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DoD News Briefing - Gen. Myers

NEWS TRANSCRIPT from the United States Department of Defense

DoD News Briefing
Gen. Richard B. Myers, CJCS
Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2002 - 1:19 p.m. EST

(Video shown in this briefing is on the Web at )

Myers: Well, good afternoon. I'm flying solo today. The secretary had a better offer -- for lunch across the river. I'm sure he'd like to be here if he could.

Let me first say that operations continue. Yesterday our forces in Afghanistan continued efforts to locate remaining pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters and their leadership, and they continued to search for camps and cave complexes which hide these pockets or their equipment.

Late yesterday a U.S. team conducting interdiction ops in an area near Gardez-Khowst located a group of suspected al Qaeda fighters. A group of approximately 14 individuals was apprehended without resistance. The U.S. team determined that two of these individuals met the criteria for detention and moved them to Kandahar. Laptop computers, cell phones, some small arms, and training documents were also found and returned to Kandahar with the two detainees, and we're exploiting those as we speak.

U.S. forces will continue interdiction missions in the region and search for al Qaeda and Taliban forces and leadership. They continue their sweep of the Zhawar Kili complex that we described to you late last week and again, I think, yesterday, with Admiral Stufflebeem up here. [ transcript: ] We have found this complex to be very, very extensive. It covers a large area. When we ask people how large, they often describe it as "huge."

Late yesterday they found additional buildings in caves or bunkers in that area. In response, between 6:00 and 9:00 p.m. our time last night, two airstrikes occurred. In the first, an F-14 dropped two precision-guided bombs on a building, and we're going to have a video on that here in just a minute. And about two hours later an F-18 dropped two additional guided bombs on a bunker. The sweep of this extensive complex continues, again, as we speak.

We also continue our preparation to transfer detainees to facilities at Guantanamo Bay. We expect the transfer of the first contingent of detainees to occur soon.

The number of al Qaeda and Taliban detainees transferred to U.S. control continues to grow and now stands at 364. There are 302 being held at Kandahar, 38 at Bagram, 16 at Mazar-e Sharif, and eight on the Bataan.

Now we'll take a look at that video clip of the F-14 strike yesterday at Zhawar Kili. You can see some vehicles near the compound, as well as an individual outside the targeted building. These were not friendly forces, and we had evidence that the compound was active with al Qaeda.

And with that, I'm ready to take your questions. Charlie?

Q: Mr. Chairman, the 14 individuals that were detained last night or yesterday late, were those taken by U.S. forces? And were the two that you said were determined are those you want, were they senior al Qaeda officials?

Myers: They were taken by U.S. forces, Charlie. And let me just say about the identity of the two that were taken, they were the ones of interest that we thought we -- that were senior enough where they might have the kind of information that we're looking for in terms of operational methodology, future operations, and so forth. So --

Q: Were they in that complex? Was that in the complex --

Myers: No, they were not in the complex that was bombed. They were nearby, though. Okay?

Q: General?

Q: General?

Myers: Yes, ma'am?

Q: Could you give us some indication -- you mentioned that trove of cell phones and laptops. Are you finding -- training documents? What kinds of things are you exploiting, as you said?

Myers: Well, one of the things we have to be very careful about, I think, is when we talk about exploiting intelligence information. If we were to divulge all the intelligence information we get, then it doesn't become intelligence information. It becomes pretty common knowledge, and people can then take actions to thwart the advantage we may gain from that information. So I'm very, very reluctant to say exactly what we're getting. But you probably have a cell phone. You know what you have on your cell phone. These cell phones would be like that, I guess, and hard drives have lots of information on them. So it's the kind of stuff you would expect to find that might be of interest.

Q: Can you say in a gradation if this is some of the -- like some of the things that you have found before? Similar or --

Myers: We were just talking exploitation, and I frankly have not seen any of the products that have come out of that, so I can't talk to you specifically. I mean that was just last -- just yesterday. So we're just beginning that.

Q: General?

Q: General?

Q: General, you said that there were eight on the Bataan. There had been nine.

