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Clarke News Briefing at Foreign Press Center

ASD PA Clarke News Briefing at Foreign Press Center

NEWS TRANSCRIPT from the United States Department of Defense

DoD News Briefing
Victoria Clarke, ASD PA
Friday, Jan. 4, 2002

(News briefing at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, D.C.)

Clarke: Good afternoon, and thank you all very much for your time. I know how busy Fridays can be, so I'll just have a few brief remarks at the top here and open it up to your questions. And if they stick to one question apiece, that'll be -- that is not what we're used to over at the Pentagon.

Let me start with this. It is incredibly important to remember and it is so obvious, especially today, that the U.S. military and the coalition partners still have a lot of difficult and dangerous work to do in Afghanistan. I don't know if you-all just saw General Franks' briefing [ transcript: ], but he did acknowledge that a U.S. Army Special Forces trooper was killed in a firefight in Afghanistan. And it just points again and -- underscores what we continue to say and what a difficult and dangerous mission this is.

That being said, we will remain in Afghanistan in a very forward-leaning position until we accomplish our mission. And that includes making sure the Taliban is out of power, so it can no longer harbor terrorists. And we have made significant progress towards that goal. There is now an interim government in place in Afghanistan, and they share our views on terrorism.

Another important part of our objectives:

Tracking down the Taliban and al Qaeda leadership, that which remains, as well as the al Qaeda network. That will take time.

Strengthening Afghanistan and helping the Afghan people with humanitarian assistance, which is desperately needed because of the oppressiveness and the horrible nature of the Taliban rule. This too is very important work that is ongoing, and we're very strongly committed to it.

Recent intelligence missions and the work we've done going through caves and tunnels, and the information we've surfaced after some of the military operations have confirmed what we have known all along about the al Qaeda and the Taliban. The al Qaeda is a comprehensive and extremely well-organized network. UBL's organization is global. It is certainly not limited just to Afghanistan.

The estimates are anywhere from 50 or 60 to 70 countries that have al Qaeda cells in them. The scope extends far beyond Afghanistan.

Importantly, it's a movement that is identified by, defined by hatred. There was horrendous treatment of women and children in Afghanistan as a result of the Taliban and the al Qaeda leadership. There was a consistent targeting of civilians, abusing them, torturing them, using them as shields against military operations, and as you well know, widespread hunger and even starvation caused by a number of their actions, including disrupting the delivery of humanitarian assistance, stealing humanitarian assistance that was dedicated, intended for the Afghan people.

In contrast, the United States is Afghanistan's largest humanitarian donor. Even before September 11th, we had already provided $170 million worth of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan -- now provided more than $187 million worth since October. That includes food, shelter, blankets, medical supplies. And as the winter is upon us, a very tough winter, the United States commitment to the Afghan people is saving lives. One of the top priorities, and I think you heard General Franks probably address this to a certain extent in his briefing, is working with the Afghan interim government, working with our coalition partners to provide hubs, to provide meaningful ways to deliver massive amounts of humanitarian assistance.

Let me turn a little bit to how we see things since September 11th. It's important to remember that this was not -- what happened on September 11th was not just about the United States. That was a tragedy for the entire world. More than 3,000 people were killed or are still missing, and they came from over 80 different nations; people from all walks of life and from many, many different nations, a wide array of races and religions, including Islam. And President Bush has said from the outset that this is not a war against a religion or a people or a country, but against terrorists and their supporters and those who harbor and foster and sponsor them. And in recognition of this, just recently, before the holidays here, on December 11th, more than 120 countries stood together on December 11th, three months after the attacks, to remember the three-month anniversary. It was an extraordinary event and an extraordinary symbol of the international support for the war on terrorism.

President Bush has built an incredible coalition, an evolving, changing coalition of countries who are dedicated to the campaign against terrorism, and our approximate estimates include that over 136 countries have offered a diverse range of military assistance; 46 multilateral organizations have declared their support. And with U.S. leadership and international support, Afghans are putting aside their long-standing differences and trying to put together a government that will have meaningful reforms and improvements for the Afghan people.

With that I will stop -- and again, thank you for letting us have some of your time today -- and take your questions.

Moderator: Just a reminder, please wait for the microphone, and state your name and news organization when you -- (off mike).

Q: My name is Andrei Sitov. I am with TASS, with the Russian News Agency.

I actually wanted to ask you, ma'am, to talk a little bit about your own efforts in public diplomacy. I do a story on that right now, and could you tell us how this is organized, how the centers in London and Islamabad are staffed, how they operate, how you stay on the message, domestically and internationally, and how you gauge the effectiveness of your efforts? How are you doing so far?

