DOD NEWS BRIEFING TRANSCRIPT
CENTCOM CINC GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS
TUESDAY, MAY 21, 2002
GEN. FRANKS: Well, good afternoon to all of you. I just returned from Southwest Asia over this past weekend; had an opportunity to visit with a number of leaders in the Gulf region, as well as in Afghanistan. And very pleasing to me, I also had a chance to visit with a whole bunch of young men and women wearing the uniform in the service of Operation Enduring Freedom.
It's good to be home, here in Tampa, and it's good to be here with you today.
Let me begin by expressing my condolences and my heart-felt sympathy to the family and the loved ones of Sergeant Gene Vance, a remarkable young Special Forces sergeant who was killed in action in Afghanistan this past Sunday. You know, his sacrifice reminds all of us of the price of freedom, and it makes us recognize that while a lot has been accomplished inside Afghanistan, much dangerous, very dangerous work remains to be done in the days ahead.
As I speak today, our operations continue, aimed at killing and capturing terrorists inside Afghanistan. Our coalition forces are conducting sweep, reconnaissance and exploitation operations in a number of operating areas in that country and have engaged small groups of enemy soldiers on several occasions over the past week. We continue to discover weapons and ammunition caches inside the country, and we will continue to confirm or deny the intelligence assessments that we make in the days ahead.
Our forces have revisited several previously cleared areas in Afghanistan to ensure that enemy forces haven't reoccupied them. I'll say at this point that my assessment is that the general stability in Afghanistan continues to improve. But I'll be also quick to point out that the situation there remains very fragile, remains problematic, because there are, in fact, pockets of enemy remaining in that country.
You know, the Afghan people are, at this point in time, very excited, very supportive of the loya jirga process, which is ongoing -- that being the selection of representatives who will choose a transitional government for Afghanistan for the first time since the early 1960s. And I'll also say that the interim administration in Afghanistan is working very hard to secure that process -- the loya jirga process.
I am pleased that our forces have begun training the Afghan national army. The 1st Battalion of the 3rd Special Forces group is doing a terrific job. At that, I had a chance to visit with them a few days ago and had a chance to visit with four or 500 young Afghans who have signed up to be a part of that force. That'll certainly be one of our more important projects in the days, weeks, months ahead, because the national army of Afghanistan is going to be an essential element of their long-term security.
I'm also pleased that we'll be in the near term establishing Combined Joint Task Force Afghanistan. That'll happen in the weeks ahead. The purpose of that headquarters will be to serve as our forward command inside Afghanistan. That headquarters, which will be commanded by Lieutenant General Dan McNeal (sp), who is the commander of the Army's 18th Airborne Corps, will report directly to me. And that task force will include staff officers from a number of coalition countries.
A final point that I'll make has to do with the Operation Enduring Freedom coalition as it stands today. Some 68 nations are actively involved in Enduring Freedom. Thirty-two of those nations have representatives here with us at our headquarters in Tampa. That's up from 31 nations who were present last week. And so our presence continues to grow.
These friends, these allies continue to do remarkable work, in my view, as part of a team which continues to fight a global war on terrorism. Their accomplishments won't go unnoticed: whether we look at humanitarian assistance; whether we look at air support provided by a number of nations; naval support, where more than half of the naval vessels involved in this operation are provided by coalition nations; or ground combat units such as this magnificent Task Force Jacana, the U.K. Royal Marines, Commando 45 -- incredible work -- or whether we're talking about Special Forces units.
You know, I think about just the hospital construct that we see in Afghanistan and across this area. I think about more than 60,000 Afghans having been seen and treated by coalition hospitals. I think about the remarkable work being done by Korean medical specialists, the Spanish and the Jordanians. It seems to me that it's because of these efforts and a great many more that the people of a war-torn Afghanistan have a chance today that they did not have eight months ago. And it's with the continuing commitment of the nations involved in this coalition that we will surely finish the job of killing, capturing terrorists that remain in Afghanistan and the destruction of that network.
And I'll pause here and be pleased to take your questions. Let's start with Tampa, please. Ma'am.
Q (Off mike) -- 28. In your discussion of intelligence, could you describe for us how credible you think the suicide bombing threat here is in the United States as has been published in the press recently? And could you give us some examples of what could be targets?
