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

Presenter: Victoria Clarke ASD (PA)
June 25, 2002 11:00 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, everybody.

As most of you know, "Doc" Cooke passed away on Saturday. And I'd like to add my condolences to those of many others, to his family and the countless friends he has in the Department of Defense family. For 44 years, he brought extraordinary dedication and skill to his job. As the "mayor of the Pentagon," he contributed so much day in and day out to how this place functions. He served with 15 Defense secretaries. He swore some of them in. He swore in thousands of rank-and-file staffers, like myself. And it was a real honor to be sworn in by him, a little bit over a year ago, by someone who has such appreciation and respect for what this place is all about.

I know the secretary is going to talk a little bit about it tomorrow, but we will all miss him.

And with that, General Rosa.

Rosa: Good morning. Operation Mountain Lion continues throughout the eastern portion of Afghanistan. Over the last week or so, we've discovered several weapons caches, and yesterday we discovered another one with 107mm rockets, anti-personnel mines, and this time even two towed-Howitzers; these are 57mm and 76mm aircraft guns.

Additionally, yesterday, some of the forces northeast of Jalalabad received rocket or mortar fire. U.S. forces responded with their own mortar fire and also with close air support by F-18s. There were no U.S. casualties, and we're waiting on the battle damage assessment.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

Clarke: Charlie?

Q: Torie, I'd like to, both of you. Special Forces, have they begun to patrol with Philippine forces on Basilan Island seeking Abu Sabaya? Has that started yet? And if not, where in the process is that now? And to add one on, is that liable to continue till beyond the end of July, even as the bulk of the U.S. forces are moved from the Philippines?

Clarke: Let me hit a couple of points and then General Rosa can fill in. We have been working closely with the Filipino government, as we have with countless around the world, to find ways to combat terrorism anywhere it exists, including other countries' own backyard. The cooperation with the Filipino government has been phenomenal. We've been very pleased with the way it has been going.

What has been under consideration, under serious consideration, there's been some public discussion about it, is where we might go next. What has been under consideration is, do you move down to the battalion level? I was talking to the secretary --

Rosa: Actually to the company level.

Clarke: To the company level, I'm sorry. I was talking to the secretary about it this morning, and he always wants, as you well know, to have governments talk about what is going to go on in their countries. So, he would really like to leave the details of exactly what we do and when we do it to the Filipino government to talk about. But it has been under active discussion with both the Filipino government; Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz and others have been up on the Hill consulting, and that will continue as well.

Sir?

Q: And how about even if this thing hasn't been formally stamped, with the t's crossed and i's dotted yet, is this likely to -- is this likely to continue beyond July 1st, even if the bulk of the U.S. forces --

Clarke: July 31st.

Q: July 31st, as the bulk of the forces are removed from the Philippines? This kind of thing?

Rosa: In the consideration and again, there were several considerations, security assistance and follow-on foreign military assistance was part of that consideration. The numbers and the scope and the scale have not been defined. But clearly, we would get back after the bulk of Joint Task Force 510 comes out, and we would just carry on with our normal security assistance.

Q: In the same vein, may I call -- has it been determined yet whether it was a Philippine Army bullet that killed Mr. Burnham and also the wounding of his wife?

Rosa: I haven't seen any reports.

Clarke: I have not either.

Q: General Rosa, in the statement, a media statement, June 25th, from Bagram, they talk about these sweeps. And they say, quoting, "The sweeps are part of an ongoing effort to convince Afghans living in the border areas to demilitarize, to provide safety for the inhabitants there and increase stability." This mentions nothing about the sweeps being an effort to look for Taliban or al Qaeda, but just really talks about it as a stabilization effort. Is the mission of the sweeps being conducted by the U.S. military in Afghanistan now changing?

Rosa: I don't know which report that you got there. I assume --

Q: June 25th --

Rosa: I assume they're talking about the sweeps as we do surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance. The mission has not changed. That's to find, locate and destroy al Qaeda. And that's what we're currently doing. We're patrolling all over the country, not just in the area of eastern Afghanistan, where we focused over the last month, I guess, from this podium, but clearly all over the country. And you see that, in fact, we had a rocket attack yesterday up north of Jalalabad, which we haven't talked much about being up in that area. But, clearly, the mission is to find, to locate and destroy al Qaeda.

Q: But has it, in fact, now expanded additionally, as this media statement from the military says, the U.S. military to convince Afghans in the border areas to demilitarize? Is that now an additional mission of these sweeps?

