DoD Background Briefing on the Horn of Africa
NEWS TRANSCRIPT from the United States Department of Defense
DoD News Briefing Senior Defense Official Friday, March 8, 2002 - 3:01 p.m. EST
(Background briefing on the terrorist threat in the Horn of Africa)
Staff: Well, first of all, I want to thank you for coming this afternoon. In an effort to continue to put some context to this war against terrorism, we're holding a second background briefing -- the second of several that we hope to do. This is the first regional look at terrorism around the globe, and today we're going to specifically be looking at terrorist -- the terrorist threat in the Horn of Africa. Today your defense official, for your notes -- [name and title deleted] -- (laughter). And we'll go ahead and get started.
Over to you, sir.
Senior Defense Official: Thank you.
I'm pleased to be here to speak about the Horn of Africa. I'll speak, first and foremost, about Somalia. I'll also discuss Sudan to a certain degree. I have a statement that I'll read, and then I guess we can kind of open it up.
Of course, this part of the world is significant in terms of the current war on terrorism. Terrorists associated with al Qaeda and indigenous terrorist groups have been and continue to be present in this region. In the long run, the varying levels of terrorist presence in countries around this region will continue to challenge regional stability. These terrorists will also enable terrorist networks who are at large to continue to survive. Finally, these terrorists will, of course, threaten U.S. personnel and facilities.
As I said, I'll begin with Somalia. Somalia has struggled to establish a fully functioning government for a decade or more. There are no central government security organs, and the country has a long, porous border, as you can see. For those not familiar with Somalia, of course, we're talking about the Horn of Africa.
These factors make it a potential haven for some al Qaeda terrorist members, to include those currently trying to flee Afghanistan. These conditions also make Somalia a favorable environment for the continuing presence of indigenous extremists, or extremists who live there.
For instance, the Somali Islamic Union, or al-Ittihaad al-Islamiya -- AIAI -- is a wide-ranging Islamic group composed of several separate factions in Somalia. This organization seeks to establish an Islamic state there and engages really in a wide variety of religious and social activities. AIAI members number in the hundreds. Some extreme AIAI factions have denounced the Western presence in Somalia and have threatened U.S. and Western aid groups.
Further, Somali ethnic enclaves in Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia exist. These are countries that are also here in the Horn of Africa. And the AIAI, especially the extreme factions, may have violent members and sympathizers in these ethnic enclaves.
Osama bin Laden and his senior advisers have made statements in the past implying that the al Qaeda organization has ties to some violent Somali Islamic extremists. For instance, bin Laden saluted Somali clan attacks against U.S. Army personnel in October 1993. These attacks, of course, killed over a dozen U.S. servicemen.
Since 11 September, the year-and-a-half old Transitional National Government in Somalia has expressed opposition to terrorism. It's claimed it's formed a committee purportedly to investigate charges of terrorist influence in Somalia, and it's detained a handful of persons on terrorism-related charges. Overall, however, the Transitional National Government controls little territory, has only small, relatively poorly trained and equipped military and police forces, has little influence in the countryside, and almost no real capability to fight terrorism.
As I said, I'll also mention Sudan briefly, given its presence in the region. Generally, the terrorist presence in Sudan has declined since bin Laden departed the country for Afghanistan in 1996 at Sudanese urging. Al Qaeda members slowly dwindled following bin Laden's departure. However, terrorists continue to use Sudan as a safe haven. Terrorists there include individuals from al Qaeda, Egyptian and Palestinian terrorist organizations.
Most groups use Sudan primarily as a secure base for assisting their compatriots elsewhere.
Given Osama bin Laden's stay in Sudan from the early '90s up to 1996, it's possible Sudan might be a relocation from some al Qaeda terrorists fleeing Afghanistan in the current campaign.
Since September 11th, Khartoum also has voiced opposition to terrorism and offered cooperation in the war on terrorism. The country is clearly interested in being removed from its current position on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Khartoum has arrested a small number of extremists since 11 September as well.
Ladies and gentlemen, those conclude my prepared remarks. I'll be happy to entertain questions that you have, to the best of my ability, on the Horn of Africa. Sir?