Clarke: Thank you very much.

There is incredible coordination of many kinds, and -- speaking primarily for the U.S. government, but I can talk about how others are involved -- we have close daily, almost hourly coordination with our counterparts at the White House, at State, at the NSC, at Treasury, at Justice, at the FBI. And the reason I mention that is because, as we say all the time, this is not just a military campaign. The war on terrorism is not just about military activity; it is about economic activity, diplomatic activity, financial activity. All of those things together are what is permitting us to be as effective as we have been thus far. So we have daily, hourly communication with one another.

In addition to that, the interagency coordination in the United States, we have set up an international communications infrastructure, if you will, currently based here in Washington, in those agencies I mentioned, in Pakistan, in London. And we're coordinating closely with the UK and others to make sure we all know what are the different parties doing, what are the main themes and messages we're trying to communicate, what are the major rumors that we need to shoot down -- those sorts of things.

And I'd say I'd leave it for others to judge the results. One of the things I can point to is, there is an incredibly strong level of support from the American people, an incredibly high level of understanding of what it is we're trying to accomplish, how we plan to go about doing it. So those are the kinds of things we look to in terms of communications to see how we're being effective.

Q: My name is Paul Coring (sp). I'm with the Globe and Mail of Canada.

I wondered if I could get you to reflect on changes, even since the Gulf War, of women in the U.S. military. They're playing roles in this campaign, flying strike aircraft, doing all kinds of things that they weren't doing even a decade ago. And whereas I realize there's still exclusions from combat trades in the infantry and Marines, two things have struck me: one, the variety of roles that they're playing, and secondly, the almost complete lack of debate that this is engendering domestically.

Does that mean it's off the sort of political agenda as an item of debate and that their role in military operations is fully solidified?

Clarke: I'll tell you what I know, which is -- I'm a newcomer to this business, but I have heard others reflect on that; that things have changed so dramatically in the last 10 years in terms of women's integration into the U.S. military overall, that -- and it is so full and so complete, that most people don't think it's a story or of interest any more. We don't even keep incredibly detailed estimates of who's serving in what capacity -- those sorts of things. We can get them, but it is such a natural part of the business these days, it doesn't have that kind of priority to it.

In the beginning of this conflict, starting a couple of months ago, there were a few reporters who were interested in doing a story -- "Well, let's focus on women in the military." And most of the people in the services, men and women, said, "But that's not really a story; we'd rather focus on the job."

You have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of women on aircraft carriers, you have women flying planes, you have women working in logistics, and they are widespread throughout. So in terms of the U.S. military, the integration is pretty successful and pretty complete. There is always work to be done, but for us, it is pretty much a non-story. I can't predict, you know, into the future what it will be, but right now there's just not a real level of interest to that because it's just a pretty natural integration.

Q: Thank you.

Clarke: Sure. Thank you.

Moderator: In the very back. Right here.

Q: Mike Levalli (sp), Tokyo Broadcasting System. Today, in General Franks' briefing, he mentioned that U.S. forces had crossed over and are now working in Pakistan. And please correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it may be the first acknowledgement by the Pentagon that U.S. forces are now operating in Pakistan. But even so, could you give us a little bit more about what they're doing? Are they actually on missions in search of Taliban and al Qaeda members, or are they more there as advisers or just to gather intelligence?

Clarke: I didn't see all of his briefing, so I apologize; I don't know what he said. So I'd rather not be commenting on what he said, since I didn't see it or haven't seen the words.

We are working closely with any number of people and countries and entities in this effort. And there are a lot of host nation sensitivities with various countries in the region.

We -- you know, as a general policy, we tend to let other countries talk about what their role in the war on terrorism is. What they choose to talk about and what they don't choose to talk about is okay with us.

We have been working very closely with Pakistan on this effort for quite some time now. They have been very supportive. They have been very helpful. So we've been very pleased with the level of cooperation and support with the Pakistanis. When you talk about the activity along the border there, there has been incredibly close coordination. I, for one, can't go into any details for you about what we might be doing. And I apologize. I just didn't see that part of his briefing.

Q: (Off mike) -- U.S. troops were operating in Pakistan?

Clarke: My knowledge is that there were not. And we got asked about that in a briefing the other day. My information was that we were not. But I'd go with what General Franks said today.

