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Presenter: General Tommy Franks

Friday, January 4, 2002 Thursday, 1:35 pm EST


DoD News Briefing - General Tommy Franks

(Also participating is Rear Admiral Craig Quigley, Director, U.S. Central Command Public Affairs)

 

ADM. QUIGLEY: A housekeeping detail. The same as we have done before, folks, the general will start with a couple of questions here in Tampa, and then go to the Pentagon for a couple, and back and forth. Okay? So we have -- here in Tampa, we've got hand-held microphones, and we'll give you those microphones, so please give us just a couple of seconds so that that can go to the tape, and then all the parties concerned can hear. So, ladies and gentlemen, General Franks.

GEN. FRANKS: Well, good afternoon, and Happy New Year. It's great to be here in Tampa on a cool day today, and it's good to see all of you here again. Let me begin by saying just how proud I think all of us are of the soldiers and sailors, the airmen, Marines, Special Operations troops that we have operating over in the central region, as we speak today.

I had a chance during the Christmas holidays to visit with a great many of these troops, and it occurred to me that the morale was just sky high. Their dedication was absolutely obvious to me and, I think, to everyone who has had an opportunity to visit there. Brave men and women indeed, operating there in what continues to be a very dangerous environment. As we speak today, our operations inside Afghanistan continue; the mission continues. That mission, I would mention as a reminder, is to destroy terror networks that exist inside Afghanistan, as a part of our overall global counterterrorism mission. Additionally, that mission involved the destruction of the Taliban as a harbor and sponsor of those terrorist networks.

Progress has been made to reach these objectives. The Taliban, obviously, no longer controls Afghanistan. al Qaeda cells inside Afghanistan have in some cases been destroyed, in other cases been disrupted, and in fact al Qaeda is on the run.

An interim government has been installed in Kabul, to give the Afghan people the first opportunity to see concerned governance over many decades. Humanitarian assistance supplies are now getting into Afghanistan. A good many refugees and internally displaced persons are returning home as we speak. The international security assistance force has started joint patrolling with the Afghans in -- on the streets of Kabul.

And I was thinking this morning about some of my family members who asked me, over the course of the holidays, "How do you feel about what's been done in Afghanistan up to this point?" And I thought, and I guess I would say that I am indeed pleased with the progress that has been made over the last 90 days. And I believe the military operations started in Afghanistan 90 days ago today.

But I would also say that much very dangerous work remains to be done. We still have a responsibility, as part of this mission, to root out pockets of resisting Taliban forces, as well as to continue the work to root out groups of al Qaeda where we may find them inside Afghanistan -- dangerous work indeed, as many of you know. We had a Special Forces member killed earlier today by small-arms fire in the vicinity of Gardez-Khost. As I have a chance to speak to you this afternoon, I am mindful of that. I am mindful of the cost that these great young people pay in order to support this very, very important campaign.

I won't say the name of the trooper, because we have not yet notified next of kin, but that will be forthcoming.

Dangerous work indeed. So we're going to continue to hunt down the leadership of these terrorist networks and cells, both within Afghanistan and outside Afghanistan. We'll continue to exploit the terrorist training camps and sites, which are of interest to us, inside Afghanistan. As of this moment, we have been into 40 of known 48 of these camps, and that work will continue.

We will continue to screen, process, and interrogate several thousand detainees. And as many of you know, we now hold more than 270 detainees in several different locations. This will take time, for sure, but then again, we have a patient nation, we have a patient president, and I am a patient CINC (Commander in Chief, USCENTCOM).

As we continue this work, we'll make tactical adjustments as may be necessary, and we'll make adjustments to troop deployments as may be necessary. I think I'll pause at this point and take your questions. First, here in Tampa. Please.

Q General -- (name and affiliation off mike). I wondered if you can share any further details on the death of the Special Forces soldier, the circumstances that led to his death.

GEN. FRANKS: Yeah. What we know right now is that the mission that he was on, as a part of a team, was to coordinate with some local tribal elements in the vicinity of Gardez-Khost, in order to facilitate cooperation between our forces in the region and the local tribal elements in that region.

The specifics of the incident that caused the loss of life have not been fully developed yet, and so I'll hold those until we're a bit more sure of what happened. Please.

Q And a follow-up, sir, if I may. I'm just wondering, is there a relationship between that conflict and the second day of bombing today?

GEN. FRANKS: No. This -- these were unrelated incidents. This is in a little bit different place than where we went after the cave complex. Please.

Q Robert Green (sp), Reuters. What is your estimate of the number of the remaining Taliban and al Qaeda forces? And how does that compare to what they had 90 days ago?

GEN. FRANKS: Robert, I can't give you a fixed number to say that we believe that there were so many hundred or so many thousand a week ago or a month ago and a certain number now.