Rosa: I haven't seen that. I really couldn't address that.

Q: General Rosa, to the best of your knowledge, have you found any al Qaeda in the last month or two? You've had firefights. Suspected al Qaeda may or may not have been involved. Have you captured anybody that is a bona fide al Qaeda member?

Rosa: As we take down these compounds, if you will, these folks that are in these pockets, they'll either go back to Jalal -- I mean, to Jacobabad or Bagram. And it takes time to screen them and sort them out. So the ones that we've just come across over the last week or two, we don't have any reports whether they are Taliban or al Qaeda. And many of those, as we've seen in the past, will be released.

Q: But are there al Qaeda in the last month or two that you have picked up in any of the sweeps? I'm just trying to get a sense here whether or not you are getting anybody in the last month or two that actually qualifies with this label.

Rosa: We've detained several, and I don't have those numbers. We've detained them and kept them. To label them Taliban or al Qaeda -- in those reports they don't label them that way, and I just -- I can't tell you.

Clarke: But Barbara's questions and yours go to a fundamental issue, which is pretty important, we were talking about this morning. People say, "Okay, where are we? It's June; it's x months after; where are we?" And if you go back, as I have done several times, and look at what we said in September, October, November about how we thought, without total certainty, this would progress, we're about exactly where we said we would be; that the further along you went, the harder it was going to be to find the remaining pockets; that Afghanistan would continue to be a dangerous place. And finding these caches of ammunition and these little spats that ensue are indications of that. It is very, very hard work. And the ones that are left, those people that remain, the pockets that remain are, as the secretary says, the dead-enders. It's very hard to find them.

But as we've also said, it's not just about military action. This is about legal activity, economic activity, diplomatic activity. And if you look at what's going on around the world, there are arrests going on around the world. Governments who, months ago, did not want to be talking much publicly about what they were doing in the war on terrorism are out there now talking publicly about what they are doing. The secretary --

Q: There are reports, though, that al Qaeda is reconstituting despite your best efforts. Do you have an assessment of that?

Clarke: Well, I think you make, you might be making a generalization about al Qaeda reconstituting. We look it and say we have always said, from the beginning, there are al Qaeda in 50 or 60 different countries. They have been there. Some of them are still in those different places. Activity ebbs and flows. It is also very, very clear that we have made it much more difficult for them to do their job.

But to continue on what I was saying, the kinds of activities that are going on that don't get as much attention sometimes. Secretary O'Neill, working with his counterparts around the world to try to dry up the financing, that's a very important thing. Secretary Rumsfeld has said so many times from here there will be different levels and different kinds of activity. Sometimes you'll see it, and sometimes you won't. It doesn't mean a lot of things aren't going on.

Q: Well, I guess my point is, from day one, it has been asserted by the administration that al Qaeda, in one form or another, is represented in 50 or 60 countries. But since the United States smashed the infrastructure in Afghanistan, they clearly have left Afghanistan and gone other places. And what I'm asking is, do you feel that that structure is being put back together again in somewhat effective ways, as we begin to see bombs going off in places around the world?

Clarke: I'd push back on your premise that it has been smashed, because you make it sound like over, done with, no more problem in Afghanistan, and it is just in other places. We have always said there continue to be pockets of resistance. We have always said we have information, evidence that they do try to regroup. So I think it is about exactly where we said it would be.

Jim.

Q: Can you say whether there are still fairly large numbers of al Qaeda who are believed to be in western Pakistan? And also, this operation north of Jalalabad, was that -- is that something new that special forces are operating in that area? Is that because you suspect that there are al Qaeda pockets up there, or is that just something that you haven't disclosed until now, but that's been going on for a long time?

Rosa: As I said a couple of minutes ago, Jim, we are searching and gathering intel all over that country. And that just happened to be one of the spots where our teams were. They drew some fire, and we came back at them. It's not a special operation. It's not anything that is intelligence-gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance that we're going over most of the part of that country.

The part of your other question, whether they're gathering up in Pakistan, I saw an interview that General McNeill, the head of our Joint Task Force 180 in Bagram, and in the interview, he estimated anywhere between 400 and a thousand al Qaeda at any one time moving in that area, in the tribal area in between the -- right on the borders. I haven't seen the reports to confirm that. I'm just telling you what he said. And whether they're grouping up there, I can't tell you that.

