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CNN Live Event/Special

Pentagon Briefing

Aired January 02, 2002 - 11:59   ET


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go that Pentagon Briefing.

VICTORIA CLARKE, DEFENSE DEPT. SPOKESPERSON: ... when it won't do any harm to a future operation.

But, in general, we're not going to get into operational details. We're not going to get into, as many people wanted to over the last couple of days, waving people on and off various aspects of stories. If you do that, we can very quickly get ourselves to a place where we've painted a very clear picture about what an operation might be, a current one or an upcoming one.

So, in general, we're going to try hard not to do that. But we are going to try to give you as much information as we can.

QUESTION: But, Torie, Central Command yesterday morning was talking about an operation as it was in progress, and that seemed to only be 12 to 14 hours after Admiral Quigley said that there is no operation of any kind. Was Admiral Quigley just misinformed, was he lied to? And how do you explain all of that?

CLARKE: You know, I don't think it's particularly useful to go over everything over the last couple days. As I said...


CLARKE: As I said...

QUESTION: And I don't think it was on the part of the journalists that made it that confusing.

CLARKE: I didn't say that. I said it's been confusing, and I'm just trying to reassert and reestablish what our general policy will be.

QUESTION: Did the United States military spokesman lie?

CLARKE: Oh, absolutely not.


CLARKE: Absolutely not.

Let me go on to a couple of other things. CLARKE: We always try to remind people about this unconventional war is about more than things military, and it continues to be fought on several different fronts.

On Monday, Secretary Powell, in consultation with the secretary of the treasury and the attorney general, designated six additional groups linked to terrorist activities whose assets will be frozen.

The groups were identified last week by the Council of the European Union, and this morning, Moussaoui's being arraigned in Alexandria. He's the first person charged as an accomplice in the attacks on September 13th. And I point these out just to underscore again, this war is not just military. It's economic. It's diplomatic. It will continue to be fought and prosecuted on several fronts.

And then one more thing before I turn it over to the admiral. Some good news on the humanitarian front -- you may have seen some reports of this. But in December alone, the people of Afghanistan received more than 114,000 tons of food. And today, in Kabul, they're beginning a three-month campaign to provide vaccinations to the children in Afghanistan that aims to reach 9 million children.

So it is a multi-faceted effort that we are continuing on many different fronts.


ADMIRAL JOHN STUFFLEBEEM, DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, JOINT STAFF: Well, good afternoon everyone. I'd also like to add, Happy New Year to you, as well.

Let me very briefly just catch you up on a little bit of what's been going on with operations, and as you have seen, it's been relatively quiet.

We're continuing to fly missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Most of these missions are on call for close air support such they be needed.

The last strike that was conducted was on Friday, the 28th, and this was in the vicinity of Gardez. We hit a compound where pro- Taliban forces were at.

To clear up one possible point of confusion, this strike on Friday on a pro-Taliban compound is not the same that was reported two days prior, on Wednesday, the 26th. That was south of Gardez; this was north of Gardez. They both were military compounds, good intelligence on that.

We've also developed detention facilities to accommodate more detainees that have been turned over to the coalition. We're currently holding approximately 221. Two hundred of those are in Kandahar; eight of those are now on USS Bataan; 12 at Bagram; and one in Mazar-i-Sharif. In the coming, days you'll see some increased activity around the Kandahar airport as several elements of the 101st Airborne begin arriving and turning over responsibilities from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and they'll begin to backhaul on board USS Peleliu for further operations. But in keeping with our policy of not getting into operational specifics, we won't provide any more details other than that.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Admiral, other than the U.S. Marines north of Kandahar looking for information and intelligence on the whereabouts of Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders, are U.S. Special Operations forces participating directly in searches for bin Laden and Omar?

STUFFLEBEEM: The most accurate answer is, special operating forces are involved in the search for Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership. When you ask are they doing it directly, I infer that you're asking are they doing that solely on their own.

QUESTION: Or taking part.

STUFFLEBEEM: And they are with anti-Taliban forces that are searching for this leadership.

So that in that regard, they are on the hunt. To say that we have U.S. forces that are specifically deploying and have a mission requirement of only going to look for these two individuals wouldn't be correct, though.

