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CNN Live Event/Special
General Tommy Franks Holds Briefing
Aired December 14, 2001 - 16:01 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.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Let's find out from General Franks what the very latest is.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Well, it's been a productive week. It started on Sunday when the Bucs won their game. I guess we get another chance this weekend with the Bears.
Well, our opposition forces, in fact, have moved into Kandahar. Currently, United States Marines occupy the Kandahar airport in Afghanistan. The Friendship Bridge has been opened up in Termiz, and so the land bridge now is functioning from Uzbekistan down to Mazar-e Sharif, which is good for the flow of humanitarian assistance products.
Additionally, routes are open now through the Khyber Pass, as well as down in Quetta, which gives us additional capability to move humanitarian supplies. I think as of this morning we had moved about 25,000 tons of humanitarian supplies into Afghanistan so far this month.
And we still see pockets of Taliban in several places inside Afghanistan: out in the vicinity of Shindon (ph); also in the vicinity of Kandahar. In fact, we suspect that there are some pockets of resistance in and around Kandahar itself. Also, northwest of Kandahar, up in Helmand province, we believe that there are some residual Taliban elements.
As all of you know, our opposition forces are in the midst of a pitched battle, a pitched fight in the Tora Bora vicinity, south of Jalalabad. Steady progress up to this point, steady progress. Very dangerous work. And we have a lot left to do.
I think at this time I'll ask Air Marshal Jock Stirrup to join me again from United Kingdom, and we'd be pleased to take your questions.
QUESTION: I guess the big question still is, where is Mr. bin Laden? There's been a lot of speculation that the intensity of the fighting in Tora Bora means he must be there. What's your view of that, sir? And I have a follow-up.
FRANKS: OK. The follow-up will be fine. I'll give you a short answer to your first question, and I'll use the words that my secretary uses, because I think they're great, where he says, are you familiar with the chicken in the barnyard?
The fact is that we don't know what we don't know. The suspicion is that we have a group of Al Qaeda forces in the vicinity of Tora Bora. That's where we see this major fight. One receives all sorts of information indicating, perhaps, UBL remains in the Tora Bora area, perhaps, in Pakistan.
We don't know what we don't know, but the focus of our effort right now is this pitch battle in the vicinity of Tora Bora.
Your second question?
QUESTION: What was your reaction, personally, sir, to the videotape? What were your thoughts of that?
FRANKS: I'll keep my thoughts on the tape to myself. I think what's much more important is the thoughts of the people of the free world, the thoughts of people around the world who were able to see the tape, and I'll let each of the them form their own opinion, sir.
QUESTION: Can you give us any idea your estimate of the number of forces you still face in the Tora Bora area? Is it dozens or hundreds or thousands?
FRANKS: It's very difficult. And I won't try to dodge your question. It's very difficult in that kind of terrain to know exactly how many enemy forces we are facing. The estimates -- I'll tell you candidly -- the estimates that I've seen have ranged from 300 up to 1,000, and it could be more and it might be less. But I've seen that range, and it seems to me, to be as good as good as any as an estimate.
QUESTION: First of all, General, can you clarify that you just referred to Osama bin Laden, UBL, as perhaps being in Tora Bora or Pakistan? Is that what you said? Can I be clear on that first point? And I have a follow-up.
FRANKS: Osama bin Laden, my point was that we receive a great many reports. I think that it's well-reported by media in the area of Tora Bora that one will hear suggestions that bin Laden may remain in Afghanistan, possibly in the Tora Bora area.
Also widely reported is the possibility or speculation that bin Laden may have, in fact, moved to Pakistan. That's what I was referring to, and at this point, we simply don't know where he is.
QUESTION: Sir, if I could simply follow-up here, are you saying that the evidence that Osama bin Laden is in the Tora Bora area is based on either sightings or communication from bin Laden? Are you saying it's based on the lack of evidence that he is anywhere else? And are you suggesting the possibility that he has left the country?
FRANKS: Well, I wouldn't suggest the probability, I guess I'd say that he has left the country. Certainly it's a possibility that bin Laden has left the country.
