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Central Command Briefing

Aired April 5, 2002 - 12:30   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.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to take you to Tampa, Florida, the scene of Central Command there, at McDill Air Force Base, where we are hearing from the commander there, leading the war on terrorism, General Tommy Franks.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

GEN. TOMMY FRANKS, CENTRAL COMMAND: ...3-0 start in this baseball season. I mentioned earlier that I would gladly take credit for the motivational content of the remarks that I gave the members of the team on Tuesday night, before their opening game. Maybe I won't take credit for that, because one never knows exactly how far that'll go. I will say, however, that I am awfully proud of them, and I'm awfully proud -- I think we all are -- of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are attending sporting events in this country, and in fact going on with their lives.

We all remember the horrific events of the 11th of September of last year, and day after tomorrow marks the sixth anniversary of our initiation of combat operations in Afghanistan. On that day, the 7th of October, 2001, the Taliban controlled more than 80 percent of Afghanistan and Afghanistan was, in fact, a terrorist-sponsored state. Some 7 million Afghans on that date were reported to be in danger of starving or freezing. Women couldn't work, couldn't attend school, couldn't receive medical treatment. The Al Qaeda used Afghanistan has a safe haven to plan, encourage and finance global terrorism.

Today, Afghanistan has an interim government. The international community has united to give Afghanistan a chance. Taliban is no longer in power. Al Qaeda has been severely damaged. Schools and hospitals have reopened. People in Afghanistan are receiving humanitarian support from international organizations and nongovernmental organizations who are now free to operate across that country.

So, much has been achieved over the past six months by our men and women in uniform, also by members of this international coalition -- a coalition, which today stands at some 69 supporting nations, with 35 nations having forces deployed in our region. Much has been achieved; much remains to be done.

As I speak today, some 6,500 Americans and a similar number of coalition troops are deployed in Afghanistan. They're involved in providing force stability and hunting down remaining terrorists in that country and gathering intelligence to help prevent future attacks...

LIN: All right, I just want to interrupt briefly while we are listening to General Tommy Franks. The picture that you are seeing on the right-hand side of your screen are some of the people who were on board this military flight that is carrying what we are calling the second American Taliban, a young man by the name of Yasser Hamdi, who has been transported from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba now to the United States. There, you are looking at a live picture of Dulles Airport, where they have landed briefly.

We are waiting to see if Yasser Hamdi actually gets off of the plane, and transported onto a vehicle of some sort, but as we understand it, he is supposed to go from Dulles down to Norfolk Naval Station, obviously under heavy military guard. He is the 22-year-old young man who was discovered to have an American birth certificate as well as Saudi citizenship. He was born to Saudi parents in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 22 years ago. As a result of this, this whole case has gotten very complicated because he now has the full rights of a U.S. citizen, but he has yet to be charged with a crime.

So far, the Bush administration has not said whether he will even be charged. They say -- quote -- "it is way too soon" to even speculate on what charges, if any, he would face. But he will not take place -- nothing will take place in a military tribunal. Likely will take place in some sort of civilian court, but it is a bit of a mess for U.S. officials who have to figure out what to do with this young man.

He was actually picked up after that prison uprising last fall at Mazar-e Sharif, and authorities are trying to figure out, or at least try to get as much information as possible from him, hoping that he will be able to tell them something that may prevent future terrorist attacks. They don't really know much about his involvement with the Taliban other than that he was found with these other fighters.

All right. We are going -- while you are keeping an eye on that scene at Dulles Airport, we are going to go back to General Tommy Franks, who is now starting to take questions, might even talk about this young man.

FRANKS: I've read a great deal about it, and I've read the comments in the media recently. And at this point I will say I have -- I've been given nothing that leaves me to believe that any commitment of American troops to that crisis area has been made. I simply don't think any decision has been made.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: On that subject, are you doing any contingency planning for that? And in the same breath, if you could look ahead to the next six months in Afghanistan and talk about what might take place in the next six months.

FRANKS: Sure.

With reference to the first question, Israel is not in my region, and so I will tell you candidly that I am not aware of any planning to undertake the type of operations that were asked about previously.

It's very difficult to predict what the next six months in Afghanistan will look like. I know this: We'll continue into the next six months to rout out terrorists in that country. Much reported, well reported that there remain pockets and pools of small groups of terrorists inside Afghanistan. We're going to continue to do that work until we in fact have satisfied ourselves that there is not the possibility of a remaining network of terrorists inside Afghanistan.

