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DoD News Briefing - ASD Clarke and Rear Adm. Gove

Presenters: Victoria Clarke, ASD PA
October 28, 2002 12:20 PM EDT

(Also participating was Navy Rear Adm. David A. Gove, deputy director for global operations, J-3, Joint Staff.)

Clarke: Good afternoon, everybody. We are -- we've got lots of things going on this afternoon. Going to try to keep this pretty short.

Last Friday, two F-16 aircraft collided in a training incident at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. One pilot ejected safely, while the other, Lieutenant Jorma Huhtala, died in the crash. He was a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, and the son of the United States ambassador to Malaysia, Marie Huhtala. Our condolences, of course, go out to the ambassador and her family over the loss of their son in service to the country.

Last Saturday, October 26th, four detainees were released from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, back to their native countries. Their release was based on may factors, including law enforcement, intel, medical considerations, as well as whether the individual was perceived to be a threat to the United States. Senior leadership of the Department of Defense, in consultation with other U.S. government officials, determined that these four detainees no longer posed a threat to U.S. security. As part of the transfer process, the International Committee of the Red Cross has conducted independent interviews with the detainees prior to their departure from Guantanamo. And this morning, a number of new detainees arrived, bringing the number to approximately 625.

On another sad note, late last week, on Thursday, Thomas B. Ross, former Pentagon spokesman, died of cancer at the age of 73. Tom Ross was assistant secretary for Public Affairs from 1977 to 1981. He was a best-selling author on military matters, a distinguished newspaper reporter, and dedicated public servant. And over the years, Tom has provided a lot of great counsel to the people who followed in his shoes, including me, and we all benefited from his advice. And our very sincere condolences go to his family and friends.

Admiral Gove, no statement?

Gove: Thank you, Ms. Clarke.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I, too, wish to convey our deepest condolence to the family of Lieutenant Jorma Huhtala, who died in the plane crash last week.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

Clarke: Charlie?

Q: Torie, I understand that one of the four released was a Pakistani, because they had TV pictures in -- (word inaudible) -- Pakistan. Could you tell us -- could you give us the nationalities of the others? And are you preparing to release more?

Clarke: We are definitely planning to prepare more -- to release more. I couldn't tell you exactly when because there are a lot of factors that have to be considered.

And, Charlie, we're not talking about nationalities. I'm sure in -- other countries may choose to do so. But for operational security reasons, we're not talking about where they're from or where they're going.

Q: Are these people simply being taken somewhere and released, or are they all being turned over to their countries of origin, their home countries?

Clarke: Again, for operational security reasons, we're not talking about the transfer and how it comes about. Some of that is at the request of the detainees themselves.

Q: So you're not saying whether or not you're simply setting these people free, or turning them over to other countries, who may or may not question them, prosecute them or whatever?

Clarke: It is being done in close coordination with their native countries. And beyond that, we're not saying.

Bob?

Q: You mentioned -- Torie, you mentioned some new arrivals. Could you say how many, and when?

Clarke: It brings the number up to approximately 625. And again, we're going to -- we're not saying from where. We're trying to stay with approximate numbers. As we've said all along, we have no desire to hold large numbers of these people for a long period of time. If we can go through all those factors, determine someone doesn't have intel value, doesn't have -- is not a real threat to the United States or our friends or allies, we think there will be a proper handling on the other end, then we'd like to get rid of some of these people. So we're working a lot of those issues with countries, but it takes time.

Q: They did come from Afghanistan?

Clarke: I'm not saying.

Q: And it's been some months, hasn't it, since you've brought any new people in? When was the last time you --

Clarke: I can't remember. We can find out. It's been -- it's been several weeks, at least. And they go through screening processes. We try to take this very deliberately. We try to weigh a lot of factors and determine who's appropriate to send to Guantanamo and who's not.

Q: Are these individuals that have been held elsewhere for a period of time, or are they recently captured, the new ones that --

Clarke: I'm sorry?

Q: The new individuals that were sent to Guantanamo this morning, have they been held elsewhere for a period of time or are they recently captured?

Clarke: Prior to coming to Guantanamo, you mean. I don't know.

Q: Does the U.S. have any indication yet of what gas the Russians used to break up the siege in Moscow, the Moscow theater?

Clarke: Not that I'm aware of. I know we, like a lot of other governments, are trying to work with the Russians to determine what happened, determine what the gas was. I guess it's -- would be needed, obviously, for medical treatment. But we don't have that.

Q: There was a news report over the weekend that as many as 265,000 reservists could be called up if there were a major action against Iraq. Is that accurate? And when would such call-ups begin, how much before the fighting were kicked off?

