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Joint Task Force Horn of Africa Briefing

Presenters: Maj. Gen. John F. Sattler, USMC, commander, Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa
January 10, 2003 10:00 AM EDT

(Special Briefing Via Telephone Onboard the USS Mount Whitney in the Gulf of Aden. Also participating: Maj. Stephen Cox, public affairs officer, Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa.)

Maj. Cox: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am Major Steve Cox, the public affairs officer for Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. Before we begin the question and answer session with Major General Sattler, I'd like to provide you a brief opening statement.

About 30 days ago, the headquarters for Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa arrived on station to oversee operations in support of the global war on terrorism in the Horn of Africa region. Our mission is to detect, disrupt and defeat terrorists who pose an imminent threat to coalition partners in the region. We'll also work with host nations to deny the reemergence of terrorist cells and activities by supporting international agencies working to enhance long-term stability for the region.

For this operation, we are defining the Horn of Africa region as the total airspace and land areas out to the high-water mark of Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti and Yemen.

The CJTF headquarters has about 400 members representing all U.S. armed services, civilian personnel, and coalition force representatives, all aboard the USS Mount Whitney, currently operating in the Gulf of Aden. Our force also includes about 900 personnel at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, and a small number of liaison personnel working in other parts of the region.

Given organic assets and the capabilities of U.S. Central Command, CJTF-Horn of Africa has the capability and will act upon credible intelligence to attack, destroy and/or capture terrorists and support networks. Our actions in the last 30 days have set the stage for success. We visited all sovereign nations in the region, meeting heads of state in Djibouti, Yemen, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. Also, we met with coalition military leaders, and recently completed the first in a planned series of exercises and operations between CJTF-Horn of Africa and Combined Task Force 150 maritime forces.

A key to defeating terrorism lies in building trust with coalition partners. A by-product of trust is the development of actionable intelligence, which improves host nation ability to win the battle within their borders. The global war on terrorism is not a war against any people or any religion. It is a long-term fight between the forces of freedom and those who seek to spread hatred and fear, both in the Horn of Africa region and around the world. CJTF Horn of Africa is prepared for an extended war on terrorism. We will press the fight at every turn as long as it takes and with the help of our coalition partners, together we will win this fight.

Ladies and gentlemen, at this point, I'd like to introduce the commander, Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, Major General John F. Sattler.

Maj. Gen. Sattler: Good morning, everyone. John Sattler here, and I believe I'm prepared to go ahead and answer your questions at this time.

Q: General Sattler, this is Pam Hess with United Press International. Could you tell us if you all have actually done anything besides the exercise in laying the groundwork? Has there been any actionable intelligence created, and have you responded to it in any way?

Maj. Gen. Sattler: We've had a quite a bit of intelligence that has come in and has been shared, not only among the agencies within the Department of Defense, but also among our coalition partners and the other government agencies, inter-agency process. But to go into whether or not we have actually moved on or pressed any targets or are closing with, I really don't want to comment -- or hold my comment on any possible future operations. But let's just say that we are developing the intelligence network, which is really critical in a fight against terrorism, and it's becoming more refined every day.

Q: General, this is Matt Kelley with the Associated Press. I'd like to know if there are any plans to expand the amount of personnel or materiel in your joint task force and also, what areas are of specific interest in your area of responsibility?

Maj. Gen. Sattler: On the first question, when General Franks sent us out here, he made it very clear when he sent me down to Central Command, he gave me his commander's guidance that although the task force -- the headquarters, the number is approximately 400, and we have close to 900 forces ashore, which are under our tactical control at all times; that as we start to develop intelligence and refine the terrorist locations, training centers, et cetera, that we have the ability to reach back, through General Franks, to come up with additional forces, if necessary.

So I'm very comfortable at this time that we have forces under our tactical control that give us the ability to respond rapidly and quickly to actionable intelligence. And if we need it or any target would exceed that capability, that's when I go back through the chain of command to General Franks and he has at his disposal obviously all the resources that are in his area of operations, plus he can go back up through his chain of command to find additional or unique forces, if necessary.