Q: Do you have any suspicion in that area north of Jalalabad that that's or any reason to suspect that that's al Qaeda as opposed to local --

Rosa: It's probably too early to tell. I think the more we look and the more we go through there with teams, there will be more information that comes out. But right now I don't have anything.

Q: What can you tell us about this merging between SPACECOM and STRATCOM? And has the president been briefed and someone chosen to lead it?

Clarke: Not much, is the short answer. And we will leave it to the people at the higher pay grade to make any formal announcements.

It's no secret that this building and the senior civilian and military leadership have been focused for a long time on trying to make sure we're organized in a fashion that makes the military the best suited to face the kind of threats we face now. So trying to find ways to better integrate the functions is absolutely critical to that.

Has the president been briefed? The president has been briefed extensively on all the organizational changes, and I think it's safe to say he's been involved in the development of some of them. But we'll leave it to the big guys to make any formal announcement.

Q: Can you say, though, what the advantages would be in that particular case as opposed to other changes you've made recently in command structure?

Clarke: I can make some comments in a very general fashion. General Rosa, who lives it, might have some specific ones.

Better integration is always a good thing. So having functions that are related -- instead of going up like silos, having them integrated more closely is always a good thing, especially when you're trying to reduce your time, you know, the kind of responsiveness that you need. So that's always a good thing. The very fact, as Secretary Rumsfeld has said so many times, the kinds of threats we face are so different that you've got to be organized in a different way. So that just from an organizational standpoint, it makes a lot of sense.

(To General Rosa) Any specifics you might want to add on?

Rosa: I'd just say that from a, if you're talking about Space [SPACECOM] and Strat [STRATCOM], Space obviously owns the satellite constellations; they do the surveillance, the space-based surveillance. On the other hand, STRATCOM, Strategic Command there in Offutt, owns all of our nuclear forces; sea, land and air. So to bring those two together would have some obvious economies, and it would obviously make sense, as Ms. Clarke said.

Clarke: Jamie?

Q: Torie, last week, the incident involving the small plane that violated the restricted airspace around Washington illustrated pretty clearly that the U.S. Air Force planes on 15-minute strip alert at Andrews were not able to respond, had that plan been somebody planning some evil intent with that. What changes, if any, are being contemplated in the wake of that incident?

Clarke: The short answer is, there are lots of people, the White House, Homeland Security, relevant elements in the DoD, who are looking at what happened to determine what changes, if any, are appropriate. And I just don't have an update for you right now.

Q: Can you just say whether some changes are being considered at this point?

Clarke: I can say they are looking at the circumstances, looking at what worked, what may not have been absolutely perfect, and deciding whether or not any changes are appropriate.

Q: Well, Torie, if that illustrated anything, it illustrates the fact that with small planes -- any planes flying around this area, that it's almost impossible, unless you have 7/24 cap over Washington, it is almost impossible to get a jet to the area to protect the White House, the immediate area of the White House, by the time a plane can hit it. Is that not true?

Clarke: Well, I'd go at it from a different direction. There are lots of things you can do to ensure the safety and security of the facility. And what they're looking at right now is to see if any changes are appropriate. But --

Q: I'm talking about that particular thing.

Clarke: Right, well, that particular thing, I have not been involved in these meetings that they're looking at what happened on that day and deciding whether or not any changes are appropriate. But they have lots of different systems and redundancies built in to ensure the safety and security of that place.

Q: General Rosa, back to Afghanistan. "Small pockets of resistance" has been the description for months. Yet, U.S. and coalition troops are not having many, if any, confrontations with the enemy. Is there still a belief that there's a significant number of al Qaeda in Afghanistan or that they have kind of fled to other countries?

Rosa: The term "significant" is tough to quantify. I think it's clear that there are al Qaeda still in Afghanistan. The numbers, are they grouping up, we don't see that. The ones that we come across and again, as John asked the question a few minutes ago, are these, in fact, the people you're detaining, are they al Qaeda? I mean, when you come up on these folks and you detain them, they don't raise their hand right off the first day and say, "Yeah, I'm al Qaeda." They're a little craftier than that. But the large pockets of people, as we saw back in March, we haven't seen. And the folks that we are going from pocket to pocket, they're mixed in with the civilian population, and it's a difficult task, as we thought it would be.

Clarke: Dale?