Q: Is there any firm intelligence that al Qaeda members, leaders, whatever have gone to this area from Afghanistan?
Senior Defense Official: As I said, we're concerned that these are potential relocation sites for al Qaeda members fleeing Afghanistan. Bin Laden has referenced Somalia in the past in his open remarks, on videotapes and so on, and of course he used to live in Sudan for years and probably has lingering infrastructure there.
Q: You say "potential relocation sites." Have they -- have any relocated there, to the knowledge of intelligence officials?
Senior Defense Official: I'm not able to actually address that specific question. They are potential relocation sites.
Q: You can't address it because you don't know or you'd rather not say?
Q: He could --
Senior Defense Official: I'd rather not say.
Q: Any particular regions within Somalia where there might be operating camps, training camps, or -- for either AIAI or multinational organizations?
Senior Defense Official: The country itself is -- struggles to control most of the countryside. The transitional national government really has very little control. Press reporting from the past has referenced the south part of Somalia as being well outside the sphere of control. If there were a part of Somalia that would be particularly attractive, it would be this region in the South.
Q: What kind of telecommunications capabilities are there in Somalia? I mean, what could I use, if I was in Somalia, to talk to somebody in Afghanistan? Could I get on the Internet and send an e-mail? Can I use a cellphone? Can I --
Senior Defense Official: This kind of lies outside the scope of my expertise.
It's my understanding it's a pretty primitive infrastructure there, although there are some telecommunications capabilities inside the country, and despite kind of lingering civil war.
Q: I know you briefed on Somalia and Sudan, but I'd to ask a question about Djibouti.
Senior Defense Official: Okay.
Q: Because recently appearing before Congress, General Franks said that there had been credible reporting of al Qaeda and AIAI targeting Western interests in Djibouti. Can you shed a little light on what he was referring to?
Senior Defense Official: I can't shed any additional light on what he was referring to. I will say that, as I mentioned, there are Somali ethnic enclaves in Djibouti. Djibouti is also very -- a rural country, as well, that may lack the robust kinds of border controls and so on we find in other areas. So that would be a logical place for al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists like this extreme AIAI factions to operate.
Q: What kind of Western interests would we have in Djibouti?
Senior Defense Official: Well, apart from a diplomatic presence and other interests that we would have their as a routine, there are likely Western aid groups working there -- Western nongovernmental organizations, and so on.
Q: You mentioned that obviously the government of Somalia is nearly nonexistent, in terms of having control over the country. In your opinion, not getting into DOD policy, is it your opinion that to go get these terrorists that may find refuge there, that it's something that the U.S. would have to do largely on its own or would have to have a presence in the country -- in other words, it can't rely as much as you are in the Philippines, for example, on local forces to take care of some of these groups that are connected?
Senior Defense Official: I really can't speculate what we would or wouldn't do, but I will refer to previous remarks made by the secretary of Defense that we're interested in helping those who are interested in fighting the war on terrorism. And we'll do whatever it takes to make sure that terrorists don't kill Americans.
Q: Two questions: Do you believe that there are active al Qaeda cells inside Somalia? And secondly, can you describe for us your understanding of AIAI's links to al Qaeda?
Senior Defense Official: Active terrorist cells in Somalia -- bin Laden certainly has referenced Somalia a number of times in some of these open remarks that he has made to the world. That in and of itself, I think, is pretty clear evidence bin Laden's interested in Somalia. His -- that is clearly on his radar scope.
The second part of your question was -- AIAI faction --
Q: What are the ties between AIAI and al Qaeda?
Senior Defense Official: Okay, again, I think that these are organizations that are generally Islamic in their view. Al Qaeda is certainly an extreme interpretation of Islam, and as I mentioned, there are extreme factions in the AIAI. While bin Laden would be kind of a corporate model, extreme AIAI members, violent AIAI members may be a kind of a franchise element that share that world view that bin Laden has articulated, so whatever the connections, they certainly share the same kind of perspective regarding the West, some extreme factions.
