DoD News Briefing - ASD PA Clarke and Brig. Gen. Rosa
(Also participating was Air Force Brig. Gen. John W. Rosa, Jr., deputy director for current operations, Operations Directorate, the Joint Staff.)
Clarke: Good morning. Welcome back from what I hope was a good weekend for all of you.
This year Memorial Day had an added meaning for all of us, for the obvious reasons. And as I was going around on my couple days off this weekend, I saw a lot of expressions of support and appreciation for the military, and I'm sure all of you did as well. But people from governments and communities and schools and businesses went out of their way to show their support for the men and women in uniform. And so, on behalf of the Department of Defense, I just wanted to say thank you very, very much for the people who took the time out from this weekend to honor the people in the military.
And as many of you know, the USS John C. Stennis is returning to San Diego today, after a six-and-a-half-month deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The Stennis Battle Group is a fighting force of approximately 10,000 sailors and Marines. And some of the facts of what it did in that six and a half months, while deployed:
The air wing flew over 10,000 combat sorties and clocked over 54,000 hours. The flight deck crew, who successfully accomplished 9,600 arrested jet aircraft landings, had only four days off. And they all performed exceptionally and made many, many sacrifices. We welcome them home, and I'm sure their families are glad to have them back.
And finally, Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz leaves for Singapore tomorrow, for a speaking engagement at the Institute for International Strategic Studies Asia security conference. He will also make some U.S. troop visits in the Philippines and returns on June 4th.
Rosa: Thank you, and good morning.
In Afghanistan, Operation Mountain Lion continues throughout Afghanistan, including aggressive reconnaissance and surveillance.
In Khost, coalition forces reported two possible mortar rocket impacts between 1 and 2 kilometers from their position. And this was in the vicinity of the airfield where we've seen before. They're currently being investigated.
There was also some activity recently in Iraq in the north. Earlier today, coalition pilots observed AAA firing near Mosul. Approximately an hour later, coalition aircraft dropped two precision- guided weapons on that AAA site, and battle damage is pending. In the south, on Saturday, a similar incident occurred. Coalition pilots responded by dropping four precision-guided weapons on a surface-to- air missile site in the vicinity of Nasiriya.
I, too, would like to echo my appreciation, as a member of the uniformed services, for the tremendous outpouring this nation showed for Memorial Day and for our veterans and those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. It was a tremendous outpouring and we thank you very much.
And with that, we'll take your questions.
Q: Torie, is there any concern in this building, or indeed, in this government, about the ongoing missile tests by Pakistan at a time like this, that that might be ratcheting up tensions, already high tensions between nuclear powers, India and Pakistan?
Clarke: Oh, I think you can only echo what the secretary and General Pace were talking about on Friday, which is the concerns we have about what's going on between India and Pakistan are grave ones. The United States government is working hard, in conversations and consultations with both countries, to try to ease and de-escalate the conflict. Any time you have two nations who continue to have the problems they're having, two nuclear-armed nations, we, of course, have great concerns. And we have concerns about the ongoing efforts on the war on terrorism in Afghanistan. It's very important to us; we want to stay focused on it. Pakistan has been tremendously helpful in that effort and we need that assistance going forward.
Q: Has the secretary, in his talks with Mr. Fernandez -- has he talked to him in recent days, and has he expressed any concern about these missile tests?
Clarke: I have to check to see if they actually made contact. They were trying to -- they were trading phone calls late last week, and I will check for you and get back to you on that one. But I would not get into the particulars of the conversation. I mean, the United States government is working at all levels -- the president on down, including the talks that Doug Feith, our under secretary for policy, had last week -- to do what we can to help de-escalate the conflict.
Q: Specifically regarding these missile tests, do you feel that that's ratcheting up tensions at this time?
Clarke: I wouldn't get into characterizations of it. We're very concerned about what's going on there, and we're working hard to try to de-escalate the conflict. But let's check and see if contact ever got made on the call.