Q: I'm Djono from Suara Merdeka, Indonesia. On the 2002 Defense Appropriation budget, contains language which appropriating $21 million to establish original defense on the terrorism fellowship program. I'm just wondering whether you could elaborate that program, and are there any decision yet on the -- which country is eligible to receive that?

Clarke: I'm sorry, the last part of your question? Repeat that?

Q: Which country is eligible to the program?

Clarke: I think I heard most of it. And the first thing I'll say is, I am the furthest thing from an expert on the budget there is. When you are talking about a budget well in excess of $300 billion, it's hard enough to stay on top of the big ticket items. But I can make a general comment about the funds and resources devoted to antiterrorist effort.

You can go back well before September 11th -- you can go back well before 2001, and Secretary Rumsfeld, both as secretary and in his private life, was very often encouraging people to understand that we live in a very different world. You know, our frame of reference was the Persian Gulf War, in terms of military matters. We need to understand that we live in a very different world, a very different context, and there will be different kinds of asymmetrical threats, including terrorism, and we need to do several things to address those threats.

We need to increase and improve our intel-gathering capabilities. We need to increase and improve our resources dedicated to anti-terrorist activity. We need to increase our coordination and integration and collaboration, in the best sense, with countries around the world who are similarly inclined.

So in a -- without addressing that particular $21 million out of over $300 billion, I can tell you, we have a very serious intent, both in the existing budget and the one that we're putting together for 2003, focused on anti-terrorism efforts, both at home and abroad.

Q: Parasuram with the Press Trust of India. The war in Afghanistan to some extent seems baffling, because before the -- at the start, one got the impression that there were thousands of al Qaeda and Taliban troops, and most of them seem to have just melted away. You've taken so few prisoners. And what happened to the rest of them? And are you sure that after you're back home they will not be re-forming and taking over the country again?

Clarke: Afghanistan is a very challenging place. You couldn't imagine, probably, a more challenging place to try to engage in a war.

In terms of prisoners, we think -- you know, the ballpark estimates, if you will -- some thousands of prisoners in Afghanistan being held by anti-Taliban forces, about 273, I think it is -- the number may have changed since this morning, may be slightly more than that -- in U.S. control -- north of 270 under U.S. control. They are people, both Taliban and al Qaeda, that we think can be useful for different reasons or people that we think should be prosecuted.

But you're right. As a result of the military activity and the strikes, quite a few of the people who were doing the harm could have melted into the countryside. Some of them could have and probably have gone across the border. Some of them defected and came over to the other side. There are a variety of things they could have done and they probably have done.

And you're also right, as -- today's incident is a perfect example -- there are pockets of resistance. There are flashbacks. There are people who still mean to do harm to the United States, to our coalition partners, probably to the interim government as well. So it is still a very, very dangerous place.

And for instance, the strike yesterday near Khost, the large strike that the United States did yesterday, was in an area, a compound, or facility that has been known historically as a place where the al Qaeda would go to regroup.

So that is something some of them are probably trying to do.

And that's why we say -- I know people often get bored and start to roll their eyes when we say this, but we believe very strongly we're still in the earliest stages of this war on terrorism, which is about much more than Afghanistan, and we still have a lot of work to do in Afghanistan.

We've made progress; we've made significant progress, if you look at the objectives we've set out. The Taliban are out of power in terms of the government. There are still Taliban out there who mean to do harm. We have somewhat disrupted and disabled the al Qaeda network, but there's still a lot of work to be done.

Q: Priscilla Huff with South African Broadcasting. Today General Franks mentioned we're going to see spikes in military action in the future. Is one of those strikes going to be in Somalia or perhaps in another country like Iraq? What's the next target?

Clarke: Well, if we knew or know what the right target is, we would probably not be very inclined to announce it here or elsewhere. Plus, where we go next and what we do next in the war on terrorism is very much a presidential decision; it is very much up to him.

We have made it clear -- and I repeat myself -- this war is certainly not just about Afghanistan. Al Qaeda alone in 50 or 60 or 70 different countries. And we don't intend to stop just in Afghanistan. We will continue to prosecute the war on terrorism around the world with the many, many countries who are committed to the same cause with us. But as I said, where we go next, what we do next are presidential decisions.

Q: Hi. Mike Hiachi (sp) of Japan's daily, Yomiuri. What could you tell us about your planned presence in Kyrgyzstan? There was a report today in USA Today about the planes coming into Kyrgyzstan air force bases in coming weeks. What will the role for those planes and the stationing of those U.S. forces be in the broader context of the war against terrorism and in the region?