Clarke: The "if" part is accurate. We were talking about this before we came out. We can't say it often enough: The president hasn't made a any decisions about military action in Iraq. So it's just not really smart to be speculating about speculation. Reserve and Guard are an incredibly important part of all military operations, in the past and in the future. That is the total force concept. So if there is indeed military action in Iraq, there will be a call-up of the appropriate number of Guard and Reserve. But I just wouldn't speculate beyond that.

Q: Having said that, wouldn't you have to offer yourself some cushion? I mean, these people just can't be called up and put where they're needed overnight. I mean, this would have to be done in some fairly substantial time period ahead of any action that might be ordered or taken, wouldn't it?

Clarke: Well, things -- I'll actually let Admiral Gove speak to that one, but I'd just say things take a lot of planning and a lot of foresight, but, as you've heard Secretary Rumsfeld and Chairman Myers say many, many times, the president has not decided yet what he may or may not do in terms of military action in Iraq. If he decides military action is the appropriate course of action, the U.S. military, including the Guard and Reserve, will be prepared to move, and to move quickly.

But you might want to add to that, sir.

Gove: Depending on the nature of the specialties that are called up, there is a timeline associated with bringing those folks into active duty and getting them prepared and processed to properly support the total force.

Q: Well, would you anticipate that a call-up would be made or at least the beginning of the call-up would be made before a decision is made by the president, in order to position themselves for any action that might be taken?

Clarke: Contingency planning includes a lot of things, including what you would do with the Guard and Reserve. I just won't go past that.

Q: What was your comment on the number? Are you saying you're confirming that?

Clarke: We didn't talk about numbers. I mean, there's no reason -- it's all contingency planning at this time. And I think we've tried very hard not to be too cute or too coy about this. If the president decides military action is appropriate, the U.S. military will be ready to move, and move quickly. And we'll use the numbers and the resources that we think are appropriate. But we're not going to put numbers on it now for sure.

Q: Given the nature of the war on terrorism, would people not be called up to protect U.S. facilities and bases perhaps in this country and elsewhere, as opposed to just for use in an Iraq situation?

Gove: There are about 53,000-plus [58,133] Reservists right now, down from a high of about 77,000 [85,592 on 26 June 2002], that have been called up over the last 12 or 15 months in support of the global war on terrorism. And some of those folks are in the force protection mode.

Clarke: Yes, sir?

Q: Torie, you said that we are definitely planning to release more from Guantanamo. Is the government also planning to bring more, now that Camp Delta is operational, there's more room and there are more facilities to handle more detainees being brought there from other places?

Clarke: We think it's likely there will be more detainees. I couldn't tell you how many or exactly when. But people who pose a threat to the security of this country, to our friends and allies -- it's very important to have them in a place we can make sure they're not causing trouble. People who are of intel value -- one of the best things that has happened over the last year, for instance, is the information we have been able to glean from detainees, including Guantanamo, to help prevent future attacks.

Alex?

Q: Do I understand correctly that there was a new leaflet drop in one of the no-fly zones? And if so, can you say when and what the message was and --

Clarke: (To the admiral.) Can you address that one?

Gove: I'm not aware of additional leaflet drops in the no- fly zones, at least in the last several weeks [Leaflets were dropped 27 October 2002 near two Iraq towns].

Clarke: Jim?

Q: There was a report over the weekend that the Yugoslavs -- or Yugoslav scientists have been helping Iraq develop a cruise missile. And there was a formal complaint or maybe an informal complaint made by the United States to that effect. Is that report accurate? Are you concerned that the Yugoslavs have been helping Iraq develop cruise missiles?

And I also wanted to ask about the -- the Ukrainian defense minister was here last week. Did you discuss the case of the Kolchuga radar with him? And have you determined whether that radar was transferred to Iraq?

Clarke: On Yugoslavs, you should talk to the State Department about any communications from the U.S. government to the government of Yugoslavia.

I think there's seldom a conversation with another country that a senior official from this administration doesn't talk about the problems and concerns we have with proliferation, about the spread and the selling and the distribution of the means to do weapons of mass destruction, other sorts of things. So it's an issue that is raised often and raised very vigorously by the United States. Specific conversations about the government of Yugoslavia, you need to talk to the State Department.

Q: You can't say whether you have any evidence that Yugoslav scientists are helping the Iraqis develop --

Clarke: The State Department could.

Q: And --

Clarke: And, I'm sorry, your second one?

Q: (Off mike.)

Clarke: I do not have a readout for you on the minister of defense. We will try to get that. I just don't have it this morning.

Q: Well, I mean, you know, judging from the statements of spokesmen here, that this has seemed to be treated as sort of a business-as-usual kind of meeting, which seems kind of odd in light of the fact that the U.S. government has accused the president of the Ukraine of approving the sale of this radar to Iraq in violation of the U.N. sanctions. So, I mean, how would you -- you know, what was this meeting all about?