CLARKE: But it would be correct to underscore again one of our primary objectives is to get the Al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership and we'll use whatever resources -- in a very forward-leaning manner -- whatever resources it takes to get them, including special operation forces.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. military taken part in negotiations for the possible surrender of Omar?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, I don't know that there are ongoing negotiations specific to Omar. I am aware and have seen reports of Taliban forces that are negotiating with anti-Taliban forces, specifically with Mr. Karzai and his group for terms of surrender in the region northwest of Kandahar. But I think it's a leap of faith, if we believe that the data is on the benefit or on the behalf of Mullah Omar himself. These are Taliban forces that are looking to negotiate themselves out of a predicament with anti-Taliban forces.

QUESTION: Could you give us a little more detail at all about the special forces being on the hunt? Is this some new particular information you have and is this -- this has certainly been going on all along. Is there anything new here?

STUFFLEBEEM: No. Nothing newer than what you had been witnessing in Tora Bora, for instance. Special operating forces have been searching caves for evidence there and special operating forces whom are with anti-Taliban forces that are out or looking for leadership. So to say it's a new mission or a shift in the mission is not true. We will continue to look for leadership as we have been, so no particular change.

QUESTION: Could you also give us a little more detail about the Marines and the mission they undertook. Why 200 were needed? Why so many Marines were needed for this?

STUFFLEBEEM: I'll say only this way, just sort of in a generic sense, I don't know the specifics and the numbers of the Marines you're speaking of that may have been a point of confusion a couple of days ago. I will say that were -- now that at this operation that they particularly were looking at is over with. They were not on a hunt, per se, for Omar. They were out doing survey evaluations. So they are looking at locations and facilities where we had good evidence that there had been previously Al Qaeda and Taliban forces and they're collecting physical evidence.

And maybe another way to put it is that we're casting a relatively wide net to build intelligence.

Now, you asked specifically about the Marines, and so I'll go so far as to say in a generic sense, you have to look at doctrinally how do the Marines train. They're self-contained, and so when they go out to do a survey, evaluation, or a security operation, they take a relatively heavy force for perimeter security as well as securing the facility inside of that and then doing the work that they're there to do. That, doctrinally, is somewhat different than how other special operating forces train and do their business, which may be lighter and with fewer forces.

And so, I think that's a better explanation of what you saw there.


QUESTION: You pointed out that special operations troop are and have been participating, and that there's a search that is ongoing for Al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership. There's also the possibility that has been raised by government officials that Taliban and Al Qaeda leadership have switched to Pakistan. Are special operations troops of the United States participating in the searches in Pakistan?


QUESTION: They're not?

STUFFLEBEEM: Special operating forces are operating inside Afghanistan. So the forces that are supporting them from neighboring countries are there to support them, not conduct operations in those countries.

QUESTION: And, a follow up: The search that was conducted by the Marines, that you've just described, the search for evidence can be a very specialized search. Were they accompanied by civilian investigators, such as the FBI? STUFFLEBEEM: I don't know...

CLARKE: I don't know...

STUFFLEBEEM: I don't know who was with them, to be honest...

CLARKE: And we don't have much of a report back, in terms of what they found.

QUESTION: On the same topic, about what they found, could you bring us up-to-date on what's been found in the way of physical evidence in the Tora Bora searches, which have been going on for some time now? What have you come back with?

CLARKE: My sense is that it continues to be evaluated. Again, we have preliminary reports back.

I don't know if you've heard much different than that?

STUFFLEBEEM: Right, preliminary reports. And, just to give you a sense, they're collecting papers; they're taking photographs; they're looking in some cases at equipment.

QUESTION: How about bodies?

STUFFLEBEEM: I have not seen any reports that indicate they've either found or are looking specifically for bodies, so I don't know if that's happened or not. They're certainly looking for physical evidence, and, in some cases, you would call it forensic evidence, but I have not seen anything on bodies.

QUESTION: Admiral, if you could just clarify, you said that special ops are involved in searching for Al Qaeda-Taliban, but it was over the holiday that, I mean, the head of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, said there was this massive manhunt for Omar and that U.S. Marines were involved in that mission. Is he misspeaking?