Clarke: Okay. What I can really address is the broader context. As I said -- and let me stop for a minute and address coalitions, and then I'll address your question somewhat specifically.

Again, one of the great challenges we've had in prosecuting this war is that, in particularly the United States, everyone has a frame of reference, and it is usually whatever happened last time. So everyone's frame of reference -- or a lot of people's frame of reference on this military action was the Persian Gulf War, and they assumed everything would be very similar. They assumed it would look the same, you'd use the same things, you'd have the same kind of coalition. And nothing could be further from the truth. Now we are going against people who don't have armies and navies and air forces. So unlike the Persian Gulf War, we warned everybody, don't expect night after night to see thousands of missiles flying through the air and thousands of soldiers coursing across a desert.

In another way that this is very different, we don't have "a" coalition. What we have is evolving, changing coalitions, which change over time as circumstances and demands and needs require. And so we have been very, very pleased, as I said, with the support we've gotten. Some of that support is more visible than others.

And that is fine by us. If people can offer us help and assistance and be part of the effort to combat terrorism, but they can't have a lot of visibility for it in their own country, for domestic reasons, that is fine with us.

So I will tread very carefully on what Kyrgyzstan is doing, because we really believe it is up to them to talk most about it. We have said, in a general sense, we want to have as many resources, as many bases of operation, if you will, as possible, so you have as much flexibility. And it's always better to be closer to the main activity than further away. So some help with an airfield, so we can have planes that don't have as long a haul, is a very good thing. So contributing importantly to the overall effort, giving us some real help in the resources -- in particular, what I can talk about -- and I think General Franks may have addressed this -- really helping us really helping us in getting planes closer.

Q: Jose Carreno of El Universal of Mexico.

Clarke: How are you?

Q: I'm well. How are you?

Are you concerned --

Clarke: If you work -- if you work with the U.S. Trade Representative for a few years, as I did, some of these faces are familiar. (Soft laughter.)

Q: Are you Thelma or Louise, by the way?

Clarke: Pardon me?

Q: Are you Thelma or Louise, by the way?

Clarke: Am I --

Q: Thelma or Louise?

Clarke: Oh, can't remember. (Laughter.) I can't remember.

Q: Now are you concerned, or the U.S. government concerned, anyway, that you are embarking in a sort of an endless and victory-less war?

Clarke: As someone who's lived in this town for over 20 years -- and a lot older than that, which I don't want to admit anymore -- I have never seen the American people more committed, with greater resolve to a cause than this. And clearly, the impact of September 11th was extraordinary. For many, many years, we have been blessed by geography and good neighbors. So the events of September 11th, I'm sure, have a lot to do with that, but I have never seen the American people this united, this committed, this dedicated to this very, very important cause that isn't just about us. It is not just about us.

But there is this incredible sense that you have to pursue it. There's an incredible understanding that it will be very long and very difficult. It won't be clean and neat and linear, and there may not be hard edges to it, but, as I said, the American people seem to have an incredibly high understanding for that and an incredible amount of support to pursue this as aggressively as we have to and for as long as we have to. Terrorism, by its very nature, is not something you can defend against every single threat out there. So you have to take the battle to them, you have to go to the sources, you have to go to those that harbor and foster and sponsor them to root it out.

And just the reverse of what you're saying. I've just never seen that kind of commitment.

Moderator: Thomas?

Q: Thomas Gorguissian, Al-Wafd, Egypt. I will try to complete the question of Pepe, asking if you describe exactly how the American people are united and committed and not questioning even what's going on. Do you doing any kind of estimate or guessing how the rest of the world is looking to this war? Again, it's a war. By all means, it's a war, and bombing is going on and all these kinds of damage may take place. We don't know.

And the second question is somehow related to it. And it's -- unfortunately it's a completion of the -- my Russian colleague question. As a spokesperson, how do you see or how do you evaluate your work in taming the beast -- I mean the press -- and make your own spin?

Clarke: Two very different questions, so I'll try to remember both. But the first one -- do we pay attention to, are we listening to what is going on around the world? Absolutely. Absolutely. We could not do this alone, so we are constantly working with, consulting with, talking with literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people around the world from over a hundred countries on how the best way to prosecute this war. I think one of the reasons for the success thus far has been that kind of extraordinary sensitivity, and to say in a very non-patronizing way, we appreciate whatever you can do to contribute to this effort, and far be it for us to tell you that it's all or nothing, or you have to let us completely run the show and you have to let us say whatever we want to say about your country's contributions. I think it's been an extraordinarily sensitive appreciation that different countries have different concerns and needs -- appreciate and value that they share with us this desire to root out terrorism and work with them in a very flexible fashion. So we are extraordinarily sensitive to that, and I think that's what's contributed to the success thus far.