And I'm sorry. The second part of that question?

Q: The second part of the question was, what areas are of specific interest in your area of responsibility? Are you looking more specifically at places like Yemen and Somalia?

Maj. Gen. Sattler: The -- of course our mission was very broad, in that we were to track transnational terrorism across the Horn of Africa, going from Yemen across the Gulf of Aden, and then, you know, the entire Horn.

Initially arriving, we do have some areas that we're concentrating on -- a couple of the border areas, some of the coastline areas, where intelligence -- as we start to refine the intelligence and take the information and turn information into intelligence, where we're taking not a broad casting of the net approach, but we're homing in on certain areas. You know, the porous borders with Somalia are one of the areas that we're taking a very hard look at, as well as the coastlines coming across the Gulf of Aden. So without getting any more specific than that, there are some areas that deserve watching much closer than others across the entire Horn.

Q: General, this is Mark Mazzetti with U.S. News and World Report. I just wanted to clarify. When you met with the heads of state of those four countries, were you given the authority to act freely at any time you gain actionable intelligence against terrorists and to operate in those countries? And do you have to ask their permission before you go? And then, finally, do you expect to get that authority in every country in your area of responsibility?

Maj. Gen. Sattler: The authority to actually prosecute a target in any of those sovereign countries, as we start to -- oh, first of all, we're in the process of working the exchange of liaison officers, so that the countries that we are responsible for across the Horn of Africa, those who have sovereign governments, that we will take liaison officers on board that'll be on board USS Mount Whitney with us and will be able to have direct access back to their parent countries. But when we talked down through both the military leaders and the heads of state, and our own U.S. ambassador and country teams in each one of those countries, we talked about different types of targets and different types of action that we would do as a coalition. Now, keeping in mind that this is not a U.S. alone -- this is not a unilateral effort across the Horn of Africa, it's a combined -- meaning -- coalition -- and all of the countries that we have in our area of operations are, in fact, working closely with us. And I'll spare -- obviously, in the case of Somalia, we have not been in -- there's -- we have not visited Somalia, but the other countries we have talked to and we have established a relationship. And there are certain protocols we will follow, which I won't go into, but we did discuss those exact points that you just brought out. But I would really like to stress that a lot of the information intelligence-sharing -- many of these countries have very capable armed forces and then very capable internal security mechanisms that they can certainly prosecute. Now, many of these terrorist targets, or many of these targets are on their own, and our role in that would be to assist them with intelligence, with information, and if they so request, possibly training and even some equipment, all over the period of time here.

Q: General, this is Jim Mannion of AFP. I was wondering if you could describe the scope of the al Qaeda presence in Yemen up in the port area along Saudi Arabia; and also, whether al Qaeda has been using Saudi territory as a haven and whether the Saudis have been cooperative in pursuing them? Thank you.

Maj. Gen. Sattler: The countries that we have responsibility for, obviously Yemen borders Saudi Arabia, but we are in no -- we are not -- our specific Combined Joint Task Force is not working directly with the Saudi government. Now, we've received information and intelligence across the entire inter-agency process so that we do get intelligence from other parts of the world that we're able to take and fuse with our analysts on board the ship here to help build that jigsaw puzzle that now indicates who's moving where and when.

We are not just tracking al Qaeda. Our mission is for all transnational terrorism, regardless if it's individual, if it's sponsored by an organization like al Qaeda or it's even cells that we haven't heard of. So we have not honed in specifically on al Qaeda, therefore, I can't give you -- yeah, a nose-count or a head-count; I just do not have that information.

Q: General, Tom Bowman with the Baltimore Sun. How are you doing?

Maj. Gen. Sattler: Tom, I'm doing fine.

Q: I know you said you've generated quite a bit of intelligence, and I know you can't be too specific. But I'm wondering if you can give us any general sense of the activity there. Are you seeing a greater amount of terrorist activity? More training camps, greater numbers than maybe you anticipated? Anything that surprises you? Anything in general that you can give us.

Maj. Gen. Sattler: You know, keeping in mind, Tom, we've just been here about 30 days right now, I would tell you that there's a lot of activity to be collected upon, that it's hard also to decipher what is just normal activity moving across borders at different points and moving across the Gulf of Aden, and what may in fact be either the smuggling of weapons, munitions, explosives, or individuals in and out of some of the countries.

So I would tell you that I would think there is a lot to collect upon, and that's where it becomes very tough, is trying to figure out what is information that has to be vetted through, and what becomes hard-core intelligence that can be used towards an action, action somewhere down the road. So there's a number of areas we're looking very, very hard at. We have not hit that point of, "Yeah, this is definitely what we thought it was," and therefore, we have not gone forward and actually conducted any attacks on any terrorist cells or training camps, et cetera.

But I would tell you that we're getting more and more information turned into intelligence every day. You know, it's not a short-term battle over here. We need to be patient because we need to be correct, absolutely correct when in fact we come forward and identify a particular location as a training site or a camp as being full or harboring terrorists.

So I would tell you there have really been no large surprises -- no big surprises. But as you would know, and as anyone there can probably guess, it's going to take time to sort down through this. But the good news is that, you know, defeating the terrorists is the ultimate goal, but en route to that, while collecting the intelligence across all coalition partners and within our own interagency, the secondary goal is to obviously to disrupt and keep off balance [the terrorists]. And we feel very confident that by virtue of breathing down their neck, looking at them through multiple intelligence sources, and collecting on them through multiple sources, that we are in fact disrupting -- keeping them off balance until we can go to that next phase which is defeat, i.e., bring to justice.

Q: General, Nick Childs from the BBC. Your headquarters currently is aboard the Mount Whitney. Can you say if it is your plan to move the headquarters as well ashore? And if so, when?

Maj. Gen. Sattler: The USS Mount Whitney, which is, you know, a command and control ship, probably the most capable platform -- naval platform in the world -- so right now we have access and reach-back to anything and anywhere. And we can also command and control and speak with anyone that we can even, you know, remotely think that we would utilize either in operation or to go ahead and help us either do, A, analysis, or to, B, pull down intelligence from across the spectrum. So therefore, there's no hurry for us to push ashore.

Right now we're off the coast of Djibouti, and we have, you know, helicopter capability on board. So I'm capable, as are others on board ship, to move into where we have our forces right now at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti.

We are looking at the options to go ahead and phase ashore. That decision has not been made. There's a number of places we could do that, and obviously we're already established fairly well at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti. But that ultimate decision from -- you know, from Central Command has not been made. But we will continue to look at all our options.

If in fact we would move ashore, if I was to guess, I would say it may be in the April-May time frame. And I would really like to stress one more time that there is -- there's no factor that pushes us to hurry to move off the ship and go ahead and move ashore.

Q: General, Alex Belida from Voice of America. Earlier you were discussing your relationships with the countries in your area of responsibility. I'm curious if you could discuss in perhaps more detail your relations with the government of Sudan. Do you have a liaison individual in Sudan or a Sudanese official with you?

And secondly, have leaders in the region expressed concerns to you and therefore gotten you looking at activities of Islamic religious schools, madrassas? Thanks.

Maj. Gen. Sattler: Okay, on the first question, which is a good one, we've had one trip -- my number-one area tour colonel, who is our -- he's our geopolitical advisor, who tripped the entire Horn. He has been in Sudan twice. And we have had another team in Sudan, working with the embassy. I have personally -- I have not gone to Sudan yet. We're still making -- still making the rounds. We've been to Yemen, we've been to Ethiopia, Eritrea, and obviously Djibouti, and we still have Kenya to pick up before we actually go ahead and attempt to go in and set up a visit into Sudan.

So to answer your question, we have initial contact. We're working with the U.S. embassy there in Sudan, but we have in fact not made a formal visit yet, but that's still out there.

On your second question, one of our goals, in addition to detecting, finding the terrorists and disrupting and then defeating, the third portion of our mission is to enhance the long-term stability of the region. We're also responsible for Central Command, to General Franks, for taking a look at civil military operations -- the building of schools, roads; enhancing the quality of life; humanitarian assistance, which, if in fact there was a drought, a famine, across any of the countries or across the entire horn, we would be looking to assist both government agencies and non-government agencies, to go in and enhance the quality of life and then shore-up, where we could and where we're asked to, stability across the region.

So we have personally -- you know, we have not had any contact with or any conflict with, nor have any of the leaders of the countries we've already visited, military or civilian, made any comment concerning, you know, schools of that nature that may be sponsored by outside countries in their particular country. So nothing has been brought to my attention personally on that matter.

Q: General, Craig Gordon from Newsday. After the war in Afghanistan wound down, there was a great deal of concern about al Qaeda fleeing toward Yemen, toward Somalia, places like that. I suspect that's basically why you're there. Can you give us any assessment of how much you think that actually did happen, you know, a few dozen, a few hundred -- any sense of how much of that kind of movement did occur.

And secondly, I was interested in your comment, if I understood it correctly, that you're not honing in on al Qaeda, that you're looking for all transnational terrorists. Are there other groups in particular that you're looking for? I think the sense was al Qaeda was your main focus there.

Maj. Gen. Sattler: To answer the first question, you know, is that as the war progressed across Afghanistan, this is the exact reason, as you alluded to, why General Franks, in consult with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, decided to go ahead and stand up the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa to hone specifically on the region running from Yemen across the Gulf of Aden, and then, obviously, into the Horn of Africa. Once again, I really can't discuss, you know, any targeting -- any terrorist groups that we are targeting for Intel collection, et cetera, whether those be al Qaeda or any other terrorist group or faction of one of the other groups that occupies or operates through that region, mainly in Somalia, as was already alluded to. So, if we find al Qaeda, obviously, we're going to concentrate on it, collect on it, develop actionable intelligence and then prosecute, so I did not want to give, please, anyone the idea that we were taking al Qaeda or anybody from the al Qaeda organization lightly. But I also want to stress that this is about all terrorism, all transnational terrorism, that can either impact on us personally, i.e. America, or our coalition partners.

Q: Hi, sir. This is Kathy Rhem from the American Forces Press Service. Can you describe what the camp that you have there in Dijbouti is like, what are the living conditions like for the Marines and what kind of facilities are available there?

Maj. Gen. Sattler: The camp in Dijbouti -- right now, we actually have soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines and we have some civilians that are there working also; the approximate's about 900. The camp has very, very strong anti-terrorism force protection security, which we provide ourselves. The individuals living there -- we are living in tents, sleeping on cots. There are environmental control units, there are environmental control units with each tent, therefore, we do have some degree of air conditioning. There's a mess hall, chow hall, there that's also set up in tents with tables and chairs inside. It's fairly -- it's very austere, but it's only there to, you know, go ahead and support the global war on terrorism.

Most of the folks that are rotating in are coming in on a 180-day basis, but the rotations are such that they're off-set, so a large group does not come and go at the same time. And if there is a large group that does leave, a replacement group arrives and there's a battle hand over of information, skills, et cetera, that are required, so there's no degradation in capabilities.

So, I would describe it as very, very austere, but very, very safe, and it certainly meets our needs and our mission there.

Q: General, it's Pam Hess from UPI again. I'm interested in the vocabulary you're using. You keep using the word "prosecute." Is your mission there, after you get actionable intelligence, to participate in or support snatch-and-grab, and then putting people into the legal system? Or, are you guys bringing, say, lethal power to the question?

Maj. Gen. Sattler: I may be using the word "prosecute" incorrectly. A lot of times inside the military, when you prosecute a target, that just means that you go ahead and take that target -- i.e., it could be an artillery mission, could be an objective on a conventional attack. So I do not mean to use it as our sole goal is to, you know, ensure that we have indictments on people and that those individuals are in fact arrested and brought back to trial. That could be done, obviously, if there are terrorists or groups of terrorists that we do have an indictment out on. But that would be done mainly by civilian organizations -- to go ahead and arrest.

In our particular case, it really doesn't matter. If someone arrests them to take them off the street based on intelligence information that we were able to provide, or in fact that it's a clean target and we have to go ahead and take that individual or group down, utilizing military action -- I was using that term "prosecute" in both cases -- I guess what I would say is one would be militarily to attack and destroy it, if in fact we couldn't go ahead and, you know, arrest them to bring them to justice.

Q: Hi, General. Bret Baier with Fox News Channel. You mentioned you are seeing things moving on the waters there -- perhaps smuggling, other things. There are some reports indicating that al Qaeda might have speedboats packed with explosives and might be trying to hit targets, either U.S. or allied, in that region on the water. Do you believe there's credible evidence to that? And how serious do you take that threat? Is there a higher state of alert because of that?

Maj. Gen. Sattler: Well, there have been, you know, two targets struck in that method over -- in the last two years, one being the USS Cole, the tragedy there, and then the second one, much more recent, was the French oil tanker, the Limburg. So that tactic is out there for sure.

We take it extremely seriously, as do our coalition partners. Each of the countries that we've worked with are very concerned about coastal security, to ensure that they have the capability to detect and, if necessary, interdict.

So a lot of our -- without getting into it, a lot of our intelligence collection is focused on areas where these type of boats could, A, be stored; B, be moved to, launched from. And we also, through, you know, Combined Joint Task Force 150, the maritime component, there is -- they're constantly at sea, looking to interdict, stop and board, if necessary, you know, boats of this type, to make sure that they can't in fact come in close.

We're also, especially on board our own ship -- we have a tremendous anti-terrorism defense on board USS Mount Whitney, just to ensure that that type of attack does not happen to us. Therefore, we drill, we practice. We have alert. We have watch standers, et cetera. So we take that threat very, very seriously, and as I've indicated, it's been used twice and possibly foiled one other time. So it's out there, and we are concerned.

Q: General, Tom Infield from Knight Ridder Newspapers. Just to clarify, you described the assets at Camp Lemonaid (sic), and you obviously have the Whitney. What other facilities or assets do you have as part of this task force?

Maj. Gen. Sattler: We have -- on Camp Lemonier, without getting into any great detail, we have access to some Special Operations forces that are directly under our tactical control. And I won't -- don't want to get into numbers or size. And we also have elements of the Marine Expeditionary Unit that is over here currently operating that are under our tactical control. So we are capable of massing a very credible force on very short notice to go ahead and -- go ahead and attack a target, once in fact we would have, you know, credible intelligence that was actionable.

So, without getting into numbers, we have a tremendous capability right there at Camp Lemonier here in the area.

Q: General, I'm Carl Osgood. I write for the Executive Intelligence Review. I know that you have a specific area of responsibility that you're operating in, but there are also conflicts and operations going on in adjacent areas, like the -- you have the Israeli-Palestinian issue; you have operations in the Persian Gulf, on the Arabian Sea in South Asia, and things like that.

Can you say anything about the impact that all of this -- things going on in these adjacent areas have in your area of responsibility?

Maj. Gen. Sattler: I would say that General Franks, when he stood up the Combined Task Force, just like the one -- you know, Combined Joint Task Force 180 in Afghanistan, he put Lieutenant General McNeill up there to focus on Afghanistan, not that General Franks wasn't interested or divesting himself of it, but he wanted one individual to focus solely on that to make sure that he didn't miss anything.

When they decided to put the Combined Joint Task Force here in the Horn of Africa, made it very clear that's exactly what they wanted us to do, to go ahead and pull intelligence in from outside the Horn that might impact, i.e., transnational terrorism starting outside the Horn and coming into it, or if something was leaving the Horn and moving into another area, we would certainly pass all that information back up the chain.

