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Pentagon Press Briefing

Aired February 27, 2002 - 10:16   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to keep our eyes on Washington right now, the daily Pentagon briefing getting underway right now.


VICTORIA CLARKE, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE (PUBLIC AFFAIRS): ... and remain committed to their efforts to improve their internal security.

And with that, I will turn it over to the general.

GEN. PETER PACE, VICE CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Well, the operations in Afghanistan continue to focus in on going after remaining Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.

In Georgia, if I could add, there has been a transfer of unarmed Huey helicopters to assist that government with mobility for their own forces, for their own security. Those helicopters have been delivered. And there is a DOD team of seven people, one, U.S. military, seven contractors who are assisting the Georgian government in receiving the helicopters and going thorough the kinds of maintenance procedures that you need to do to keep them flying.

And the U.S.-European Command is also working with their counterparts in Georgia to determine what makes sense in the way of future planning and equipping and training to be presented to both governments for approval to assist, again, the Georgian government, internal to their own country with their own security problems.

And with that, we'll stop for questions.

CLARKE: Charlie?

QUESTION: General and Torie, in these plans do you, in fact, plan or hope to send a number of trainers, special forces trainers to Georgia to help them train their forces; how many might be sent? And how do you respond to charges from Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov today that any movement of U.S. troops to Georgia would only exacerbate tensions in the transfer (ph)?

PACE: I'll take the first one. I'll ask Ms. Clarke to take the second, if I could? The first part, we are still very much in the formulative stages and the assessment stage and the planning between the U.S.-European Command and military folks and their counterparts in Georgia. Once they've fleshed out a plan and have it ready for a proposal to both of our governments, they Will do that. So the number of trainers and the duration, those kinds of things are all part of the -- of what would eventually come forward, but right now is very much in the formative stages, and, again, needs to be submitted to both governments for approval.

QUESTION: But trainers is part of the plan or the anticipated...

PACE: Well, we've asked the European commander to take a look and see with their counterparts whether or not there's benefit to training and equipping. So if there were a plan that came forward that both governments were comfortable with, then certainly trainers would be a part of that, but we don't know that yet.

QUESTION: Of the seven -- you mentioned seven people in Georgia right now -- are those the only American representatives in military?

PACE: I don't think so. There's probably some other on the ground who are part of the normal military team that works with the U.S. Embassy. But the seven I was talking about was specifically there for the transfer of the 10 Hueys.

CLARKE: The second half of Charlie's question. Charlie, you know, we are working closely and having discussions all the time with countries around the world on the global war on terrorism, including Russia. And we are working closely with Georgia, because internal security and stability there improves stability in the region. And that is a good thing.

QUESTION: It would seem that Russia would be pleased to have Georgia's military be more effective in a region where Russia, in fact, claims that Georgia is harboring Chechen terrorists.

CLARKE: Well, I can't speak for the Russians. I can just tell you what we're doing, which is working very, very closely with a variety of leaders around the world in the global war on terrorism, and we will continue to do that.

QUESTION: General, what specifically do you see is the concern in the Pankisi Gorge area and do you believe that Al Qaeda is taking refuge there, and if you can jut elaborate on what that situation is.

PACE: As you know, we are tracking terrorist organizations worldwide. I believe the secretary said there's Al Qaeda representation in at least 60 countries that we know of. So I would not focus in on one particular area as a particular concern. We're trying as best we can to find the linkages worldwide and work with friendly governments worldwide to assist them in their own internal security problems.

QUESTION: But why Georgia? PACE: Georgia, right now, is very much -- the two things I've told you about. One is the helicopters, and two is the working with that government to see if there's training and equipping that we can do with them that will assist them to become more proficient inside their own borders with their own security forces to take care of their own problems.

QUESTION: All right, but what's your terrorism concern then? Why are you concerned about it in terms of the war on terrorism?

PACE: I did not say I was concerned.

CLARKE: We are concerned that the Al Qaeda alone has cells in 50 or 60 countries around the world.

QUESTION: Now wait a minute, wait a minute.

QUESTION: If there's no concern about terrorism in this region, what is the concern then?

PACE: I answered the gentleman's question about what my concern was, because I didn't say I had a concern.

QUESTION: There's no concern about terrorism in that particular region?

PACE: Please, we are concerned about terrorism worldwide. And we spend an enormous amount of energy trying to track the linkages with Al Qaeda and the other terrorist networks worldwide. I cannot get into specifics of what we know about terrorist networks in specific countries. That would be inappropriate for me to do from this stand. Clearly, anywhere there are terrorists in the world, we are concerned. But I cannot quantify, if we did that for you from this platform.