GEN. FRANKS: As you know, we have an old saying that says military commanders should stay in their lane, and so I will really do that. My focus is in Southwest Asia, as you know, in the Middle East. I'll only say that I believe that it's been accurately reflected in much of the media that I've read, just as you've read, that the threat to all of us remains credible. And I believe everyone in this country is doing the very best they can to get on about their lives, but they're also attentive to the fact that the terrorist threat, even in our own country, is very real.
Q General, Gordon Byrd (sp), Clear Channel Radio. My question's regarding the weapons caches that you have found. Could you update us on what is being done with those caches? Are they being kept in country? Are they being redistributed to the Afghan National Army? And could you address that, sir?
GEN. FRANKS: Right. Thanks.
There are certain weapons and ammunitions that we want to use for the Afghan National Army, and so the first thing we do is inventory these caches. And then the munitions and weapons that can be used by the Afghan National Army, we move to Kabul and we use them there with the ANA. The vast majority, though, of these weapon systems -- rockets, 157s, 107s, mortar rounds, land mines -- we simply destroy because Afghanistan has been home to uncontrolled munitions and weapons for so many years that the stockpiles are just enormous. And so we have literally destroyed tons and tons and tons of these kinds of munitions.
Okay? Pentagon, please.
Q General Franks, Charlie Aldinger with Reuters. You mentioned earlier that you will continue to try to capture and kill terrorists inside Afghanistan. You and the secretary and the chairman have been asked this question repeatedly, and I'll try once more, because generally what we get is the fact that Pakistan is cooperating closely with you. Is the U.S. military doing anything directly to hunt down and root out al Qaeda and Taliban and their possible leaders who are hiding in the tribal areas of Pakistan across the border? And if not, why not?
GEN. FRANKS: It will not -- thanks. It will not be a surprise to you at all when I tell you that I agree with the comments the secretary has made on this. I myself have made the same sort of comment. Pakistan is a sovereign country. The relationship that we have, the coordinating relationship that we have with Pakistan is moving us in a direction that is satisfying, that is satisfactory to us. And so we will continue to work with the government of Pakistan to get into the northwest province, the tribal areas of Pakistan. And so that's our approach; has been. And that'll continue to be our approach.
Back to the Pentagon please.
Q General Franks, Brett Bair (ph) with Fox News Channel. At the beginning of Operation Condor last week, British commanders said they were facing a significant enemy force. Yesterday, General Newbold up here said U.S. troops are seeing small groups, two, three, four, five. Can you square those two descriptions and kind of paint a picture of al Qaeda in eastern Afghanistan. And two, do you believe there's a leadership structure in that area?
GEN. FRANKS: I think -- I think one would be naive to no believe that there is some form of leadership structure. Now, how able that leadership structure is to communicate with the various troopers that remain in this border region that you made reference to, I don't know. And I'm not sure any of us know. But we give -- we give the enemy credit for being able to communicate among his people.
With respect to the size of the formations that we see, I think when we came out of Operation Anaconda, we had a suspicion that these enemy forces would remain disbursed, and I believe that they have done that. Now, I think we also though have to be very careful and recognize that given the opportunity, given the right kind of target, they probably would try to bring themselves back together in larger groups. As to whether we're talking about groups of five to 10 or whether we're talking about groups of 20 to 25, honestly, we don't know.
And so that is one of the reasons that we conduct these sweep operations and that we conduct these exploitations, because where we receive credible information, credible being from more than one source, we will take this information and study it carefully, put together a military plan, and then move to conduct sweep operations there. And up to this point, we have found the enemy in small groups. So candidly, that's probably the most factual thing I can give you on it right now.
Back to Tampa please.
GEN. FRANKS: Please.
Q With Dan McNeal (ph) and the joint task force, the command and control forward, does this indicate that the command's focus is shifting other than -- elsewhere than Afghanistan?
GEN. FRANKS: It's a good question, and it would surprise you at all that a lot of people have asked me that question. And the answer is no. What has happened over time is, we have -- I'm not going to say grown the presence of U.S. military in Afghanistan, because factually we have had it go up and down. Just above 7,000 right now is where it stands.
But what has happened over time is that we have seen the need and received the secretary's approval to move ahead smartly with the training of the Afghan national army. We have also seen the reintroduction into Afghanistan of non-governmental organizations and international organizations.