Additionally, I think we'll continue to work with the international community, as I mentioned earlier, to support the training of an Afghan national army. We'll continue, or we'll remain linked, with the international security assistance force in Afghanistan.

I would not predict how long our operations will be. I will tell you that, up to this point, we have maintained a capability to enlarge and draw down forces inside Afghanistan. And I think you're all aware of that. I think the last time I spoke, we had about 7,000 or so Americans inside Afghanistan, and that number is down several hundred, as we speak.

And so we'll continue to work stability issues inside Afghanistan. We're going to maintain our focus on our principal task which is to rout out these terrorists. And as I said, the outcome of that is not in doubt -- the timing may be, but the outcome is not in doubt.

QUESTION: Can you tell us as much detail as you can, now that Operation Anaconda has wound down and gone away, as much as you can tell us about what the day-to-day operations are like now, what kinds of things the troops are focusing on and how they're doing?

FRANKS: Sure. Sure.

The troops are doing great. I am in daily contact with them, and I suppose it was a couple of weeks ago that I went to visit them in Afghanistan. They're doing great. Their resolve is great. Their dedication is great. And so I think we all feel very good about that. They know precisely why they're there, they understand their mission and they're doing it very, very well.

Now, with regard to post-Anaconda operations, I've said all along that our approach to the terrorist networks inside Afghanistan has to do with the taking of intelligence from all sources, determinations of where we think we may find a group of enemy troops. Then we move in with a force that's appropriate to that task and we clear it. And that's exactly what happened in Operation Anaconda.

The business of the gaining of intelligence, the fusion of intelligence information to create templates that tell us where we are likely to find additional pools and puddles or pockets of enemy is ongoing as we speak. Reconnaissance efforts are ongoing as we speak.

And when we seize upon an area where we identify enemy forces, then we will go there and we'll clear it in a fashion that might look like Anaconda, might be considerably smaller; could be larger. We just don't know.

And so, what we do is we react to our intelligence and simply go to confirm or deny, and then kill or capture the enemy forces that we find there.

To the Pentagon please.

QUESTION: On that issue, what is your latest assessment of the area around Khost, and what is the surveillance and intelligence telling you about the pockets there?

FRANKS: The area of Shah-e-kot, which you'll recall is to the east and south of Gardez, from that area over toward Khost is an area where we are continuing to operate. It's an area where we're conducting ongoing reconnaissance activities, where we're continuing to interface daily with the local populations.

As you know, our sweeps in and around the Anaconda area, to include to the east and to the south of that area, have permitted to us to locate and get into a number of caches of weapons, documents and so forth since the combat operations in Anaconda were completed.

And so, that area between Gardez and Khost remains one of the areas that we're going to continue to focus the sort of intelligence that I described a minute ago on as we move ahead.

QUESTION: Of the hundreds or perhaps thousands of prisoners that the Afghans continue to hold, have you taken about all the people from them that you're interested in? And also, could you update us on how many people U.S. forces do have custody of in Afghanistan?

FRANKS: Right. In Afghanistan, today we have 236 detainees in custody in a couple of locations. I'm not exactly sure what the current number being held -- being detained by the Afghans is.

We still have some number of those detainess. We have not satisfied ourselves have been sufficiently screened. I would say the vast majority of those being detained in Afghanistan have been screened by our people. But there are probably 100, 200 that we believe need additional screening, and I suspect that we'll get into that screening in the next week.

We'll make determinations of whether they're of interest to us. And if they are, then, of course, we'll ask the Afghans to release them to us and we'll also place them in detention.

So I won't speculate about how many of that number we will wind up detaining, because I just don't know right now.

QUESTION: There were reports from your people in Afghanistan earlier today that they have now seen leaflets from suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda offering bounties to Afghans who kill or capture Americans or other military personnel in Afghanistan. I'd like to ask you what you can tell us about those leaflets, how concerned you are about them?

And I also wanted to ask whether now you have been briefed about the Abu Zubaydah situation by other elements of the government and whether you have any sense of the intelligence gained in that raid and whether or not another terrorist attack, in fact, has been averted?

Thank you.

FRANKS: Thank you. Latter question first. No, I actually have not been briefed on anything that's come out of Abu Zubaydah. I know that he, as I think we have said all through this since earlier in the week, he is under U.S. control. I can tell you candidly that I don't know where he is under U.S. control, and I have not seen the results of any discussions with Abu Zubaydah.