What happened to the ninth? How are you going to transfer the detainees to Gitmo -- by plane or ship or a combination? And secondly, what about John Walker? Is he going to be taken down there or taken elsewhere?

Myers: There were nine. Interesting to see you keep these accurate tabs of our detainees.

Q: We pay attention to them.

Myers: That's very good. (laughter) There were nine. There are now eight. One was taken to -- I think we took him to Bagram airport because the interrogation capabilities we have at Bagram are superior to what we have on board the ship, and we wanted to conduct some specific interrogations. So we went there for the better capability.

Q: Can you tell us who he was or who he is?

Myers: No. I'll just say that as the secretary has said on several occasions here, we -- the Department of Defense will -- is working to release a list of who we have, who we want -- who we have. There are clearly some intelligence implications to that information, so it's taking some time to work through that. But the secretary has promised he's going to try to release that and he's -- I know we're working on it. We're all working on that. So I can't make any promises when, but it -- he will fulfill that promise, I'm sure.

In terms of how we're going to transport them, it looks like initially we're going to do this by plane, by aircraft. And those details are being worked by Transportation Command and the appropriate agencies right now.

And in terms of Mr. Walker, I have no indications right now of where he's going to go precisely.

Q: Is he still on the Bataan?

Myers: To the best of my knowledge, he is, in fact.

Q: Sir?

Q: General Myers? Yesterday General Franks said in an interview that the U.S. military would gain custody of one or two Taliban or al Qaeda of great interest to the United States in the next few days. Can you elaborate on that at all?

Myers: No. I listened to part of the interview. I didn't hear it all, and I don't know the specifics. I'd be guessing if I were going to --

Q: May I follow up on that? He might be referring to the two that you just mentioned.

Myers: That's -- I'd have to guess on that, so I'm not going to guess. I don't know what he was referring to. I'd refer that to General Franks next time you have a chance to --

Q: General, on the interdiction operations, are they focusing on the one area near Khowst, or --

Myers: Zhawar Kili, Khowst area. Yes. Right now that's where they're focusing. I think, as General Franks said yesterday, that a lot of the work in the Tora Bora area is coming to a conclusion, and so that's where the focus is right now.

Yes, ma'am?

Q: I believe General Franks said that there was an indication that Osama bin Laden had been in the Tora Bora area. Can you nail down at all the timeframe there, how recently that might have been? Did he flee there, does it appear, after September 11th? Any sort of timeframe there? Any indications of when?

Myers: I think, again, when it comes to that sort of intelligence, I think we have to be very, very careful about what information we got when, how we got it, and so forth, because it can be -- it can really aid the adversary in this case. So I --

Q: But in terms of how long ago he was there?

Myers: I think even that would be -- I think even that could give away some information that we just don't want to give away, so I'm not going to go into it.

Q: Okay. Can I talk about Zhawar Kili again?

Myers: Mm hmm.

Q: Can you give us an idea how big that area actually is? You said, "huge." It's been hit so many times. What condition was it in? And you said al Qaeda fighters were still there. Are they -- so they're still regrouping there? You're obviously talking about people who are still alive.

Myers: This compound was several miles away from the Zhawar Kili, Khowst area. And so it wasn't exactly in there, but it was in an area we knew the al Qaeda had used going back and forth as a place to stop. So we were fairly certain of our intelligence there.

But the area itself -- I think General Franks yesterday, didn't he talk about the numbers of things that were found there?

Q: Could you give kind of the square miles of this area and what shape it was when you started --

Myers: We'll have to get that for you. I don't have the exact -- the dimensions of the area. But in terms of the structures, below ground, in particular, I think as we put people in there -- you know, some of the things you can't tell sometimes from -- accurately from other types of surveillance and reconnaissance, you can tell when you get people in there and looking around. And that's what we found. I think that's what we refer to when people say it was huge. There was just no indication of that from any other system. And maybe we can put some dimensions on that for you. I don't know that we have them back here, since this has only been ongoing now for a couple of days.

Q: Are you suggesting, General, that the largest part of this compound was actually underground?

