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U.S. Central Command Chief Holds Briefing

Aired February 25, 2002 - 14:31   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Now, we're going to go to the central command briefing in Tampa Bay, Florida, where General Tommy Franks is going to begin. Let's listen in.

GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Well, good afternoon and welcome. I wanted to spend some time this afternoon and provide you an update on our current status in Operation Enduring Freedom.

But the first thing I want to do today is offer our appreciation to Al and Barbara Davis (ph), who brought to my office earlier today a smile when they brought out a whole bunch of banana nut bread cakes and gave them to our people out in Coalition Village. Much appreciated. Wonderful folks.

Interestingly, they've been doing that since the Gulf War. Someone told me this morning that the Davises have provided more than 8,000 of these cakes to our people over the last 10 or 11 years. Absolutely wonderful.

Well, our Operation Enduring Freedom task force continues to grow as we speak, the coalition task force, involving, I guess, in America's global war on terrorism, 68 countries. A total of 27 of those countries are active with us here in Tampa, out at MacDill Air Force Base, as we speak. And today we have some 15,000 coalition troops involved in our area of responsibility.

I am pleased today to be joined by two representative members of this coalition task force, Brigadier General Fuente (ph) from Spain and Colonel Josef Hanadi (ph) from Jordan.

Now, both Spain and Jordan participate in a number of ways in the region with us in Operation Enduring Freedom, but perhaps as significant as any other contribution is the fact that they have brought hospitals and have established them inside Afghanistan.

Now, that's especially important. We've talked many times about 26 million Afghans who, in fact, are in need of a great many things in this country.

I remember several months ago, on an occasion where I was having a meeting with some anti-Taliban leaders inside Afghanistan, that I asked them what could I do for them. And, of course, I had a suspicion that they were going to ask me for weapons and munitions and a variety of things. But three of them said that the greatest need was for medical assistance and the provision of medical services to their people inside Afghanistan. And each of them mentioned the fact that females, for a number of years, had not been able to get medical treatment inside Afghanistan.

And so what I've asked these two coalition members to do today is to come out and describe the efforts that they have put into these hospitals operating in Afghanistan, and then they'll be pleased to take your questions and then I'll come back to the podium.

First, General Fuente (ph), Spain, please.

BRIGADIER GENERAL FUENTE (ph), SPAIN: Good afternoon. I'm General Fuente for the Spanish army. On behalf of the coalition partner, thank you for coming. And we appreciate the opportunity to show the public opinion the effort made by the coalition partner in supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Talking about the Spanish hospital, this was the first Spanish contribution to the Operation Enduring Freedom. This has more units designed to provide medical assistance to our air force base, in this case about 1,500 (UNINTELLIGIBLE). This hospital got into the AOR in Bagram the 3rd of February. But from the very beginning, the Spanish authorities decided that one important, according to General Franks' guidance, not only provide medical assistance to the Enduring Freedom personnel, but also to the civilian people in Afghanistan.

So the hospital begin provide the military assistance on the 5th of February, and humanitarian aid the 13th of February.

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) problem from the very beginning was that the facilities of the hospital had just in the center of the base, so for security reason civilian people can't go through the base, only local worker. So after a meeting among the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Bagram commander, the ministry, the Afghan minister of health and the hospital director, they decided to move five days a week to a building close to the main gate of the base to provide humanitarian aid in this building. From the 13th or 14th (ph) we begin provide assistance to the civilian people of Afghanistan, an average to 100, 120 daily; two or three (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a day.

The main decisions -- the main common decisions from these civilian people in Bagram are mainly they need dental care. And, you know, according to the former (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in Afghanistan, the kind of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) they need mainly, dental treatment.

After that a lot of decisions in relation with the cold weather: sore throat, bronchitis, cough, flu, and so on and so forth.

And a few cases of malaria. I do know that malaria disappeared from Europe, disappeared from North America, most of South America, but just in Afghanistan early in the 21st century there are some minor cases of malaria, mainly in the children.

The hospital provide the medical assistance in two different buildings: one for males and another one for female and children under 12 years old.

So we are (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Afghanistan after 20 centuries (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is very difficult to change (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we must try to change step-by- step in this case.

So this is in general terms, the Spanish hospital, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) doctors and nurses from different specialities (UNINTELLIGIBLE) protection and support. If you need to know something else please ask me and I'll try to answer it as soon as possible.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Have the people related to you what the reaction of the Afghan people has been to the opportunity to provide the assistance to them? In other words, this will be the first medical attention many of these people have received in some years. What has the response been that you're aware of?

FUENTE (ph): Their response is that this is a reaction not only from the Spanish hospital, is the reaction of Enduring Freedom Operation -- the whole operation. Because it's not only support the civilian people with medical care, because there are humanitarian aid in many different ways.