Q: But that's another question, as to what is the al Qaeda presence in Somalia. Clearly, some of these folks share the same world view. But is there a sense that al Qaeda leaders control parts of AIAI, have members within AIAI? I mean, besides sharing the world view, what is the strongest direct link that we've been able to put between those two groups?
Senior Defense Official: I think really that that kind of shared bond, that world view is the thing that these two organizations share most deeply.
Q: Financial ties, operational ties? Do you have any evidence that they're communication with one another?
Senior Defense Official: I really can't go into that level of detail.
Q: What about their history? I mean, have they ever engaged in any terrorist attacks, either in Somalia or outside of Somalia? I mean, are they, in fact, a terrorist organization, or is it essentially group with extremist views?
Senior Defense Official: The AIAI extreme factions that we've discussed?
Senior Defense Official: They clearly threatened -- made threats in the past. Aid workers have been -- I think one aid worker was killed about a year and a half ago. And as I said, bin laden certainly saluted violent Somali clan activities in the past.
Q: Has that been in the context of the civil war there, or has it been, you know, what I think most people would consider terrorist attacks -- things like bombings against U.S. or foreign interests?
Senior Defense Official: There was, I think, one kidnapping of an aid worker about a year and a half ago by violent Somalia faction members. So we've had some low level of activity in the past.
Q: Anything outside of Somalia? Have they been involved in anything outside of Somalia?
Senior Defense Official: Extreme AIAI members?
Senior Defense Official: To my knowledge, extreme AIAI members really have not engaged in acts of terrorism outside Somalia. As I said, this is kind of an indigenous organization working really in Somalia and within ethnic enclaves in the region.
Q: This is a background briefing. It is on terrorism in the Horn of Africa. And you are on background. Why can't you say whether there's evidence that there are active al Qaeda cells in Somalia? Isn't that what this is all about, to give us information on whether or not -- I mean, you give the elliptical answer that bin Laden says he's interested in the thing, which is pretty good evidence of so and so. I mean, is there evidence that there are active al Qaeda cells in Somalia?
Senior Defense Official: Well, I'm just really not comfortable going in the level of detail it would require to answer that question as directly as you've asked it. As I said, clearly bin Laden has saluted Somalis. Clearly Somalia is a place where it would be appropriate for al Qaeda members to go if there were to flee Afghanistan. And so this, of course, makes it something that we would be interested in.
Q: Could you explain how it is that AIAI gets classified as a terrorist organization if they haven't really done anything? They just seem like a bunch of very grumpy Islamic extremists --
Q: (off mike)
Q: How are they terrorists? I don't feel like that -- I don't -- I'm not scared at this moment.
Senior Defense Official: Sure. The State Department of course is responsible for the foreign terrorist origination list, as you know. I'm not certain whether, when you use the words "doing anything" -- as I said, they threatened U.S. and Western aid groups in the past. Violent Somalis killed a number of U.S. servicemen several years ago. So I'm not sure what "doing anything" really means, but if that's good enough for the secretary of State, I think that's why, really, they're on the list.
Q: (off mike) --
Q: On the other question -- sorry. I'm going to try two questions. Do you take -- is Somalia taken more seriously as a potential haven for al Qaeda militants fleeing Afghanistan than Yemen, where we do know that we are actively involved in trying to prevent them from using Yemen as a safe haven? Can you draw any comparisons?
And my second question is -- well, I'll wait on the second.
Senior Defense Official: Okay. Well, "more seriously" kind of denotes a scale. I think we're serious about all places where al Qaeda members might flee from Afghanistan. Yemen is, of course, another area where, given the past, as you know, attack on the USS Cole in October 2000, and so on -- given it's bin Laden's father's historical homeland, is another place where we think al Qaeda members might flee. I don't think we can really rate or compare them. Both are important, and both are of concern. Both we're interested in.
Q: Okay. Can you -- I'm sorry. Can you elaborate on military -- current military-to-military activities that we have with -- I mean, we don't really have a working government there, so I don't know how IMET or some of those other programs that we've used to establish military-to-military contacts would work.
Senior Defense Official: Yeah.
Q: But can you elaborate at all on U.S. advisers, training, equipment, anything?
Senior Defense Official: I'm sorry. I'm afraid I can't.