And so it just seems, given these -- the totality of these efforts ongoing in that country, that it's good for us to get centralized, in a command way, a force in Afghanistan, rather than the way we have conducted this operation up to this point, which has been entirely satisfactory to me, to be very honest with you. But the way we have done it up to this point is, I have used my maritime commander, my Special Operations commander, my Army commander and my Air Force commander, and we have done the command and control directly from Tampa for these operations. It's worked fine.
But in order to bring together all of the pieces that are coning together in Afghanistan, I just wanted to set up a combined force there to be able to do that. The secretary liked the idea, and so we're moving ahead with it.
Q General, you mention that you've revisited some of the areas that had been previously cleared. What did you find on those revisits?
GEN. FRANKS: Right --
Q Did you find enemy regrouping there?
GEN. FRANKS: For example, let me talk -- I'll talk about two of them. Al Aqayl (sp) is one of them, and the Tora Bora area is another.
As we have gone back into the areas, believe it or not, we have found in some cases cave complexes that we missed the first time we went through them. In some of these cave complexes, we have found additional munitions and we've destroyed them. We also wanted to go back up in the Tora Bora area and do some forensics work in some of those caves.
And so I guess, really, two parts to the reason we have gone back in: one, to be sure we haven't missed something, and number two, to assure ourselves that these enemy troops have not tried to come back into those areas. And so we'll continue that same sort of process as we move ahead.
Let me go back to the Pentagon, and I'll come back to you. Pentagon, please.
Q General, good afternoon. Ivan Scott, WTOP Radio. IF you get the green light to go into Iraq, how many foot soldiers would you like to have -- you personally? How many weapons, tanks, planes and what have you? And how long would it take you to march in all these forces in preparation for an invasion?
GEN. FRANKS: That's a great question and one for which I don't have an answer because my boss has not yet asked me to put together a plan to do that.
We all had the experience of some 10 or 11 years ago with Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and we all have a sense of the size of that force, the amount of air power that went into it and so forth. But beyond speculation that I read much about in the press, my bosses have not asked me to put together anything yet, and so they have not asked me for those kinds of numbers. And I guess I would tell you, if there comes a time when my boss asks me that, then I'd rather provide those sorts of assessments to him. But thanks for the question.
Back to the Pentagon, please.
Q General, Thelma La Brecht with Associated Press Broadcast. Pakistan is another country that's in your area. It's been said that Pakistan and India are "on the brink of war." What's your assessment of that? And what sort of steps is the U.S. taking?
GEN. FRANKS: Strained relationship, to be sure. We all can think back three or four months ago, I think, Thelma, I had probably a chance to talk with you, about friction from several months ago when there was great concern about the Pakistanis moving to their border, the Indians doing the same on their side of that border between Pakistan and India. We were concerned about the Pakistanis, who were providing us great support during the Tora Bora operation, the possibility of them moving all of their forces off of the Afghan border and redisposing them someplace else. So there is some history of friction between Pakistan and India.
With respect to what we see right now, I don't know that I would characterize it as "brink of war." I just don't know that. I believe that we're continuing to watch it carefully, and I believe both the governments of India and Pakistan are doing the same thing. I think they're continuing to watch it. And I'm sure that our State Department is engaged in a way of diplomacy that would make sense to all of us. And that, honestly, is the best thing that I can give you right now.
I will say that we continue to see, from President Musharraf and from Pakistan, the support which we need in order to work these areas that I addressed earlier -- the border area there, Pakistan to Afghanistan.
Back to Tampa, please.
Sir? Second row.
Q David Balinger (sp), the St. Pete Times. Did you mention forensics work in Tora Bora?
GEN. FRANKS: Right.
Q What were you referring to there?
GEN. FRANKS: Right. What happens is, we like to get DNA samples. And so what we do -- we go back, and we'll find pieces of clothing -- in some cases, we'll find bloodstained items and so forth, and we like to get DNA samples from that -- and just check them to be sure that we don't have other samples in custody that they match. So that's what I meant by forensics.
Q (Off mike) -- report on that?
GEN. FRANKS: Nothing yet.
Q Robert Greene, Reuters.
GEN. FRANKS: Hi, Robert.
Q You said the situation in Afghanistan is still very fragile.
GEN. FRANKS: Fragile.
Q Would you like to see the international peacekeeping force expanded beyond Kabul?
GEN. FRANKS: Actually, not a question for me to answer. I think what we all seek is to see the opportunity to increase the stability inside Afghanistan. I think that in some cases, people read "increased stability" as implying the expansion of the International Security Assistance Force. And I have seen all the debates and all the discussions on that.