Q: Torie, I want to ask you about the letter that was sent, I think last week, suggesting that if concurrent receipt is part of the 2003 appropriations package that the president will veto that bill. The administration makes quite a point of its support for men and women in uniform, and I'm wondering what kind of message that veto threat sends to folks who are out there every day risking their lives, facing the possibility that they might be disabled in combat, and if they are, you're telling them that they'll get a disability benefit, but you'll take away part of their retirement if they make a career in uniform?

Clarke: Well, I think, I'm confident, everyone from this podium and this building spends a good portion of every day trying to make sure the men and women in uniform, who do put their lives at risk, put their necks on the line every single day, understand how much they're appreciated, understand how important they are, understand that we're working very, very hard to make sure they get the compensation and the benefits they need and they deserve.

I think also the men and women in uniform recognize that there are so many issues and so many risks and challenges you have to weigh when you're running the Department of Defense. You want to make absolutely sure you do everything possible to recruit and retain the very best. That goes along with what kind of compensation you provide.

You also have to make sure that they've got the parts and supplies and the kind of equipment they need to do their job in an incredible fashion. It means you also have to weigh the risks and benefits of investing in modernization and transformation.

It's not a single issue in and of itself. Life would be very simple if it was that way, but you have to put it in the broader context of everything that is important to the men and women in uniform. Compensation is certainly one of them.

Q: I'm sorry. Can I follow up on that? Because I don't think I really -- I wanted to just make sure I understood. Are you saying that the risk and benefit and the trade-off is that you can't afford fiscally disability plus full retirement for people who have become disabled as a result of their military service? Is it because there are so many competing issues, it's just not affordable to do that?

Clarke: It's -- I say it's not an either-or situation. Life would be very simple if it were an either-or situation. But you have so many different challenges, so many different risks, so many things you have to take into account when you're running the Department of Defense. But I'd say, again, the message is that everyone in this place, starting with Secretary Rumsfeld, has made it so clear how important it is to take care of the men and women in uniform. This is a very, very difficult issue, and we're working closely with the VA and the White House and others to make sure that people in uniform get all the benefits they deserve.

Q: But what's the either-or in concurrent receipt?

Clarke: I'm saying the compensation and benefits for people who serve is only one of the things that you have to take under consideration when you're figuring out where and how you're going to use your resources. There are other things that are just as important to many, many people in uniform. You know, having the adequate equipment, having the resources that they need to do their job, is very, very important. Making sure we're modernizing, so they have the things they need five and 10 years down the road. It's not a single issue in and of itself is all I'm saying.

Q: I actually had another question on the Defense bill as well, if I might. Last Friday the Senate voted to lift the ban on military women being banned from getting abortions in overseas military facilities, using private funds. If that measure, which has now passed the Senate, were to become law, of course one can assume the Pentagon would obey the law; that would be a given. But what is the policy of this department now on that ban on abortion funding? Do you want to see it changed? Do you want to see the current ban remain in place? And, of course, many opponents say it discriminates against women serving overseas; it gives them less rights than military women or private-sector women here in the United States. What's the policy of the department on that measure?

Clarke: To abide by the law. It is to abide by the law where there are so many things in play right now on the legislative front, and our legislative folks are working with them on all of them. So we will see where things go. But I'd just rather not speculate on hypotheticals, I'd rather just say --

Q: No policy on, you have no opinion on the --

Clarke: To abide by the law.

Q: Torie, every year the Defense Department submits policy papers and recommendations on lots of issues. And I know all during the Clinton administration they always asked that this ban be lifted. What is the policy recommendation, if anything, that was submitted to the Hill when the defense authorization bill was being debated?

Clarke: You know, I'll see what I can get for you on it, Pam.

Q: I wanted to go back to your point about the importance of having proper equipment for men and women to do their jobs. We're getting reports that people who are working in Bosnia, U.S. forces, are having to buy their own radios because their communications equipment is inadequate. They are having to pay for these out of their own pocket. Can you make a comment about that? Why is this equipment not adequate for our soldiers in Bosnia? Just not a priority?

Clarke: I'm not familiar about the situation in Bosnia, but it's not the first time we've heard something like that. When the secretary was out, I believe, at Scott Air Force Base a couple of months ago, he sat down with a lot of people there and said, "Talk to me about what's most important. Talk to me about what we can do to help you do your jobs better." And you'd be amazed at the number of them of them who said, "Make sure we get spare parts." You know, a guy would say, "I want to take care of my plane so it can fly as well as it has to fly. Make sure I can get the spare parts." I mean, there are people doing extraordinary things because they want to do the jobs well.