It's -- I think we've said all along that there are many, many crossing points, and it is true that our efforts to get at the Al Qaeda network there and this group of Al Qaeda people in the vicinity of Tora Bora are being much assisted by the Pakistanis.
What would cause one to say either he is in the Tora Bora are vicinity of Jalalabad or he has left? And obviously we use all sort of technical means to gain insights into where he may be. We also listen to what these opposition leaders on the ground have to say, because they each have their own intelligence capability. And so when one looks at all these sources, then what happens is you see all sorts of conflicting information, and I think that's why we always say you just don't know what you don't know, and so it's probably not a good idea to say with some certainty where he is. But we know where our current fight is, and that's in the Tora Bora area.
QUESTION: Operating on the assumption, your hope, that he, in fact, is in the Tora Bora area and that perhaps may be captured, do you have a plan in place, and can you share the plan with us, to some degree, what you would do if, in fact, you captured him -- how you would remove him, what you would do with him?
FRANKS: Yes, we certainly do have a plan in place for either the capture of bin Laden or the capture of any of the other people which you have seen on our list of what we call the top 20 or the top 40 Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership personalities.
Yes, we do have a plan in place for what we'll do if they come into our possession, and no, I wouldn't describe it to you.
Did you have a follow-up?
QUESTION: Well, I do, but you're not going to answer it, so...
FRANKS: Oh, come on, sir, go ahead, give me a try.
QUESTION: Well, in a general sense, in a general sense, would he be removed to a U.S. ship? That kind of thing. Can you give us any, sort of, general sense of what you would do under the circumstance of Osama bin Laden or somebody of that caliber?
FRANKS: And that is a fair question. We have the possibility, obviously, to keep detainees inside Afghanistan at one of several locations. I think we've said all along that Mr. Walker has been detained down at Rhino, so we obviously have the capability to detain at the Rhino location. We have the capability to detain at the Kandahar airport, certainly also. And we have the capability, or the ability to move to a holding position offshore on one of our ships.
And I won't tell you which one of those courses we might take, depending on the personality. But in each case, the people that we come across will be held in one of those places. QUESTION: General, you say you don't know what you don't know, but could you describe the process of eliminating areas that -- how do you consolidate what you do know and go through a process of eliminating areas that he might not be?
And what will be the satisfaction, to your extent, that you have found either bin Laden or his chief lieutenants?
FRANKS: OK. That's a good question. Let me ask you to pull the map up here, and let me walk over to the map just a second.
I think most of us are familiar with Afghanistan and so I won't make a big thing of it, but let me talk to you about how we get a sense of where the pockets are and then how we go about clearing or looking into the pockets.
As you know, when we started this exercise, the whole of Afghanistan was essentially under Taliban control and then you all know, and so I won't belabor it, about the fall of Mazar-e Sharif, up here in the north, and then Kunduz, and then over here, Taloqan, in fact, actually from east to west toward Kunduz. And so then this started to collapse and along with it the area started to collapse, then we got over here in Herat, the same thing, then Herat down toward Shindon (ph), and then very recently up here toward Kandahar, then down to Spin Boldak.
And what happens when you do that, we have our special forces people with these opposition leaders in each one of these areas that I talked about, and so what happens is, that various tribal leaders and organizations will begin to join the opposition leader as one of these areas becomes taken. So what happens is, that our people on the ground then get visibility into the activities, or we gain situational awareness of areas, sort of, in concentric circles of ever-increasing diameter.
So when we -- like in the case right now -- we know what we know about Kandahar, but until we get a sense through the opposition leaders, Karzai and Scherzi (ph), who are in the city of Kandahar, we won't know whether they believe that the tribal leaders out around Gamabark (ph), Kolot (ph), and so forth, have become very, very cooperative.
And so it begins like this, and then it continues to grow. And our people on the ground, in conjunction with these opposition leaders, simply go out and look. And that's where our situational awareness comes from.
QUESTION: Sir, if I could just follow up on that?