I will say that I actually don't hold an opinion. I am in favor of providing every opportunity for stability inside Afghanistan. I'll also say that I have not seen a great many people rush to try to form a large International Security Assistance Force to expand all over Afghanistan. I think what we want to do is, we want to work with the Afghan government -- the interim administration -- then we want to work with the transitional government in Afghanistan to assist them, to grow their capabilities so that they can provide for their own stability all across the country.
Back to the Pentagon, please.
Q General Franks, this is Bob Burns from AP.
Speaking of stability in Afghanistan, I wanted to ask you about the situation in Western Afghanistan. What evidence do you see at this point of Iran's hand at work in that area, either helpfully or in an unhelpful way? And do you see movement of remnants, al Qaeda or Taliban, moving across that border?
GEN. FRANKS: Actually, I have not seen evidence of Taliban, al Qaeda moving across the border into Iran. Last week I went to Herat and had an opportunity to spend some time with Ismail Khan, who is militia leader or warlord -- whatever we choose to call him -- out in Western Afghanistan. There are many signs of positive momentum in the western side of Afghanistan, as there are also up in the North, as well as down in the Southwest.
And so there is no doubt in my mind that there are influences inside Iran which would seek to destabilize Afghanistan. Now I am not prepared to say that these are government -- that these are Iranian- government-sponsored sort of interests, because I simply don't know that. I do know that our interest is stability and that we're going to continue to work all the way from north to south and east to west, to include with Ismail Khan in the west, to pay attention to that border. And that's probably the most honest answer I can give you on it.
Q General, Nick Childs from the BBC, British Broadcasting Corporation. You made reference in your opening remarks to the incredible work, I think you said, of the British Task Force in Afghanistan. But there has been considerable controversy in Britain itself over the role of the British forces and of the British commander, Brigadier Lane, and references in reports to friction with the U.S. chain of command over some of the deployments and some of Brigadier Lane's public remarks. Do you a response to that?
GEN. FRANKS: I do, and I appreciate your asking the question. I had also a chance last week to meet with Brigadier Roger Lane. I find him to be an outstanding subordinate. I believe that the work that was done by the U.K. task force in that sweep operation that was criticized in some quarters because it did not encounter the enemy actually missed the point. We're doing a great many things inside Afghanistan, and one of the things that we do is we sweep and we re- sweep areas, as I mentioned in my opening remarks. That happened to be the operation that the brigadier and 45 Commando was assigned to do. They did an absolutely marvelous job of that. I told Roger Lane that I was very proud of him, very proud of his people. So, sir, I would say the same thing to you. I am very proud of that contribution, believe that they're doing -- I believe that they're doing a great job. And I'm proud of the troops.
Q General, Tom Bowman with the Baltimore Sun. I'd like to bring you back to Operation Anaconda back in March, since this came up last week at the Senate Armed Services Committee. And Secretary Rumsfeld was asked about Anaconda. And when U.S. forces from the 10th Mountain and 101st Airborne Division came under fire from Taliban and al Qaeda forces, air power was not there to help them. Apparently they were told -- officers were told it was too risky to bring in helicopters to evacuate the wounded. But they had to depend on air power since the artillery was apparently left at home. And Secretary Rumsfeld said the decision was made apparently below General Franks by the land component commander, I would assume Lieutenant General Mikloshek (sp), that the artillery would not be appropriate in that situation, but instead they brought in mortars. And I just want to ask you, why was the artillery left at home? Was this a tactical decision? Was it lack of airlift? And in hindsight, with what happened to Anaconda, was this a wise move?
GEN. FRANKS: Deep question. Yes, I did see the comments. The decision to put the particular force into Operation Anaconda, that went into Operation Anaconda, was in fact a decision that was made at the tactical level. And not only do I -- not only do I support the decision that was made, I actually agree with it. When one looks at -- well, let me do it this way. Any time there is going to be a military operation, one of the first things that will happen will be that the commander responsible to conduct the operation will look at a whole variety of variables related to that particular operation. As he studies those, he'll decide how many forces of what type and how they should be equipped he will use at each particular point of the operation. I find in Operation Anaconda that that work was done, and in fact I think it was done very, very well.
