadership, but there are probably a handful of people who easily could run that organization.

Q: If I can -- victory in Afghanistan doesn't translate into overall diminishing all of their capabilities?

Clarke: We've always said this was about more than one person, one network. It certainly is about more than Afghanistan.

Q: One follow-up, though. The "chatter" that the administration has talked about anonymously, has any of the chatter emanated from the region, that you're aware of, in terms of planning another attack against the U.S.?

Clarke: Well, I don't know if I would -- if I want to talk about anonymous sources chattering about chatter. (Laughter.)

Q: It's been there enough, I'm just asking if any of this intelligence is chatter coming from the region?

Clarke: Do you mean Afghanistan when you say "the region"?

Q: Yeah.

Clarke: It comes from lots of different places. And again, that's part of putting the puzzle together, is to take intelligence we have gathered in Afghanistan, sometimes it's from the people we get, sometimes it's from the things we pick up in the caves and tunnel complexes or compounds we've taken over, and it gets pieced together with information and sources from around the world. So it comes from a variety of places.

Pam?

Q: Could you describe, General, a little bit more what you mean by "saturated reconnaissance?" And could you also give us a sense of the number of bombs that were dropped or planes that were used in this, and how long this battle continued. Was it just -- was it a brief firefight followed by a pursuit, or was it some kind of -- something larger?

Newbold: Okay, to the first question on the saturation with reconnaissance, this is a well-orchestrated plan developed by the forces in Afghanistan to isolate the areas that pose the greatest potential for Taliban and al Qaeda to exist. They provide the strategic reconnaissance forces that move in, and they provide for overhead detection, a variety of platforms to locate and discern the enemy. A lot of the coalition forces over there with us are forming teams that go into the mountains. They operate along traditional routes of movement and along routes of movement in which we've detected the presence of fighters. And, as you probably inferred from my description, we were moving in rather checkerboard fashion throughout this area to isolate areas that have the greatest potential.

As far as dropping munitions, the incident in which the Special Forces soldier was killed had overhead air cover in support of it. But as far as I know, they did not drop munitions. The munitions were dropped in response to the attack on the Australian Special Forces last week. We do have aircraft up, and it could be that even while we've been speaking or very recently we've tracked down the people that attacked our reconnaissance element. So I would not be surprised if aircraft were used.

QHow long was, then, the engagement itself? Was it just a quick exchange of fire, or did it go on for much longer?

Newbold: It was a quick exchange of fire.

Clarke: Barbara?

Q: Can we go back a minute? Because I'm just not clear. When you talk about their ability to do operations, are you guys saying that largely you believe the al Qaeda ability to control an operation out of Afghanistan now is fairly well neutralized? That's question number one I guess I don't understand. Do you believe that they are still moving back and forth across the border with Pakistan? And if some of this chatter the administration has reported coming from there, could something be controlled out of Pakistan? Or do you believe it's pretty much the other countries around the world where the al Qaeda's actually -- I'm not clear what you feel has been dealt with and where you think this chatter is emanating from.

Clarke: I don't think I said "largely." I think I said, "We believe we have made it more difficult for them to do their business." I also underscored: We also think that it's likely that there will be another attack. They have made clear their intent. They have made clear their desire to harm and kill Americans. It clearly is an organization with some real capabilities to have pulled off what they pulled off on 9/11. And all the planing that went into that -- you've got to believe there must have been something else in the pipeline.

Two, in terms of in Afghanistan itself, the al Qaeda, the Taliban that are remaining are probably going back and forth across the borders. It's a very porous border all the way around. So I wouldn't take it on Pakistan. The general has said, there is an area of interest there, based on intel, that we're focused on, because we think it's likely that's where some of them are.

Newbold: I think that's exactly right in all its characterizations. Remember, the al Qaeda have really two purposes: One was largely military, in Afghanistan. The other was global terrorism. What I'm describing is our military operations in Afghanistan are designed to crush that military capability they had on the ground. They had used Afghanistan a training base. That no longer is an opportunity for them.

Q: Can I just follow up on a couple of -- when you talked about, you know, an organization with real capabilities, "We think it's likely there will be another attack" -- is it your sense that that kind of likelihood -- that that type of thing is being planned outside of Afghanistan, then, because you have somewhat dealt with their military capability and their organizational capability inside the country? Do you think the essential planning capability has now moved outside of Afghanistan?

Clarke: I wouldn't comment on it from up here. I'll point to one specific thing, though: Afghanistan was an easy place for them to use for the terrorist-training camps. We think many, many, many people were trained in Afghanistan at those camps to conduct terrorism around the world. That system largely stopped. So that's one good sign.