Myers: I'm just saying there is a large piece of it that was in caves and underground and that the structure was more extensive, I think, than we had forecasted it to be, and that, you know, as General Franks said, when they find tanks there and artillery and so forth, this is a big complex.

Q: General, on Kandahar, do you see the growing number of prisoners that you're having there as a security force to U.S. forces? Is that part of why you seem to be moving relatively quickly to Guantanamo? And has the military made any new decisions about whom you will move first, including whether the first or next batch of folks that you do move will be those subject to military tribunals?

Myers: Obviously, any time you have detainees who will sacrifice their life to kill you or what you stand for, I mean, that's the most dangerous type of individual you can have in your control. And so, with nearing 400 of those individuals, or 300-plus now, 320- some, at Kandahar, it is. It's a security issue you need to deal with. The folks at Kandahar are dealing with that security issue and they take every means available.

The pace we're on to move to Guantanamo -- you said quickly -- it's on the pace that we've tried to stay on. This has been something that's been in the works for some time. And it's not any quicker or faster or slower than it ever was. We want to make sure the facilities in Guantanamo Bay are adequate for the task. And this is serious business. We've gotten help from experts in this business, both our own military detention people who work this issue, and Bureau of Prisons and so forth. So we're trying to make it ready in Guantanamo to start relieving some of that pressure in Kandahar.

In terms of who first, yes, we know who first, and as far as I know, it has nothing to do with tribunals or any of that. It's -- so I'll just leave it at that. And I'm sure as we start to transfer people in this department --

Q: Well, when you make that, can you help us any more on how you would make that transportation? Could who-first have to do with the intelligence you hope to get from them?

Myers: No, I'll leave that to someone else because I've not been part of who-first, how we pick the first ones, but that's something you might want to address with the secretary later on.

Q: General Myers, may I go back to your taking of the two of great interest? I wondered if you could elaborate as best you can in generalities. They were terrorists. Were they people who might have been in close proximity to terrorist leaders, who might have had, say, information on command and control? Can you say just generally what you might have, and again just generally the information that you might be gaining from that intelligence on computers, just generally?

Myers: I don't think there's much more I can offer than what I've said, except that they are al Qaeda, as opposed to Taliban. So it -- they become very interesting to us because they're a part of the worldwide network of terrorism that al Qaeda supports.

And so we would hope to be gleaning, you know, information that might point to future operations, other operations, so forth.

(cross talk)

Q: In general, why would you single out those two as opposed to the other 12? I mean, can you say in general why you might choose these two as opposed to the other 12 you didn't choose?

Myers: I think because -- (chuckles) -- I mean, not to be flippant at all, because we thought they had -- they're the -- they were the types of individuals -- and we had people looking at this that -- you know, that people make those judgments on these people that we detain, and some just have more intelligence value than others. And so you can't detain them all, so you pick the ones that you think are going to be the most fruitful, and that's exactly what happened.

(cross talk) Yes, sir?

Q: General, to follow up on that, though -- just to follow up, could you give us some sort of context as to what sort -- are we getting any intelligence out of some of these prisoners? Are we getting none? Some? Are we --

Myers: We've -- I mean, we said before -- last time I was up here we talked -- I think we've talked about it at least twice the last two times I was up here with the secretary -- that indeed we are getting some intelligence on this. We think we have thwarted some attacks. But to go into any more detail starts to give away what we know and what they don't know we know, and so we've got to be very, very careful there. But yes, this has been somewhat fruitful.

(cross talk)

Q: One more question, to follow up --

Myers: One more follow-on.

Q: And on the leaflets that were dropped, that showed Osama bin Laden in civilian clothes -- has that yielded any new leads or any information?

Myers: I can't state specifically if it has or it hasn't. I just don't know.


Q: There's been a report out on two Taliban leaders. The Afghan Islamic press says that the minister of defense for the Taliban, Mullah Al-Badullah (sp), I think his name is, and a former minister of justice, Mullah Taruq Tarobi (sp) or something like that, have agreed -- have surrendered to anti-al Qaeda forces. Will the U.S. demand that they be turned over to the Marines or U.S. forces?