I will tell you that our assessment, based on numbers killed, captured, and so forth, is that the Taliban is certainly out of business as a coherent government. And I would also tell you, as I said earlier, that we believe al Qaeda has had cells destroyed. We believe that their elements have been disrupted, and we believe that the al Qaeda which is still inside Afghanistan is on the run. To the Pentagon, please.

Q General, Charlie Aldinger with Reuters. This will be the first U.S. soldier killed by hostile fire as a result of this conflict -- three months of conflict. Although others have died as a result of U.S. bombing and other causes. What does this say about this conflict compared to previous conflicts -- just one kill by hostile fire so far?

GEN. FRANKS: I think it's tough to say what does this particular point -- that being the loss of life -- people on the ground say that compares or contrasts this conflict to one previously. I think in each conflict that our nation's been in throughout our history, we have had people hurt and we have had people killed, and it is no -- it's no more pleasant today than it has been in the past. I am thankful every day that we have not lost more people than we have lost in this fight. But I will tell you, in each case when we have lost someone, I think it touches my command and it touches all of us very deeply.

Q General, Thelma Labrett (sp) with AP Broadcast. You mentioned just very briefly something about a change in troop deployments. Without getting into specifics, can you elaborate what you were talking about there, just give us a general idea?

GEN. FRANKS: We've gone through phases of this particular operation inside Afghanistan, and all of you certainly know what those phases are. We built a credible military force in order to undertake operations inside Afghanistan. We worked with anti-Taliban forces in there. We put some of our Special Forces and Special Operating Forces in Afghanistan on the ground. We have brought engineers and a variety of forensics experts, and so forth, into Afghanistan over the past -- oh, I guess 60 days.

And I anticipate that while this operation will continue for the foreseeable future, we may need to adjust the types and the sizes of our force structure in there. You should not take this as an indication that we're going to be dramatically adding to the number of Americans inside Afghanistan. But what I'm doing is laying a marker down that says each step of this campaign, we have tried to match the requirement of the mission against the specific force that we had on the ground, and I anticipate that we'll continue to do that for the future. Back to Tampa.

 

Sir?

Q General, good afternoon. Mark Wilson (sp) from WTVT here in Tampa.

GEN. FRANKS: Hi, Mark.

Q Can you give us an idea of exactly what's happening with regards to the reported standoff in and around Bagram, and if you have any idea or evidence that Mullah Omar is actually there?

GEN. FRANKS: Right. Actually, not a standoff.

What is happening in the vicinity of Bagram, as well as Deh Rawod, which -- these are two cities just to the north of Kandahar -- is that anti-Taliban forces have moved out a couple of days ago to move up into the area. There has been some discussion of surrender of a remaining pocket of Taliban up in that area.

This coincides with information which we have also received, which indicates the possibility -- and I think you have all seen the reporting -- that Omar and perhaps some of his leadership may be up in this area. And so the action that's going on up there right now, as a matter of fact, is the collecting of arms from these people who, in fact, have crossed over or turned themselves in to the forces up north of Kandahar. So that's the situation as it -- as it's ongoing right now. Ma'am.

Q Could you update us on the search for Osama bin Laden and what's happening with that?

GEN. FRANKS: We don't know where bin Laden is. I mean, we're -- we've been pretty honest about that. We've also said that, you know, he can be -- he is either dead or alive, and he is either inside Afghanistan or he isn't. And so what we do is we react to the intelligence information we receive, and then we go to the places indicated by the intelligence to confirm or deny the presence of not only bin Laden but his senior leadership, as well. And so we don't know where he is right now, but you will continue to see activity such as that that was mentioned earlier, where we bombed a complex earlier today that we thought was associated with an al Qaeda pocket. And so that's the process that we'll continue as we work for bin Laden. Please.

Q General -- (off mike) -- WMNF radio. About Mr. bin Laden: One of the rumors is that perhaps he's in Pakistan.

GEN. FRANKS: Right.

Q If so, would we have any Special Forces inside Pakistan right now?

GEN. FRANKS: We have -- we have relationships, and we have exchanges of people and liaison with the Pakistanis. To be sure, they have been in place, and they'll continue to cooperate with the Pakistanis inside Pakistan. And so that's why I think we say that if he -- if bin Laden or one of his senior people crosses into Pakistan, we certainly will get our hands on him. And as a matter of fact, we have taken detainees out of Pakistan -- al Qaeda detainees who have been captured by the Pakistanis, and the Pakistanis have rendered them to us. Back to the Pentagon, please.

Q General, Matt Kelly (sp) from the Associated Press. Can you tell us the service branch of the soldier killed? And also, how many other military personnel were wounded in that incident and how serious their injuries are?