Usually, the most important for the Afghan people, according to -- every day I talk by phone with the hospital, is the care of the children. They try, usually, a lot of children under 12 go there and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and there are some different decisions. And they try -- they like to get medicines, but not only for this day, because they them provide them with medicine for two or three weeks, you see. This is the most important.

And they tell you, "OK, come back in one week, in two weeks time." And when they come back to the hospital, they see that each former children -- child has a special file. It's important to they know that the doctor or nurse (UNINTELLIGIBLE) have a big care of them.

OK. Is there a question?

QUESTION: General, are the majority of the people you're treating, are they people who were injured during the bombing raids or are they people who have just been denied medical treatment for so long in Afghanistan?

FUENTE (ph): Well, most of them need medical treatment. I have turned maybe about 40 percent is most of the probably dental (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Is the dermatology treatment. About 40 percent is the sore throat, cold, any kind of problem with the cold weather, maybe in wintertime, because they don't have the medicine, have good medicine to provide. And 20 percent, we call them the dermatology problem, skin problem, malaria.

Is there another question? QUESTION: General, sir, are the people comfortable in coming to these hospitals? Are you finding that they're at ease with your doctors? Or are they going there only because that's the only medical treatment that's available?

FUENTE (ph): They are very, very comfortable to the Spanish hospital, of course. Because we have two (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for male and for female. In the Spanish hospital there are seven female doctor and nurses. Because according for Islam, the Islamic rules in Afghanistan when gynecologists must be women, must be female. For that reason, our gynecologist team is doctor female, nurses female. Is very difficult to try to change 20 centuries for a way of life.

QUESTION: Just as a follow-up, are you delivering babies at this hospital, also?

FUENTE (ph): I don't know, I'm not there. Not yet. There is pregnant women, but not yet has been born one new baby, not yet.

Any other question, please? OK. Thank you very much.

Again, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on behalf of the coalition partner (UNINTELLIGIBLE) our effort to supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. Thank you very much.

FRANKS: And on next, we'll have Colonel Josef Hanadi (ph) from Jordan.

Sir?

COLONEL JOSEF HANADI (ph), JORDAN: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

Sir, General Franks, I'd like to thank you very much for your introduction. And I'd like to thank you from my heart for your support you have always given to us.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am Lieutenant Colonel Josef Hanadi (ph) from the Royal Jordanian Force. I'll be giving you a short brief about the Jordanian hospital in Afghanistan.

Jordan contribution to the Operation Enduring Freedom, in term of humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, was a field hospital (UNINTELLIGIBLE) being deployed to Mazar-e Sharif area.

The field hospital has in tents where the start number has around 200, which consists 27 doctors, 45 nurses and 45 medics have expertise in a variety of fields. The hospital staff is capable of performing major and minor surgeries. The hospital treated over 18,000 patients and, as you can see, more than 12,000 of them were women and children. And as you can see in the picture, there's an Afghani child being treated in the hospital with his father. And performed over 230 surgical operations since it was opened in 8 January 2002.

Hospital facilities: The hospital has 50 beds, four ambulance, five wards, water purification system, radiology, pharmacy, blood unit and casting unit.

With this, I conclude unless anybody having any question, I'll be glad to answer.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

HANADI (ph): Nice see you again.

QUESTION: I'm wondering, sir, how long do you expect your country will continue this commitment in Afghanistan?

HANADI (ph): I think there has been a coordination and agreement between my government and the U.S. government is the hospital to be in the Mazar-e Sharif area, as the Afghani in need for it. So as if they need it, it will be -- remain there.

QUESTION: Are you or even the Spanish hospital coordinating efforts with Doctors Without Borders? Are they involved at all in any of your operations, or have you invited their help in as well? As you know, they're very active in that part of the world. Have they been involved at all?

HANADI (ph): We are specifically working within Operation Enduring Freedom. However, yes, there is coordination between the hospital and the NGOs and other civil organizations.

And you can see that over there, this picture. This is the processing of patients being received in the hospital. And now every patient, he has his own record -- medical record. They can refer to it whenever he is coming back again to the hospital.

QUESTION: So was there any attempt made to get patients to the hospital or must they make their own way in the hospital? Is there any systematic way to find patients and bring them to the hospital?

HANADI (ph): Actually, we don't offer any transportation. But there is being coordinated transportation for the patients to come from Mazar-e Sharif city to the hospital. They have been treated. Then once they are treated, they'll be transferred again to the city.

Thank you very much.