Let me give you a couple of rationale that I think were used. And actually, I have not discussed this with General Mikloshek (sp) or General Buster Hagenbeck, who was the actual tactical ground commander there, so these are my views. The altitudes of that operation were somewhere between 8,000 and 12,000 feet above sea level. If you consider the weight of various kinds of systems -- let me talk to you about mortars for a minute. A 60-millimeter mortar weighs about 45, 46 pounds. An 81-millimeter mortar weighs about 90 pounds. A 120- millimeter mortar weighs about 320 pounds without its -- without the trailer, if it's dismounted. A 105-millimeter howitzer weighs about 4,500 pounds. When one looks at lift availability, the altitude of the fight, the characteristics of the systems -- that means whether a system fires at a low trajectory, which is sort of like this -- that's the characteristic of the howitzer -- or at a very high trajectory, like this, with vertical drop -- that's a mortar -- then one will factor all those considerations together when deciding what the force mix should be.
Now, I was interested to know whether in fact attack helicopters were used in that fight, and as a matter of fact, they were. In fact, we sustained damage due to hostile fire to three attack helicopters during that operation, while two of them were not badly damaged and within a couple of days were back in the fight. So, attack helicopters were in fact used.
Air power was also available and, in fact, it was used. And I believe that somewhere between 30 and 40 mortar systems, those being the more lightweight ones that I described a minute ago, were available to this force for Operation Anaconda.
So, pardon the long answer, but as I put all those things together, I satisfied myself that the men on the ground making the tactical decision made a good one.
So, back to Tampa, please.
GEN. FRANKS: Ma'am, please.
Q General, my name is Diane Pertmer (ph) with -- (inaudible).
GEN. FRANKS: Hi, Diane (sp).
Q Nice to see you again.
You mentioned the training of the Afghan army. You were there last week. You got to see for yourself how well, or not, that process is going.
GEN. FRANKS: Right.
Q What concerns do you have that members of competing national tribes can work together with a common mission under the leadership of the United States and the coalition and not, in fact, be pulled apart in the long term back to those factions that created the problems there in the first place?
GEN. FRANKS: I think it's -- I think it's a good question. And I will not be -- I will not be a "little Johnny Sunshine" on this thing. I think we need to be realistic. The desire in building and training an Afghan national army will be to have representation from a great many of these ethnic and tribal groupings in locations in Afghanistan.
I don't delude myself to believe -- or in believing that this will be an easy task. We don't know how it will go. I am, as I guess I would say, cautiously optimistic.
What we want to do is provide the very best training scenario that we can. We want to work with the interim administration and the transitional government in Afghanistan. As they call forward and take volunteers from these various areas, then we want to be able to aggregate them into units of about 600 men each, equip them, train them in a very competent way. And so I am very positive about it, but I don't minimize the difficulty that I think we'll all face as we're trying to do it.
Q May I ask a follow-up?
GEN. FRANKS: Sure.
Q I'm just wondering, how do we -- how -- and I guess this is the hard part for you all, how do you create a sense of trust between the two groups to make sure that in the end they're fighting for the right side?
GEN. FRANKS: Yeah. With honestly, with balance, with paying them on time, with encouraging them to recognize the importance of things like we have in this country, which is people who wear this uniform serving competent civilian leadership. All of that will be a part of what we'll try to build in the Afghan national army.
Q Same -- related topic. What kind of schedule do you have for making an effective operational force?
GEN. FRANKS: Right --
Q And are you on schedule?
GEN. FRANKS: I think what we would like to do is, sometime within about the next six months or so, we would like to see a force of 2,000 to 3,000 Afghans, appropriately equipped, trained, led. And so that is the initial target that we'll work against.
There's been a lot of speculation, and there's been discussion of whether the Afghan national army should be 200,000 people or whether it should be, you know, smaller or larger or what. I think time will decide that. And so I'm not working toward an end state that says build a certain force by a point in time.
What we wanted to do was, we wanted to begin this process as quickly and as competently as we could, training 600-man units, one at a time. We will alternate that with other nations. As a matter of fact, the French are also involved in this training activity with us. And I suspect other coalition nations will be involved as we move forward. But probably over the next six months or so, we would like to be 2,000 to 3,000, somewhere in there, and then we'll sort of flex, if you will, to decide how we progress down that --
Q Useable troops, troops that you could give assignments to?
GEN. FRANKS: One would expect so. That is the design. That's the plan.