GEN. FRANKS: Yeah. This was an Army Special Forces member. As I understand it, right now, there were no other -- there were no other military people injured in this incident.

Q General Franks, Bob Franken at the Pentagon for CNN. Two questions relating to the searches that are going on. Regarding the searches in Pakistan, are Special Operations troops, similar to Afghanistan, participating in the searches in Pakistan?

And the second one has to do with some comments from Abdullah Abdullah. May I wait till you answer the first one before I ask the second?

GEN. FRANKS: Sure, Bob. On the first one, what we have is a working relationship with the Pakistanis. They have welcomed our coordination with them, and so we have established relationships with their units in the field, which are deployed along the Pakistani- Afghan border, and we simply continue to do that work. And so it's not exactly the same -- or I wouldn't characterize it as being exactly like what we see inside Afghanistan. But the relationship that we have working with the Pakistanis is a good -- is a good working, coordinated relationship. Your second question?

Q Has to do with some comments attributed to Abdullah Abdullah, the foreign minister of Afghanistan, who, when asked about the capture of Omar, said that the decision about whether he would be tried in Afghanistan, quote, "Will be decided when we capture him." The United States -- Secretary Rumsfeld certainly has made it very clear that the U.S. wants him turned over. Can you respond to what the foreign minister said?

GEN. FRANKS: Well, the first thing I would say, Bob, is that I am in total agreement the secretary of Defense, and the comments that Secretary Rumsfeld made with respect to what would satisfy us, I certainly stand by. And so, with respect to comments by Dr. Abdullah, I really wouldn't have anything additional to say about that. But I think we have an expectation with respect to the senior Taliban leadership, and I think we'll stay with our expectation. Pentagon, go ahead.

Q General, President Bush has said that we may be in Afghanistan for a long time. Are you going to establish some sort of a rotation policy for the U.S. units there?

GEN. FRANKS: Thanks for the question. I think that is a very good question. As you know, a combatant command has essentially its own Army element, its own Air Force element, Navy, Special Operating Force, and so forth, and each one of those services establishes a rotation policy for their own people based on discussions with us about the way we see the mission, the way we see the criticality of certain people in certain places. And so that's the way the rotation will be done.

I think you will see a rotation, and I think you may well see some service members rotate at the 90-day point, and you may see that some others rotate at the six-month point. But that's how we'll handle rotation. Back to Tampa, please. Ma'am?

Q (Off mike) -- with Fox News Channel. There were reports today that we're setting up a base at a former Russian base north in Kyrgyzstan, and I'm wondering if that -- what you can tell us about that and what that means for our long-term presence there.

GEN. FRANKS: Right. In fact, we are coordinating with the government of Kyrgyzstan to be able to set up a -- or to be able to work from one of their bases, specifically at a place called Manas. This is in coordination with the government of Kyrgyzstan, as I said. And the purpose is to be able to use this as a transportation hub essentially to get closer to Afghanistan so that we can bring large airplanes in and then be able to change their loads into smaller airplanes, which also don't have the same "legs," if you will, don't have the same ability to fly over long distances. And so we very much appreciate the offer by Kyrgyzstan, and we will be working that over the next month or so.

Sir?

Q General, there have been a lot of reports out of Afghanistan that leaders of the Taliban and of al Qaeda have been able to barter their way out of trouble, essentially, with the Afghan troops. Do you believe those reports? And if so, do you have any regrets about not having more U.S. troops on the front lines going into Kabul, Kandahar and elsewhere?

GEN. FRANKS: I think that's a fair question. I'll start with the end first. No, I do not have regrets that more U.S. troops have not been put in Afghanistan. I believe that the plan that we've exercised has been the appropriate plan and I wouldn't change it at all, because it makes sense when we have a willing ally -- in this case these opposition or anti-Taliban forces, willing to work with us in order to permit us to reach our goals, which now -- remember, you know, our goal is the destruction of the network, and our goal is to take down the Taliban, this illegitimate regime. And so I think the approach that has been taken up to this point to do that has been just the right approach.

Now, to the first part of the question: Is it possible that people on the inside have released or permitted to sort of -- been permitted to reintegrate themselves back into the Afghan population? Of course that's true. Is it possible that some of these people may have taken money, or for some other reason may have permitted personalities that we're interested in to leave a local area of combat? Yes, that's also possible.

But I would just remind that taken in balance, we're after the network, we're after the Taliban, we have great patience, and we'll continue to work this in a way that both protects our force, protects our force, and also accomplishes the mission which the president and the secretary have given to us in Central Command. So I think that's a pretty direct answer to your question. Sir?