Q: Can I ask --
Q: Let me follow up with this. With the naval blockade in the Arabian Sea, and with the United States essentially controlling Afghan airspace, how can al Qaeda members get from Afghanistan to the Horn of Africa at this point? And even if one or -- a few can, a handful can, how could substantial numbers get there?
Senior Defense Official: Well, I can't divine every single way a person might be able to walk or ride out of the region, but --
Q: Well, what are the risks ?
Senior Defense Official: I think there are a number of ways that fleeing al Qaeda members could arrive to this part of the world, and I think the secretary of Defense has been pretty clear on the fact that he believes, and he stated that folks have fled or are trying to flee through a number of routes. You can't plug every gap; you can't create secure, guaranteed kinds of cordons for onesies and twosies who simply seek to walk, in some cases.
Q: To walk from Afghanistan to the Horn of Africa?
Senior Defense Official: To walk to a place where they can get alternative means of transportation, whether car, boat -- even aircraft. It's just -- it's certainly not a secure guarantee.
Q: If I'm not mistaken, I think bin Laden, as Frank said, their first actions were in Somalia and were related to the killings of the Americans in the Mogadishu situation. Could you explain what bin Laden's history of activity is in Somalia, back in '93 or before, when he was there?
Senior Defense Official: As we talked about, bin Laden was in Sudan in the early 1990s. And certainly, we've got some physical proximity there between him and his network members that resided in Khartoum at that time and Somalia. The 1993 event in which violent Somali clan members killed U.S. forces has been saluted by bin Laden several times. He has praised them in videos and statements and so on and referred to them and even implied that his organization was somehow involved in that -- again, this kinship or this franchise from the bin Laden Corporation that I mentioned earlier.
Q: Do you know whether they actually were involved in that or whether he's provided financing or had other connections to it?
Senior Defense Official: Well, I have to really use bin Laden's -- his words and let him articulate it in this instance. And certainly he has implied that to some degree, his network was either involved and inspired this event.
Q: Do you have any independent evidence that would corroborate that?
Senior Defense Official: I'll just going to (sic) let bin Laden's kind of -- words that he's spoken stand as they are.
Q: Does the military believe --
Q: Can I speak for the group here? I think we're all a little frustrated. It seems like what you're saying is, there is al Qaeda in Sudan and Somalia, but you can't tell us about it.
Senior Defense Official: Well, I think what I said --
Q: You haven't even said that!
Q: (inaudible) -- "Well, I'd rather not get into it," but it sounds like you know they're there, but you can't tell us.
Senior Defense Official: Well, I didn't say that. What I did say was that this is a country which would be a logical relocation point. (cross talk)
Q: Yeah, but my questions is, is there evidence -- is there strong evidence that they're there or not? I mean, you don't have to tell us what the evidence is. (cross talk)
Senior Defense Official: Yeah.
Q: But just tell us if there's intelligence that leads you to believe that they're there.
Q: (inaudible) -- yes or no, you know. I mean --
Q: I don't want to really get argumentative, but if --
Q: Well, I do. (cross talk)
Q: Well, no, if there's evidence that they're there, I mean -- they're there or not. I mean, can you -- and why can't you tell us if they're there or not? I mean, that's what the whole point of this is, right?
Senior Defense Official: No, the whole point of the briefing here is to help you put some -- this into context. We are not going to discuss current intelligence, nor are we going to speculate on future operations. So if your expectation is that because it's just on background, that we're going to talk about intelligence, current intelligence, then I'm sorry. But the -- (cross talk) -- but we are not going to -- the Defense official is not going to get into current --
Q: We know what's in the press reports --
Q: We could have gotten more information, you know, reading a magazine. I mean, doesn't -- he won't even talk about the fact a senior al Qaeda official went to Somalia to train them in the tactics they used against the Russians in Afghanistan, which they used against the "Black Hawk Down" situation. I mean, you know, what the hell are we doing here?
Senior Defense Official: Is there a question there?