Q: To what extent has the tension between India and Pakistan affected the U.S. war on terrorism, specifically in that border area along Afghanistan and Pakistan? Have the Paks withdrawn significant number of troops that were participating in efforts to root out the al Qaeda and Taliban in Pakistan?
Clarke: Again, I can only repeat what the secretary said, and General Rosa can pile on here. But their help has been enormous along that border, and attention and troops that cannot be focused there because they're focused elsewhere, that's a concern for us because we need as much assistance as possible in guarding that very porous border. So, as the secretary said last week, it is a concern when they have to focus attention and people to other parts of the country. Specifics in terms of numbers, I don't think we're going to go into.
Q: Without speaking about specific numbers, has it, in fact, had a detrimental effect on U.S. efforts to locate and root out Taliban and al Qaeda along the Afghan-Pakistan border?
Clarke: Again, just repeating, another way of saying what I said before, it is not helpful when their attention and some of their people have to be focused on other areas.
Q: Just to follow --
Q On India-Pakistan. You keep saying that General Musharraf is very helpful in the war against terrorism, but there are many countries. But he's still harboring terrorism, according to the Washington Post, not one time, three tines, said he has not lived up to his January 12th statement. And at the same time, what kind of message he's sending by testing missiles at this time when administration is pushing hard on him to stop terrorism against India? Does that mean this building is encouraging him, when you said he is very helpful in fighting against terrorism, are you encouraging him for this missile test?
Clarke: We are encouraging Pakistan to remain involved, as they have been, extensively, in the war on terrorism that obviously is a priority for us, that is a priority for the world. We understand what is going on there. We're doing our best with both countries to try to bring the level of tensions down.
Q: Is it the assessment of the U.S. government that most of the senior leadership of al Qaeda and the Taliban have now migrated to the Pakistani side of the border, as Buster Hagenbeck said yesterday?
Clarke: I don't know if that's exactly what he said. I know he was talking about the fact that it is likely there are al Qaeda and Taliban in Pakistan, and that happens to be true. Given the porous nature of the border around the country, it's likely there are al Qaeda and Taliban in lots of different places. So I don't know if that's exactly what he said. If we knew exactly where some of these people were, then we probably would have them.
Q: Well, not necessarily. Not if Pakistan has diverted its attention to other concerns of higher priority to them. You wouldn't necessarily, not if you're not able to operate in that territory.
Clarke: Well, I think, even up to recent remarks, it's clear that trying to prevent the al Qaeda, the Taliban from having any kind of real influence in that country is a concern for Musharraf as well.
Q: Is it the assessment of the U.S. military that there are as many as a thousand al Qaeda fighters on the Pakistani side of the border now?
Clarke: Again, I think what General Hagenbeck gave was an estimate, a very, very broad estimate, of the kinds of numbers that might be in that region of the country. Again, we don't know exactly what those numbers are. Is it likely that some have gone across the border? Sure, as we said before.
Q: General Rosa, what is the assessment of the guys in uniform as to the impact of the India-Pakistan crisis on your ability to do anything in that border region, especially on the Pakistani side?
Rosa: As Ms. Clarke said, it's got us concerned. If in fact forces move away from that border -- we're not confirming or denying force movements, but if they do, it obviously has -- would have some type of impact. But when you have a focus someplace else in other regions of your country, it will make some impact.
As far as the estimates, I saw in the article that General Hagenbeck was quoted -- it was a wide range, tremendously wide range, and estimates like that normally -- historically is not that accurate.
Q: When it is an estimate of between 100 and a thousand, that indicates that maybe the U.S. doesn't have a real good handle on who or what is really there?
Clarke: We've always -- we've said all along it's very hard to have exact numbers of anything. So it's true about in Afghanistan. It's true about the numbers of al Qaeda and Taliban who might be in neighboring countries. It's very hard to know exact numbers. They tend not to be in large groups.
Q: General, General Hagenbeck also in an interview with the Times said that the -- that there is a belief that the -- that al Qaeda is organizing for some sort of an attack or some kind of an operation during the -- to disrupt the loya jirga. Do you have any details on what he was referring to?
Rosa: I read that same article, and that's the first I heard.