QUESTION: Obviously, if you're talking about forces jumping sides and there are Taliban forces that are on the ground who may be blending into the general population, when you're talking about getting one person or 50 people, that could be a very narrow search. So are you doing a house-to-house search with your special ops? FRANKS: I will say, in some cases there have been house-to-house searches, and in some of the cases where there have been house-to- house searches we have had some of our special forces people, along with guides from these opposition leaders as they have gone through not just house to house, but building to building, and we go out of our way to deliberately go to known and suspected Al Qaeda hideouts and safe houses and sites to go through all of the materials and to do a thorough search for documents and so forth in each one of these areas. And so, yes, when we do that, that does involve our people, yes.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask, Jane's Defense is reporting that 3rd Army headquarters from Fort McPherson, Georgia, has deployed to Kuwait.
QUESTION: How does that play into your ongoing operations?
FRANKS: Good question. Quick answer: A unified command like Central Command essentially has its own Army element, its own Air Force element, it's own Marine element, its own special operations component, its own naval element. In our area of responsibility, our land commander or our Army component commander, is headquartered in peacetime in Atlanta, Georgia, and that's 3rd Army, that's ARCENT. And so as we have a larger and larger force involved over in our area, it becomes necessary to have our command elements positioned forward. And so our command element for our Army forces over in the region, commanded by ARCENT, demands that we bring our headquarters forwards, and so that's what happened.
And that unit traditionally headquarters in Kuwait, and so it's really not an unnatural thing. Our naval component command is over in the area, our air component command is in the area, our special ops component and so forth. And so this was just a normal evolution of command and control.
QUESTION: General, I wanted to ask a question about the circumstances of the Marines who were -- the special forces who were injured earlier today in eastern Afghanistan. Could you give the details of that, what they were doing, how they were injured, and give a little bit more on what the special forces are doing there in terms of being engaged in combat. And I would like a follow-up.
FRANKS: I will say at this point, I do not believe that we have had any American men or women in uniform injured to date. And so that is -- that's my current belief. At the same time, I'll not put out of question the possibility that we may have people injured, because as I said the business around Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan is a very dangerous business. So my reporting right now says that we have not had any American soldiers injured today, but I don't discount the possibility at this point.
Your second question?
QUESTION: Yes. It was about the Marines in the airport at Kandahar. They apparently were trying to secure the airport, but I understand there were some, sort of, problem there. Can you explain what the latest is in securing that airport and making certain that planes can get in and out?
FRANKS: We went into Kandahar in -- essentially in two echelons. Last evening, we marched a Marine element through Kandahar and out onto the airport for the purpose of securing the airport to make arrangements to reopen it, so we can use the airport both for staging for our combat operations ongoing, and certainly also to have a hub for humanitarian assistance as we continue to open that into the interior parts of Afghanistan.
Then the second element of that Marine force closed at a little bit later time, and it just very simply joined the first serial or the first force that moved into Kandahar airport.
Now, those Marines are being very, very careful because we want to be sure that Kandahar is secure, we want to be sure that we, in fact, are tied in with these opposition leaders -- Mr. Karzai, Mr. Scherzi (ph) -- as we continue to try to open that airport.
And so, that's probably the most up-to-date information I could give you on Kandahar and the Marines.
QUESTION: Can you help us with a description of the tactical situation in Tora Bora? Would you describe whoever or whatever is in the end of that valley as being, in essence, surrounded, and describe the intensity of the combat that you see there?
And I do have a follow-up, sir.
Let me see that map up again, please.
I'm not sure how well it will show up on this scale map, but I'll give a shot to what you're describing.
This is the city of Jalalabad, and this area right down here is the area that we call Tora Bora. In Tora Bora there are two principal valleys: There is the Agom (ph) Valley, and there is the Waziri Valley. And both of those valleys generally run north and south, along a line from Jalalabad to the point where these valleys hit a ridge line, and when you go over the ridge line, you're inside Pakistan. The browner part of this map here is Pakistan.