FRANKS: Well, I must tell you that I'm terribly proud of both the contributions by these nations and also the work that's being done by these medical facilities inside Afghanistan. Taken in total, I think perhaps as many as almost 20,000 people have been seen by these medical facilities, and I think it's terribly important.

Our forces continue to do the work that Operation Enduring Freedom is about in Afghanistan, as we speak today. We're continuing to clear pockets. We're continuing to use intelligence information available to us, to confirm or deny the presence of pockets and pools of residual Al Qaeda. We're continuing to export intelligence.

And we're continuing to facilitate the humanitarian operations which, in fact, are being conducted, as you mentioned a minute ago, in some cases, by Doctors Without Borders -- more, I think, than 5,000 non-government organizations operating in -- or people associated with a non-governmental and international organizations operating inside Afghanistan now.

And so our efforts are aimed at coordinating the activities of international organizations and non-governmental organizations. I, in fact, am pleased with the progress that we see up to this point.

And as has been said, I think, by many of us over time, a great deal of work remains to be done in a very clouded, very murky, very troublesome environment inside Afghanistan. But that work will continue and we'll complete it successfully.

Tomorrow, a team that's headed by Major General Campbell from our headquarters will return from Afghanistan, where he's been working with Afghan authorities, to include Chairman Karzai and Minister of Defense Fahim Khan, on the creation of an Afghan national army, an issue that I think has been much reported. I look forward to his report when he gets back, following which I'll think my way through it and then make recommendations to the secretary of defense.

And I'll stop at this point, and I'd be pleased to take your questions.

QUESTION: You mentioned exploiting intelligence in Afghanistan. I'd like to ask you, a month after the raid on Hazar Kadam, have you determined where the intelligence failure lay in that mistake? And the fact that 16 Afghans were killed mistakenly, did that indicate that U.S. troops might have been a bit trigger happy in that assault?

FRANKS: Well, I appreciate the question.

I would not characterize anything about that operation as an intelligence failure, in response to the first part of the question.

And in response to the second part of the question, I would not -- I certainly wouldn't say that any of the forces involved in the operation were trigger happy.

Over a prolonged period of time, those compounds were studied. We paid very close attention to them. The people in Afghanistan paid very close attention to them. The signatures and the profiles that were present in those compounds indicated to us that there was a strong possibility of either residual Taliban or Al Qaeda forces present in those compounds. The decision was made that we would not bomb those compounds as a timed target in order to avoid taking action that we were not absolutely certain of.

So the decision was made to actually put our forces in harm's way by having them go to those compounds on a direct action mission in order to confirm or deny, as I've described before, the presence of enemy formations in those compounds.

The compounds were taken down, I'll say, near simultaneously. I'm not sure but what the operations may have been offset by a few seconds in the way they were executed. In one of the compounds there was -- upon entry of our force, there was no immediate firing. That's the compound where some 25 to 30 Afghans were taken into custody, were detained. During the course of that detention, our forces in that compound were fired on by two separate Afghans. Both of those Afghans were killed.

In the second compound it was not nearly so plain; it was much more murky. And that when our force entered that compound they were fired upon not from one direction, but from multiple directions. They forcefully moved their way through that compound, and the result was 14 Afghans killed.

So intelligence failure? No. Intelligence failure? No.

I think that the incident is unfortunate. I think it has been accurately reported. I think it has been adequately investigated. I have been through the results of the investigation and I am satisfied that, while unfortunate, that I will not characterize it as a failure of any type. And, in fact, I have some respect for the discipline and the quality of the effort as it moved through the compounds.

QUESTION: You mentioned the Afghan national army, but, of course, as you know, it's going to take some time before that army's established. So the question is, what is the U.S. going to do to better get security for the Afghan people? What options are you considering that would step up security? And would you see those options as making U.S. troops as peacekeepers, if not in name, then at least in fact?

FRANKS: I'm not sure that we would ever characterize activity as being peacekeeping in fact, and then try to name it something else. And so, to take, sort of, the last part of the question first, I do not believe that we'll be involved in peacekeeping operations inside Afghanistan.

The president will take a decision on precisely the duration and amount of involvement that we see there. The security situation in Afghanistan has been correctly described, and I think I described it a minute ago, as murky and troublesome. I mean, it's tough. It's been tough in Afghanistan for a long, long time, and we certainly see that in evidence today. Now, the future of Afghanistan is going to be in the hands of the Afghan people. And so, insofar as we're able, what we would like to do is improve the security situation in Afghanistan by having the Afghans do it; working with them in ways to, perhaps, provide training and so forth not to be decided.

That's the purpose of the visit of General Campbell to the region, and that's why I look forward to having a chance to debrief him and get his report over the next few days.

