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Joint Chiefs Chairman Holds Defense Briefing

Aired January 8, 2002 - 13:19   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you now to the next live event that we have, and that is the briefing at the Pentagon.


GENERAL RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Late yesterday, a U.S. team conducting interdiction ops in an area near Gardez, Khost, located a group of suspected Al Qaeda fighters. A group of approximately 14 individuals was apprehended without resistance. The U.S. team determined that two of these individuals met the criteria for detention and moved them to Kandahar.

Laptop computers, cell phones, some small arms and training documents were also found and returned to Kandahar with the two detainees, and we're exploiting those as we speak.

U.S. forces will continue interdiction missions in the region and search for Al Qaeda and Taliban forces and leadership. They continue their sweep of the Zhawar Kili complex that we described to you late last week and again, I think, yesterday with Admiral Stufflebeem up here. We have found this complex to be very, very extensive. It covers a large area. When we ask people how large, they often describe it as huge.

Late yesterday, they found additional buildings and caves or bunkers in that area.

In response, between 6 and 9 p.m. our time, last night two air strikes occurred. In the first, an F-14 dropped two precision-guided bombs on a building, and we're going to have a video on that here in just a minute. And about two hours later, an F-18 dropped two additional guided bombs on a bunker. The sweep of this extensive complex continues again as we speak.

We also continue our preparation to transfer detainees to facilities at Guantanamo Bay. We expect the transfer of the first contingent of detainees to occur soon. The number of Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees transferred to U.S. control continues to grow and now stands at 364. There are 302 being held at Kandahar, 38 at Bagram, 16 at Mazar-e Sharif, and eight on the Bataan.

Now we'll take a look at that video clip of the F-14 strike yesterday at Zhawar Kili. You can see some vehicles near the compound, as well as an individual outside the targeted building. These were not friendly forces, and we had evidence that the compound was active with Al Qaeda.

And with that, ready to take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, the 14 individuals that were detained last night, or yesterday late, were those taken by U.S. forces? And were the two that you said were determined part of those you want, were they senior Al Qaeda officials?

MYERS: They were taken by U.S. forces. And let me just say about the identity of the two that were taken, they were the ones of interest that we thought that were senior enough where they might have the kind of information that we're looking for in terms of operational methodology, future operations and so forth.

QUESTION: Were they in that complex? Was that in the complex...


MYERS: No, they were not in the complex that was bombed. They were nearby, though.

QUESTION: General, could you give us some indication, you mentioned this trove of cell phones and laptops, are you finding (inaudible). What kinds of things are you exploiting (inaudible)?

MYERS: Well, one of the things we have to be very careful about, I think, is when we talk about exploiting intelligence information, if we were to divulge all the intelligence information we get, then it doesn't become intelligence information, it becomes pretty common knowledge and people can then take actions to thwart the advantage we may gain from that information. So I'm very, very reluctant to say exactly what we're getting. But you probably have a cell phone, you know what you have on your cell phone. These cell phones would be like that, I guess, and hard drives have lots of information on them. So it's the kind of stuff you would expect to find that might be of interest.

QUESTION: Can you say in a gradation if this is like some of the things that you have found before, similar, or...

MYERS: We are just starting the exploitation, and I, frankly, have not seen any of the products that have come out of that, so I can't talk to you specifically. I mean, that was just yesterday, so we're just beginning that...


QUESTION: General, you said there were eight on the Bataan. There had been nine. What happened to the ninth? How are you going to transfer the detainees to Gitmo, by plane or ship or a combination? And secondly, what about John Walker, is he going to be taken down there or taken elsewhere?

MYERS: There were nine. Interesting to see that you keep these accurate tabs of our detainees.

QUESTION: Like to pay attention, though.

MYERS: That's very good.

There were nine; there are now eight. One was taken to -- I think we took him to Bagram Airport because the interrogation capabilities we have at Bagram are superior to what we have on board the ship, and we wanted to conduct some specific interrogation. So we went there for the better capability.