On the other one, I will just -- I will leave it to others to judge the success of our efforts in terms of communications.

And I think our job is pretty straightforward; is to explain this is what we're trying to accomplish, give as much information as we can about what we're doing -- and I'm really speaking from the Pentagon's perspective here -- without endangering operations or putting lives at risk, and be very straight and very direct with people.

So I will leave it to others to judge how we're doing. But I will say this; one thing that we hear again and again and again from the general public -- they call in, they e-mail, they send mail, which takes a long time to get through -- and you constantly hear, "We appreciate that you're so straight with us. We value the candor, the honesty, the directness of how you all are talking about this war."

And I think that is -- this is just my personal, Torie Clarke opinion -- I think that is one of the reasons we have been relatively successful in keeping the American people's support of this effort. I think the American people challenge things every single day, and I think they think about this war, they think about the military in ways they never did before. But I think the reason their support -- one of the reasons the support is so strong is because we have been so straight and so honest with them. When bad things happen, we say so. We have made it so clear that this is going to be very difficult and there will be casualties. And they appreciate that kind of directness.

Q: (Name inaudible) -- Associated Press of Pakistan. You have spoken of al Qaeda network is in 50 to 70 countries. So do we take it that the U.S. is going to invade all these countries one by one? If not, how are you going to take them out?

And while you speak of the war on terrorism, you make absolutely no mention, I notice, of the underlying causes of terrorism -- at least some causes, with some of which the U.S. has identifiably not been in sympathy with.

Clarke: Okay, the first part -- and, fortunately, you know, several questions often get asked of others before you. The secretary got asked that exact question yesterday. "You mentioned 50, 60 countries. Does that mean --" you know, "Which is next?" and "What's the lineup?" and, "You're going to systematically do the exact same thing?"

We can disabuse you of anything. No two situations are exactly the same. And the level of al Qaeda presence in each of those countries is very different. And even within a particular country, the level of activity ebbs and flows and changes. Terrorist training camps, for instance; they can be up and operating one week, and gone the next. So it's a very different, very fluid situation.

Some of those countries that have been known over the last several years to be supporters, somewhat friendly to al Qaeda, have shown themselves to be a little less friendly and a little less welcoming of that presence in their country.

And then I'll just go back to what I said before. In terms of military action and in terms of what we do next and where we go next in the war on terrorism, those are decisions the president will make, and that's just not my place to talk about.

And then you talk about the underlining (sic) causes of terrorism, and you start to get into areas -- it's just not my place to talk about those things. There are lots of different reasons for terrorism, and I'm sure you're far more articulate on it than I am.

In the case of al Qaeda, they claim it is in the name of lots of good and wonderful things. It's a movement based on a bunch of lies, is what it is. I mean, I'll focus on al Qaeda for you. It's based on a bunch of lies and torture and abuse and just incredible, horrible, horrible people who are desperately interested in building their power.

And if you think about what happened on September 11th -- I mean, I don't care what your cause is, I don't care what you think your needs are, I don't care what you think your gripe is. To spend months and months and months planning the massacre of thousands of people, of innocent civilians, on September 11th -- so I don't -- I don't pretend to understand, to be the great expert on what are the causes of terrorism, but I'll tell you there is no excuse for that. And you'll hear that from us quite a bit.

Moderator: Well, we've got time for one more. Ben?

Q: Thank you. My name is Ben Bangura (sp). I would appreciate if you could give us an update on U.S. military cooperation or assistance with sub-Saharan Africa, which has been, I think, under review.

Clarke: Again, very difficult for me to talk about too many specifics. But as a general matter and as a general principle, we are very, very strong believers and backers of military-to-military cooperation. It increases the level of understanding and appreciation and support.

And Secretary Rumsfeld could stand up here -- I wish he could answer this question, because he could give you several personal examples of very important leaders he has met over the last 10, 20, 30 years who had some experience, in their training or in their education, where they were part of a U.S. military-to-military exchange, and they said it made a dramatic difference in how they viewed the United States. They recognized the United States has no desire or interest in other people's lands, those sorts of things. So as a general matter, we're very committed to military-to-military cooperation.

And with that, I will thank you all very, very much, and wish you the best of luck, and nice to see some old friends again. Thank you.

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