Myers: Obviously, individuals of that stature in the Taliban leadership are of great interest to the United States, and we would expect that they would be turned over. Absolutely.

Q: Are you going to pressure them to turn over or --

Myers: We expect them to turn them over. Let me just leave it at that.

Q: With a quick follow-up on the Franks interview with AP yesterday, he implied that the U.S. has an understanding with Pakistan to allow U.S. troops in a hot pursuit mode to go into Pakistan to track down al Qaeda or Taliban leaders. CNN reports that Pakistan is denying such an agreement's been made. Can you clarify that?

Myers: The relationship we have -- obviously, Pakistan has been very supportive in many, many ways. We know about the airspace and so on. And what we have day-to-day with the Pakistan Army and Pakistan forces are either liaison elements or so forth. We do not operate unilaterally inside Pakistan.

Q: Sir --

Myers: Yes, sir?

Q: I wonder if you can bring us up to date on any reconstitution of al Qaeda operations in other places, particularly Yemen and Somalia. And with respect to Yemen, what's your assessment of this sort of after-action report, if you will, on the Yemeni forces' action against al Qaeda there?

Myers: To the first question, on reconstitution of al Qaeda, you're talking about reconstitution in terms of location after Afghanistan, maybe for training facilities and so forth? I think that, first of all, we need to say this about the al Qaeda organization: it is still an organization, still a viable organization capable of terrorist acts, probably worldwide.

And so there's a fairly good base there that we are yet to get at. We've worked the Afghanistan piece and we think that's had some impact. It may lead to future operations that will be successful, and I'm not talking now just military operations, but other operations as well.

Where they're going to go next is the subject of a lot of analysis right now, and we're going to have to watch the indicators, all the intel indicators and other governments as they help us with this to try to figure out where they might go establish, and I can't -- it's too early to say where that might be.

And in terms of Yemen's support to the war on terrorism, I think I'll stick by the secretary's guidance on that, or his druthers on that, which is to let the Yemeni government speak for themselves. The only thing I would say is that the Yemeni government is taking measures to combat terrorism, and I'll just leave it at that.

Q: General Myers?

Q: General?

Q: Can you give us a sense of the scope of U.S. forces that you think might be necessary in Pakistan in searching for bin Laden, and does it go beyond Special Forces? And I have a follow up.

Myers: I'm not going to -- I will never speculate on the number of forces that it might take to anything, as a matter of fact. But as I said, in Pakistan, the Pakistani government has been very cooperative. I would expect them to be cooperative in any -- if there were -- if we thought UBL was in Pakistan, I think we could rely on the Pakistani government and their forces to participate, and our role would probably be a liaison role. That would be speculation again.

Q: Is it fair to say there might be an increase in the role of the United States in Pakistan in the search?

Myers: Again, I think the Pakistani government has been very cooperative in these matters, and we can count on their cooperation. And that's -- so I'd -- but I'm not going to speculate again. I mean, but that's where I'd leave it.

Q: And another -- just another point. The Afghan officials are reporting, as before, that the ministers -- Taliban ministers of Defense, Justice, and Mines and Industry have surrendered. Is that a credible report to your knowledge?

Myers: We're going to check that out.

Q: General Myers?

Q: General?

Q: It's been a month since the last friendly fire incident which killed the three soldiers. Have you since then, as a result of investigation, either instituted any new procedures or upgraded any equipment or taken any other steps that would prevent such accidents? Have you learned anything from this?

Myers: Let me -- a couple of parts to the question. First of all, this was asked the other day, I think by you, Tony. The investigations are not complete. They're not through to General Franks at Central Command yet, so there's nothing that can be released at this point. As they work their way up the chain, though, that will be of course looked at, and there will be -- eventually there will be a report.

In the meantime, though, of course actions were taken immediately to try to determine what had happened and then take actions based on that. And when I was over in the region, matter of fact, right before Christmas, I talked to the people involved in some of that, in terms of procedures, mostly, procedural improvements that would prohibit that in the future.