And so I'm not precisely sure exactly what the ingredients of the future will look like. We know that the ISAF force inside Kabul has done a great job. I think it's been well reported that the establishment of operating precincts in Kabul has been very positive. It has helped the security environment in Kabul. So the question that flows from that is, should the business of ISAF be exported, should it be expanded elsewhere inside Afghanistan?

For sure, we're going to want to have a police capability in the population centers all over Afghanistan. For sure, we're going to want to have an Afghan national army, because that then becomes the tool whereby the executive authorities in Afghanistan are able to maintain control and establish their own stability.

The precision of exactly how that will be accomplished is what I think we're all -- what we're all thinking about. I think that's what we're studying right now. And you certainly will not get from me, in front of our president, a view that says, "So here's what we're going to do or here's what we should do."

What we will do is we'll take the results of this work done by General Campbell and his team, and then we'll carry recommendations to the secretary of defense, who will then carry recommendations to our president.

QUESTION: You talked about the murky nature of the situation over there. Given the feudal, warlord-like culture of that country...

FRANKS: Right.

QUESTION: ... and given the now short period of time that Chairman Karzai has to be in office...

FRANKS: Right.

QUESTION: ... as a professional military man yourself, where do you even remotely begin creating a standing army? How do you do that?

FRANKS: Right. I think it's a great question. First off, I'll give you the quick answer, to just repeat what I said before: That's the reason that we wanted to send our people in there in an assessment team to determine how is the best way to move forward. We're sure that the right thing to do is to have an Afghan national army. We are not at all sure what size it should be or exactly where it should be. We know that we want to begin the forming of this Afghan national army as quickly as we can, and we know that we want to support the initiatives of the...

(AUDIO GAP)

FRANKS: ... 24-hour-a-day coordination with the International Security Assistance Force because it's necessary for us to deconflict all of our operations inside Afghanistan. So we continue to do that.

We also -- because our military network is very capable of flight scheduling and that sort of thing, we assist the International Security Assistance Force in moving in and moving out. So that sense of cooperation will certainly continue. But that is not the same thing as taking American forces and placing them under the command of the international security force. So pardon the long answer, but that actually is where it stands.

QUESTION: Right. In terms of we talking about -- I think Secretary Rumsfeld did say last week there could be additional, I believe up to 30,000 troops, helping out in this type of cause?

FRANKS: Actually, a little bit of a misread of the secretary's comments.

It's been suggested that the international security force itself should be expanded, and people have tossed about numbers of 20,000, 30,000, and I think the secretary had said 60,000 or 70,000 or whatever. I think that we don't -- if I answer that explicitly, then it indicates that we believe an expansion of the international security force in these large numbers is the direction we're going to move. I don't believe that we are to the point yet where we want to say that's the direction we're going to move.

We know we want the policing function moved out there, but the preference is going to be to have the Afghans to take this on in every way they can and to minimize the footprint of foreign presence inside the country.

QUESTION: General, I'd like to ask you, in connection with the latest reports about the whereabouts of bin Laden, have you learned something in recent interrogations of detainees that would strengthen your assessment that, in fact, bin Laden survived the bombing in December and early January, and therefore, that it's more logical that he would still be alive?

FRANKS: I really haven't made an assessment that bin Laden is alive based on interrogations of detainees or any intelligence information we've received. We simply don't know whether he is or not. And I've said before and I'll continue to say, until I see evidence that he is not alive, then we'll continue to make the assumption that he is alive, because that continues to focus our intelligence activity, and so that's what we'll continue to do.

In maybe a little more robust answer to your question, we're working hard everyday with intelligence from a whole bunch of different sources, some human intelligence and some technical intelligence, to be able to work not just this problem, because the business of leadership and bin Laden and so forth is one piece of a mosaic that we perceive is much more important than the single piece of the leadership target. And that is, the continuing destruction of the cells inside Afghanistan, with a principle first purpose of making sure that if there's anything going on in Afghanistan that we can find out about that would permit us to preempt or prevent a terrorist someplace on this planet, that's what we want to do.

So that's where the focus is and we'll continue to work bin Laden and these leadership targets to be sure. But right now we simply don't know where they are. And in the event that we are able to pull together from all source the locations of the people we're after, we'll certainly go get them.

Back to the Pentagon please.

PHILLIPS: General Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S. central command, giving his daily briefing out of Tampa Bay, Florida there, making a number of points, first recognizing Spain and Jordan for building hospitals in Afghanistan and helping with Operation Enduring Freedom. Also making the point that he continues to work intelligence to find Osama bin Laden. Still no indication that he is dead. Also continuing in the destruction of terrorist cells throughout Afghanistan. Also making the point that U.S. troops will not take a role in the Afghan peacekeeping process, but, rather, he will be helping to form an Afghan national army.

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