Q Yes, sir. Yesterday, the United Nations said an unconfirmed but reliable report said 52 civilians were killed last Sunday in eastern Paktia Province. Local reports say that local Afghans are accusing a warlord, Patcha Khan (ph) of bringing about that attack. Does that give you any concern about some of the intelligence that we receive from the anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan?

GEN. FRANKS: Well, as you know, we have received -- or I have seen many, many reports concerning a great many things since we undertook this operation about 90 days ago. What I do believe is that civilians have been hurt in this war. What I do not believe is in the specifics of each one of these sorts of notions that says, "Well, did you know that 54 were killed" or "a hundred were killed" and whatever. In each case, when we have gone in and very thoroughly reviewed this, we have simply found that this is not true.

I would reinforce the point by saying it is my view that this probably has been the most precise fight our country has ever been engaged in. We have gone to and will continue to go to extraordinary lengths to minimize the impact on the civilian population because, obviously, it's not only in the best interest of the people of Afghanistan, it's in our best interest to take care of them in every way we can. We have, and we'll continue to do that.

Q Just following up.

 

GEN. FRANKS: Sure.

Q Are you concerned about the intelligence that you receive from the local leaders down there in terms of this is a reliable target?

GEN. FRANKS: Yeah, let me -- when one believes that there can be some contention between multiple groups inside Afghanistan, of course we will pay great attention to be sure, for example, that one does not decide to simply take out his neighbor by using our force to do that. And so we have watched that carefully and we'll continue to watch it. That's a good question. Back to the Pentagon.

Q General, John Diamond, Chicago Tribune. You mentioned a total of 49 al Qaeda camps, and that there are nine remaining -- left to be gone through, if I have that correctly. We just had two days of strikes on a particular camp and now we have fatality on the ground. Of the nine remaining camps, how many are believed to be occupied by al Qaeda? And do you anticipate a fight for those that might also include ground troops going in and fighting their way into those locations?

GEN. FRANKS: Actually, the number of identified places -- not just camps -- that we want to exploit for intelligence value, and to be sure that there are not munitions left there, the actual number is 48. And we have been into 40 of those 48.

Now, that does not mean that we are not going to identify some additional enclave or some additional place where we may suspect that we're going to find a pocket of al Qaeda or a pocket of hard-core Taliban. When we find that, we will put the force in that is necessary in order to do the work that we say we're going to do. The camp to which you made reference -- the one that we struck yesterday -- was in fact a camp that we had struck back in 1998. We had also struck this camp as early as -- as recently as the end of November. But the intelligence that we received indicate that there may have been some reoccupation of this camp, and so using additional assets and additional means, we went in and took a look at this target, decided that the target was interesting to us, and struck it with 105 to 110 2,000-pound munitions. This is likely to be the case in the future as we develop intelligence, and in coordination with the host country in Afghanistan; we will continue these kinds of operations.

I think it's always very dangerous to draw any analogy between a war and a sports competition, but I will tell you that one of the things that comes to my mind is the analogy of this particular phase of this operation with the game of baseball, because what I think we will see in the days, weeks, months ahead will be a very calm atmosphere where we're continuing to work with the Afghan people and this interim Afghan government, and I think that that will be interrupted by spikes of adrenaline where we, in fact, have gained intelligence that will move us on to a target. And so that's what I think we'll see in the future.

Q General, this is Pam Hess with United Press International. I want to close the loop on the U.N. report. Have you investigated these particular charges, and have you come up with any information that directly refutes or explains where the information is coming from?

And could you also address the detainees? I heard yesterday that there were two that had not yet been handed over, but would be within the next 24 hours, so some time today, that were of particular interest -- one Taliban and one al Qaeda. Do you have any information that you can share with any of the detainees or these particularly? And what about that one guy in Mazar-e Sharif, who's that?

GEN. FRANKS: (Chuckling.) On any given day, we'll find what -- the information I think you were given earlier in Washington will be true, and that is there will be people pending having us pick them up and move them to a detention site. And so I think probably you made -- the reference to two that you made, one Taliban one al Qaeda, we currently have one of the two in status as detained, and the other will be picked up before -- well, I'll say within 24 hours.

And so the numbers will change constantly, but at about any point in time, there will be one or two that we're either about to pick up, or else there'll be some other large number. Because keep in mind, we're screening literally thousands of people being detained by anti- Taliban forces at a half a dozen different places inside Afghanistan. And so we're screening them, determining which ones are of interest to us, and then we apprehend them, if you will. And I'm sorry, my answer was so long, I forgot the first part of your question. Oh, no, I didn't. Okay, the United Nations.

Q I'm sorry, it was the U.N. question. Do you have specific information --

GEN. FRANKS: Yes, indeed we will -- we will investigate it. No, we have not completed the investigation of it. But the way it stands right now is that it appears to us to have been a valid target. And we take a look at every one of these, and we'll do the same with this one.