CLARKE: We're here to speak for the Department of Defense. It's enough of a challenge. It just would not be right for us to get in and comment on everything the head of the interim government might be saying or not saying.

But we've been very clear what our intent is. We are working closely with, consulting closely with the interim government on those primary objectives. And we have a great deal of confidence that they, too, are focused on the same objectives.

I couldn't parse his sentences word for word, but we are going to use all of the resources necessary, including the Marines, in the appropriate functions to get the job done.

QUESTION: But CENTCOM says that these Marines were not involved directly in the search for Omar. Is that true?

CLARKE: You missed my remarks at the beginning.


QUESTION: There are officials and commanders in Afghanistan saying that they now believe that bin Laden may be with Omar somewhere in central Afghanistan. Do you have any information to corroborate that, to shoot that down? Anything on whether bin Laden might be now with Omar?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, I have seen those reports that you are referring to. As the secretary alluded to, I think last week, the reports are all over the map, and so there is not a preponderance of reports that would allow us to pinpoint a location, because if we had that, well, we'd have him.

So it's still widely varying as to what you hear and what it says. So we don't put any particular credence in it right now.

QUESTION: There have been assertions that rival commanders are using American bombing runs essentially to fight their own battles, and we have been told that sometimes we use intelligence provided by others, but can you describe to us what we use beyond that intelligence to verify the targets were hitting -- for instance, this convoy in Paktia Province, is what we believe it is -- can you describe the steps we take beyond what we may hear from other folks on the ground, friendly forces on the ground?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, I cannot answer this too specifically much further than to say that General Franks and particularly those forces in Afghanistan are confident in the target selection process or the target assignment process, since we're dealing with close air support for the most part.

To get into the more specifics gets into how we're collecting the intelligence on that. I have heard a report -- one report only -- of what you allude to, which may be that one competitor may be trying to use our capability for the benefit of his versus another. And our special operating forces on the ground, and other government agencies, work very hard to prevent that from happening. So I don't believe that that is, in fact, true, and I know that is a priority for General Franks to avoid.

QUESTION: Admiral, there are lots of reports quoting Afghan commanders directly, including Governor Sherzai of Kandahar, that some sort of deadline has been set with the Taliban forces around the Baghran area, two or three days is sometimes mentioned. There are reports that weapons are being surrendered by Taliban forces up there. What is the status of this surrender request, if anything? And what is the U.S. position right now? I mean, what's the state of play? Is the United States waiting for this surrender to happen? Are our forces on standby while that surrender is in process?

CLARKE: Let me say two things about it. One, we have made it very, very clear what we intend to do and how we intend to prosecute this campaign. And we don't plan for or anticipate or have any pauses going on, anything like that. We continue to operate in a very forward-leaning manner. And then, in terms of what you've heard, I'd just say there are lots of different reports, and over the last weeks and months we've often heard about deadlines and negotiations and surrender negotiations. We still have relatively few eyes and ears on the ground, so we deal with the best information we have. What's most important, I think, is that we intend to prosecute this in a very vigorous fashion.

QUESTION: How about the weapons part of that?

CLARKE: Again, I've seen and heard those sorts of reports. I don't have any information on those.

STUFFLEBEEM: I don't either. I can't add much more than to say, again, these are Taliban forces negotiating with anti-Taliban forces, and so they're trying to work this out amongst themselves. Anti- Taliban forces know exactly what our position is. There has been no change in the posture or the intentions or objectives that the U.S. -- or the coalition, I should say, more properly -- has in this campaign.

So we're monitoring it very carefully, and we intend to participate for as much as they will let us.

QUESTION: If I could follow up on that. I mean, what are you going to do if they negotiate a surrender? Are you going to try to snatch these Taliban fighters, particularly the foreign ones?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, this is very similar to what we've seen throughout the country already. I mean, there have been many instances where there were surrenders. There have been many instances where they've just evaporated, changed sides. And I think this is just another example that we're seeing the same thing, it's a culture within this area.

And so, as the secretary has said more than once, those who would intend to do harm to others, we don't want that to happen, and therefore we want to have positive control over whom those would be.