Q: No one's challenging that you're basically trying to be helpful here, but all you've told us is these places might be a place -- are a natural place where al Qaeda might want to go, and you're not going anywhere beyond that. I mean, we've known that for a long time and --
Q: Well, we've known that for six months, if not longer --
Q: Maybe there's -- (inaudible) -- that you can tell us about, which I found very helpful in the Afghanistan briefing. It's just the different groups that are there, and the different players, so that if perhaps we do get involved, we have some context for the names of people and what their associations are.
Senior Defense Official: Well, gosh, when I think I read my statement, I think we talked about extreme factions of the AIAI in Somalia, we talked about Egyptian and Palestinian groups, members of those groups in Sudan --
Q: Right. You don't have any names of people, or can you point on the map as to where they might be based or how many people might be associated with those groups?
Senior Defense Official: Okay. I think I mentioned several hundred Somali AIAI members. It's less of a --
Q: Can you put them on the map and give us some sense of -- I mean, I can obviously -- I know where Somalia is. (chuckles)
Senior Defense Official: Okay.
Q: But is there a part of Somalia where AIAI is based? And do they have a leader that you know by name, that if it were to come up in the news someday, we could say, "Ah, we learned about that at that background briefing"?
Senior Defense Official: Okay. Well, I'll tell you that the AIAI factions in Somalia are dispersed throughout the country. We touched briefly on the fact that the South of Somalia is an area of particular focus. But given the fact that it's a, you know, relatively rural area and so on, I don't think, apart from major cities, there are any really enclaves -- specific enclaves I'd recommend to you.
In terms of Sudan, Khartoum, being the capital, is a logical place where folks would congregate.
Q: Are there any personalities, any people that you can identify to us, spell their names and tell us a little something about who they are?
Senior Defense Official: I think the one person I would -- or the one element that I would recommend to you or highlight to you in Somalia in terms of AIAI factions is a faction that resides in the South near Ras Kamboni -- R-A-S K-A-M-B-O-N-I -- that has threatened aid workers and so on in the past.
Q: You don't have any names of people that might be involved there.
Senior Defense Official: (No?).
Q: I have a question about -- as much as I know about Somalia is that there's a lot of different clans and a lot of different warlords that have traditionally been engaged in civil war. Do we know if al Qaeda is aligned with any specific warlord of clan that they have traditionally had ties with?
Q: Yeah, what family is most susceptible to this sort of --
Senior Defense Official: Al Qaeda in general has basically in the past kind of highlighted and saluted AIAI, I think, as a whole, at least in its public remarks. And as I kind of said, it's an Islamic extremist organization writ large. Its world view mirrors al Qaeda's in general, especially extreme factions.
Q: No one family, or clan, rather, that's affiliated with this?
Senior Defense Official: Hm-mm. (negative)
Q: Any factions there whose interests are aligned with the United States? (laughter)
Senior Defense Official: Well, certainly there are organizations there that are seeking increasing stability. The Transitional National Government is an organization trying to impose stability on the country. And apart from that, I'm not going to really kind of speculate further on potential allies.
Q: (off mike) -- what the Navy may have seen? The proximity between the Horn and Yemen, that's a pretty short boat ride. In terms of, I don't know, if ships have been stopped on the way or small boats or other things have been observed? Does it appear that there may be al Qaeda people traveling by boat between Yemen and the Horn?
Senior Defense Official: Well, as you point out, it is a very short distance between the Horn and Yemen. And we've talked about both Somalia and Yemen as being potential relocation sites for al Qaeda members. I'm not going to talk about specifics of maritime operations there, but certainly a lot of transit and traffic through there by small boats -- dhows, for those of you who have been in the region -- and so on. And I think that that provides opportunities, at least, for fairly discreet and fairly effective travel.
Q: Anything about Ethiopia? There were some cross-border raids that they've been involved in over the past. Have they stepped those up against AIAI? Can you --
Senior Defense Official: Ethiopians have Somali -- ethnic enclaves in their country, as you know.
They're certainly concerned about the spread of AIAI activities in their country, as well, and they've clearly articulated this. There have been raids, and they have publicly expressed their willingness to cooperate with the war on terrorism, as appropriate.
Q: (off mike) -- increased in any way? Are they amassing more troops along there or anything?