Now, as you go into these two valleys, you will find that, obviously, along the Pakistani side, the Pakistani forces are providing assistance to this effort. And so, in the south, we see Pakistani forces on these old valleys, on these approaches that can leave Afghanistan and move into Pakistan.
Then, when you come out of the Jalalabad area, we have opposition commanders who, in fact, are moving from north to south, and it, sort of, becomes a hammer and an anvil. Now, the forces that are involved in this activity are also over on the western side and also over on the eastern side, and so when one says that this Al Qaeda pocket appears to be, I don't know, surrounded probably is not a terribly good word -- but the view of the opposition leaders on the ground is that this Al Qaeda force is contained in that area that I described.
Does that mean that this cordon is not porous and that no one can escape? No, it certainly does not mean that, because this is really rough, mountainous country. But it does mean that the view of those on the ground is that there is containment of this Al Qaeda force in the two valleys that I named.
Your follow-up please?
QUESTION: Have you taken any Al Qaeda alive in this combat situation, number one? And number two, you allegedly pulled out some tapes and documents from some of the caves that you have been into. Can you address both of those?
FRANKS: Yes, sir. We have taken Al Qaeda prisoners in this fight, and yes, we have removed documents and other sort of evidentiary matters from this complex that I described on the map. Answer to both is yes.
QUESTION: General, have you any interesting tapes in addition to the one that has been released?
FRANKS: We have taken, as I said, a bunch of evidence out of these safe houses and so forth, and to be absolutely honest with you, I don't know whether we have additional VHS tapes and so forth. I know we have taken a lot of documents. We have an awful lot of information that we're going to have to sift through, and it's probably going to take us quite a while to sift through it.
But the direct answer is, I don't know if we have any more tapes.
QUESTION: Did the documents tell you anything new that you didn't know before, or can you describe what the documents contain?
FRANKS: Any time one takes from the battlefield documents out of places where the enemy has been before, there are always interesting, and obviously there will be information contained in those documents. In terms of whether that information relates to past activities of Al Qaeda or whether it relates simply to the disposition of Al Qaeda forces inside Afghanistan, I really wouldn't want to comment at this point.
QUESTION: General, the prisoners -- the Al Qaeda prisoners you mentioned, are they in U.S. custody, or are they soon going to be in U.S. custody either at Rhino, somewhere else in Afghanistan or on a ship?
And can you tell us what the battle damage is from the ongoing fight in the valleys there, and how many bodies are you counting after the bombing raids? FRANKS: Actually and truthfully, I learned a valuable lesson many, many years ago in Vietnam, and that is that our formations really don't count bodies, and even if I had a sense, I don't think I would give it to you. I will say that a lot of people have lost their lives in these valleys in this Al Qaeda pocket.
In terms of the prisoners that I described, we have not yet taken any of these prisoners from the opposition leaders, and when we do take prisoners from them, or detainees from them, we'll either keep them inside Afghanistan as a I said earlier or we'll talk them to sea for interrogation and exploitation.
QUESTION: What can you tell us about the transfer of John Walker to the Peleliu today, why was that done, when he might be returned back to the United States?
FRANKS: I can't tell you when he may be turned back to the United States. I will tell you, in fact, we did remove him from Afghanistan today, and he is currently on a ship at sea -- as you said, the Peleliu.
We'll continue to control him on the Peleliu until a determination is made regarding whether we handle him within the military community or whether he is handled on the civilian side, and that determination has not yet been made. But he is on the Peleliu, safe and being well-cared for.
QUESTION: The fact that you've not found bin Laden or 20 to 40 of his top lieutenants, does that suggest that they're all holed up somewhere together or that they've all scattered in different directions, or is there anyway to tell?
FRANKS: Many chickens in the barnyard. No, we really don't know.
I suspect, and this is -- I shouldn't speculate, but on this point, I will. I suspect that there will be some of the together in maybe twos and threes, and there will be some of them who remain alone. We suspect that over the course of this fight we probably have killed some people on this list and we simply don't know it. And that's the reason that we stay away from numbers, and I think that's the reason that we have all not talked about specific personalities who may have been killed up to this point.