QUESTION: Do you believe it's possible that members of Al Qaeda have gone to the region? And is there any link between Chechnya and Al Qaeda?

PACE: It is possible. And that is possible.

QUESTION: Well, now wait a minute...


PACE: I cannot.

QUESTION: Until recently, Schevardnadze denied that there were any Chechens on his soil. And as I understood it, U.S. officials believed approximately the same thing. What has changed your mind? And how recently has your mind been changed?

I mean, what, is there anything you can give us? I mean, because you make it sound like Georgia is just another country, like England, but you happen to be sending helicopters there. CLARKE: I'll try two things. One, we've had a military to military relationship and ongoing activities with Georgia well before September 11. Secondly, we have, as we said, been focused very hard on the fact that Al Qaeda has cells in some 50 or 60 different countries around the world. There have been some indications of connections, some connections of Al Qaeda in that country.

But, going beyond that, saying there have been some connections, is not appropriate.

QUESTION: You just said there were some connections, didn't you? I mean, I don't want to confuse...

CLARKE: That's what I'm saying, it's not appropriate for us to go into any great detail about what we know. But we have said repeatedly it is important to go after the terrorists wherever they are. Al Qaeda alone has cells in 50 or 60 countries around the world. And there have been or there is information on some connections. Beyond that, we're just not prepared to go.


QUESTION: When we were in Moscow, Shevardnadze publicly said that they were worried about terrorists and said they wanted help from the United States, including trading. I mean, you're refusing to even go that far, why?

CLARKE: No, I think that's what we're standing up here telling you about, is we've been working closely with them for some time, including prior to September 11, so they can achieve better internal stability and security, if you will. They have been very, very supportive in the global war on terrorism. And we want to work with them.

But going into the details and the specifics of what that relationship might involve, just isn't appropriate for us to be doing right now.

QUESTION: Could I go back for one second on -- General Pace, you were saying that you are going to be talking with Georgia about the value of whether you would be sending further trainers into the country. But Georgia, today, is saying that they are offended by those military advisers who are already there. If Georgia is having that response, then it makes it sound like you're basically saying you may not necessarily send further trainers into the country?

PACE: No, I'm not at all aware of what you just referenced, so let me just tell you that we are working government to government and through the U.S. military's U.S. European Command (ph) working with their counterparts in Georgia to come forward with a proposal that would make sense to both of our governments to move forward.

It has not been approved; it is simply an assessment that is ongoing to see where Georgia thinks they may need assistance and for us to see where we think we may want to help. I'm not at all aware of what you just mentioned, though. QUESTION: But say if Georgia decides we don't want any further people here, then it's quite possible you may not send further trainers there?

PACE: I would think that if this is a training equipped program, to be approved by both governments, that if one government doesn't want to receive or one government doesn't want to send, that this would not happen.


CLARKE: What would you like to ask?

QUESTION: Well, could we ask him a question about it?


QUESTION: Maybe policy, if it would be all right.

CLARKE: Sure. Come on, Danny (ph). Absolutely.

(UNKNOWN): Lucky me.

QUESTION: Could you do anything more to elaborate on the problem of terrorism in Georgia and that region and the worry about Al Qaeda?

GENERAL WILLIAM CROUCH, ARMY VICE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, I think it's -- I guess I would say that we have felt, as the last administration felt, that it was very important that we maintain the sovereignty, territorial integrity, of a number of the countries in the former Soviet Union. Georgia is one of them. We have developed a very close relationship with them, which, as the General said, predates 9/11. In fact, I believe the decision anyway to send those helicopters predates 9/11.

And so that was really -- that whole set of decisions was based, I think, more on wanting to establish a close military-to-military relationship there, which we are doing. This is part of that program. And I think it also, if the governments make decisions to go forward with the training equip (ph) program, I think it will also have some benefits in the global war on terrorism.

But I think it's something that we support generally in terms of enhancing our military-to-military contacts with the Georgians.

QUESTION: In a nutshell, are you worried about spillover from Chechnya, rebel extremists in Chechnya into Georgia? Is that part of all of this?

CROUCH: Again, I think I would say what they said, that I think it's really inappropriate for us to comment specifically on specific problems. You know, we recognize that Al Qaeda cells are in a large number of countries. There are other places that are, you know, cooperating with -- I mean, these are -- there are various networks out there, as the secretary has said, and we are tracking those networks. We are going to work with countries to try to shut down those networks, but I think it's really inappropriate for me to get into the specifics.