STUFFLEBEEM: Correct. Therefore, those who are Afghan nationals, and they work it out with other Afghan nationals to their satisfaction, to the constitutional government -- provisional government's satisfaction, then we'll respect that.


QUESTION: ... negotiating to be able to go home. I mean, are you going to move in and...

CLARKE: Just to underscore what the Admiral said, we've made it very, very clear, consistently, what we expect that disposition of these people should be, particularly the leadership. We've made it very clear, and so far, the cooperation has been quite good.

(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: Admiral Stufflebeem, can we go back to that though? Having said all of that, what about Omar himself? Are you willing -- is the U.S. willing to let him face justice in Afghanistan, or must he be in U.S. hands?

STUFFLEBEEM: I think the U.S. government position has been very clear on that. And with the leaflets out for the reward of Mullah Omar, I think -- I don't think there's any doubt about what we want to see happen.,

CLARKE: I think we've...

QUESTION: Well, could you just clarify for me then, what is it that you do want to see happen to the Mullah?

CLARKE: It has been made very clear that we expect to have control of him. And -- to go against, a little bit, what I was saying earlier -- from what we have seen from reports from the interim government, from anti-Taliban forces, they understand and have said, "We understand that if we come under control of Omar, he will be turned over to the United States."

QUESTION: Admiral, there's been some concern expressed that with the escalating tension between India and Pakistan, Pakistan has indeed taken some of its troops off its western border. And I'm wondering is -- it's the Pentagon's concern and belief that many Al Qaeda fighters have in fact fled into Pakistan, with fewer Pakistani troops at the border?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, it's not clear how many Al Qaeda have, in fact, crossed the border. In the area where there have been reports and where there have been arrests, Pakistanis have, in fact, detained a number of Al Qaeda forces, some of which have been turned over to the U.S. That is in a federally administered, controlled, area, which is not the same necessarily as what may be in the rest of Pakistan. So that's a very difficult area to administer.

We're watching very closely the tensions that exist between the two countries, and we're very hopeful that they'll exercise judgment and prudence in not getting engaged with each other. But at this moment, I would say there's no concerns here about what their forces are doing.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up, but have you made any estimates based on the amount of fighters you thought were at Tora Bora and then the amount of the body count and the amount of prisoners you have, about how many might have, in fact, escaped the region?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, we have not categorized numbers, in particular areas. What we really do believe has occurred is that they have disbanded into smaller groups. It would be, I think, obvious that some have probably gone over the mountain into Pakistan.

But we also believe that some of these small groups are still within Afghanistan and may, in fact, be trying to get back together. Evidence of that, recently, we saw with those strikes around the Gardez area. So we believe that those dangerous groups are still in Afghanistan. They are probably some that have gone to Pakistan, some of which have been rounded up.

We're not losing focus. We're not taking our eye off the ball. This is where the central hub of Al Qaeda has been, and the job here is to get rid of Al Qaeda. But it's also a global job. And so, we also have got this net cast around the world to find out where Al Qaeda is or maybe going to.

QUESTION: Can you update us on the search at sea? There was a report, I think, the last several days that, while there had been a large number of bridge-to-bridge contacts, relatively few boardings, can you tell us if that's accurate and, if so, why that is and have the boardings that you've done yielded anybody in the way of Taliban leadership or Al Qaeda leadership?

STUFFLEBEEM: I don't have any numbers in from of me. We have queried hundreds of ships. We have done permissive boardings and, in both cases, we've not come up with anybody that we're looking for. The pressure is constant. It's not going to change. We're going to keep looking for Al Qaeda or anybody trying to flee who is an obvious warrior in this area. To date, nearly all of these queries have been cooperative, and therefore the information we're getting prevents us from having to go aboard the ship.

QUESTION: You said nearly all. Was somebody denied permission to board?

STUFFLEBEEM: I don't know, specifically. I don't want to just get myself boxed into a categorical statement, because I can't tell you that I know that somebody has said, "No, you can't."

QUESTION: Survey operation you talked about a little while ago, when did that begin exactly?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, I can't tell you that I know a date that we started. But all along, we've been doing surveys. I mean, I use that term...