And so that's probably the best answer that I can give you: We suspect some of them are gone, and we just don't know.
QUESTION: General, basically, when fighting decreases in the country, what are plans for an occupying force?
FRANKS: I'm sorry, I didn't hear you.
QUESTION: Are there plans for any kind of American occupying force in Afghanistan?
FRANKS: No. We will not have an American occupying force in Afghanistan.
We started this in Operation Enduring Freedom based on several principles. And the first of those of principals was that we would destroy the terrorist network inside Afghanistan, and that we would take out this illegitimate government of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and that we would do our very best to provide humanitarian assistance to people in that country who have not been treated very well for a long, long time.
We have never believed that we would remain inside Afghanistan, and to this day, I will tell you the same thing: We will not remain in Afghanistan, although I suspect we will remain engaged -- we, our country, will remain engaged with the people in Afghanistan to try to help them have a better lot.
But no, military forces from the United States are not going to be an occupying force in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Any idea when the fighting in the Tora Bora area may be completed? Are you close to ending that there?
FRANKS: I honestly don't know. I know that we're making progress there. These opposition groups and our people are making progress.
But if you look at a detailed map of this terrain, what you find is that, rather than being terribly horizontal, the terrain gets to be rather vertical. And so, while we may be moving -- or while these forces may be moving only one or two kilometers in a given day, that is a substantial distance based on how much they're moving up or down while they're doing that.
And so, it is very difficult for us to say when we'll finish the work in this. This is a reasonable large area, and it has been developed over time as a substantial cave and tunnel fortress-style complex. And so it's going to take us a while to get through.
QUESTION: Any progress being made in the western part of the country in the search for Mullah Omar?
And are your forces at all involved in looking for this mysterious sheik who appeared with bin Laden on the videotape? And is that person believed to be still in Afghanistan?
FRANKS: Did you ask the secretary that question yesterday about that sheik on the tape? I read something in the transcript. And to tell you the truth, I saw him the first time on that tape, and I truly don't know who he is. And I don't know whether he's named in the list of Al Qaeda that we're looking for at this point or not. I mean I just honestly don't know.
With respect to Omar, if you think about the point I made a minute ago that said the way we go about looking for Taliban or for Al Qaeda is geographically to secure an area, in this case Kandahar, which is where we have the last reasonable confirmation that we knew where he was, and then we work in concentric circles through contacts with the leaders in the region or in a given area to go to places that may give us leads as to where he is, and right now we simply don't have a good lead. The last we had was that he was in the Kandahar region, and I think I'd leave it at that.
We're simply looking for him, and we're going to keep looking for him as long as it takes.
QUESTION: You were kind enough to detail where opposition forces are around the Tora Bora area and where U.S. forces are around the Tora Bora area. Would you be kind enough to help detail for us some of the makeup of those forces: what kind of equipment they're using currently, what kind of bombs they're dropping, you know, are we using daisy-cutters today, what kind of planes we're flying in that area?
FRANKS: In Tora Bora, we're using -- first, the opposition group on the ground is armed with the same kinds of weapons that the opposition groups have been armed with throughout the course of this fight in Afghanistan: Kalashnikov rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, some tanks and so forth. So that's how the opposition groups are armed.
Our special forces people are armed with small arms, and they provide the ability to leverage an awful lot of air power in the area. We are dropping earth-penetrating bombs. We call them JDAMs. We're dropping laser-guided bombs. This operation, in terms of that air power, has been consistent, since we first started this operation. And so those are the types of weapons.
We have dropped what we call Blue-82, B-L-U-E-8-2. That is what you called a daisy-cutter, and so we have also had that 15,000-pound munition in this fight.
QUESTION: General, there is a report on Al Jazeera today that you were using napalm at Tora Bora. Can you comment on that, sir?
FRANKS: Right. We're not using the old napalm in Tora Bora.
QUESTION: Is there any sense how long the Al Qaeda munitions will hold out? I mean, is there any idea how long they can keep fighting with the rifles and the grenades that they have?