Q: And I know it sounds like a somewhat ridiculous question, but if the military -- the U.S. military, which you guys represent, says it does believe another attack is likely, is there anything you can or are doing to lessen that risk? (Inaudible) -- difficult it would be, obviously.

Clarke: We were talking about that this morning. You know, so many people put the world now in "pre-9/11" and "post 9/11." There have been extraordinary changes since 9/11 with that exact intent -- to prevent future attacks on Americans. There is increased coordination and fusion of the intel gathering and how it is used and how it is analyzed. There is increased security at our borders and ports around the country. We are standing up NORTHCOM this fall, with the expressed purpose of focusing largely on homeland defense. There's unprecedented cooperation with dozens and dozens of countries around the world -- on law enforcement, on military operations, on intel. That has never happened before. That's unprecedented. That will help in our shared goal to try to prevent future terrorist attacks.

But as Secretary Rumsfeld and everyone else has said from up here, you can't protect against every attack. You couldn't build a bunker deep enough. You couldn't have enough people to prevent every attack, which is why we're on the offense, which is why we're going after these people. Now it's an important point, Barbara. It is why we're not waiting, we're not just saying 'let's do whatever we can to protect ourselves against these things that we think will happen.' It is why we are making such an incredible effort to go after them and to go after those who harbor and support them.

Q: Is there anything that --

Q: In the pre-9/11 world that you talked about, it's been documented now that the -- at least two FBI agents had warned their superiors that the terrorists could use airliners as potential weapons. Were those warnings shared with the Pentagon or the U.S. military? Did the Pentagon or U.S. military have its own independent information to indicate that? And did the U.S. military take any steps at their bases, particularly overseas, to protect against such terrorist attacks by commercial airliners -- suicide bombings?

Clarke: Do you mean the Phoenix memo and the Minnesota memo, I guess, as they're calling them?

Q: Right.

Clarke: Secretary Rumsfeld was asked about that the other day, and he was not aware of those reports until after 9/11, when it was reported in the press, actually.

Q: So in other words, that information was not -- because there's a report out today that the information was shared with the FAA. And it would seem, since the August 6th memo, the one that went through the various scenarios of what could happen, that was briefed to President Bush, talked about potential hijackings and the like, and the thought then was that the attacks would be on U.S. targets overseas. Well, most "U.S. targets overseas" many times mean U.S. military installations. And I was just wondering if the U.S. military or Pentagon was ever -- if those warnings were ever shared with the U.S. military to permit them to try to prevent such attacks.

Clarke: Those specific ones that you're talking about, Secretary Rumsfeld was not aware of. Now somewhere in the 2 million people that work for the Department of Defense around the world -- I don't know if anybody was aware of them. The general can speak to it better than I can. But individual commanders change their conditions based on their information, and it changes and ebbs and flows according to what's going on in their region. But I know Secretary Rumsfeld has been asked about those specifically, and he was not aware of them.

Q: And in the post-September fusion of intelligence, is the intelligence now that's shared between the FBI and CIA -- is that immediately transferred over to the military? Is that sharing going on?

Newbold: We have two meetings a day -- it's conducted by secure video teleconference -- in which the interagency represents the best intelligence they have at that particular time of day. We participate in that. That is OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] and the Joint Staff. And the communications are very, very good.

Q: And is that a two-way street? Does the military provide input to that?

Newbold: We do.

Q: And that's just been since September 11th?

Clarke: Mm-hm. (Affirmative response.)

Q: Can you say who takes part in that video teleconference?

Newbold: I'm sorry?

Q: Can you say who takes part, what agencies -- how many agencies, which officials?

Newbold: Well, I wouldn't provide you a number, but I would say all the agencies associated with intelligence collection and, in our case, operations, are privy to that, those who both develop intelligence and those who use it.

Q: Following along Jim's question about these memos preceding 9/11, was one of the reasons that the Defense Department was able to respond as quickly as it did to 9/11, in roughly a month's time, to go after al Qaeda targets in Afghanistan, that there was some planning already in place prior to 9/11 to hit exactly those targets?

Clarke: No. They did what they did because there was an extraordinary effort. But I know there were some questions about that over the weekend. There were no plans in place or contingency plans that were pulled off the shelf and dusted off, on Afghanistan.

Q: Have U.S. forces in the Gulf and Middle East area, or elsewhere around the world, been put on a higher DEFCON status, based on this, quote, "chatter," recent chatter, that we're talking about? Or is it non-specific -- wasn't specific enough to perhaps put U.S. forces on higher DEFCON in certain areas?