Q General, Wyatt Andrews of CBS. If I could ask you to return one more time to the camp that has been hit I believe twice in the last two days, can you give us any more details about what it is that you saw there that made you so interested, and why so much ordnance was used? In other words, what was so significant about this target?

GEN. FRANKS: This is a camp by the name of Zhawar Kili.

(To staff) Pull up the map of Afghanistan. I'll show you where it is, and then I'll try to describe what we saw. First off, an area that all of you are familiar with is the area of Tora Bora, and that is just south of Jalalabad. And that is an area where there were -- I'll specifically answer your question about Zhawar Kili in a minute. But in the Tora Bora area, we were specifically interested in eight large cave complexes. We have been in and through seven of the eight. We have one remaining. It's a very high cave complex, and so we're not in a hurry to clear that. But that's work that is continuing in Tora Bora.

Now, Zhawar Kili is the camp to which you made reference. It is south of Khost, generally in this area. It is down within two or three miles of the Pakistan border. That involved a large number of cave adits and bunkers. It also involved some above-ground -- oh, a half a dozen or so buildings that we have in the past associated with al Qaeda activity. The reason we struck it was because intelligence indicated that there was al Qaeda activity in and around this complex of sufficient size to warrant our need to go back in there, and so that's what we did. And we'll continue to do that as the intelligence indicates we should.

Q General, Jeff Goldman at CBS News as well. Can you give us the status of -- latest status of the American detainee, John Walker Lindh? When will he be turned over? To whom? And also, the status of the other detainees in country; how far are we from sending them off to Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere, and what type of progress has been made in readying those camps for receiving prisoners?

GEN. FRANKS: With regard to Mr. Walker, he remains in our custody. The determination as to where to move him, when, and what the form of prosecution will look like for him has not been made, so we'll continue to hold him. With respect to the detainees -- and I said there are more than 270.

I think one would expect that that number may well increase. I believe that sometime within a week, maybe ten days or so, we'll begin to move some of those people out to the areas that you described and I think the secretary has also listed a possibility. So that's our current status in working detainees. Back to Tampa.

Q General?

 

GEN. FRANKS: Sir.

Q Tampa Tribune. With increasing interest from the command seeming to go towards Somalia, I'm wondering what's command's military posture towards that country right now?

GEN. FRANKS: I think -- let me say, point one, that Afghanistan is a part of this worldwide approach to counterterrorism. I think that -- I won't call it a mistake, but I will say that -- I've been asked several times about, "So what will be next?" I think that that -- the implication of that is that our approach to this problem of terrorism is absolutely sequential, and I think that that would be -- that that would not be a useful way to think about it.

What we're interested in doing is looking at all the places where we believe we may see terrorist organizations of the type we're interested in -- that being those with global reach -- being harbored. And so, as we -- as we identify that, we go to work with intelligence, surveillance reconnaissance and so forth. And then, the way we will treat, given terrorist assets in given countries, will depend on the country, their willingness to solve their own problem and so forth. And so I think it would not be correct to say, "Well, okay, now you're working Afghanistan, so probably next, you're going to work Somalia or someplace else" if that's helpful to you.

Q Well, I mean it looked like it continues to be a safe haven for al Qaeda, and it looks like U.S. military visits to factions there that would support us have increased. Just wondering if that's an indication.

GEN. FRANKS: I think it's a fair question. I think I gave you a fair and honest answer, and so I will say that certainly, Somalia, as a failed state, is an area where we believe in the past, certainly, there has been some terrorist activity, and I think we'll take a hard look at it to be sure that that's not the case today. And if that becomes the case, then we'll look at it the same way we look at other harbors for terrorists globally.

Okay. Sir.

Q I have a question with regards to your trip. Obviously, I know you've been to Afghanistan before this recent trip, but I'm just rather curious: Did you learn anything or see anything that might have made you take a different look at any of the military operations that you've been doing, aside from just a personal view -- anything from an operations perspective that you got an idea from that maybe you can do different or better?

GEN. FRANKS: What I saw when I visited Afghanistan most recently was confirmation of the approach, to be quite honest with you. Afghanistan is a country with dramatic changes in elevation -- we have mountain peaks above 20,000 feet, and certainly with valleys, we have some forested areas there, we have some large expanses of desert. And it has seemed to me, and still does, that the very best approach in a country is, if one finds willing allies who know the ground, know the people, that it is best to work with these groups. And so the geographical -- or, my appreciation of the geography inside Afghanistan has reinforced, rather than made me question, the approach up to this point. Okay? Back to the Pentagon.