FRANKS: Not long enough.
QUESTION: A month, a week?
FRANKS: I don't know how much ammunition they have in there, but my first comment really was an honest one. We can wait longer than they can and will maintain pressure on this pocket of Al Qaeda until they are ours.
QUESTION: General Franks, you mentioned that the opposition forces had taken some Al Qaeda prisoners. How senior are these prisoners, who are they? And also, anything about -- you said earlier that no U.S. soldiers were injured, but were there other coalition forces injured this morning? FRANKS: There have been, I believe, other coalition forces injured. And, of course, there are Americans on this battlefield, as we know, because of some excellent reporters and so forth up there.
And so I wanted to be careful to say, I'm not sure that we didn't have any Americans hurt in this. It's just that my reporting has not indicated that we had any American troops hurt up there.
And I'm sorry, I missed the first part of your question; say it again.
QUESTION: It was about the Al Qaeda prisoners in opposition force custody. Can you tell us who they are and how senior they are?
FRANKS: Actually I can't right now because as we speak, it's the middle of the night over there, and it will take until tomorrow for the opposition leaders who have these prisoners to get them rounded up so that we can get a look at them and see who they are. So right now I really don't know.
QUESTION: General, with the situation yesterday in India, is there any suspicion that bin Laden might have fled to the Kashmir region?
FRANKS: There are -- the best direct answer is I have read reports, and I'm sure you have to, that we have bin Laden in a variety of countries in the region. I've read reports that speculated that perhaps bin Laden had moved to the Kashmir region. I mentioned Pakistan a minute ago, and then the view of people on the ground that he remains in Tora Bora. And so the honest answer is really don't know.
Now, if you me ask to speculate whether or not he may have been behind something in the situation a day or so ago with India, the only thing I can say about that is that I have not read anything that would lead me to believe that at this point. I would -- I mean, it's certainly is possible, but I have not read anything that would lead me to believe it at this point.
QUESTION: General, there's been some speculation that you might spend the holidays in the AOR. I know we don't talk about your movements, but I know what might be in your heart, sir. Any comment about that possibility?
FRANKS: I'm hopeful that I'll have an opportunity to spend Christians with the troops.
QUESTION: Yes, General Franks, we wanted to just clarify first, and I have a question of my own, if the Al Qaeda work captured just today specifically.
FRANKS: Yes, captured today, right.
QUESTION: And also, when do you expect a multinational peacekeeping force to arrive in Afghanistan? And what do you foresee as their role? And how does the U.S. liaise with them in that mission?
FRANKS: As you know, the inauguration of the interim government in Afghanistan is slated for the 22nd of the month here, in a week or so.
The expectation is that this international security force would be in the region of Kabul as quickly as it can settle itself -- determine the lead nation, determine who all the participants in that activity will be. And then I would expect, sometime certainly before the end of the month, that that force would begin to move in to provide for a secure environment inside Kabul.
The relationship that we have suggested with that force is that it should be in some form of command arrangement with our coalition force that we have headquartered here in Tampa to be sure that we don't ever get a conflict between the objectives of these organizations: one for security, the other for the destruction of Al Qaeda. So that's the suggestion that we've made.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) captured Al Qaeda, will they -- what's, sort of, the long-term plan for them? How will they be questioned, debriefed? Where will they be detained?
FRANKS: Well, they can be detained right inside Afghanistan. We can have access to them. Leave them, for example -- we could leave them under opposition group control. We could access them and interrogate them. Or we could take them and shelter them and control them ourselves in one of -- in a place like Kandahar airfield or out at Camp Rhino, or we could take them out to sea and interrogate them out there.
Now, exactly which of those three alternatives we'll use will depend on our immediate assessment of them when we do what we call screening. We'll screen each one of these detainees and determine which ones are interesting to us, and then we'll do a variety of things with them, depending on how interesting we find them.
QUESTION: At some point, would any of them be released?
FRANKS: It is possible. I mean, I wouldn't foreclose it. I just don't know. They certainly won't be released until we have an opportunity to talk to them.