Back to the Pentagon, please.
Q General, Mark Mazzetti with U.S. News and World Report. You mentioned about going back to previously cleared areas in Afghanistan. And Sergeant Vance was killed near the -- in the vicinity of the town of Shkin, which I believe was the site of a very large Army Special Forces operation in early January. I'm wondering, is this an area you think that the enemy might be regrouping and whether the raid in January didn't perhaps clear out the enemy forces well enough.
GEN. FRANKS: I'd rather not talk to you specifically about where we station how many of our forces. But for the sake of orientation -- (to staff) -- do we have that map? Let me -- for those not familiar with Shkin, this area generally, from Orgun over to the Pakistani border, obviously this being Pakistan, this being Afghanistan -- this area along the border area that runs from north to south like this, Asadabad and down in this area -- we have been interested in this area. This is certainly not the only area that we're interested in, but we have watched this area. We have across Afghanistan on any given day -- and I actually don't know the number today -- but on any given day, we will have our people in 30 to 40 different locations -- some a little bit longer duration locations. Others will be there for a very short period of time.
But Sergeant Vance gave his life in the vicinity of Shkin, and that is an area where we are operating and have been operating.
Back to the Pentagon, please.
Q General, Eric Schmidt (sp) with The New York Times.
You've described for us the sweep activity of the coalition troops on the Afghan side of the border. Describe, if you will, for us comparable, if any, activity by the Pakistani forces on their side and whether or not the tensions up in Kashmir have diverted any Pak forces from those duties.
GEN. FRANKS: I think, Eric (sp), that it's possible at any point in time that the sovereign state of Pakistan can rearrange forces any way that President Musharraf might decide. I will say at this point, there are a number of battalions, large organizations working on the Pakistani side of the border in accordance with President Musharraf's wishes. We're coordinating with those forces, and I really can't predict what may happen because of Kashmir. But I will say that the Pakistanis -- and I guess it may be sort of a worn expression -- but the Pakistanis on that border that I showed up there on that map have continued to work with us, and so we're hopeful that they'll continue to keep their people -- the frontier corps, as well as their other assets -- operating in that border area.
Back to the Pentagon.
Q Sir, this is Tony Capacio (sp) with Bloomberg News.
I want to try the artillery question from another vantage point. As you know, there is a debate in Washington over whether to cancel the Crusader howitzer. Supporters of the Crusader have been whispering and saying that its presence in Anaconda might have prevented some early U.S. casualties. A, what's your view of that? And B, just from a strictly military perspective, how difficult would it be to get a 50-ton self-propelled howitzer into that area?
GEN. FRANKS: Tony, I think actually, the Crusader is sort of like 40 tons. And you mentioned that there's a debate in Washington about whether or not to kill the Crusader. Actually, there's no debate with me. I think that this competent civilian authority that I mentioned earlier, for which those of us in uniform work, has made a decision that we will not go forward with Crusader.
Now, with respect to Anaconda, I will -- and I've seen the comments of others on this particular subject. Actually, I've never seen a Crusader. And so I think it's, point one, very difficult to talk about what would have been the effect of that weapons system had it been employed in Anaconda.
Would it have been employed in Anaconda if we had it? Candidly, I doubt it. I don't think it would have, because I described a minute ago the altitude, weight and movement characteristics of the weapons systems that the tactical commanders chose to use in that particular battlefield. Mortars provide the sort of capability one would like to see in that very cross-compartmented cut up sort of terrain.
And so I really wouldn't want to be speculative about it. I suppose those who would seek to make a point on behalf of Crusader would say, Well, if it had been there with its range and with its rate of fire, it would have been a very effective weapon. On the other side, one says, Given the characteristics of that particular fight, it probably wouldn't have been there. I'll just return to the point I made earlier, and that says the tactical commander decided based on weight, mobility and characteristics the sorts of systems he wanted to use, and I believe his judgment was correct.
Back to Tampa. Sir.
Q General, good afternoon. Mark Wilson (sp), WTVT in Tampa. I'd like to ask you about Canada. I believe they're expected to announce today they're going to make some changes in their level of participation. First of all, what's your understanding of why that's happening? And second of all, how will this affect the overall campaign in terms of their responsibilities? Are other nations picking up, or the U.S., perhaps?