Clarke: Jim, we'll have to get back to you on that. I just don't have a readout on the meeting. I don't know if it was business as usual, if it was something different. But we will get what we can for you on that one.

Q: Admiral, related to that, have you observed these Kolchuga radars out in the field in Iraq? Have the Operation Northern Watch or Southern Watch planes ever seen those?

Gove: I don't know if Central Command combatant commander has seen those, as far as intelligence. We can find out if specifics -- specific radar installations and capabilities have been obvious from the intelligence gathering. But I'm not aware of whether or not they've been used.

Q: Torie, excuse me. Regarding the Yugoslavs again, aside from any communication that might have gone on between the State Department and Yugoslavia, is the Defense Department concerned over reports that the Iraqis may be obtaining information to build cruise missiles?

Clarke: I don't want --

Q: And I mean --

Clarke: I don't want to speak particularly to the government of Yugoslavia because that's something we've just decided we want the State Department to talk about. What I've said before holds true for this department, as it does for the State Department, the White House and senior government officials. I think there was seldom a meeting of U.S. senior government officials, from the national security apparatus, if you will, with their counterparts around the world that they don't raise concerns and issues about proliferation. It is one of the greatest driving factors, if you will, of our concerns with the spreading and growth of weapons of mass destruction around the world. So that's the backdrop, that's the context for what may be going on with the government of Yugoslavia.

Q: But I mean, given the fact that the military ability of Iraq certainly is of concern to this department, why can't you discuss that? (Off mike) -- leave it up --

Clarke: Because we think it's appropriate for -- I'm not saying we are leaving it up to them. We decided that discussion -- public discussion about conversations with the government of Yugoslavia should get handle by the State Department.

And last detainee arrival at Gitmo before this morning was August 5th.

(To staff) Does that say 34?

Q: Thirty-four detainees?

Clarke: Last time around, there were 34 brought in, on August 5th.

Q: Why won't you say how many there were this time, then, since you said last time?

Clarke: As -- and I think -- I know I've talked about it, I think the secretary has -- we are moving into a mode, if you will, where we are going to try to return more of these detainees back to the native countries. For operational security reasons -- and as I said, for some of them this is a request of the detainees themselves -- we're going to try to limit discussions of exactly who's moving when and where, those sorts of things. I know it creates some confusion for you all, and that's not our intent. But we are --

Q: Okay. But, I mean, to say -- you just told us there were 34 who came in August, and now you're also saying that you won't say how many came in today?

Clarke: You're right. And they shouldn't have written that down on the piece of paper so I would read it out loud. (Laughter.)

For consistency sake, we're going to say approximately 625 is the number we have at Guantanamo now.

Q: Well, why were you willing, a week ago, or four days ago, to say 598, and now you say "approximately" 625? I mean why?

Clarke: Because the circumstances are changing. As I said, we are getting into an area we've got different detainees under consideration that we are hopeful we can move out of Guantanamo and back to their host countries. There are a lot of considerations, foremost among them, security. So we are in an area in which we are going to try to stick to approximate numbers.

Q: Well, will the Red Cross know confidentially how many people are at the Guantanamo dungeon or --

Clarke: They have a very strong -- watch your language! They have a very strong and consistent presence at Guantanamo, and I'm sure they will have interviews with any and all detainees that may be leaving.

Q: I think a question probably for the admiral. Could you say if you've noticed any change in the level of activity in the no-fly zones over Iraq? There seemed to be a spike back in sort of August- September. It seems to be slightly less in terms of engagements recently. Have you spotted that, and if so, is there any --

Gove: The last few days have had a lower engagement rate, partially because of no-fly days, but also no firings have been detected in Operation Southern Watch.

A couple of months ago there was a bit of a spike. But on average, over the last couple of years, about consistent with what we've seen in the past.

Q: Do you think, Admiral, that maybe the last time you dropped leaflets that -- telling them not to shoot at your force, that may have had an effect?

Gove: I don't think it -- I don't know if it had an effect on how they go after coalition aircraft in the Northern or Southern no-fly zones.

Q: Torie, you said that you don't want to be specific on where these latest detainees came from. Having said that, most -- most of the detainees there came from Afghanistan, from the war on terror, from the war in Afghanistan.

Clarke: But from many different countries prior to that.

Q: But could you at least tell us whether or not these most recent detainees might include people who were captured in the war on terrorism -- for instance, in Asia or Europe -- as opposed to --

Clarke: Oh, you mean picked up in different locations?

Q: That's right. As opposed to Afghanistan, might they have been brought from Asia or Europe?

Clarke: Right. I don't know.

Q: Could you check --

Clarke: We'll look into it. I don't know if we'll be able to tell you that, once we determine it, but we'll look into it.