QUESTION: Can you tell us who he was or who he is?

MYERS: No. I'll just say that, as the secretary has said on several occasions here, the Department of Defense is working to release a list of who we have -- who we want and who we have. There are clearly some intelligence implications of that information so it's taken some time to work through that. But the secretary has promised he's going to try to release that, and I know we're working on it. We're all working on that. So I can't make any promises when, but he will fulfill that promise, I'm sure.

In terms of how we're going to transport them, it looks like, initially, we're going to do this by plane -- by aircraft -- and those details are being worked by transportation command and appropriate agencies right now.

And in terms of Mr. Walker, I have no indications right now of where he's going to go precisely.

QUESTION: Is he still on the Baton?

MYERS: To the best of my knowledge, he is, in fact.

QUESTION: General Myers, yesterday General Franks said in an interview that the U.S. military would gain custody of one or two Taliban or Al Qaeda figures of great interest to the United States in the next few days. Can you elaborate on that at all?

MYERS: No. I listened to part of the interview; I didn't hear it all. And I don't know specific -- I'd be guessing if I were going to...

QUESTION: May I follow-up on this? He might be referring to the two that you just mentioned.

MYERS: I'd have to guess on that, so I'm not going to guess. I don't know what he was referring to. I'd refer that to General Franks next time you have a chance to...

QUESTION: All right. Secondly, on the interdiction operations, are they focusing on that one area near Khost or is it...

MYERS: Zhawar Kili, Khost, area, yes. Right now that's where they're focusing. I think as General Franks said yesterday a lot of the work in the Tora Bora area is coming to a conclusion and so that's where the focus is right now.

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: I believe General Franks said that there was an indication that Osama bin Laden had been in the Tora Bora area. Can you nail down at all the timeframe there? How recently that might have been? Did he flee there, does it appear, after September 11? Any sort of timeframe there? Any indications about that?

MYERS: I think, again, when it comes to that sort of intelligence, I think we have to be very, very careful about what information we got, when, how we got it, and so forth, because it can be -- it can really aid the adversary in this case.

QUESTION: But in terms of how long ago he was there.

MYERS: I think even that could give away some information that we just don't want to give away, so I'm not going to go into it.

QUESTION: OK. Can I talk about Zhawar Kili again?


QUESTION: Can you give us an idea how big that area actually is? You said huge. It's been hit so many times, what condition was it in? And you said Al Qaeda fighters were still there, so they're still regrouping there. You're obviously talking about people who are still alive.

MYERS: This compound was several miles away from the Zhawar Kili, Khost area, and so it wasn't exactly in there, but it was an area that we knew the Al Qaeda had used, going back and forth, as a place to stop. So we were fairly certain of our intelligence there.

But the area itself, I think General Franks yesterday, didn't he talk about the numbers of things that were found there?

QUESTION: He did. Kind of the square miles of this area and what shape it was in when you started...


MYERS: We'll have to get that for you. I don't have the exact, I mean, dimensions of the area. But in terms of the structures, the low ground in particular, I think as we put people in there, you know, some of the things you can't tell sometimes accurately from other types of surveillance or reconnaissance, you tell when you get people in there and looking around. And that's what we found. I think that's what we refer to when people say it was huge, there was just no indication of that from any other system. And maybe we can put some dimensions on that for you; I don't know that we have them back here, since this has only been ongoing now for a couple of days.

QUESTION: Are you suggesting, General, that the largest part of this compound was actually underground?

MYERS: I'm just saying there was a large piece of it that was in caves and underground and that the structure was more extensive, I think, than we had forecasted it to be and that, you know, as General Franks said, when they find tanks there and artillery and so forth, this is a big complex.

QUESTION: General, on Kandahar, do you see the growing number 0of prisoners that you're housing there as a security risk to U.S. forces? Is that part of why you seem to be moving relatively quickly to Guantanamo? And has the military made any new decisions about whom you will move first, including whether the first or next batch of folks that you do move will be those subject to military tribunals?