QUESTION: Could any one of the three of you say if there is any credible evidence tying Al Qaeda to Chechen rebels, or is that some of the specifics that you are not going to talk about from this podium?

CLARKE: Correct.

QUESTION: Is this going to be structured much like the Philippines as far as the training and not getting involved in and actually going after...

CLARKE: I'll make one general comment and then General Pace can talk more or less about specifics, but as we've said all along, it is such an unconventional war, and we'll do different things in different parts of the world, depending on the circumstances.

So if we can disabuse you of one thing, that is of trying to tie these things up neatly and saying, "Oh, well, this is just like this."

Situations are different; circumstances are different. So that's just a context point.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) possibility U.S. troops might go in there shooting?

QUESTION: No, in other words, that was his question, is would they be involved in combat...


QUESTION: ... would these people mainly be trainers or would they be involved in active combat?

PACE: That is really a very hypothetical question, but the fact is that the two governments are discussing right now ways that the United States and the government of Georgia can work together to exist in training and equipping the Georgian armed forces to help them with their own internal security problems.

That's what this discussion is all about right now, with them.

The helicopters, having been a separate issue decided earlier, were provisions of helicopters unarmed that was agreed to by the two governments months ago, to assist Georgia at that time with what they had which was a mobility problem.

So we just take these things case-by-case. Case one was helicopters, case solved. Case two: What kind of assistance now might we provide to them that would assist them in growing their own armed forces to be able to do the capabilities that they want their own armed forces to provide inside their own country? That's what the assessment is about right now.

QUESTION: Can you say how many helicopters have been sent and when did they actually arrive in Georgia? And then, secondly, can you tell us whether since 9/11, aside from Georgia and the Philippines, if there have been any similar equipment transfer or trainee transfers to any other countries that could be related to the war on terrorism?

PACE: I can come close on some of that. The helicopters that were transferred were 10 from us. The exact arrival date, I do not know, but I do know they're there.

CLARKE: I think it was November.


CLARKE: Mid-October.

PACE: Mid-October, November, OK.

And I happened to do some research on the other part. We work worldwide with our partners, usually led by the U.S. ambassador in the country working with the U.S. military representatives on his or her team, working with the host nations to determine what kind of military assistance they might need. So transferring this kind of equipment or selling this kind of equipment is really part of day-to-day routine of what we do worldwide.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) say, for example, Yemen, have you done any transactions with Yemen in recent months?


QUESTION: General, have there been -- in many of the countries in that area we've had small JCET programs through Partnership for Peace for whatever. Has Georgia ever had a small unit, kind of thing like that, and would this basically be an expansion of that?

PACE: I don't recall. But since we've been working closely with Georgia since 1996 -- I'll get you the answer with (inaudible) but it would seem reasonable that we have had small teams go in and assist with NCO training, leadership training, those kinds of things. We can get you the specifics on that, Matt (ph). OK?

CLARKE: We can take that one.

QUESTION: What would the difference be, the thing you're contemplating now and how would that be different?

PACE: I'm not contemplating anything, so I can't tell you the difference. We're waiting for the assessment teams that have been working together and the two governments to have a proposal to us, so we can take a look at it. And when we get that, we'll be able to give you the details. But right now, I do not have the details.

QUESTION: What kind of discussions has the U.S. had with the Russians about this possibility of putting U.S. trainers into Georgia? Have the raised the same kind of objections that the foreign minister raised publicly today? And if so, is the U.S. simply inclined to ignore those objections? CLARKE: We have discussions with Russia all the time about a variety of topics, including the global war on terrorism, including our efforts in the region, and we'll continue to have those discussions. But it's not appropriate for me to stand here and tell you every sentence in everyone of those conversations, but we have discussions with them. And we're working closely with them, as well.

QUESTION: Well, did Ivanov's objections -- public objections today come as any surprise to anybody in the administration?

CLARKE: I actually haven't seen them, so I can't talk to them. I'm sorry.

QUESTION: It almost seems like you're trying to distance yourself from this being anything to do with the fight against terrorism. Mr. Crouch said it would be a side benefit if it also fought against terrorism. Could you define exactly what it is and what the link to fighting terrorism worldwide is, by possibly sending people to train and equip in Georgia?

CLARKE: I think what we're trying to do -- maybe we're not doing it too well -- is to bring some context to it, and context to do that is important to look pre-September 11. And look at the kinds of things we were doing and the kinds of work we were doing with Georgia to try to improve our relationship with them, to try to help them improve their internal stability and security, because that's beneficial for the region and that's beneficial for us.