Q General, Martha Raditz (ph) from ABC News. Could you give us a bit more detail about the death of this Special Operations soldier -- was this a firefight, was he hit by sniper fire, did U.S. forces return fire? And also, what credibility do you give to the reports about Omar being in Baghran? Aren't you also hearing that he's other places as well?

GEN. FRANKS: The latter question first: I think that we accurately characterize our thoughts on Omar as saying we really don't know where he is. I mean, if we absolutely knew where Omar was, then we probably would be taking pretty direct action. And so, we have received, and I think we've said we've received indications that he may be in the area of northern Helmand Province, north of Kandahar, and that certainly is the area of Baghran, Tarin Kot, Deh Rawod, and so we're interested in activities in that area. And so that sort of is where we stand today on Omar. But I'll reinforce the point by saying either inside Afghanistan or as he attempts to leave Afghanistan or in someplace else we certainly will get him, Omar.

Now, with respect to the firefight up in the vicinity of Khost.

The information that I have right now, honestly, is sketchy. What I know is that there was an exchange of small arms fire; that this American serviceman was doing his job; that he was out for the purpose of working with and coordinating with tribal leaders in that area. And I think anything else that I would say at this point would be a bit too speculative, and so I'll leave it at that.

Q General Franks, Barbara Starr from CNN. Irrespective of the camp that you struck and this incident, could you generally describe for us what you see the state of play being generally in the Khost-Gardez area? In other words, are you seeing Taliban and al Qaeda activity throughout the region, and do you have some concerns that these people are going to try and make a run across the border into Pakistan? Is that why you're operating so heavily in this region?

GEN. FRANKS: Actually, no. What we have done throughout the campaign is move both simultaneously and sequentially into various geographical areas. Obviously, in the north, where we had a little bit better touch with some of the Northern Alliance commanders, we first introduced force, if you will, because we had the relationships up in the northern part of Afghanistan that would permit us to have our Special Forces people operate there effectively. The next to develop was the necessary relationship around Kabul. Then you saw what you saw down around Kandahar.

One of the areas that remains of interest to us is this area that is up around Gardez-Khost. What we do is establish working relationships, and so forth, in each of these regions, and this just happens to be one that we're into now. As we see the intelligence develop in each one of these areas, as I said, we confirm or deny the existence of what is suggested by the intelligence. That is what we're doing right now up north of Kandahar in northern Helmand Province. It is also what we're doing now in the vicinity of Gardez and Khost. This is an area that is of interest to us, and we're just going to continue to work it.

Q Jim Miklaszewski with NBC. You told us a few minutes ago that U.S. Special Forces have now searched seven of the eight cave complexes around Tora Bora. Can you share with us what they found? Was there any evidence that Osama bin Laden was there? Any evidence that any senior al Qaeda were killed? Or do you have a death count on the number of al Qaeda that may have been killed in the bombing campaigns? Any kind of intelligence that you can share with us that came out of those caves?

GEN. FRANKS: With regard to the whole area of Tora Bora, yes, a number of al Qaeda and supporters were killed in the Tora Bora complex. Once again, massive cave complexes in the Agam Valley and Wazir. What we have found as we have gotten into these complexes is evidence of considerable loss of life, obviously, in there. We have found intelligence information that indicates that al Qaeda was in fact using that very heavily in that area. We have found larger weapons. In some cases we have found I think one or two tanks in some of these cave areas. We have found large quantities of ammunition. And the specifics of exactly what the intelligence take from this area looks like, I think I'll stay away from, because we're still -- we're not only involved in continuing to develop it, we're involved in using it. And so I don't think it would be appropriate for me to talk more about it.

Q Evan Scott with a group of radio stations. Also an old friend of Jack Buffington (sp) who speaks highly of you and says hi. I want to get caught up to speed a little bit. We're getting published reports that the United States is trying to buy back stinger missiles at maybe $150,000 each. When you answer the question, would you give us an idea of how many Stingers you think are still in Afghanistan, whether they're operational, and was it true that one -- a MANPAD was fired at you in your helicopter when you were over there?

GEN. FRANKS: Last first. I've been told that the helicopter I was riding in was fired at, and I said I didn't see it, so obviously didn't feel threatened by it. But I also would say that it's not surprising, because I think all of us have continued to say, Afghanistan -- I mean, let's think about the history. Let's think about what it looked like 90 days ago. There are pockets of real bad guys inside Afghanistan today, as there have been.