MYERS: Obviously, any time you have detainees who will sacrifice their life to kill you or what you stand for, I mean, that's the most dangerous type of individual you can have in your control. And so, with nearing 400 of those individuals -- or 300-plus, now, 320-some at Kandahar -- that is, it's a security issue you need to deal with. The folks at Kandahar are dealing with that security issue, and they take every means available.

The pace we're on to move to Guantanamo, you said quickly, it's on the pace that we've tried to stay on. This has been something that's been in the works for some time, and it's not any quicker or faster or slower than it ever was. We want to make sure the facilities in Guantanamo Bay are adequate for the task; and this is serious business.

We've gotten help from experts in this business, both our own military detention people, who work this issue and Bureau of Prisons and so forth. So we're trying to make it ready in Guantanamo to start relieving some of that pressure in Kandahar.

In terms of who first, yes, we know who first. And as far as I know, it has nothing to do with tribunals or any of that. So I'll just leave it at. And I'm sure as we start to transfer people...


QUESTION: Well, when you make that -- can you help us anymore on how you would make that classification? Could, who first, have to do with the intelligence you hope to get from them?

MYERS: No. I'll leave that to someone else, because I've not been part of who first -- how we pick the first ones. But that's something you might want to address with the secretary later on.

QUESTION: General Myers, may I go back to your taking of the two of great interest. I wondered if you could elaborate as best as you can, in general at least. Were they terrorists, were they people who might have been in close proximity to terrorist leaders who might have had, say, information on command and control? Can you say just generally what you might have? And again, just generally, the information that you might be gaining from that intelligence on computers, and just generally?

MYERS: I don't think there's much more I can offer than what I've said, except that they are Al Qaeda as opposed to Taliban. They become very interesting to us because they're a part of the worldwide network of terrorism that Al Qaeda supports.

And so, we would hope to be gleaning, you know, information that might point to future operations, other operatives and so forth.

QUESTION: Why would you single out those two as opposed to the other 12? I mean, can you say in general why you might choose these two as opposed to the other 12 you didn't choose?

MYERS: I think because -- I mean, not to be flippant at all, because we thought they had -- they were the types of individuals -- and we had people looking at this, you know, people make those judgments on these people that we detain, and some just have more intelligence value than others. And so you can't detain them all, so you pick the ones that you think are going to be the most fruitful, and that's exactly what happened.

QUESTION: General, to follow up on that, though, just to follow up, could you give us some, sort of, context as to are we getting any intelligence out of some of these prisoners, are we getting none, some?

MYERS: We've, I mean, we've said before, last time I was up here, we talked -- I think we've talked about it at least twice, the last two times I was up here with the secretary, that indeed we are getting some intelligence on this. We think we have thwarted some attacks. But to go into anymore detail starts to give away what we know, and what they don't know we know, and so we've got to be very, very careful there. But, yes, this has been somewhat fruitful.

QUESTION: One more question to follow-up.

MYERS: One more follow-on.

QUESTION: On the leaflets that were dropped that showed Osama bin Laden in civilian clothes, has that yielded any new leads or any information?

MYERS: I can't say specifically if it has or it hasn't. I just don't know.

QUESTION: Sir, there's a report out on two Taliban leaders. The Afghan Islamic Press says that the minister of defense for the Taliban, Mullah al-Badula (ph), I think his name is, and a former minister of justice, Mullah Tarood Tarabi (ph), or something like that, have surrendered to -- and Al Qaeda forces. Will the U.S. demand that they be turned over to the Marines or U.S. forces...

MYERS: Obviously, individuals of that stature in the Taliban leadership are of great interest to the United States, and we would expect that they would be turned over, absolutely.

QUESTION: Are you going to pressure them to turn over?