With regard to the former question, I have also seen the reports and I have received reports from my people on leaflets or pamphlets being passed out in one localized area inside Afghanistan, offering rewards for the kill or capture of Americans. And so, yes, I've seen that. I have not seen the leaflets or the pamphlets myself.

I suppose if you ask me what do I think about that, well, I think it confirms what we've been saying and that is that Afghanistan remains a very, very dangerous place. It's a dangerous place for our people to operate, it's a dangerous place for coalition forces to operate. And as we all recognize, there are groups of enemy troops still in that country.

And that's why I think we've all been a little bit reluctant to predict how long our operations to kill or capture those enemy troops are going to go on.

FRANKS: So concern about the leaflets? "Awareness" is probably a better word. We're going to pay attention to what we're doing in there, but we're also going to remember that Afghanistan is a dangerous place for us to be operating.

Back to Tampa, please.

QUESTION: General, Pakistan has recently joined the coalition village here at MacDill Air Force Base.

FRANKS: Yes.

QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about what exactly their role that they're playing now and how that changes what you're doing here on a daily basis in Tampa?

FRANKS; Right. Pakistan, having joined our coalition village here at MacDill in Tampa -- actually we're continuing to do what the coalition has been doing since we started our operations. Our cooperation with Pakistan has been very good all through this operation. It continues to be very good.

I asked President Musharraf, oh, I guess, two months ago if he would be interested in placing a full-time liaison with us. He said he would, and so we have that liaison cell here.

And what they do is they simply make it easy for us to cooperate and coordinate our daily activities with Pakistan, as we do with the other 28 or 29 national cells that we have out here.

So it's a productive relationship, but it hasn't changed the way we do our business.

QUESTION: Have you been able to locate any groups of Taliban or Al Qaeda outside of Afghanistan? And if you have or can, what could you do about that?

FRANKS: Right. I think it's interesting to ask that. Part of being in this coalition means that each of these governments in the coalition work with us to answer the question that you just asked. And so I'll use an example of Pakistan.

Pakistan has cooperated and coordinated with us along their western border for months now, and in fact, as we work with them, our liaison activities work with them inside Pakistan, you know that the Pakistanis have responded themselves to groups of enemy people.

Some very recently -- the business of the Zubaydah take- down -- some two, three months ago, wherein they had been able to capture some enemy troops, they turned them over to us. And so I think that's what we actually see. I've also talked about Yemen, and President Saleh's desire to work with us to rid his country of terrorist cells that operate in Yemen.

So that's another example of where I think we find terrific coordination, and so I think it's -- now that's just inside my area of operations. I think we see that on a global scale also, although I'm not as familiar with the areas outside my own area of responsibility.

QUESTION: General, wondering if you've got a sense of disruption of Al Qaeda and command and control of coordination, got a sense now of how your operations have...

FRANKS: I think -- I think without a doubt the operations of Al Qaeda coming out of Afghanistan have been -- I'll use the term dramatically -- they have been dramatically damaged, dramatically degraded. And so I feel good about the work that our forces have done inside Afghanistan, but I'd be quick to say that when that organization has reached to some 50 or 60 other countries around the globe, I think that it would be naive of me to say that Al Qaeda does not still possess capability to conduct terrorist operations as we speak.

And so we feel good about what's happened in Afghanistan, and we feel good about a great many operatives who have been taken down in other places around the world. But this one also is in the category of a long way to go before we relax, OK?

QUESTION: General, on the reported coup attempt, were you made aware of the round-up of those suspects? And if you could assess the importance or lack of importance of that attempt? FRANKS: Let me characterize it by saying, an internal issue with the interim authority inside Afghanistan, in terms of the planning of that operation. We have been concerned for some time about the possibility of groups inside Afghanistan bringing together weapons, possibly for the purpose of attacking our own people. And so, we have been interested in the area around Kabul. We have been watching our intelligence very carefully.

And so it did not -- I'll say it this way -- it did not surprise me when the Afghan interim authority went in and, I think, took some 300 or so detainees out of that. I understand about half of those have now been released.

But it didn't surprise and I think that that is one of the things that we can expect from a government that's finding its own footing, that it will increase its own capability to look for terrorists and coup attempts and that sort of thing. And I think that's what happened in this case.

I have not talked to -- or my people have not yet talked to any of the detainees, and so we have not made any connection to Al Qaeda or Taliban or anything like that. OK?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) briefed on that operations (OFF-MIKE) impending round up?