With respect to stinger missiles, I think that if I tried to put a number on it, it would be -- I mean, I'd be speculating. I think I would say that we would anticipate that there would be numbers in the low hundreds -- I'll say it that way -- of stingers remaining inside Afghanistan. Now -- but you have to be careful with that, because you ought -- that does not imply that they're all in the hands of bad guys, which is not the case. Certainly some of the anti-Taliban forces have some of these MANPADs systems. And with respect to buy-backs, I don't know about the amount of money and all of that sort of stuff, but just as we pay rewards for personalities that are of interest to us -- and I think that's a well-known fact -- certainly it is worth a reward for us to get back some of these more serious systems in order to get them -- weapons systems in order to get them out of circulation. And so that does not surprise me at all. I'm thankful for it. Back to Tampa.

Q General, with what you've seen in Afghanistan so far, and links to other countries, I mean, what kind of sense are you getting of al Qaeda involvement in other countries at this point?

GEN. FRANKS: I think -- I think correctly characterized earlier was the fact that al Qaeda operates in 60 to 70 countries around the world. What -- and I have obviously not been through all of the transcripts of information and intelligence that we've gathered up to this point in the campaign. So the way I'll answer you is to say, based on what I have seen, it does not surprise me at all that al Qaeda would be operating in 60 to 70 countries. Obviously, this is a terrorist organization; it is a very threatening terrorist organization. It does, in fact, have global reach, and it was headquartered -- was headquartered -- in Afghanistan. Ma'am?

Q You mentioned that -- briefly that forensic specialists might be some of the people going to Afghanistan.

GEN. FRANKS: Right.

Q And I'm wondering, with these casualties in these cave complexes, is anyone checking to make sure that with casualties that you're confirming identities, that maybe some of the people you are looking for are dead and have been dead for a while?

GEN. FRANKS: The answer is yes, we are in fact doing that.

Q Follow up. How are you doing that?

GEN. FRANKS: We're doing that in the way one would expect, with forensic experts. These are people who do this professionally. And so what we do is we go through areas, we clear them, and we use normal forensics approaches to be able to review what we find when we get into these areas where we have had strikes. We have done that, and we'll continue to do that. This business of forensics is something that we, in fact -- this goes back to a previous question. This is something that we had not brought into play until perhaps a month ago, when it came to be necessary. And so this is an example of the way we will match the force structure against the specific mission. And that's why I said earlier that as we continue to move through this campaign, we may see the need to modify the force structure we have there now, and if we do, then we'll add more people, perhaps, like forensics experts; perhaps like interrogators, as another example. When we got the large number of prisoners that we see now being held by anti-Taliban forces, we enriched the numbers of people we have there undertaking this work of interrogation. Ma'am?

Q General, I'm wondering how -- we haven't heard much discussion since the deployment of the peacekeeping forces.

GEN. FRANKS: Right.

Q Can you describe your assessment of how that's going and how they're relating to the local population?

GEN. FRANKS: You bet. Right. The International Security Assistance Force with the United Kingdom as lead nation is in fact -- the beginning of that force is on the ground now in Kabul. They have linked up with police-like paramilitary forces inside Kabul, Afghan forces, and they're conducting joint patrolling. I suspect that over the course of -- and we are obviously linked with them. The relationship that we have with the international security force does two things. The first thing it does is it assures us, in Operation Enduring Freedom, that our efforts to accomplish our mission will not be impeded by that International Security Assistance Force.

And secondly, it gives us the opportunity to provide appropriate support and assistance to that much smaller force that is located in the vicinity of Kabul. So that is the current status, working out very well, the relationship is very good.

Q A follow-up if I may, sir. Whose laws are being employed here, the United States military or the laws that were on the books before the Taliban took control?

GEN. FRANKS: I think that's a valid question, and if I were to just tell you, well, this is what -- I guess what I would tell you is that from what I have seen of the operations inside Kabul, these are very common sense -- no plundering, no looting sorts of things, and therefore the purpose of being sure that we don't have people wandering around armed and threatening other people. But in terms of the specifics of the breakout of law, I don't know, so I can't give you a good answer. Back to the Pentagon -- I'm sorry, go ahead.

Q If your operations are as successful the next 90 days as they've been the previous ninety, how would you see Afghanistan at that point and how would you see the terrorist network's strength?

 

GEN. FRANKS: Calls for a bit of speculation that I'm probably not going to give you a satisfactory answer to, because I'm not precisely sure what a next 90 days equalling the success of the first ninety days would look like. I think -- I said that I feel that the operation for the first 90 days has been successful because I think our people have done an awful lot of really, really good work. At the same time, we have a lot of work left to do, but the work we have left to do does not look exactly like the work we did during the first 90 days.

And so rather than putting an end point on it that says, "Well, if we're 50 percent finished now, would we be 90 percent" or whatever -- I really don't think I could do that.

What I'll say is that I think the time line that this operation has been on has been, up to this point, a successful time line. And so what we want to do is maintain the same characteristics of the campaign that we have had up to this point, and that is to be thoughtful; to be kinetic when it's appropriate, or to use bombs and direct fire assets when it's appropriate; to work with the people of Afghanistan when it's appropriate; and to maintain patience.