MYERS: We expect them to turn them over. Let me just leave it at that. QUESTION: A quick follow-up on Franks' interview with AP yesterday: He implied that the U.S. has an understanding with Pakistan to allow U.S. troops in a hot pursuit mode to go into Pakistan to track down Al Qaeda or Taliban leaders. CNN reports that Pakistan is denying such an agreement's been made. Can you clarify that?

MYERS: The relationship we have -- obviously, Pakistan has been very supportive in many, many ways. We know about the airspace and so on. What we have day to day with the Pakistan army and Pakistan forces are either liaison elements or so forth. We do not operate unilaterally inside Pakistan.

QUESTION: I wonder if you can bring us up to date on any reconstitution of Al Qaeda operations in other places, particularly Yemen and Somalia. And with respect to Yemen, what's your assessment of this, sort of, after-action report, if you will, on the Yemeni forces' action against Al Qaeda there?

MYERS: To the first question on reconstitution of Al Qaeda, you're talking about reconstitution in terms of location after Afghanistan, maybe for a training facility and so forth.

First of all, we need to say this about the Al Qaeda organization: It is still an organization. It's still a viable organization capable of terrorist acts probably worldwide. And so, there's a fairly good base there that we are yet to get at. We've worked the Afghanistan piece and we think that's had some impact and may lead to future operations that will be successful, and I'm not talking now just military operations, but other operations as well.

Where they're going to go next is a subject of a lot of analysis right now and we're going to have to watch the indicators -- all the intel indicators and other governments, as they help us with this to try to figure out where they might go establish and it's too early to say where that might be.

And in terms of Yemen support to the war on terrorism, I think I'll stick by the secretary's guidance on that -- or his druthers on that, which is to let the Yemeni government speak for themselves. The only thing I would say is that the Yemeni government is taking measures to combat terrorism and I'll just leave it at that.

QUESTION: General, can you give us a sense of the scope of U.S. forces that you think might be necessary in Pakistan in searching for bin Laden and does it go beyond special forces? And I have a follow- up.

MYERS: I will never speculate on the number of forces that it might take to do anything, as a matter of fact. But, as I said, in Pakistan, the Pakistani government has been very cooperative. I would expect them to be cooperative. If we thought UBL was in Pakistan, I think we could rely on the Pakistani government and their forces to participate and our role would probably be in a liaison role. That would be speculation again.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say there might be an increase in the role of the United States in Pakistan in the search?

MYERS: Again, I think the Pakistani government has been very cooperative in these matters and we could count on their cooperation. But I'm not going to speculate again, but that's where I'd leave it.

QUESTION: Just another point, the Afghan officials reporting today, as was asked before, that the ministers -- Taliban ministers of defense, justice, and mines and industry -- have surrendered. Is that a credible report, to your knowledge?

MYERS: We're going to check that out.

QUESTION: General, it's been a month since the friendly fire incident which killed three soldiers. Have you since then, as a result of investigation, either instituted any new procedures or upgraded any equipment or taken any other steps that would prevent such accidents? Have you learned anything from this?

MYERS: A couple of parts to the question. First of all, this was asked the other day, I think. The investigations are not complete, they're not through General Franks at Central Command, yet, so there's nothing that can be released at this point. As they work their way up the chain, though, that'll be, of course, looked at, and there will be -- eventually there will be a report.

In the meantime, though, of course, actions were taken immediately to try to determine what had happened, and then take actions based on that. And when I was over in the region, matter of fact, right before Christmas, I talked to the people involved in some of that, in terms of procedures, mostly procedural improvements that would prohibit that in the future.

QUESTION: So there was a problem with procedure? The procedures weren't...

MYERS: We just tightened up procedures. The investigation, again, it was not complete at the time, but there are ways to check and double-check your work. And there were -- we call them tactics, techniques and procedures -- there were improvements made to our TT&P to help preclude it, as the investigation continues, because it's prudent stuff to do. It's going to help in any case, and it's not going to have anything but a beneficial impact tactically.