GEN. FRANKS: PPLI. The Princess Patricia Light Infantry. Magnificent outfit. I had a chance to visit with many of their soldiers in Kandahar last week. Very proud. Very capable Canadian unit. As you know, they've been involved in the fight in this, in Afghanistan for some time.
I have not -- someone told me earlier that Canada might take a decision to rotate PPLI out. Actually, what I would say is, good for PPLI. They've done an absolutely wonderful job. What we try to do in this coalition is to cycle our forces in and out for the purpose of re-arming, re-fitting and, in fact, resting. And so, to be quite honest with you, I don't think it would send any signal at all if Canada were to take a decision to rotate the PPLI out.
There are nations who are members of the coalition who, in fact, have worked very carefully together and where one nation says, "All right, I'd like to bring a force out in July; will you bring one in as a replacement?" so that there remains some continuity in force level inside the country. I would not see any decision that Canada might make about PPLI as indicating anything other than, you know, a force rotation. Very much appreciate the fact that they have been there. Doing a great job.
Q What about the new bin Laden tape? Have you seen it? And what does that tell you? And are we closer to getting him?
GEN. FRANKS: Two answers: No, ma'am, I haven't seen it. And one never knows how close we are to getting them -- getting him, because -- you know, I haven't seen anything that indicates to me that he's either alive or dead over the past several months. And so the story remains the same: We will work the intelligence and we'll pursue the leads that we get. But no, I have not seen the tape.
Back to the Pentagon please.
Q General Franks, this is Cathy Wren (ph) from the American Forces Information Service. Can you give us a picture of the make-up of this combined joint task force? I know down in Tampa, you have advisers from the coalition militaries. Can you give us an idea of what role those coalition officers will play in the new combined joint task force?
GEN. FRANKS: Right. The -- there are two types of units. If I called this unit a JTF, a joint task force, then that would imply a U.S. structure, in our case, with advisers or liaison elements perhaps from other countries. To our unified command or combatant command here in Tampa, that's what we see. This is a unified headquarters with 32 additional nations represented. The -- when you put the C in front of the JTF, meaning combined, what that means is one will actually take staff officers from other nations and embed them in the operating organization.
The secretary is aware that other nations, several other nations have offered to provide embedded staff officers in this organization. And so what we have said to Dan McNeal (sp) is, let's get this JTF into Afghanistan, and then we will begin to absorb into it the offerings of these other nations and thereby create a combined joint task force. So that's actually what you'll see.
Back to the Pentagon
Q General, this is Jim Manion for Agence France Press. I wanted to ask you about a report concerning the raid May 12th on a compound in Oruzgan Province. Apparently, villagers there are saying that the village was strafed from the air by helicopters and aircraft, and that the five people who were killed were local villagers and farmers. Does that square with what you know about that raid?
GEN. FRANKS: Actually, it doesn't square with what I know about the raid. Intelligence indicated to us that this was one of several compounds where there was, in fact, an enemy force present. The force that went in on that compound, as you said, killed five, also removed, if my memory serves, about 32 detainees. We were questioning those detainees, have been, since that operation took place, and have every reason to believe that while some will turn out to be simple farmers or people who were from that local area, there were some targets in this particular compound that went down on the 12th of May. And that's the way I believe we'll -- that's the way I believe we'll see it turn out.
Back to Tampa for one last question, please.
Q General, with the vice president's increased warning this past week and from the intelligence your commands recovered so far, anything specific or anything indicative of al Qaeda plans for America?
GEN. FRANKS: I have not seen -- I have not seen anything that is specific on al Qaeda planning. I think that we've taken documents out of Afghanistan. Some of the interrogation work that we've done has indicated that there is sure a desire on the part of this terrorist network, which is involved in somewhere between 50 and 60 nations, in harming the United States of America. I believe we know that. And so, no, I have not seen anything specific, but again, that's not my specific area of interest. I worry about our operational area. And so that really is the best I can do for you.
Let me just close by saying that there -- in this coalition, there are so many nations involved in doing such great work. I talked about a few of them today. A great many more I've not talked about. I'm not sure that I've ever mentioned Japan. Japan is very much a part of this activity, not only in our area, but elsewhere, providing tremendous support. And if I were going to mention Japan, I could just as easily mention an additional 10 or 15 more nations. And so my hat's off to them for what they're doing, and my hat remains off to the men and women involved in Operation Enduring Freedom.
Thanks a lot for your time. God bless.
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