Senior Defense Official: I just don't know, to be honest with you, what Ethiopian troop concentrations are.
Q: (off mike) -- with Kenya? You know, you said the South of Somalia's a hotbed. Are the Kenyans sort of beefing up patrols on their border, or is there any sort of activity in that area?
Senior Defense Official: Probably not. I really can't comment on Kenyan troop movements, as well. I'm kind of a terrorism person.
Q: You said Southern Somalia would be more likely to serve as a haven for al Qaeda. Why is that? Is that because of its proximity to Kenya, or is that --
Senior Defense Official: What I think I said was, in the South, what we've seen is some of the more violent and extreme Somali factions kind of concentrate. That fact, in of itself, would appear to lend the South as being a more receptive kind of part of the country for fleeing al Qaeda members, given a shared worldview. However, as I also mentioned, the whole country is basically relatively ungoverned.
Q: (off mike) -- particular place in the South?
Senior Defense Official: I mentioned Ras Kamboni, which is an area in the South, as being kind of a haven or a central depository for a faction down there that had threatened aid workers and U.S. interests in the past.
Q: Could you point it out on the map?
Senior Defense Official: It's in this area down in here.
Q: Was there also an island?
Senior Defense Official: (inaudible) -- right there.
Q: Wasn't there also an island somewhere? (inaudible) -- Island?
Senior Defense Official: Yeah.
Q: Could you give us a better internal discussion of what is going on in Somalia politically right now? Is there some sort of an active fight for control? How many different groups are involved? The last time I really paid attention to this was like, '93-'94, when we were last involved there. So what's been going on since then? And it just completely lawless, or has it been carved up into small pieces?
Senior Defense Official: The transitional national government has been in place for about a year and a half now.
Q: Who -- (inaudible) -- them?
Senior Defense Official: It was basically kind of elected, and I can actually ask my colleague here, who's an expert on the area, to chime in, as well.
Q: Thank you. (giggles)
Staff: Just a couple of little basics about Somalia: Try to think of the countries being sort of schizophrenic. There are really three entities within Somalia. Here in the Northwest, you've got Somaliland.
It declared its independence in the early '90s. It's fairly stable by Somali standards -- not really any power struggle going on here.
To its east, in the Northeast, you have an area called -- known as Puntland. In Puntland there is a power struggle going on between two rivals for presidency, Yusuf -- Abdullahi Yusuf and President Jama Ali Jama.
In the South -- and we've talked a lot about the South -- this is what we might call Somalia proper. It begins about right here, where Somalia comes across the map. Here you have several warlords competing for control, and in Somalia "control" generally deals not in the political sense, as we think, control of the government, but control of resources that, in turn, bring revenue. And so in the South we see occasionally lots of fighting for control of the ports and airfields, because these are transit points for sources of revenue.
Q: Fighting between whom or among whom?
Staff: Warlord leaders. Warlords are affiliated with clans, and you know there are six clan families in Somalia. Two of the major clan families are in the North, and they're both fairly homogeneous. That's why Puntland's got stability, and Somaliland. But four of the larger clan families all are in the South, and they tend to compete against one another for sources of income.
Q: Is there one that's preeminent among them? Are they all pretty equal in the South?
Staff: Well, around Mogadishu, Habr Gedr clan is probably dominant, but that's a pocket. And in other places, the Dher (sp) and other clan families -- (inaudible) -- are more -- have more influence.
Q: What percentage of the country does that national arena -- whatever -- government control right now?
Staff: Well, I can't percentize it, but I will say this: They control a portion of the capital, Mogadishu, and a small corridor stretching along the coast towards Kismayu.
Q: That's --
Staff: Yeah. Very weak control. That's about it. They were -- they, the transitional national government, TNG, was established in August of 2000, with the inauguration of their president. (Pauses.) I'm going to slip on his name right now. It'll come back to me, and I'll just shout it out. (Laughter.)