Q: Well, apparently -- I mean, similar concerns have been raised by Afghan officials, by the head of the British -- you know, the British commander of the ISAF force. You're saying you've never heard of any concern about --
Rosa: I haven't seen any reports that say that -- what was in the article this morning, in our intelligence channels, that said that there are specific people -- the way I read the article, it said there were some specific (group) going to terrorize folks up in Afghanistan. You can suspect that that might happen, given the nature of what's happened in the past, but I haven't seen specific reports that have said that.
Q: So what are we supposed to make of his comments, then?
Rosa: He's the commander in the field. I would believe what he has to say.
Q: You both have now indicated it's not helpful, that it's got us concerned that Pakistan has had to move some of it's forces from that border area. Can we draw the conclusion that the effort on the Pakistani side is now stalled?
Clarke: No, I wouldn't put any characterizations on it. I don't think it's useful or helpful or accurate to be talking about hypothetical situations. We continue to impress upon Pakistan, as we do to lots of countries who are committed to this effort, about the need to remain focused, to finish it to its conclusion, which is trying to disrupt completely the Taliban and the al Qaeda, prevent Afghanistan from returning to what it returned to. So -- but I wouldn't draw conclusions, I wouldn't put characterizations on it, and I wouldn't go further than what we've said, which is it is a concern.
Q: With all due respect, it's not a hypothetical when they withdraw forces from the border area and you are less able to --
Clarke: No, but you were -- you were heading into hypotheticals and wanting to put a hard --
Q: I was heading into a characterization of what appears to be the case on the ground, that there is very little activity on the part of the Pakistanis in that tribal border area, which is a prime and important area for the United States.
Clarke: Just say this. Pakistan has been enormously, enormously helpful in the effort; enormously helpful in that border. We remain hopeful that they can and will stay committed to that effort. And that's it.
Q: Do you find reports that al Qaeda fighters are operating in Kashmir to be credible? Have you seen anything to that extent that regards?
Rosa: I have not seen.
Clarke: I have not.
Q: Okay. What is the level of fear that this entire tension could cause problems for President Musharraf in holding on to power there? What's that perception in this building?
Clarke: I'd refer that question over to the State Department.
Rosa: State Department.
Clarke: It's a very difficult situation he's dealing with -- very difficult domestic considerations. But those sorts of things -- I'd refer you to the State Department.
Let's go way back and then back to Dale.
Q: With the changes in the Pakistan force, are you considering increasing the number of U.S. and/or coalition forces in Afghanistan and shifting more of them to the border area?
Rosa: I have seen nothing that would say we're going to increase troop strength. That's always an option, but right now I have seen nothing. There are no plans that I've seen.
Q: So even if they withdrew, you wouldn't necessarily consider --
Rosa: That's a hypothetical.
Q: Well, they say they have withdrawn some.
Rosa: I mean, you know, we can war-game this thing, but right now there are no plans.
Q: Obviously the greater concern is the possibility of a nuclear exchange. Is there any kind of buffer zone that's been established for American forces operating either at sea or on the ground to stay a certain amount of miles or kilometers away from areas where we think there's at least the possibility for a nuclear exchange?
Clarke: Not that I'm aware of.
Clarke: (Inaudible name.)
Q: General, on Iraq, you reported yet another incident. Do you have any new assessment of whether this amounts to a new form of activity, a change in tactics, compared to what we've seen in the past few months?
Rosa: It hasn't been, and I'll echo General Pace's comments on Friday. The level is about the same. We had a slight increase over the last couple of weeks, but it's not uncharacteristic for what we've seen over the last several years.
Q: On another issue, Amnesty International has issued a 300- page report basically repeating some of its earlier criticism that the Bush administration has lost the moral ground on fighting the war on terrorism, because it's ignored human rights, and again points to indefinite detention of detainees and again says that the legal rights of the detainees have been ignored. Do you have any response to the Amnesty International report?