Yeah?

Q: Admiral Gove, did you say a minute ago that there were no- fly days that coalition forces -- there are no-fly days in Iraq?

Gove: There are some days -- yes, coalition forces -- there are some days that weather prohibits, because of cloud cover -- prohibits flying -- and arrangements with host nations.

Clarke: Robert?

Q: On the attack on the U.S. diplomat in Jordan, can you tell us if you guys are doing anything to increase security for U.S. personnel around the world and more generally to what extent this speaks to increased danger for U.S. personnel?

Gove: We won't speak to the force protection measures that are happening in individual combatant commanders' areas of responsibility. However, they take all incidents like this very seriously, and the appropriate levels are applied throughout the Central Command and the world, based on the specific threats.

The force protection is a key part of the mission accomplishment of U.S. forces. And there -- appropriate measures are taken both for forces in Jordan, as well as throughout the area of responsibility.

Q: Has the threatcon -- I'm sorry.

Clarke: And speaking for the State Department, I know the U.S. officials over there are actively engaged in the investigation.

Q: Has the threatcon level gone up in the CENTCOM area of responsibility, at least temporarily, in light of what happened in Amman?

Gove: I won't speak to changes in force protection levels. That's under the purview of the combatant commander, General Franks.

Q: Could I ask you just about the presence of U.S. personnel in Jordan? I think there was an exercise going on with Jordan and perhaps some other countries in Jordan recently -- a couple thousand U.S. personnel, I think. Is that over?

Gove: The exercise is ongoing. There are U.S. personnel in Jordan, but we won't speak to operational numbers or tactics, techniques or procedures for those ongoing exercises.

Q: They're not going to be cancelled? They're going to continue going?

Gove: Not that I'm aware of.

Clarke: Uh-oh.

Q: Two weeks ago you released gun-camera footage from various historical times in the southern and northern no-fly zone. Are you going to start releasing on a regular basis gun-camera footage from the southern and northern no-fly zones? And why or why not?

Clarke: If I had my druthers, we'd release a lot more footage. But my druthers aren't the only ones. There are operational security issues. There are all sorts of issues, as you all well know. So to the extent possible, we will release footage when we think it's appropriate, when we think it helps enlighten something that we're trying to say. I think you'll see more of it going forward. I just couldn't give you a blanket "yes, you'll see it eight times a month" or whatever, but we're going to try hard. And I think it is a great demonstration of what is pretty unbelievable to most Americans out there, that our pilots and coalition pilots are out there almost every day risking their necks, and Saddam Hussein has ordered people to shoot at them and try to shoot them down. So I think it is a great way to demonstrate just how outrageous that is. But we will try hard with all the appropriate considerations being given to it.

Q: What are the security issues that you are concerned about?

Clarke: Oh, there are a host of them. Sometimes you might be revealing something in terms of capabilities, sometimes there may have been other information picked up along the way. There are a host of them. But, I think we're doing a pretty good job of working with Central Command and others in an effort to release that that we can.

Let's make John the last one -- or Tammy the last one.

Q: Admiral, the recent targeting in the no-fly zones has been different. It's affected a larger breadth of targets. Can you talk a little about how the anti-aircraft ability of Saddam Hussein has been degraded in recent months?

Gove: I won't talk to specific operational degradations. The intent of our responses to attacks on our coalition aircraft in both the northern and southern no-fly zones is to go after the integrated air defense capability -- the infrastructure, not just specific launch pads for anti-aircraft artillery or the missiles. And we think by attacking the infrastructure, we have the potential of causing greater degradation to the integrated air defense, and therefore pose less risks to continuing operations for the U.N. sanctions in OSW -- in Operation Northern Watch.

Q: Have they been successful, in your view?

Gove: I think we have been successful, but again, I'm not going to speak to specific degradations.

Clarke: Tammy, last one.

Q: The training of the Iraqi opposition -- when do you anticipate that training to kick off? Can you update us on progress of that planning?

Clarke: I don't have a date for you, because I don't think one has been set. I think we are still approximately where the secretary and the chairman were talking last week, is working through what kind of people do we think would have -- would we have available; given the kinds of people that we think available, what are appropriate roles and missions for them. So I think it is still very much in the planning and logistical phase. Sort of potential trainers figuring out what exactly it is they'd be training. So we don't have a date certain.

Q: Just one quickie, Torie --

Clarke: Sure.

Q: -- has the SECDEF talked to Minister Ivanov at all about the gas used? Or is that being handled through other channels, queries about it --

Clarke: I do not believe he has talked to him. I know there have been quite a few conversations going on between the State Department, obviously, and Ambassador Vershbow was actively involved for several days. So I think that's where it's stayed at this time, but we can check that one for you.

Thanks, everybody.

Q: Thank you.

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