Q: So there was a problem with procedure? The procedures weren't --

Myers: You could tighten up procedures. The investigation, again, it was not complete at the time, but there are ways to check and double check your work. And there were -- we call them tactics, techniques, and procedures. There were improvements made to our TT&P [tactics, techniques and procedures] to help preclude it as the investigation continues, because it's prudent stuff to do. It's going to help in any case, and it's not going to have anything but a beneficial impact tactically.

Q: General?

Q: General, the U.S. forces that are sweeping through the Zhawar Kili area, have they encountered any resistance? And also, do you have better idea at this time what happened in the case of Sergeant Chapman?

Myers: To my knowledge, the forces that are in the Zhawar Kili area have not encountered resistance.

In terms of Sergeant Chapman and his tragic death, that investigation is ongoing. I know there's been a lot of speculation, but I think we need to let the investigation run and to get a clearer picture on exactly what happened on that day.

Q: General?

Q: General, can you give us a more precise idea of what you mean when you say that "transfers to Guantanamo will begin soon"? And also, could you tell us -- my understanding is, there are cells there now for about 50 prisoners already on the base. Is that the initial limit on what you'll transfer, or are you going to set up tent camps until you have more additional permanent facilities?

Myers: I'm going to leave it at "soon." "Soon" is -- "soon" is about as good as good as I'm going to -- can do because, as I said before, we've got to ensure that the facilities on Guantanamo are sufficient to hold the type of detainees that we're going to hold. And it's obviously -- it's got to be done right. So there is no pressure on Southern Command, in this case, who is responsible for this activity -- there's no pressure on them or the Joint Task Force that's going to be conducting activities in this camp to hurry this along.

And the number of cells you talked about is close to being right, but we're going to bring cells on, it looks like, fairly quickly, and they will not be of the same variety in Kandahar. They will not be -- they'll be a more -- more permanent type -- I hate to use the word "permanent" -- but they're not going to be tents. They're going to be secure facilities that will be brought online, and they will not be temporary in the sense that we're going to replace them right away. Now in the long run, they may give way to other structures, but they're going to be good for the foreseeable future. Okay.

Q: General?

Myers: Ma'am?

Q: Could you tell us what happened to the other 12? Were they let go or were they handed over to Afghan troops? >From that podium, Rumsfeld has been very clear that all al Qaeda are to be detained. And also, could you give us a better description of what you mean by "better interrogation capabilities" in Bagram? Because it certainly sets the mind to wondering what you're doing.

Myers: The other 12 -- I have to -- I do not know what happened to them. I assume they're in the hands of the Afghan administration. And in terms of interrogation capability, we have, of course, special -- specially trained individuals that have the capability to do the interrogation and --

Q: That were in Bagram.

Myers: Well, they're in several places, obviously. They're in Kandahar, as well. But the -- in the case of the kind of information we wanted and putting all our capabilities together, it was determined that Bagram was a better spot for this individual to be interrogated.

Q: General?

Q: General?

Myers: Yes, sir, in the very back.

Q: A question about the 725 Canadians, I believe, are going to Kandahar. Can you tell us what you know about that deployment, and why it's -- how and why it's come about, and perhaps whether you have any concerns about difficulty integrating this foreign contingent with the American troops who are there now?

Myers: First of all, I guess it was announced in Canada yesterday that they would have a contingent going to Kandahar. We were aware of that, of course, but I think the Canadians announced it. And I don't want to comment for the Canadians. I'll only say that we appreciate the help we're getting from all our partners on this war on terrorism. I have no doubt, because of the way we exercise and cooperate with the Canadians on a daily basis, that there will be any problems with integrating that force into our own force. This will simply not be an issue. I think they'll meld in very nicely. And the offer is much appreciated.

Q: Was it necessary?

Myers: Absolutely. Absolutely necessary.

Q: General?

Q: General?

Myers: One more.