FRANKS: Oh, you mean before the operation?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

FRANKS: No. We knew that the capability of the interim administration in Afghanistan was growing. We knew that in the event that they came across intelligence which would indicate -- actionable intelligence -- which would indicate to them that there was a problem somewhere that they'd probably would go after it. We did not know that they were going to go down on this specific pocket, that I made reference to a minute ago.

QUESTION: Could you bring us up to speed on the examination of evidence that Al Qaeda might have gained or tried to gain weapons of mass destruction, in terms of the number of sites you have now examined?

And to what extent have any plans or manuals you've found been more sophisticated than that which could be gleaned from the Internet by any lay person?

FRANKS: I can't handle the last part about the lay person.

I will say that we have, over the course of time, identified 60, what we call, potential weapon of mass destruction sites that we wanted to get into and that we wanted to study. We have now been into all 60 of those locations, some of them on more than one occasion. We have taken vials and I'll still call them cookbooks out of a number of these locations. We have taken samples. And what it has indicated to us is a desire on the part of Al Qaeda's leadership to create weapons of mass destruction.

As of today, to my knowledge, we have not yet identified evidence of weaponized weapons of mass destruction, that is to say, any sort of experimentation having been turned in to a weapon of mass destruction. Haven't seen it.

QUESTION: Take you to another are under your command. Are U.S. boots on the ground in Ethiopia, or are U.S. special forces going in there? And if I could follow-up after that.

FRANKS: We currently have no military on the ground in Ethiopia. We have said before, and in fact I think when I returned from my recent round of visits to the Horn of Africa, that we are working in an intelligence sense with the nations of the Horn of Africa -- Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti. But we have not put special forces on the ground inside Somalia, and I won't predict whether we will or not.

But we're in the business right now inside Somalia that sort of looks like business we're conducting elsewhere, and that is, we're working to identify places where we may find terrorists organizing or training. And so, that's the work that we see going on in Somalia right now.

QUESTION: OK, since you bring up Somalia, if I could follow-up.

Do you see that Al Qaeda is setting up shop there or there are increasing members of Al Qaeda in Somalia? Are you getting that kind of sense, intelligence-wise?

FRANKS: We're continuing to build our intelligence and our situational awareness in Somalia, and I don't think I'd characterize it right now with respect to exactly what we're finding. We still need to do an awful lot of analysis on what we're seeing, and I wouldn't mislead you by saying to you that we're not seeing activity in Somalia or that we're seeing large activity. I think it's too soon to tell right now. We're doing our analytical work.

QUESTION: Moving to another country, Iran, earlier in the week Secretary Rumsfeld talked about Iran's efforts at exporting terrorism throughout the region.

Could you talk about your sense of what Iran is doing with regards to terrorism; and also, Iran's efforts to possible destabilize the Afghan government along the western border?

FRANKS: I can't demonstrate direct action by Iran to destabilize activities inside Afghanistan, either activities on the western border or in Kabul. I would characterize the activities of Iran as not helpful to what we're trying to do in the global war on terrorism.

QUESTION: General, looking ahead, as you plan things out, what is the likelihood that more American soldiers will be needed to be sent out, called out to Afghanistan to finish the job? And if so, what kind of numbers are we looking at? And how close are we to finishing the job? FRANKS: I am right now not on the cusp of a decision to request to put large numbers of people inside Afghanistan.

Now, having said that, I want to be clear also that that does not mean that in the future we'll not seek to do that. I can't predict, you know, sort of, in response to your question, that we intend to build to a certain level over time because that has not been the nature of, you know, the nature of our effort.

What we'll do is we'll continue to assess the threat. And if the threat remains handleable by the force structure and the force size and the force composition that we have in Afghanistan now, then we'll stay with that. If, on the other hand, the enemy force there turns out to look differently than what we believe it looks right now, then I wouldn't predict what we would do.

But we'll keep all of our options on the table. Right now, I do not predict -- I do not have a plan that says, OK, by the end of May or by the end of June, we intend to grow the number. No such plan exists.

QUESTION: I just want to know, out of the 6,500, you said, Americans that were in Afghanistan, how many of those are from MacDill? And do you plan on any more sending from MacDill?

FRANKS: I really can't answer the question. I actually don't know how many are from MacDill. As you know, MacDill supports tanker operations for the United States Air Force, and we certainly are conducting tanker operations in what we call the footprint around Afghanistan, but we are not basing any of our refueling assets in Afghanistan.

