Pace Talks Threat-Level and Clear Skies Changes, Details War Progress
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2002 Clear Skies II, an ongoing air defense exercise here, is now a deployment -- and troops are being issued live weapons, Marine Gen. Peter Pace told reporters this afternoon.
Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke at the Foreign Press Center here about the heightened threat levels as the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack approaches.
"The decision to change the threat level is a result of the fusion ... of all intelligence available through our own means and that other nations have provided," he said.
Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge announced the higher Orange threat level for the nation. DoD commanders also raised the threat level in the U.S. Central Command area of operations to ThreatCon Delta, the highest level possible.
Clear Skies II, which has only just begun and runs through Sept. 14, was designed to test an air-ground, multilayered air defense system. As an exercise, DoD officials had said, no live weapons would be involved.
The exercise is transformed into a part of DoD's homeland defense operation, Noble Eagle. Pace and other DoD officials said ground troops taking part will be armed with Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, both portable and on Avengers. The Army's Avenger is a special Humvee armed with an eight-missile launcher.
DoD officials said the change was not due to any particular threat, but was a "prudent precaution" in light of the overall increased threat.
Pace also detailed the progress in the global war on terrorism over the past year, saying that, collectively, the world had much to be proud of. He charted the military course of the war in Afghanistan.
"On 11 September, we were attacked," he said. "On 7 October, we had deployed U.S. and coalition forces thousands of miles from home to a landlocked country to begin a war in a country about which we knew very little and with whom we had very little contact.
The fact that the United States was able to perform this mission is a major success, he said. The fact that many other nations also provided troops is also a success.
Pace listed other accomplishments as well. He spoke of U.S. and coalition partners freezing more than $100 million of terrorist assets. He talked about the overthrow of the Taliban government and the progress made against al Qaeda terrorists.
"More than 90 nations have arrested more than 2,400 terrorists," he said.
Humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan have been successful with 1.5 million Afghan refugees "voting with their feet" as they return home, he said. The presence of the United States and other coalition countries is giving a semblance of security -- allowing the Afghan government some breathing room to establish necessary services devastated by 24 years of war.
On the debit side, many of the leaders of the Taliban and al Qaeda are still at large, and the United States must face threats from cells in many different countries.
Pace said the United States owes a debt of gratitude to the many nations and people of those nations that supported the United States in the days and weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks.