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ASD PA Clarke Conference Call with Regional Reporters

Presenters: Victoria Clarke, ASD PA
November 16, 2001

Thursday, November 15, 2001

(Telephone conference call with regional reporters.)

Clarke: Thanks everybody for joining us this afternoon. Sorry to be a few minutes late starting here. We've had a busy couple of days. A trip to New York yesterday, the Secretary was visiting the World Trade Center site, then obviously the situation, the extraction of the aid workers, the detainees last night. Today we had a briefing with Secretary Rumsfeld and General Franks here in the briefing room. Then we just finished up another one with the secretary of defense and his counterpart from Korea, the minister of defense from Korea.

So I'd just make a couple of comments and then open it up to your questions.

First, I think one of the things the secretary is working hard to communicate here over the last couple of days is this, although we're seeing encouraging signs and we're making progress in the war on terrorism in Afghanistan, he wants to emphasize that we still have a ways to go. We are certainly not done in Afghanistan. He also goes on at great length to point out that this is not just about Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda network. It is certainly not about Afghanistan, if you will. It is about a global war on terrorism. General Franks was underscoring that as well. There's been a lot of talk about a sudden flurry of activity over the last few days.

If we go back to what we said about this activity on October 7th, we had said we were going to do a couple of things. First and foremost we were going to set the conditions, try to create the conditions so we could have a sustained campaign against the terrorists and those who are harboring and fostering them, and create the conditions so we could provide meaningful amounts of humanitarian assistance.

We are now, we started on October 7th, so about five or six weeks into this. We've created those conditions and now we're working aggressively to track down and eliminate the al Qaeda network and to really destroy and disable the Taliban regime that has been sponsoring them.

So we think we are right on track. We are pleased with the progress that is being made but we do want to underscore that we've got a long way to go. With that I'll stop and open this up for your questions. Again, sorry for the slow start here.

Mark Heller, Watertown Daily Times: Hi, given the current activities that of course the military is involved in this might not seem like the most opportune time to be pushing for base closings, and yet I understand that the secretary has written to the president urging him to veto the Defense Authorization Bill if it doesn't include another round of BRAC. Why would he do a thing like that? And is this not a tough time to be making that argument?

Clarke: I'm glad you asked the question, and I'm chiding myself, I should have mentioned it in my remarks because now more than ever, I'll turn your question right around on its head. Now more than ever we need to maximize every resource we have. We need to be preparing and organizing and equipping ourselves in a fashion to face what are truly different and asymmetrical threats of the 21st Century. The secretary spoke about this yesterday when we were in New York and he spoke about it today in the briefing room and emphasized very strongly, we need every nickel and we need to be as efficient with our resources as possible. And you just can't be efficient, and you can't maximize your resources which are hard-earned taxpayers' dollars, as you all well know, if you're carrying 20 to 25 percent excess infrastructure. That's no way to do things at the best of times. It certainly is not the way to do things when you've got an intensive, broad and sustained effort, which we have in this war on terrorism.

He has talked to -- this reflects the president's views. I think what you're referencing is today he sent up a letter to Chairman Levin and General Myers is sending up a letter to Chairman Levin saying just those points. We need to maximize our resources and we don't think the president should be signing the Defense Authorization Bill without the, we call it the Efficient Facilities Initiative language in it.

William Hillburg, Los Angeles Newspaper Group: I was interested with the call-ups and activations of many units there was a lot of talk prior to this emergency of problems with readiness across the board in the military.

Have you done any kind of evaluation considering the buildup and a lot of units that have been activated? Is it still true? Have there been some notable problems? We're over 50,000 right now. We also have some units that of course weren't in combat situations before that are. Have you done any analysis on this?

Clarke: Analysis in terms of how they're doing?

Hillburg: Right. As far as readiness and capabilities and things as these units are activated.

Clarke: Well, the analysis, if you will, I think has been somewhat limited. We do have, it's about 55,000, the number as of November 14th, for Reserve and National Guard called to active duty is 55,417, and that's now from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and they are making a very, very important contribution to the war effort. Their roles and responsibilities are primarily homeland defense right now. We will be anticipating and meeting some needs going forward, but right now their primary responsibilities are homeland defense, and all the evidence, everything we've seen, as I've said, they're making a very valuable and important contribution.

Maria Recio, Fort Worth Star Telegram: Hi, Torie, Maria Recio from the Fort Worth Star Telegram, how are you doing?

Clarke: Good.

Recio: I was calling because President Musharraf was here from Pakistan and he was talking about his desire to get back the F-16s. You may recall there were 28 F-16s that had been in dispute and Congress intervened and Pakistan never got them. However, the United States did pay Pakistan for them back in '98.

So what I'm wondering is would the Defense Department be supporting a new purchase by Pakistan, or is there support for that given the kind of help that this country has gotten from Pakistan in this war effort?

Clarke: Maria, on the planes I'm going to have to take the question and we will call you this afternoon with that information. I just don't know enough to give you an intelligent response on that. But we have had a lot of interaction and a lot of conversations with the leadership in Pakistan including Musharraf on the Secretary's last trip which was, I believe, last week. I'm sort of losing track of all the days here. We were in Pakistan and met with him, and Secretary Rumsfeld a few times in interviews and other public settings since then has said you have to have a lot of respect for what Musharraf is doing. A very difficult situation, some very serious domestic concerns. He has made clear that he is committed to the war on terrorism and we greatly appreciate the role they're playing.

The other point I would make which is a very broad-based way of addressing the issues I think you're raising is this. And the secretary has commented on this a few times as well. The impact of September 11th was huge. I know that sounds like an understatement, but what he has talked about is, and he's been very struck by it as he travels around the world, is that every country in the world practically, and certainly the ones with whom we have been meeting, are really taking stock of their priorities and relationships going forward, and it's a very unique time in history in that the impact of September 11th was so great that a lot of countries are taking a new look and have a different mindset, if you will, about what their priorities, what their relationships with other countries might be going forward.

So the secretary is very committed, as I know the administration is, to seeing how we can build and strengthen the relationship with Pakistan. But a long-winded way, and we will get you an answer on the planes.

Recio: Thank you.

Lisa Friedman, Oakland Tribune: What can you tell us about these hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled cities in Afghanistan for the border? What's happening? Are they moving back to their homes? Are they still in camps? Is there a time line on --

Clarke: It's scattered information, Lisa, but one of the things we are very heavily focused on now, and it's intensive consultations with other agencies in the U.S. government as well as working with our friends and allies in the region to figure out how we can provide meaningful humanitarian support right away.

Obviously with winter coming on the situation, which we should never miss an opportunity to mention, was caused by the Taliban. The reason there are millions and millions of people who are starving is because of their oppression of the Afghan people. The reason people were fleeing into other places is to try to find a way to feed themselves and their children and their families. So there is an intensive effort under way right now. We have some reports that in addition to the humanitarian rations that we've been dropping almost daily, the first large amounts went in I believe over the river in the northern part of the country and were obviously welcomed with great relief by the Afghan people, so their situation is a top priority right now.

Friedman: Thanks.

Hillburg: Getting back to the base closings or the realignments, I'm sort of more interested in the realignments. Obviously over the years there have been some decisions that have been made prior to this administration that were very politically loaded, maybe not in the best service of the warfighting mission that the Pentagon has.

Will you be looking also at situations of adjusting some bases, some locations as part of this process, or are we strictly talking about more closures?

Clarke: No. You're right to point that out. It is about realignment. Go back to, and we were having many, many conversations about this before September 11th obviously, what we're about in a very large fashion is preparing ourselves, is organizing ourselves to meet the very different threats of the 21st Century. How you plan to address those, the strategy for how you address those is critical, obviously. Once you determine what your strategy is, then you look at your force structure and you look at how your force structure needs to be arranged, where it needs to be arranged. Based on that you do your base structure.

So it is very much and as much about realignment as it is about closures.

Right now our current base structure doesn't meet our current needs. It certainly doesn't meet our future needs.

Hillburg: Thank you.

Heller: To follow up on the BRAC point if I might, you mentioned that right now our facilities and our force structure are sort of out of sync and also it's kind of out of sync with our future plans. But the point that some critics make is that without really knowing what our structure is going to be looking like over the next several years or decade or so, that it's hard to go forth with BRAC given that.

How do you respond to that criticism, which incidentally comes out of some folks on the armed services committees even?

Clarke: The response is just a repetition of what I said earlier. We think the necessity, the pressure to get to the task at hand, making our base structure fit our force structure couldn't be more important, because you just have to be as efficient as possible. We need to make sure that every nickel we're spending, and I'll repeat myself, it's the taxpayers' hard-earned dollars we're talking about here. We need to make sure every nickel we're spending has maximum value, so we think the pressure is even greater now than it was before.

And then to the point with which you started your question, prior to September 11th we were, I'll admit because I'm the communications person, I'm responsible for this piece of it, we were having difficulties explaining to people what we meant when we said we're facing very different threats in the 21st Century. We know less about from whom we might be threatened. We know more about the kinds of things they might do. So that's why we talked a lot about shifting from a threat-based to a capabilities-based strategy, be able to address different kinds of increasingly asymmetrical threats including terrorism.

Post September 11th people now have a very clear picture of the kinds of things we're talking about. And as the secretary has said, it's an absolute tragedy, the horror of losing thousands and thousands of lives on September 11th, we need to continue to worry about the terrorist who might get hold of a weapon of mass destruction and kill tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people.

So we think now instead of talking about in the abstract or the hypothetical, now there is reality in front of people and the awareness to the needs is much greater. So I'd emphasize again, we think it is even more imperative now to bear down on this very difficult task and get it moving.

Mike Soraghan, Denver Post: Hi, Mike Soraghan with the Denver Post.

I wondered if you could speak a little bit to the role that space-based weapons and warfare is playing in this conflict.

Clarke: Well, one of the most important roles being played is in the surveillance and reconnaissance, so the unmanned vehicles, the AWACS, the Predator is playing an incredibly important role in this particular conflict. I want to emphasize that again, going forward this is not just about Afghanistan. We can't say with certainty how this particular piece of the war on terrorism is going to play out going forward. We certainly don't know yet how other elements of the war on terrorism will play out, if you will, but for right now I can say what has proven absolutely critical is the surveillance and reconnaissance equipment. The AWACS, the UAVs, the Predators have been very, very important.

Soraghan: What are the important land-based facilities to that? Is it things like Space Command and things like that? What role would Space Command be playing in that? It doesn't sound like they would be critical on AWACS but maybe some of the others.

Clarke: I will take that question and come back to you with some detail on it if that's okay.

Soraghan: Okay.

Clarke: We need to move on here for our next event in a few minutes, but as ever we're always interested in hearing what you're hearing and seeing out there. I'm the first one to admit it is easy to lose perspective here. We get so overwhelmed with the incoming, if you will, and the pace of things on a day-to-day basis, but we're always interested in hearing what else people are thinking, what people are seeing out there.

Claire Vitucci, Riverside Press Enterprise: Hi, I'm Claire Vitucci, I'm a reporter with Press Enterprise based in Southern California.

I was curious about, you talked about the realignment. How would this process go? What would be the time line? And can you talk just generally about what kinds of bases would be most affected?

Clarke: I can't tell you generally or specifically about what kinds of bases would be affected because what we're really seeking here is permission to put together the Efficient Facilities Initiative Commission and we're looking, what we're seeking is a way to make it non-political, to find ways to involve communities as much as possible because we've found through experience that involving the communities in the process helps because there may be things to do with facilities other than close them down, obviously. So what we're really seeking here is permission from Congress to go ahead and proceed with what should be a very fair, balanced, non-political process.

I'd be happy to send you, we've got some good information, the facts and figures and some of the statements and things that have been written about this. I'd be happy to ship it on to you.

Vitucci: Okay, thanks.

Clarke: I'd just like to thank everybody for joining us. We've got a few things to follow up on here which we will, and please always feel free to call us in the mean time if there's anything else we can do. The direct number for public affairs at the Pentagon is (703) 697-9312.

Thanks everybody.