So I'm sure that there would be some from MacDill who will be in the area working in staff and so forth, but no major operations being supported there out of MacDill at this time.

QUESTION: I want to ask you a question about the eastern Afghanistan region that borders Pakistan. I know several lawmakers, one of them a Florida senator...

FRANKS: Right.

QUESTION: ... said recently, it is of his opinion that Osama bin Laden may be there. Not that that's why you would be searching, but can you tell us in that region, how many, roughly, cave complexes you would like to search, that you haven't searched, and what kind of resistance maybe you're encountering there still?

FRANKS: I don't know that I would say cave complexes, another 100 or another 200, so I can't really give you a number.

I can tell you that, historically -- and sort of an informative point -- historically, the eastern part of Afghanistan, that you described, has been a place where foreigners have aggregated. I mean, this goes back a long, time. If you look at recent history you'll find some horrific battles during the Soviet work in Afghanistan, over that 10-year period of time, in that same area in Shah-e-kot and to the east over toward Khost.

And so, a great many caves, tunnels and that sort of the thing were built in the Soviet era. In fact, I suspect some were probably built before then, and we may well find some that have been worked over since the Soviet occupation, which ended 10 or so years ago. That's one reason that we pay special attention to the eastern site.

Another reason that we pay special attention to the eastern site is because the terrain in there is terribly inhospitable. And so it's possible, or at least the enemy thought it was possible, to put reasonably large groupings of troops in that area around Shah-e-kot, Operation Anaconda area.

Well, there are similarly difficult areas in the east of Afghanistan, along that border, which as we've said for a long time, to Pakistan, is porous. I mean, there are hundreds of places for people to cross along there.

And so, rather than trying to describe the number of caves, tunnels and so forth, we just sort of place that in the whole mosaic of Afghanistan. We work our intelligence, and then when we receive historical indicators or other sorts of indicators, then we go confirm or deny. And that's why I think it's hard to say, well, three months, six months or whatever, because we react to what we see.

Back to the Pentagon, please.

QUESTION: Given what you said earlier about the threat from groups bringing together weapons in Afghanistan, I'm wondering how you view the capability of local Afghan forces there to deal with security issues in the country?

And related to that, if you had your druthers sir, would you like to see the International Security Assistance Force able to extend its operations outside Kabul?

FRANKS: The -- let me take the second part first. The ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, is performing an invaluable service inside Kabul.

When one talks about the expansion of that force into other areas, I think we have to be careful that we sort of have terms of reference that go like this: ISAF inside Kabul is perceived to provide a certain degree of security.

If someone were to say, "General Franks, do you support having similar levels of security to what we see in Kabul expanded elsewhere inside Afghanistan?" I think we would all say we would like to see security expanded around Afghanistan. That does not necessarily mean that we would need to expand the number of troops, that we need to go back to the world at large and create some thousands large force that we then place in Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat and so forth. And so actually, I don't think it is necessary at this point to expand the International Security Assistance Force, but I will say that I think the relationships that we have, our task force, Operation Enduring Freedom, with the various militias -- some call them warlords -- in areas in Afghanistan -- those relationships need to be maintained, because what they do is they give us situational awareness and they permit us to leverage the forces that currently exist in Afghanistan in the pursuit of Al Qaeda. And so we want to continue that kind of work.

The relationships that we have inside Afghanistan with these various militias or pockets that exist are good relationships.

FRANKS: We work on those relationships everyday.

Now, the trick for us in the future will be how to take from this tribal or ethnically-based militias, and bring forces to form a national army, so that one gains a sense of national pride and so that the authorities in Afghanistan have military capability to do a variety of things.

One is to provide for the security of an administration in Kabul. But an equally important one may well be to provide security along borders, because, to be sure, we face this smuggling issue, and the narcotics issue and so forth. Afghans have placed this for a long time.

And so we like our relationships, but we believe that the building of a national army and the creation of a force that can better handle borders and so forth is in the interest of the country.

LIN: All right. No major headlines out of the Central Command briefing there with General Tommy Franks so far. He commented on a wide range of issues, including the option to expand or contract the number of U.S. troops over in Afghanistan, and also acknowledging that he has heard that there is a bounty out for dead American troops in one part of the region of Afghanistan, some leaflets found offering up to $50,000 for the death of an American soldier. He said it just only goes to show that Afghanistan is a dangerous place in which to operate, obviously.

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