Q: (off mike)
Senior Defense Official: Abdikassim, yes. With his inauguration in August of 2000, the TNG is not recognized by the U.S. government, but someone mentioned what is Kenya's interest here. It's not so much in beefing up their borders, but Kenya, Nairobi, has taken an active role in trying to ensure Somali reconciliation. And they think that's the key. And so they have sponsored several talks -- and one's slated for next month -- to try to reconcile the various clan factions that I spoke about fighting in the south with the TNG.
Q: Two quick questions. One, Djibouti. If memory serves, at one time or maybe still, the U.S. Navy refueled there.
Q: Was looking at refueling.
Q: Was looking at refueling?
Q: After Yemen. After the Cole bombing.
(off mike cross talk)
Senior Defense Official: (inaudible)
Q: All right, second question was, and maybe this is something you can't answer, but I get the sense from what you've said here today that your biggest concern is more al Qaeda fleeing Afghanistan and going here, setting up a new base or having another safe haven, more than you're concerned about what's going on there and who we need to go and track down inside these countries, because you talk about them sharing a world view. I mean, that doesn't seem too strong to me, because Osama bin Laden shares a world view with Palestinian militants too, but we're not going after them. And, you know, these open spaces, as you said -- (inaudible) -- with the Palestinian -- (inaudible)
So, is it more that people will go there, or is it there are people there that you need to go get?
Senior Defense Official: Hopefully I've made it clear. I think it's really both. We certainly want to deny safe haven for al Qaeda members fleeing Afghanistan wherever they would flee to. And these are logical places they may consider. And as I did mention in my opening remarks, that we've had threats from extreme factions of the AIAI. We're clearly concerns about Sudan's position on the state sponsors of terrorism list. As I mentioned, there are Palestinian and Egyptian terrorists in Khartoum. As you know, Egyptians certainly fight side by side with bin Laden and some of his senior deputies are Egyptians. So, hopefully it's clear that we're concerned about both.
Q: Are AIAI -- is it associated with a particular clan, or is it outsiders, or --
Senior Defense Official: It's not really associated with a particular clan. It's more of a world view.
Q: But is it outsiders, or are they Somalians or are they --
Senior Defense Official: No, they're Somalis.
Senior Defense Official: Somalis, right.
Q: Have you told --
Senior Defense Official: This gentleman here.
Q: Can I ask about Aidid the younger. What is he up to? Who is he aligned with? He's the son of the I think now late-warlord.
Senior Defense Official: That's correct.
Aidid the younger is allied with a loose coalition of southern warlords called the SRRC, Southern Reconciliation Restoration Council. They oppose the TNG. And he's the co-president.
Q: They're opposed to the TNG, the provisional government or whatever it is.
Senior Defense Official: Correct.
Q: Are they doing anything about it? You know, are they fighting with the TNG?
Senior Defense Official: There are skirmishes from time to time.
Q: What are his attitudes about the United States?
Senior Defense Official: I do not know.
Q: Wasn't he a Marine?
Q: (off mike) -- Marine, yeah.
Senior Defense Official: That is true, that he's -- (laughter). One thing about Somalis -- and Aidid the younger is a Somali -- clan interests supersede religious interests and other interests. And when we speak of AIAI, one reason they haven't had success in fulfilling their charter of creating this Greater Somalia is because the clan interests often conflict with their views. And we've talked about -- we've listed several reasons why Somalia would be a possible safe haven for fleeing al Qaeda, talked about the 3,200 kilometer porous border there on the coast, and the weak central government in parts of Mogadishu. But there are some reasons why Somalia would not be a good place, and one is the clan structure, the clan family. Al Qaeda members, especially foreign nationals, would tend to stick out among the Somalia population, which is ethnically unique to the area. And I've also mentioned that Somalis tend to be pragmatists. If given an opportunity to turn over someone for a reward, chances are they'd take that bet. So, as stated, there are some reasons why this might be a potential safe haven, but there are also reasons why Somalia is not such a good choice, especially for higher-profile members.
Q: (off mike) -- banded together?
Senior Defense Official: I'm not saying that, but I'm just kind of pointing out what's unique about Somalia.
Q: Is there a lot of hiding places there? I mean, is there empty space? How distributed is it?
Q: (off mike) (laughter)
Q: How distributed is the population? Is there a possibility to could go there and find safe haven away from clans?