Post-September 11, of course, it had such a huge impact on so many people in so many countries around the world; that brings a new focus, a new prism, if you will, that we look through. So clearly, we have an intense focus on terrorism around the world and where it may be popping up and where those cells might be. But all we're trying to do is bring some context to this, not distance it or bring it closer, is bring some context to it.

QUESTION: But we understand the context, so this is specific information that there is an increase in Al Qaeda activity or some other kind of activity pertaining to terrorist post-9/11.

CLARKE: I, for one, just not going to put a lot of characterizations on it. I think what we're doing now in this proposal that the two governments are looking at is a natural evolution of what they were already doing.

PACE: And perhaps, by trying to be precise, we're being too precise in raising questions that really was not the intent.

The helicopters was a decision made that was exclusive of the global war on terrorism.


PACE: As we have increased our desire to cooperate with other governments since 11 September, every place we have military member working with foreign governments, of course, the global war on terrorism and the local security environment do go hand in hand, because you either have terrorists there now or you don't.

And if you have a strong security environment, it is less likely than if you don't have terrorists, that ones will come. If you have a weak security environment, it is more likely that terrorists will come.

So it's impossible for me to stand here and tell you that what we're doing now in Georgia is either purely counterterrorist or purely not counterterrorist.

The fact of the matter is, as we help our friends increase their own security capability, we are helping them in the global war on terrorism and against other internal threats that they may have.

So I just can't quantify for you better than that.

QUESTION: Could you go to a different topic? Osama bin Laden, the issue of his -- reportedly -- family may be giving DNA samples. How close is the military, perhaps, to determining who might have been killed and the Zhawar Kili, what more can you say on that? Anything at all that you could expand on that issue?

CLARKE: I don't have anything new since what the secretary said yesterday. I don't know if you do.

QUESTION: Have you asked for DNA evidence from the family as has been reported?

CLARKE: I don't know.

PACE: And I do not know. I do know we have some DNA samples from the location of the strike. I do not know where we stand with DNA from...

QUESTION: Would that be a Defense Department activity if you were to obtain or seek to obtain DNA samples from family members? Or would that be another part of government?

PACE: I'm not sure who would do that. I mean, I don't think the Defense Department would be doing the DNA match, but I'd have to find out for you who would do that.

QUESTION: But you're not aware of any requests by the government for DNA samples from Osama's family, Osama bin Laden's family?

PACE: It would surprise me if we haven't, but I'm not specifically aware that we have.

QUESTION: And then could you elaborate on the samples that you were able to obtain, does it look like they were good enough samples that you'd be able to match?

PACE: I don't know.

CLARKE: Last one. QUESTION: Many of the mil-to-mil upgrades we've seen in the region of Central Asia or Eurasia or whatever you want to call it -- Uzbekistan, Kyrgystan -- we've sort of looked at those as supporting Afghanistan operations.

Now, taking those two plus this possible one in Georgia, should we be viewing those -- these things would have been extraordinary a few years ago to even think about U.S. military substantial operations in those areas. How should we be seeing those? Should we be seeing those as part of the war on terrorism, or are they just focused on Afghanistan?

PACE: Which were the two other than Georgia, I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Kyrgystan and Uzbekistan, where we have, you know, fairly...

PACE: I think, on the latter two, because of our operations in Afghanistan, because they have been cooperative with us, it has opened more doors for cooperation, so the global war on terrorism has opened that particular door for us to talk to each other better.

The mil-to-mil cooperation is still, as I've said, a combination of, what kind of assistance can we provide that will assist you, friendly host government, with your internal needs for your own uses, and by doing so, we recognize the fact that we also strengthen your ability to resist terrorism inside your country.

CLARKE: Thank you.

HARRIS: With that, Torrie Clarke and Gen. Pace have broken up today's press briefing. Much of the discussion this morning revolving around these reports that you've heard on CNN of perhaps 100 to 200 U.S. Special Operations forces being sent to the country of Georgia, to help them with internal security issues they've got in that particular country.

We heard from the press briefing here that there is perhaps some sort of connections with persons in Georgia and with al Qaeda. They were not specific in the briefing here about what those connections may be and if they believe there are al Qaeda members who are in Georgia working right now. But they say there have been a number of military-to-military contacts with that country for some time, and this is just another effort along that path to help them deal with this internal matter in that country.

They were saying also there is a number of helicopters, perhaps ten choppers, that are being sent there. But they say that decision was made before September 11, and not in response to the War on Terror.




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