QUESTION: I'm talking about the operation this week. Did it begin yesterday? Did it begin New Year's Eve?


CLARKE: The survey of the compound?


STUFFLEBEEM: I don't know when that started, to be honest with you. But...

QUESTION: What I think what I'm getting at is, Torie, what you talked about at the beginning, again, why was it that Admiral Quigley, 12 to 14 hours before it seemed like it began to us, why was he saying there was no operation taking place at all? I just want to understand whether you believe that Admiral Quigley is owed an apology by whoever he talked to, given that he came out and told us something that was clearly confusing, as you would say.

CLARKE: No. I think what went on the last couple of days is a reflection is there is lots of different kinds of activity, and some we can talk about, some we can't talk about it. There were lots of different people talking about what was going on. I don't think there's more to it than that. And we're try to get you more of a certain time as to when that survey took place. It was within the last, say, 36 hours. Approximately. But we'll try to get you more a specific time.

QUESTION: Apparently photographers viewed some 60 Marines boarding three twin-rotor helicopters sometime around New Year's Day.

CLARKE: But, you know, just to put back on you slightly, with all due respect to the people who were on the ground looking at this, because I wasn't, but over the course of the last two days, or whenever this started, I had, conservative estimate, six or seven different people, one told me 20, another told me 100, another told me, I think, 30 or 40. So...

QUESTION: What are you telling me?

CLARKE: What I'm saying is, the Marines went into the compound and conducted this survey.


CLARKE: We'll try to get you an exact time.

QUESTION: Torie (inaudible) press photographer who first reported it, this event, was he removed from the base at Kandahar? Was he asked to leave?

CLARKE: Not that I know of.

QUESTION: Can you check that?

CLARKE: Sure. QUESTION: Admiral, could you give us any additional details about the Global Hawk crash? And given the statement about that that said that the aircraft was to be recovered, does that mean, at least according to the information you have, that it will be repaired and put back into service or are you just going to recover it just so that you don't let it fall into somebody else's hands?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, it went down land, not in Afghanistan. I hesitate to give you specifics of where because there's a host nation issue to respect.

Initial indications are is that it went down for what you would call a malfunction, a maintenance-related malfunction. Clearly, it was not shot down. The site of where it went down has been confirmed, and there may already be an accident investigation team on the site to recover, to determine the cause of the accident.

When an aircraft goes down, a Global Hawk, even though it's unmanned, is a pretty sizable craft, and when it goes down there's not going to be much you can put back in the air.

QUESTION: Will that be an Air Force recovery team, or does it matter?

STUFFLEBEEM: No, I think it will be Air Force. I think they're treating it like an aircraft accident.

QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about the two air strikes that you reported on Friday, last Friday and last Wednesday? And can you confirm that the intelligence chief of the Taliban was killed in one of those strikes and, if so, which one of those strikes?

STUFFLEBEEM: I cannot confirm that the intelligence chief was killed. We don't have good confirmation that he was. The strike...


STUFFLEBEEM: I have heard the reports, but I just can't confirm. We just don't have the evidence that, you know, that's proof-positive.

The strike that occurred on the 26th, on Wednesday, was on the compound that was of the intelligence ministry -- Taliban intelligence ministry -- good confirmation of that. That intelligence piece had been worked up quite extensively before the strike occurred.

Subsequent to that, two days later, north of that compound, a different compound, pro-Taliban forces -- not related to this intelligence compound at all. Does that help you?

QUESTION: Any information on who may have been injured or killed in either of those strikes?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, we know that they were Taliban that were killed. We suspect, without confirmation, that there were non-Afghans there as well.

QUESTION: Why would it take three months into the war to attack the Taliban intelligence ministry? It would seem to me that that would be a pretty much fixed target that you'd want to take out pretty early in the going?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, it's a good assumption. But what -- I don't know, therefore, I am making an assumption.

STUFFLEBEEM: I don't know that that was where the ministry of intelligence was during all this time.

QUESTION: OK, all right.

STUFFLEBEEM: And as we dismantled this government, as it were, they got up and moved. And so, the inference that I make is that this is where we found them, as opposed...

QUESTION: That's my original question.