But we are really, truly focusing on those seven countries, and then the water that moves across, in conjunction with the Combined Joint Task Force 150. So the competition for resources could be out there, as in the case of any operation at any time. But right now, everything that we have asked for, everything that -- every type of intelligence collection, platform that we've been looking for, we've had it made available to us, and we have not wanted for anything at this time. So, I would tell you that we are really concentrating on these seven countries and then picking up the terrorists as they move through.

Q: General, Otto Kreisher, Copley News Service. I want to follow up a little on the question earlier about your capabilities. You're used to operating off an ARG, with the helicopters, both troop carriers and gun ships. The Whitney is capable of about two helicopters. I'm interested in what your mobility is. You know, if you have to prosecute a target, where do you get your air assets, and what do you about, you know, air cover -- fixed-wing air cover, for what you have to do?

Maj. Gen. Sattler: If an operation is distant -- if we are to conduct an operation, we have at our disposal, going through General Franks, it's very clear in our mission that we become the supported -- the supported agency within his area of operations. And obviously, what that would mean would be that the maritime component commander, the air component commander and the land force component commander would then respond to General Franks' direction to go ahead and provide us the assets you just spoke about.

Without getting into numbers, we also have -- we have helicopters and other assets that are under our capital of control, that we own 24-hours a day, every day. Therefore, we have a capability to do the things you just spoke of day or night without having to reach out and ask for assistance. But if it became a larger operation, there's no doubt in my mind that, you know, we can and we would go ahead and go back through the chain of command and ask the other commanders out here to go ahead and support us for a particular operation for a particular period of time.

Q: General, it's Jim Mannion from AFP again. From the intelligence that you've gathered, is there any indication that Osama bin Laden is in your area?

Maj. Gen. Sattler: We have nothing at all that would indicate that Osama bin Laden is operating in any of the countries I just talked about. I have not even heard his name mentioned, as a matter of fact, over the -- almost the entire time out here. So, the answer to that is no.

Q: General, it's Mark Mazzetti with U.S. News again, and I think I'm the last question. I just wanted to follow up on my earlier question about access to these countries. I guess the nature of actionable intelligence is that there's only a -- there's a shrinking time window before it no longer becomes actionable. And I'm just wondering whether you feel that you're confident that you have worked out all of the bureaucracy now to allow you to act quickly in these countries without having to go through a lot of the red tape it might normally take. You know, in other words, do you feel like you can -- if you had to prosecute a target today that you didn't have a lot of time, that you'd be able to do it successfully?

Maj. Gen. Sattler: Boy, that's an -- I'm smiling because that is a great question, and that's the one that we constantly ask ourselves. If it's a very fleeting target, very time sensitive, you're right, you need to have all those -- that chain of command, the sequence of events that has to unfold to go in and prosecute that target need to be well defined so that phone numbers are known, individuals to be spoken with are known to get that clearance.

I will tell you that we are comfortable that we have that now, but I will never be totally comfortable to the point that we won't keep going back and reminding -- traveling back through the countries that we've already been to to make second and tertiary appearances to make sure that they know that we're with them, we're coalition partners, and anything that we do will in fact be coordinated and orchestrated with them to make sure that we know exactly who has the authority and who we need to speak with, and in some cases, who on our side, with -- inside the Combined Joint Task Force, within my chain of command, needs to make the call for the final clearance.

So we're very concerned about that, meaning that we have taken a look at it in a number of different situations, and we're working to make sure that we have that in fact codified in both our mind and in our coalition partners' mind.

Staff: Thank you very much, sir. We appreciate your time.

Maj. Gen. Sattler: Okay, is that it?

Staff: That's it.

Maj. Gen. Sattler: Hey, listen, while everyone's still there, I recognized a lot of the names, and I could see the faces, even though we don't have a VTC set up here. And I just want to tell everyone thanks a lot for giving us this tremendous opportunity, and a Happy New Year to everyone.

Staff: Thank you, sir.

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