And some people would say, "Do it methodically." I won't say that. I'll just say we're going to continue to be patient, we're going to continue to work the mission, and we're going to try very hard to protect our forces in there. Back to the Pentagon, please.

Q General, Christopher Wright (sp) with Fox News Channel. Realizing that you don't talk about current or future operations, I wonder whether you can tell us whether U.S. military forces have put boots on the ground and engaged in counterterrorist operations in other countries in your AOR in the last several weeks.

And I also -- on the loss of the soldier earlier today, could you tell us, were any enemy forces killed or wounded in that engagement, and were other -- any other Americans involved in any way?

GEN. FRANKS: To my knowledge -- to my knowledge -- we do not have other counterterrorist -- your term -- boots on the ground operating in other countries in the region. We have a great many activities going on in several countries in the region, but we're not involved in this kinetic activity, such as we've been involved in, in Afghanistan.

With regard to your other question, about were bad guys shot or were terrorists shot as a part of this small-arms exchange that took the life of one of our people, I simply don't know. I know that there was an exchange of fire. I don't know if any of the bad guys were killed or wounded in that action. I will know, but I don't now.

Q Sir, Tony Capaccio, with Bloomberg News. Can you bring us up to speed on the hunt or the search for weapons of mass destruction blueprints or instructions or actual materiel? You've gone through like 40 locations so far.

GEN. FRANKS: Right. What we have found in the locations that we've been through -- and this is 40 we've been through, plus a great number of other safe houses and temporary locations inside Afghanistan, which we have also been through during the course of this activity.

What we have found is considerable indication of interest and desire by al Qaeda to acquire weapons of mass destruction. We have not yet found evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction inside Afghanistan.

Q General, Tom Infield from Knight-Ridder Newspapers. You refer to hearing talk of surrender. And I thought I also heard you say that there was a transfer of arms taking place. Is there a transfer of arms? And are U.S. Special Forces observing that?

GEN. FRANKS: Yes, there is a transfer of arms associated with the operation that's ongoing now north of Kandahar. And yes, we do have Special Forces involved in that activity.

Q General Franks, Nora O'Donnell with MSNBC. All of the bombing raids since December 22nd have been in the Paktia Province. And you have said you're in the process of trying to confirm or deny what intelligence leads you to believe is there. Do you believe Osama bin Laden is there and has left Tora Bora?

GEN. FRANKS: I don't know where bin Laden is right now. I know that the area that you described, the Paktia Province, this area of Jalalabad down to Tora Bora, Khost, Gardez, is an area that we did not move into in order to begin the coordination and the work with the Afghan people in that area at the same time that we moved into the areas up in the north and, in fact, down in the south in the vicinity of Kandahar.

And so while this was not designed to be sequential, in fact what we do is we take the relationships -- we establish the relationships as we're able to -- some come quickly, some come later -- and this just happens to be the area inside Afghanistan where we're working right now. This is where our focus is. And that focus may in fact -- as I think we said, it may move around. Wherever we receive credible intelligence of value that indicates that we should take a look, we will do that.

Q (Off mike) -- credible intelligence of?

GEN. FRANKS: Last question from the Pentagon.

Q General, Eric Schmidt (sp) with the New York Times. You mentioned that the hunt for al Qaeda will extend beyond Afghanistan. There have been reports in recent days of perhaps as many as dozens of al Qaeda fleeing perhaps into Somalia. Do you give credence to those reports, and what steps are you taking to tighten the net to try and capture people either at sea or by land, in terms of getting into Somalia?

 

GEN. FRANKS: In fact, I think one will receive reports, and, in fact, we have received reports of al Qaeda attempted movement between a variety of states -- and I mean globally. This is not just within -- just within the central region.

You're aware that we have worked and continue to work with the Pakistanis to provide some border sealing coming from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Do I believe that that is going to be successful to the hundredth percentile? Obviously not. Hundreds of crossing points -- not, I think, reasonable to have all of them under observation by the Pakistanis or by our people all the time. So do I think people have escaped from Afghanistan? Yes, I do. I believe that. I give credence to that.

With respect to potential routes of escape, in terms of coastlines and the sea: In fact, we continue to provide Naval interdiction forces in the -- in the region. We continue to screen vessels as they move around the Northern Arabian Sea. We have done this, and we'll continue to do it to be sure that we -- as best we can -- to be sure that we do not lose these targets, who will certainly try to escape. So with that, thanks very much. See you again soon.

Q Thank you, sir.

GEN. FRANKS: Thank you. Happy new year, again.

 

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