QUESTION: General, are there any additional security concerns with the end of Ramadan?
FRANKS: I don't know that I would say security concerns related directly to the end of Ramadan and to the several days of Eid ul-Fitr which will be immediately following Ramadan. But certainly we watch very carefully over in this region what the security environment and the security situation is all the time, and so we're doing that now.
I have given some instructions to our people over in the region to adopt force protection conditions which relate to unspecific information, but it just seems prudent to me to take force protection measures that are related both to the ending of Ramadan, as well as to the various nonspecific indicators that we see, which I think are being reported daily here even in our own country.
So we're very, very attentive to that.
QUESTION: General, if I may, for the air marshal.
We understand, of course, the U.K. is going to lead this peacekeeping force is what reports say. Do you have any comment about that? And can you give us some sense of when you may be ready, when you may be able to go ahead?
STIRRUP: Well, what the U.K. has said is that it's prepared in principle to lead initially the interim security assistance force for Kabul. There was a coordination conference, which was hosted in London today, and I know that went extremely well, and potential participating nations attended that. And now a number of people are going to head out to Kabul to do the reconnaissance on the ground, to talk to the people out there and report back on their findings. But there are a lot of details to be sorted out with this interim security assistance force, and it's important that we get it right.
STEWART: It's important that we get everything agreed between all of those that are going to participate in it and, of course, that we get agreement of all of those in Afghanistan, because this is there to assist them to help themselves, and it's only going to be there for a limited period.
So until we get those details sorted out, we can't really say whether or not the United Kingdom will lead it, who will be part of it, and when it will be in place. But as the commander in chief has said, the intent, certainly, in accordance with the appendix to the Bonn agreement, is to get it out there and to get it assisting the Afghans as soon as possible so that it can help the interim authority do its job.
FRANKS: And let me mention also one of the great benefits of having these coalition members here at MacDill Air Force Base. Since I have the chance every day to work with Jock and since his cell has a chance every day to work with me and work with our staff, it goes a long ways into keeping us welded as we move through this, whether it's a security assistance force or whether it's the Enduring Freedom force that we headquarter out here.
In fact, when Jock made his comment, it reminded me that for this meeting that took place today or is taking place today in London, we had a cell led by one of our flag officers from here go over and they're attending that meeting. And so the coordination and the liaison from beginning to end of this operation has been quite powerful. The cooperation truly is terrific.
QUESTION: Has John Walker Lindh's legal status changed at all now that he's on sovereign U.S. territory aboard a ship? For instance, is the U.S. military now affording him some sort of legal counsel?
FRANKS: His status right now is he remains a detainee. He is being treated the same way that we would treat an enemy prisoner, because -- that does not mean he is an enemy prisoner, but that does guarantee him treatment that is equal to the Geneva Convention. It provides him medical care and so forth.
But, no, he has not yet -- his status has not yet been determined. When it is determined then, as I said, he can remain within the military jurisdiction by law, he can be passed over to the civilian side, and the attorney general, the FBI and so forth, and that determination simply has not been made yet.
QUESTION: Is John Walker providing any valuable information? If so, can you share?
And do you have any idea what's happening inside Tora Bora as far as the food supply, water supply -- you talked about the weapons supply -- how long they might be able to put up with the pressure?
FRANKS: I really wouldn't want to say what Mr. Walker has provided. I've read an awful lot of speculation, and I know you have too, about information that they may have provided. And so, given his current status, I really wouldn't want to comment on what we have gained from Mr. Walker.
The second part of the question with respect to Tora Bora, the water, food and so forth, they don't have enough. They don't have enough. They are not able to bring in ammunition or food or water, and that is what has given these opposition leaders in the area to believe that they have the area -- I won't say secured, because it certainly isn't -- but it leads them to believe that they have the area controlled. And so shortages of water, shortages of food and shortages of ammunition.
QUESTION: Can you take one more try at painting a picture of the battle in those valleys? You have the opposition leaders heading south. Are the Al Qaeda defenders pulling back from cave to cave? Are they on the ridge, are they in the valley? And are U.S. forces on the ground directly engaged in the fight?