QUESTION: The U.S. forces that are sweeping through the Zhawar Kili area, have they encountered any resistance? And also, do you have a better idea at this time what happened in the case of Sergeant Chapman?

MYERS: To my knowledge, the forces that are in the Zhawar Kili area have not encountered resistance. In terms of Sergeant Chapman and his tragic death, that investigation is ongoing. I know there's been a lot of speculation, but I think we need to let the investigation run to get a clearer picture on exactly what happened in the case.

QUESTION: Can you give us a more precise idea of what you mean when you say the transfers to Guantanamo will begin soon? And also, could you tell us -- my understanding is there are cells there now for about 50 prisoners already on the base. Is that the initial limit on what you'll transfer or are you going to set up tent camps until you have more additional permanent facilities?

MYERS: I'm going to leave it at soon. Soon is about as good as I can do, because, as I said before, we've got to ensure that the facilities on Guantanamo are sufficient to hold the type of detainees that we're going to hold. And it's, obviously -- it's got to be done right. So there is no pressure on Southern Command, in this case, who is responsible for this activity, there is no pressure on them or the joint task force that's going to be conducting activities in this camp to hurry this along.

And the number of cells you talked about is close to being right, but we're going to bring cells on it looks like fairly quickly. And they will not be of the same variety in Kandahar, they will not be -- they'll be a more permanent type. I hate to use the word "permanent," but they're not going to be tents. They're going to be secure facilities that will be brought on-line, and they will not be temporary in the sense that we're going to replace them right away. Now, in the long run, they may give way to other structures, but they're going to be good for the foreseeable future.

QUESTION: Could you tell us what happened to the other 12? Were they let go or were they handed over to the Afghans? Because from that podium Rumsfeld has been very clear that all Al Qaeda are to be detained.

And also, could you give us a better description of what you mean by better interrogation capabilities in Bagram, because it, sort of, sets the mind to wondering what you're doing?

MYERS: The other 12, I do not know what happened to them. I assume that they're in the hands of the Afghan administration.

And in terms of interrogation capability, we have, of course, specially trained individuals that have the capability to do the interrogation...

QUESTION: They were in Bagram.

MYERS: Well, they're in several places. Obviously they're in Kandahar as well. But in the case of the kind of information we wanted and putting all our capabilities together, it was determined that Bagram is a better spot for this individual to be interrogated.

QUESTION: A question about the 725 Canadians, I believe, are going to Kandahar: Can you tell us what you know about that deployment, and how and why it's come about, and perhaps whether you have any concerns about difficulty integrating this foreign contingent with the American troops who are there now?

MYERS: First of all, I guess it was announced in Canada yesterday that they would have a contingent going to Kandahar. We were aware of that, of course, but I think the Canadians announced it. And I don't want to comment for the Canadians. I will only say that we appreciate the help we're getting from all our partners on this war on terrorism.

I have no doubt, because of the way we exercise and cooperate with the Canadians on a daily basis, that there will be any problems with integrating that force into our force. This will simply not be an issue. I think they'll meld in very nicely, and the offer is much appreciated.

QUESTION: Is it necessary?

MYERS: Absolutely. Absolutely necessary.

QUESTION: Could we follow up on the Chapman comments that you made? Admiral Stufflebeem termed it a possible setup -- that they were investigating it as a possible setup, which suggests there may have been a betrayal, perhaps, by one of our so-called allies in the region. Have you implemented any procedures to assure operational security and to ensure that our allies are indeed our allies?

MYERS: First of all, I'm going to avoid characterizing that situation with those kind of words. I mean, we just don't know yet. That's why I said we need to complete the investigation and determine the best we can what happened.

Let me assure you that the folks on the ground over there that are involved in those kind of operations -- I met with lots of their leadership when I was there right before Christmas -- clearly this is -- I mean, they understand the situation on the ground, they understand how dangerous that is.