So we are focused very, very hard on those organizational changes, on improving the processes and the budgeting so we can address those sorts of things so somebody doesn't have to reach into his own pocket to try to get the job done.

Jamie?

Q: Torie, today a research advisory council to the Veterans, Department of Veterans Affairs, released a report on Gulf War illness that in some respects challenges some of the conventional scientific conclusions about the illnesses suffered by Gulf War veterans, essentially concluding that they are linked to service in the Gulf War and that Gulf War veterans are suffering these wide range of ailments at a rate sometimes 20 or 30 times that of the general population. Are you aware of any study that supports that conclusion? And how much weight do you put on the advice of this particular advisory council?

Clarke: Well, we haven't seen it yet. My understanding is we're in the receive mode on that report. So, I'm sure some of our people have some feedback on it. They're going to see it, I think, this afternoon. What we've been doing is try to work closely with the VA and HHS to determine exactly what is going on and what the appropriate treatment might be. We're working closely with those departments. But if we get anything back this afternoon, we'll let you know.

Q: And just one other follow-up on a completely different matter. I asked you about this a month or so ago, and I just want to ask you again because the issue has come up again. This notorious French book, which is on the bestseller list in France, that purports --

Clarke: I knew we should have ended.

Q: -- that advances the theory that a plane did not, in fact, hit the Pentagon on September 11th is now going to be published in English, continues to gather a small amount of people who believe the book. I just wonder if you could --

Clarke: Who besides you?

Q: There's a small number of people who --

Clarke: No, I mean, we shouldn't laugh about it because it's pretty -- No, I'm going to cut you off. Because it's disgusting. You know, over, we're coming up -- it's amazing that almost a year has gone by, and we're coming up on the anniversary of the day in which over 3,000 people were slaughtered. And there are over 3,000 families and countless friends who are still, you know, in shock and their lives in disarray because of what happened. There is no question, there is no doubt what happened that day. And I think it's appalling that anyone might try to put out that kind of myth. I think it's also appalling for anyone to continue to give those sorts of people any kind of publicity.

Q: You find it insulting.

Clarke: It's much more than insulting.

Q: Just one bookkeeping. Could you give us the latest breakdown of detainees in Gitmo and Afghanistan? Approximate figures?

Clarke: Ooh! Approximate ah, he's got it in the left- hand corner. Good job.

Rosa: Five hundred and 64 in Guantanamo; 83 in Central Command; one in Charleston; and one in Norfolk.

Q: Are the 83 in CENTCOM -- (inaudible) -- in Afghanistan?

Rosa: We don't -- we don't break that down. But I think there are.

Q: And when are they going to (switch ?) location?

(Cross talk.)

Clarke: We try to stay away from giving a lot of specifics about where these people are for the obvious reasons. But we got a few questions this morning about people from other countries being in Guantanamo, talking to detainees. It is an absolutely logical and appropriate thing. Lots of officials from different countries have been there to interview and talk to detainees who may be coming from their countries, and they have different reasons. The primary purpose, and we are very eager to work with different countries on this, is to gather information so we can stop these people and their colleagues and pals who are still running around loose from doing more bad things. It is absolutely appropriate and logical that they would be doing that.

Q: Can we have a list of the countries that have interviewed nationals at Guantanamo?

Clarke: I don't think so. We have not -- we have not talked about the kinds of countries. If they want to say they've been there, and some of them have, that's fine, but we're just not going to give a laundry list of who's been there. We have been working with lots of different countries. It has never been our intent to try to hold on to these people for any longer than we absolutely have to, but our primary purpose of getting information out of these people so we can prevent future attacks is aided and helped by working with these other countries. And that's been proven a few times over.

Q: Torie, when the secretary was in Kuwait, he publicly said that he'd invited the Kuwaitis to come and talk to their nationals at Gitmo. Has that happened? And --

Clarke: I think the Kuwaitis had talked about that. And they're --

Q: (Inaudible) -- exception to your rule you just stated that you would not --

Clarke: As a general matter, we don't go around giving laundry lists. If countries want to talk about being there and sending their officials there, that's fine. I think that was the case when we were over there in the region. And I know we have said it is fine for them to come and talk to their people. I don't think, when we were leaving on that trip or finishing up that trip, I don't think a date had been set. But we can check that for you.

And for Pam Hess, the appeals package, the departmental statements for the authorization bill have not yet been sent to the Hill.

Thank you very much.

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