FRANKS: The answer to every question is yes. They are in the valley. They are on the ridges. They are in caves. They are, in fact, moving back, back being to the south. And, yes, we do have members of this coalition on the ground with these opposition leaders up on the front lines involved in that fight. So, yes.
QUESTION: Can you describe a bit more about the end plan, if you will? Because you've described closing in on these forces and closing in on the pockets of resistance there, presumably you will inevitably do that. But if you're having difficulty identifying the one person on the videotape and other Taliban leaders or Al Qaeda leaders, then can you describe what happens after you have won the ground war, if you will, in Afghanistan and where you go from here? Because certainly you have a committed zealot force against you and they can go into other areas to resume what they were doing inside of Afghanistan. What do you do after you close out operations in Afghanistan?
FRANKS: I have to say, that this going to take some time, and I don't know how much time. It's going to take months, for example, and I don't know if that's one or five or, you know, 20, but it's going to take months to go through the detainees that we have, to assure ourselves that, in fact, we have done what our president asked us to do and what the world asked this coalition to do, and that is to destroy this network inside Afghanistan.
So we're not in a hurry to do that. We want to work very methodically through the documents, through the evidence, through the people to be sure that we have done what it is that we set out to do.
And that's one of the benefits of the strategic patience, which I see every day -- the strategic patience, which I see every day that says this will take as long as it takes.
I just keep reminding everyone that this is not likely to end tomorrow. If we rush this, then it would be the same as had we rushed this to begin with, we would have hurt too many of the wrong people, we would not have gotten our job done, we would not have been responsive to what Enduring Freedom is all about, and so patience and calm. And this is a tough part of the work right now, because it's very personal when we're involved with these people, one at a time, to be sure that we have all of the ones that we want.
So we're going to stay with that. The resolve remains. And we'll be there for sometime.
QUESTION: Sir, just to follow up...
QUESTION: ... how do you know it's over?
FRANKS: That's a very difficult question. I think each day we assess where we think we are in terms of having destroyed Al Qaeda inside Afghanistan.
One thing we know for sure is, as long as we have pockets of Taliban resisting, or pockets of Al Qaeda resisting, or organized force of any kind that looks like remnants of this terrorist network, then it won't be over.
Now on the positive side, one can think through all sorts of scenarios: the capture of someone, or the death of someone, or the capture of five or 10 or 20. I don't think we would at this point want to try to say, "If numbers one, three, 11, 23 and 27 are either killed or captured, that's enough." I don't think we would want to do that.
I think what we want to do is very methodically get the leadership, go through the documentation and satisfy ourself that there is no...
(INTERRUPTED IN PROGRESS)
WOODRUFF: Looks as if we've lost the signal there from Florida. General Tommy Franks briefing reporters both there and at the Pentagon. If we are able to get that back, we will go right back.
But I will just recap some -- I'm told that it has just ended, and so we are losing the signal just at the right time. A very quick point on the highlights: They still believe Osama bin Laden is inside Afghanistan. They are still focusing on the area in the east called Tora Bora. We got a good description from the general of how they believe they've confined it to the valleys and the mountains in the area around Tora Bora.
He did reveal that they have taken prisoners, some al Qaeda fighters. And they said there -- as well, he said, there are a number who have been killed. But he says we don't have any sense of the numbers. And, again, his description of al Qaeda and perhaps Osama bin Laden, he said it's not exactly correct to say we have them surrounded, but he said they are contained. "We believe it is difficult for them to leave," although he said, "it is very difficult terrain, it is possible that some could have escaped.
And the other piece of news out of here is that the American fighter with the Taliban, John Walker Lindh, the man you have been hearing about for the last few weeks, has now been moved from the southern part of Afghanistan to a U.S. ship, the USS Peleliu, offshore. And, according to General Franks, he is -- "we control him. He is he safe and is he well cared for."
Those are some of the highlights from that briefing from General Franks.
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