I don't know how many times we've stood up here and said, "This is a dangerous place, that allegiances sometimes change, and that you've got to be very, very careful." And our people on the ground are probably some of the smartest in that regard. They've been over there now operating for months, with other folks as well. So, I mean, there's fairly good knowledge of this.

So I think we just ought to wait for the investigation to finish, and then we can have a much clearer appreciation for what actually happened, rather than speculating on this.

QUESTION: General, the admiral yesterday referred, with I thought some frustration, to the chasing of shadows, referring to Taliban and Al Qaeda, perhaps even to Omar and Osama bin Laden. I wanted to ask you to elaborate on that, about whether or not that has receded into the background as a priority, whether there is frustration on the part of the military in constantly having to address the questions at briefings like this about where's Omar, where's Osama bin Laden.

MYERS: I did not hear Admiral Stufflebeem use the term "chasing shadows," so I can't address what was in his mind. I can say that from the beginning what we want out of this is the Al Qaeda leadership and the Taliban leadership and, of course, that would include bin Laden and that would include Omar. And I don't think nobody is frustrated. This is very, very difficult work. Somebody reminded me how difficult it was in Panama to go after the Panamanian leader when we'd been in the country for, how many years. So this is difficult, difficult work.

I think we're getting better at it, oh, by the way. And I think bringing all the instruments of national power to bear on the problem, we're going to be successful in the end.

So I'm not frustrated, I don't think Admiral Stufflebeem is frustrated, and I don't think the secretary's frustrated out there.

QUESTION: Indian Home Minister Mr. Advani is coming tomorrow here to meet with the high official, including you, I believe. And he's carrying a list of at least 20 terrorists who are based in Pakistan carried out attacks on the Indian parliament. And what he's asking from the administration, including Secretary Rumsfeld also, to press General Musharraf, which you, I believe, have a blind faith in him, to hand over those people to India. And he's coming to discuss the -- to fight terrorism combined as India and the U.S. to go after terrorists. So do you have any comments on his visit?

MYERS: No. I think that's -- I mean, I'm a military man and that's probably not something I would get directly involved in. I think we'll just have to wait till the minister gets here tomorrow and we'll participate in those conversations. I think everybody's goal, though, is the same and that is, we'd like to have a world where the terrorists are not free to operate wherever they come from.

Yes? First and last question.

QUESTION: Have you a ball park figure of how many American troops are on the ground in Afghanistan?

MYERS: Between 3,500 and 4,000 in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: What's 10th Mountain doing? Anything?

MYERS: That was the last question, but I will just say this, because the commander of the 10th Mountain used to be here on the joint staff until not too long ago. They are probably the most widely dispersed division in the United States Army. They're in the Balkans and they're also in Afghanistan. So that's all. I'll just leave it at that. I don't want to go into specifics of where our exact units are.

With that, thank you very much. Thank you.

HARRIS: And with that, today's Pentagon briefing is wrapped up, conducted today by General Richard Myers, who is the joint chiefs chairman.

The chairman there were adding a lot of information to some of the reports that we have had here on the air already about some sorties carried out by F-18 and F-14 fighters, who dropping bombs on buildings and bunkers there in Afghanistan. We understand 14 fighters have been detained in one of the actions taken overnight. Two of them determined to be al Qaeda people who actually may have some specific information and they have been detained for extensive questioning. We understand also some computers, cell phones and other documents as well have also been recovered.

Lots of talk as well about where the detainees are going to be going next. We understand there are some 364 total detainees both on the ground there at Bagram Air Base as well as on ships there in the Arabia Sea. We understand that facilities on Guantanamo Bay, the base there the U.S. keeps in Cuba, is being prepared and the facilities there, I should say, are being prepared and that these detainees will be moving there soon. No timetable on what soon actually means. Also, no word on where John Walker, the American who fought with the Taliban, is going to be and when he will be there.




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