Newbold: I think that's a good characterization. As you know, we have our forces at higher state of alert, force protection conditions, ever since 9/11. In response to what you've heard over the weekend, I would say it is relatively non-specific, and we are watching it extremely closely. We can enhance the force protection conditions to a rather general or specific locale or worldwide.

Q: But it hasn't been done?

Clarke: I'm sorry?

Q: But it hasn't been done yet? I mean higher Defense Condition?

Newbold: Not in response to what you're hearing about this weekend. But I would tell you that in most locations they're already at a threat condition or force protection condition which would accommodate it. That's a very important point, though; they're prepared for that at any time.

Q: To follow up on this post-9/11 intelligence-sharing environment, to what extent does that include our allies, our new allies, in the war against terrorism? Is there a system being cobbled together to better share both across the Atlantic and through Southeast Asia?

Newbold: There is, but I think you probably ought to direct that one to the intelligence agencies. But I can tell you we're privy to shared information that's coming from a broad coalition, in surprising range and depth. That ought to be a comfort --

Q: (Off mike) -- prior to September 11th?

Newbold: Absolutely. Dramatic.

Clarke: Pam? In back --

Q: Last week, I think it was -- I was listening to a White House press briefing, and I believe it was -- there's been obviously so much information thrown at us about this -- I think Ari Fleischer said something about how the military began, shortly after the Bush administration took over, coming up with a plan for dealing with al Qaeda. Could you explain what that process was and where it was when September 11th happened?

Clarke: It was -- I've asked -- again, I did not see Ari's brief. I haven't read the whole transcript. But I got a couple calls on it and we checked --

Q: (Off mike) working.

Clarke: That what he really was referring to, in my understanding, was an intel community plan. It was not military plans per se.

Q: (Off mike) Military, because I thought --

Clarke: But I think he referred to -- no, I think he referred to it as a battle plan, but in a --

Q: Yeah.

Clarke: I think. I just want to be very careful, because I didn't read the transcript. But I got a few calls on it, and we did check around, and I checked around this morning. And it was intel community side of the fence.

Q: General Newbold, anything?

Newbold: Not inconsistent with that. I would tell you that we are in a constant state of planning. So we're not bored. (Laughter.) We have plenty to consider, and we were pre-9/11 and certainly have been since.

Clarke: Let's do one more. Jim?

Q: Does your belief that another attack is likely -- does that stem from the fact that with all this intelligence that you've gotten since September 11th, that you have greater clarity on the way al Qaeda is operating, where their cells are? Or is it sort of the way it was before, that you believe it's likely because you don't know what's out there?

Clarke: I'm not sure if I understand the question, and I'm not the expert on intel. But my understanding is, based on clear intent and desire, expressed repeatedly by the al Qaeda, to do exactly that, based on experience that an organization that could spend the months, years, whatever it took to pull off 9/11, and the resources and the funding, probably had some other things in mind -- you know, lots of examples of things they have done -- and then intelligence, which I believe -- and I want to be very careful here, because it is not my area at all -- of a general nature that leads us to believe it is likely there will be another attack.

You want to clean that up at all for me?

Newbold: I think that's exactly right. They definitely have the will. They've shown that. They have the numbers of people, who operated out of training camps in Afghanistan for a number of years. And, as Ms. Clarke says, they have the resources. So I think it's predictable.

Q: Can we do a quick Iraq -- (inaudible)?

Clarke: Sure.

Q: General Newbold, the strike in [Operation] Southern Watch, their use of aircraft-direction-finding equipment -- is there anything in that that you find particularly interesting? That's not something they use every day of the week. And they've turned this system on recently apparently twice in two weeks to target coalition aircraft.

Newbold: These are fixed sites. They're permanent. They're for -- they are used in directing or coordinating their attacks. They help to increase the effectiveness of the Iraqi air defense, and when they continue to threaten our forces, as you've seen in the past, we're going to take actions that reduce their ability to do that.

Q: But any idea of why they've suddenly used it once again? Is there any sense that they're re-establishing the grid or the linkages across Southern Iraq that they previously had?

Newbold: I would rather characterize it as, they are always, always trying something new, different, in order to confront our aircraft. And we're always willing to make sure that they can't do it effectively.

Q: Sir, is there any evidence that the Iraqi military is taking steps to prepare against a potential U.S. attack?

Newbold: I think the Iraqis are probably reading the newspapers and the reports as well as anybody is. And I think they're spending a good deal of time in planning to --

Clarke: Thank you. Thank you.

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