(This briefing ocurs via satellite comm link between members of the Press Corps and Brigadier General Geoffrey C. Lambert, Commanding General and Director Special Operations Command, Europe United States European Command)
General Lambert: I'm going to start out first of all to tell a little bit about the team that we sent down there. Let me ramble here awhile, and then we'll kind of put it together.
We put 12 men together to get a balance: Communications, state of the art stuff; some operations folks; a few intel folks, and interestingly, some of the liaison we sent. The liaison folks we sent already knew the French down there, they'd been down there before. They knew the French leadership and staff, spoke the French language, are area familiar. That always helps -- particularly when they land in an airfield that they control. So, we tailored it for that.
Ten of the 12 folks have been on prior African contingencies ranging from one man just out of Sierra Leone for three days, and now going right back into one. We also up-gunned and carried a little bit more equipment than we usually do to include two light armored HUMVs because of the situation. So that's the players.
I think I'll go on to probably the time sequencing here a little bit, just to discuss that. The situation started to bubble on the 6th, [June 6] Friday, and we began to monitor it. On the 7th, [June 7] on Saturday, the EUCOM staff alerted us just to start looking at options even in greater detail. On the 8th, [June 8] Sunday, EUCOM had us preposition a couple of our aircraft over here in Stuttgart, and we got those from [RAF] Mildenhall, England.
Monday we just did a full run outload of everybody we own, just for practice, just to see what we could do because we didn't know how the situation was developing. It was good training and it's a good way to get ready.
Tuesday, we finally got the picture on what was required, which was a very small package. So, we quickly tailored that thing and took off at 0300 local here in the morning they hit the ground late that afternoon and then eventually linked up with the embassy and flew the folks out. So, that's kind of the time lines and how it built.
A couple of comments here, I think just general, that I'd like to make reference to this little quick operation that really lasted about 18 hours and now is ongoing.
Knowing the French commander and the staff and being good friends with them, and the fact that they're helping us so much with downloading our equipment and giving us intelligence and greeting us at the airport is of great value. I can't underplay the relationship that we have with those fellows and how it pays off.
The commander of the whole thing is Lieutenant Colonel Mamaux. He's one of the Special Forces fellows. The pilot of the aircraft, the MC-130H, was Lieutenant Colonel Frank Kisner. I'd just like to talk about those two a little bit because you know, I gave them their orders on the side of a van on the back of a piece of paper real quick when this thing hit. I was standing out there on a remote phone and got the call from EUCOM on what to do. We changed our load very quickly, and put them on the aircraft very rapidly. The bottom line was, I empowered them to make the right decisions. The decision was to hold and orbit for about ten minutes, wait for the gunfire down by the fire station to subside, put the aircraft in, unload it as fast as they could. Then they outloaded the assembled international pacs and one dog that were there waiting to get out, fly them to Lieberville; they cut it thin on fuel and made all the right calls. It says a lot about Special Operations Forces and their willingness to take risks and their judgment, and I'm real proud of them on that.
Just one clarity on this. I'm the force provider on this, now. This group of folks now is not working for me, it's working forward. They're working for EUCOM directly now, which is the way it should be, once this initial little positioning is out of place. Someone said I'm the commander, that's no longer true. They're positioned and they're working for EUCOM.
If there are any questions I'll be glad to field them.
Q: Perhaps you can provide us with your description from your guys of what it was like when they hit the ground, how much gunfire there was, how hairy they felt it was, and how fast they moved.
A: I can't really address that. I haven't talked to anybody personally. I've talked to the ground commander and his ops officer both here within the last ten minutes. But to them, the fact that it was subsided, was just normal business for them. I mean if it's over and they're not firing, then it's no longer a threat. That's all I can say. I don't have any feedback on that. They haven't discussed that with me.
Q: At whom was the gunfire directed? At the aircraft or where was the gunfire coming from and where was it going?
A: The aircraft is [was] orbiting, and then as they're talking to the French on the radio the French tell them that it's coming from over the walls, in towards the airport, towards the fire station which is about 500 meters away from where they have to park their aircraft. It's a long terminal and the fire station's sort of at one end of it. So, it's not fired at the airplane, even though airplanes before--and they'd been tipped on this--have landed full of holes. A couple of aircraft had the day before, so we were concerned.
At a relatively high altitude they hovered, and when they got the call that the firing had ceased on that end of the airfield, then they made the judgment and went ahead and landed the aircraft and parked it. Coming in from the other way on the terminal -- not driving by the airport, which you can do, but they went past that point and then circled around and back.
Q: There's been no more firing as long as they've been on the ground?
A: No, that's not true. As a matter of fact, if you can just pause a minute I'll try to get my note here that I just took off the phone with one of the fellows.
There was considerable firing at your time -- your time, now -- your time, 0900. Lots of fighting in the street, they said.
The other thing is, they said that the line of conflict now -- it moves back and forth in one of these little street fights here. They said the line of conflict right now is about a block and a half to two blocks away from the embassy. Now don't overplay that and think that the embassy is in eminent danger or something. It's not. But it's a moving confrontation line right now.
Q: So who remains in Brazzaville right now? The 12 man team that you sent there, are they in Brazzaville or are in they in Libreville [Gabon]? And where are the 64 remaining Americans?
A: Let me caveat this by saying when you start giving numbers, that's EUCOM's job to give you exact numbers, so let me just try to... I've got them here, but I'm almost... I don't know who the official number guy is. I'm afraid to say something wrong, really.
Q: Give us ball parks.