Clarke: Not to the report, because I haven't seen it. But in terms of treatment of the detainees, they continue to get excellent care. They continue to get culturally appropriate food. They continue to get excellent medical treatment. They continue to get the right to worship as they want, which is not something I -- at least last time I checked, the Taliban and the al Qaeda wanted others to have. So they continue to get excellent treatment. They are battlefield combatants, and they're being held as such, and they're being held appropriately.
Q: And on the detainees, any plans yet to move any of them out? Have you determined that some of those should be moved out of Guantanamo back to their countries? What's the latest on --
Clarke: Nothing to announce from here. But as we've said before, we have no desire or intent to hold large numbers of people for a long time. So to the extent we can work through arrangements with countries of origin for some of these people and it's going to be handled appropriately, then we'll do so. But nothing to announce at this time.
Q: Since you haven't done it in a while, could you give us an update on the numbers in Gitmo and in Afghanistan?
Clarke: Very roughly. Gitmo recent --
Rosa: I've got them.
Clarke: Oh. Go, General Rosa.
Rosa: I just happened, Charlie, because I knew you'd ask that question, I just happened to look this morning.
Clarke: And I would have guessed wrong.
Rosa: In Afghanistan we've got 255, and in Guantanamo, 384.
Q: Three eighty-four. Thanks.
Staff: One in Norfolk.
Rosa: And one in Norfolk.
Q: And about the one in Norfolk, I think a federal judge last week had ordered that the public defender have access to him by today, do you know what the status of that is?
Clarke: You should check in with the Justice Department. It's either today or tomorrow, I believe, the United States government will be in court on that one. But send you over to the Justice Department for that.
Q: Yeah, there was another report that the latest raid -- there was a raid last week -- that there was a three-year-old girl who was killed falling down a well, and that the head man of the village died in U.S. custody. Do you know whether those reports are accurate? Is there any concern that maybe these tactics that are being used, the nighttime assaults, that kind thing, are posing unacceptable risk to civilians?
Rosa: Before we move on any intelligence, we take all sources of intelligence -- the coalition, the Afghanis that are with us, and we've moved on several compounds, and we've gone in, talked to folks, not even detained them. On others, we've detained folks, never fired. In cases where we go in and folks fire at us, we'll fire back, and in this case, that happened. And unfortunately, there were some folks hurt.
We don't have any reports -- and we were trying to confirm them this morning -- on a three-year-old or a hundred-year-old man. We haven't seen anything in our reports that would lead us to believe that that happened. We're not saying it didn't, but we haven't seen anything.
Q: And how many people were killed in that raid?
Rosa: There was one killed in that raid, I believe, and two wounded.
Q: And nobody died in U.S. custody?
Rosa: Not that they're reporting.
Q: Not that --
Rosa: Not that are in our reports. I haven't -- and I just looked at them this morning, and I haven't -- I didn't see anything like that.
Q: Sir, if this building is worried about intelligence reports that China is still supplying missile technology to Pakistan? And also they have a military-to-military strong relations and most of the money Pakistan got from the U.S. is going to China to buy the military equipment for the war against India?
Clarke: We wouldn't talk about any intel matters at all. We would say what we've said often, which is proliferation of weapons, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a constant, ongoing concern for us that we raise almost every time we meet with anyone from another country. I mean, I know it's true about the secretary of Defense; I'm sure it's true in many of his meetings the president's had; he raises the issue of proliferation and what a threat that presents to people who just want to live their lives in peace.
Brett? Last question.
Q: Is the Defense Department digging in its heels on the efforts by John Walker Lindh's defense team to speak to detainees one on one? Where is that standing right now?
Clarke: You know, I want to be very careful not to say anything that has an impact on a legal case, which is ongoing. So again, some of these things you really should go to the Justice Department.
But I do know one of our main objectives, for obvious reasons, is to prevent future attacks on the American people, on our friends and allies. One of the ways we can do that is to get information out of people. And so one of the things we want to make very sure of is that we not pollute or integrate the process of those interviews or those interrogations with other things, with other people, with other processes.
Q: So there is an effort underway to try to prevent that from happening?
Clarke: Just say what I just said.
Q: Thank you.
"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."