Q: If we could follow up on the Chapman comments you made, Admiral Stufflebeem termed it a possible set-up, that they were investigating it as a possible set-up, which suggests there may have been a betrayal, perhaps, by one of our so-called "allies" in the region. Have you done any -- have you implemented any procedures to assure operational security and to ensure that our allies are indeed our allies?

Myers: First of all, I'm going to avoid characterizing that situation with those kind of words. I mean, we just don't know yet. That's why I said we need to complete the investigation and determine the best we can what happened. Let me assure you that the folks on the ground over there that are involved in those kind of operations -- I met with lots of their leadership when I was there right before Christmas. Clearly this is -- I mean, they understand the situation on the ground. They understand how dangerous that is. I don't know how many times we've stood up here and said this is a dangerous place, that allegiances sometimes change and that you've got to be very, very careful. And our people on the ground are probably some of the smartest in that regard. They've been over there now operating for months, with other folks as well. So, I mean, there's a fairly good knowledge of this. So I think we just ought to wait for the investigation to finish and then we can have a much clearer appreciation for what actually happened, rather than speculating on this.

Yes, sir?

Q: General, the admiral yesterday referred -- with, I thought, some frustration -- to the chasing of shadows, referring to Taliban and al Qaeda, perhaps even to Omar and Osama bin Laden. I wanted to ask you to elaborate on that, about whether or not that has receded into the background as a priority, whether there is frustration on the part of the military in constantly having to address the questions at briefings like this about "Where's Omar?" Where's Osama bin Laden?"

Myers: I did not hear Admiral Stufflebeem use the term "chasing shadows," but -- so I can't address what was in his mind. I can say that from the beginning, what we want out of this is the al Qaeda leadership and the Taliban leadership. And of course, that would include bin Laden, and that would include Omar.

And I don't think -- nobody is frustrated. This is very, very difficult work. Somebody reminded me how difficult it was in Panama to go after the Panamanian leader when we'd been in the country for how many years and -- so this is difficult, difficult work. I think we're getting better at it, oh, by the way, and I think bringing all the instruments of national power to bear on the problem, we're going to -- we're going to be successful in the end. So I don't -- I'm not frustrated. I don't think Admiral Stufflebeem is frustrated, and I don't think the secretary's frustrated -- (inaudible).

(cross talk)

Q: General, follow-up on that, please?

Myers: Okay.

(cross talk)

Myers: Yes, sir.

One question.

Q: Yes, sir. One question.

Indian home minister, Mr. Advani, is coming tomorrow here to meet with the highest official, including you, I believe. And he's carrying a list of at least 20 terrorists who are based in Pakistan, carried out attack on the Indian parliament, and is asking all the ministers, including Secretary Rumsfeld, to press General Musharraf -- which you, I believe, have a blind in faith in him -- to hand over those people to India. And he's coming to discuss -- to fight terrorism combined -- that's India and the U.S. -- to go after terrorists. So do you have any comments on any of these visits?

Myers: No, I think that's -- I mean, I'm a military man, and that's probably not something I would get directly involved in. I think we'll just have to wait till the minister gets here tomorrow, and we'll participate in those conversations. I think everybody's goal, though, is the same, and that is, we'd like to have a world where the terrorists are not free to operate, wherever they come from.

(cross talk)

Myers: Charlie, first and last question.

Q: Have you a ballpark figure of how many American troops are on the ground now in Afghanistan?

Myers: Sure. That's --

Q: Between 3,000 and four (thousand).

Myers: Yeah, 35 --

Q: Would you say that?

Q: I'm sorry.

Myers: Between 3,500 and 4,000 in Afghanistan.

Q: What's the 10th Mountain (Division) doing? Anything?

Myers: The 10th -- (chuckles) -- that was the last question.

But I will just say this, because the commander of the 10th Mountain used to be here on the Joint Staff not too -- until not too long ago: They are probably the most widely dispersed division in the United States Army. They're in the Balkans, and they're also in Afghanistan. So that's all. I'll just leave it at that. I don't want to go into specifics of where exact units are.

With that, thank you very much. Thank you.

Q: Thank you.

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