(LAUGHTER) Just let me follow-up on that. It was (OFF-MIKE). What's the latest on Guantanamo? Has a decision been made to conduct military tribunals there? And, if not, then what are you going to do with all the prisoners that will be transferred to Guantanamo?

CLARKE: No decisions have been reached on the tribunals. It's still under the secretary's review, and we'll let you know when we have information. We will put that out. He has given the go-ahead to prepare Guantanamo as a detention facility; that's all we're saying about it now. it is probably some weeks away before anything gets done there.

QUESTION: And has it even been decided whether military or Justice Department takes control of these detainees? Where is that in the process?

CLARKE: Under review.

Now, we need to go to Jim, and that's it.

QUESTION: The Taliban forces that are involved in these negotiations, do they also include Al Qaeda forces? And there have been reports, I think, that there may be as many as 2,000 or 3,000 of them. Are those reports accurate, to the best of your knowledge?

And I believe you said that they were northwest of Kandahar. Is that in Helmand Province? And is that in that cave complex in the mountains northwest of Kandahar?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, the reports that I'm tracking speak specifically to Baghran, which I believe is in the Helmand province.

The numbers, 2,000 to 3,000, is much higher than what I have seen. I've seen something on the order of maybe half that. And I've only heard of Taliban forces. Now, I make an inference that that may include pro-Taliban forces, but all I've heard is Taliban.

CLARKE: Thank you.

SAVIDGE: And you've been listening to the briefing by the U.S. Pentagon, talking about latest developments. Not a lot of developments coming out. They said there's probably not a lot of developments. They claim that there is not a lot going on. They talk about that special forces, as well as the U.S. Marines are involved directly in the hunt to try to locate Osama bin Laden, to try to find Mullah Omar, and that they are working as best they can; they have not lost focus, as was one description that was used. They said that the Marine operation that had been taking place over the past 36 hours or so at a compound was designed, as they put it, to survey and to evaluate. It's part of what they describe as casting a wide net to build intelligence. They actually said there had been investigations of two compounds by either the Marines and U.S. special forces, and that's essentially what they have come up with.

Let's be joined now by General Don Shepperd and review some of this information. One of the things that we did find most intriguing was this report that some of the people in Afghanistan, these tribal leaders, may be using, or attempting to use, the U.S. Air Force to settle some old scores.


SAVIDGE: That's interesting.

SHEPPARD: There's always a danger in that. Now, as Admiral Stufflebeem said in the briefing, we are aware of that in this process, and the special forces that are stationed with these opposition forces are aware of it, and we go to great care.

Now what happens when you get this information before you launch a strike or authorize someone to pull a trigger against an evolving target, it is subject to a target-approval process, and some of those may go right up to General Franks, and could even go higher in some cases.

On the other hand, it's not micromanagement; it's just making sure that you don't hit the wrong thing and you aren't drawn into the trap such as being discussed, which is used for another reason by someone else. Mistakes can happen, but we are pretty careful in the military, Martin.

SAVIDGE: What happens if you are in a quandary where you know there could be some significant Al Qaeda leaders travelling in a convoy, but also know they are with their families.

SHEPPARD: Yes, not being there, I don't know what the rules of engagement are. But in that particular case, we have said all along in Afghanistan, that if you are a terrorist, if you are supporting terrorists, if you are feeding them, if you are funding them, you will be attacked along with the terrorists. So if you are a family member, or if you are anyone else around those terrorists, you are in great danger, and that's without me knowing exactly what the ROE is covering that.

SAVIDGE: Sure. And the last thing, mentioning that they have not lost focus, is it easy to do that at this particular point, to lose focus?

SHEPPARD: No. I don't think we have lost focus at all. We are continuing to prepare for humanitarian operations, continue to try to support the interim government to make the country safe, continuing to do liaison and intelligence gathering with the special operations forces and the special forces that are in the area, and we are continuing to look everyday, every minutes for Mullah Omar and bin Laden and any indications of where they are, and when we find them, we will make opportunities to go get them either with the Afghan opposition forces or perhaps by ourselves, or with their power -- Martin.

SAVIDGE: All right, General Don Shepperd, joining us, as always, talking about the latest update from the Pentagon briefing. Thank you very much.