Senior Defense Official: Yes.
Q: Why do they call it the Transitional National Government? What are they transitioning to?
Senior Defense Official: A viable central government that's recognized by all Somalis. And --
Q: (off mike) (laughter)
Senior Defense Official: Not so well.
Q: Okay. So their name implies that they want to get -- (inaudible).
Senior Defense Official: Yes. And they recently, according to press, have expanded their cabinet to invite opposition members to become cabinet ministers.
And this is all a part of the reconciliation -- restoration process that's ongoing.
Q: Could you --
Q: Did you say the AIAI stronghold is in the South?
Q: That's what he said.
Senior Defense Official: What we said was that of the various AIAI factions, we recognize that some in the South have threatened Western and aid workers in the past. I think AIAI is fairly dispersed among several Somali factions.
Q: But AIAI --
Q: You can't pinpoint which of the three regions of Somalia you --
Senior Defense Official: Right.
Q: -- would say that it has its strongest presence in?
Senior Defense Official: It would be safe to say that post- September 11th, AIAI became less visible intentionally and for obvious reasons. And so there's no particular area that is an AIAI stronghold, per se.
Q: In the aftermath --
Q: Isn't it probably true that AIAI wasn't of interest to us before September 11th because it was home-grown, it had no reach, it no alliances and no potential?
Senior Defense Official: Was that a question?
Senior Defense Official: I can tell you that AIAI has been of interest to us, given its worldview, some of the threats that it has made in the past.
Q: Haven't elements of the group, though, also conducted legitimate activities?
Senior Defense Official: Absolutely. As I said in my opening statement, is certainly the organization at large is engaged in a wide variety of religious and social activities.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about Ras Kamboni? I remember, right after September 11th, there was reporting in the press that talked about how there had supposedly been some kind of a terrorist training camp there. There were subsequently reports -- there's no doubt you can't discuss -- of U.S. surveillance of the area, to check it out. At this point, do you think there are al Qaeda or other what you call terrorist groups training or living on Ras Kamboni, which, I gather, refers to the island, as well as to the town opposite it on the mainland?
Senior Defense Official: I've seen those same reports. As I said, the whole area and that area in particular is of interest to us, and I'm just going to leave it at that.
Q: (inaudible) -- follow up on something here.
Q: Can you say anything about what's happened in Ras Kamboni since the first week after September 11th?
Senior Defense Official: Yeah, I'm going to decline to talk about that, yeah.
Q: I just want to follow up: Do you know any more than Mr. off-the-record source knows about the telecommunications infrastructure in Somalia, how it's being rebuilt, any of the utilities that --
Senior Defense Official: No. No, I do not.
Q: Can you recommend somebody who might be able to tell us a little bit more about that?
Senior Defense Official: Honestly, no. Maybe some of your colleagues in the foreign press are better attuned to what companies are stood up.
I read something recently from -- is it Irin, I-R-I-N, that an Internet service provider recently came back into play in Somalia. So perhaps that's a good source.
Q: Why doesn't the United States recognize this transitional government? What kind of, quote, "election" was this? I mean, was it internationally recognized? Was it not legitimate?
Senior Defense Official: It's not just the United States. Most of the -- many countries do not recognize the TNG's authority.
Senior Defense Official: I don't particularly have a reason why. It's just -- it's a state --
Q: I mean, was it a legitimate election or what?
Senior Defense Official: Their creation was an extension of a peace process. The United States was not involved in that peace process.
Staff: We have time for one more if you've got one more.
Q: How many factions are in AIAI? You referred to several factions.
Senior Defense Official: Gosh, I think it's fairly well splintered out. Half a dozen is --
Q: (off mike) -- among a couple of hundred people in AIAI?
Senior Defense Official: Yeah.
Q: Do they have a leader, he, she, a figurehead or whatever?
Senior Defense Official: Each faction does have a leader. I think leadership often shifts around.
Q: How about overall, as a group?
Q: There's no Osama bin Laden for AIAI.
Senior Defense Official: No, it's factionalized and fairly decentralized.
Staff: Thank you.
Q: Thank you very much.