A: Hey, I just got coached, folks. State Department is the official number guy. But let me tell you about my part of this pie, and I can tell you that.
The ESAT is all inside the embassy and they're all doing fine. The 18-man tailored team that was on the aircraft is in Libreville.
Q: So, all the Americans are inside the embassy? Can you ask the State Department fellow that's there if there's been any decision yet to remove those people in the embassy?
A: I wish I had a speakerphone here. I can't get coached, guys. Listen, I'm not going to answer that. I'm getting into policy now and I'm getting into Ambassador Hooks, who's a great guy. I'm kind of getting into his business here on what he's going to do in the future. I think I'll just leave that to him.
Q: Let me ask it this way. Is the team that is in Libreville going back into Brazzaville today?
A: They're awaiting instructions, and they have none right now.
Q: Do you have a lot of Americans still out in the city, to your knowledge? Civilians that may need to be either contacted or need some help in getting to where they can get out for a NEO?
A: Stand by... To the best of my knowledge, the vast majority of Americans are either secure in French hands who continue to help us; or at the American embassy. I would say -- you need to go to the State Department to check this. But, from what I have, it's a pretty good situation. How's that?
Q: I got a report earlier today that there were 22 Americans being held, not being held, but with the French scattered throughout the city that were awaiting evacuation, and another 16, to include the Marine guards at the embassy. Can you confirm that?
A: I think State can give you those exact numbers. I'll just let it go. Whatever they say, they've got it. I don't think it needs confirmation. I think you can just go to State; you'll get ground truth.
Q: General, can you talk a little bit about the command and control for this operation, and how that went? The kind of things that you do. The kind of gear that you use.
A: What we do is, we pride ourselves in trying to stay ahead of the technological bubble on this. From the time the aircraft takes off, we can talk to the aircraft real time, along the whole way. So, we know when they're getting refueled and we know their progress and we know any maintenance problems they have and all that. So, we can monitor that. We can monitor it from several different stations. The Air Force subordinate headquarters that I have, [and] my own. And information is how we move.
What we bring is speed. We bring ITEC Coms, and we bring versatility and flexibility to operate in ambiguous environments, and that's it. And I guess that's the best I can tell you. So for C2, it was just monitoring everything that they were doing and packaging this thing right with guys that were familiar with the AOR, friends on the ground, [who] walked the turf before, knew the airport. It was getting all of our area expertise, apply it against the problem, and tailoring a package.
For C2 now, C2 for the thing [operation] was from Stuttgart. We've got the capability to do that from the EUCOM Headquarters right over here across the street, and from mine. So we mix and match capabilities and made sure that EUCOM had the picture the whole way.
Q: How big a package do you have on the ground in Libreville to support aircraft ops?
A: Real light. We tailored that. The total number of men on the aircraft... The total package at that area is 18. That sounds large for an air crew, but look, they're out on their own. So, when you do a split-based operation like this you've got to look at what they need. So, send a few maintenance men and repair parts, send some guards for the aircraft and equipment, send a communications team along. These are dual-hatted, because the communications team we picked is also the combat controllers that can call in air support, so you get a double hit with the same guys on that. Then we sent a surgeon and a medic. So they've got medical support. And just in case, particularly if someone's wounded for us, or anyone they're evacuating needed help, or a civilian needed help, we'd have a surgeon on there. Then, one log planner/contractor to get them support to buy it down-range.
When you send a plane out on its own, you've got to do some special packaging and tailoring in a hurry to make sure you don't leave them out there flapping.
Q: So, you don't need anybody on the ground in Libreville, you just land and you have the capability to do what you need to do.
A: Yes, within constraints, within the limitations. To try to get a self-contained package. But if there's any large logistical problem or anything like that, then we've got to send somebody down there. But we try to get them to be self-sustainable for a little while out there.
Q: Can you update us on the number of people that your forces brought out yesterday?
A: Yeah, I think I can give you that. That's already out. Just a second, let me get the piece of paper. (Pause) Here you go, here's what I have. This should match.
I have 30 Americans, 4 French, 5 Italians, 10 Zairians, 2 Gabonese, 1 Senegalese, 1 from the Central African Republic, 1 Dutch, 1 Zambian citizen, 1 from the United Kingdom, and 1 dog and his nationality is not on this sheet.
Q: What kind of dog?
A: I'm not sure. Someone's pet, though. It doesn't have any further description.
Q: No name, no color.
A: No. No name, no color.
Q: And no pregnant ladies that you know of.
A: Not that I know of. I don't have that detail here.
Q: How long were you on the ground yesterday while you were doing the dropoff and the pickup, do you know?
A: Twenty-six minutes.
Q: It sounds like you were moving fast.
A: Yeah, I imagine there's some sore biceps today.
Q: How much stuff did you dump off on your download part?
A: Say again. I'm sorry.
Q: How much material did you drop off on your download part of it?
A: It's kind of hard to explain, really, but just picture this. A relatively small aircraft. It's got two HUMVs. You've got 30 men, their rucksacks, all their equipment. Then you've got all your coms equipment. Then, at the last minute, the embassy called and said please bring some rations for us and stuff like that to build up the reserve or something like that, so we threw those on there. So it wasn't necessarily like a C-5A large aircraft move where everything's on nice orderly pallets. This was kind of floor loaded, which slows things down, which was my bicep comment. A lot of it was floor loaded. But, they did a good job. They did a good job putting it together real fast on this end. Twenty-six minutes is quite fast, considering the way the thing was put together.
Press: Thank you, General.