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Clarke Interview with Atlanta Journal-Constitution

NEWS TRANSCRIPT from the United States Department of Defense

DoD News Briefing Victoria Clarke, ASD PA Thursday, Dec. 20, 2001

(Interview with Ron Martz, Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Clarke: Is this Ron?

Q: Yes, it is.

Clarke: Hey, Ron, this is Torie Clarke. How are you?

Q: All right, how are you?

Clarke: Good. I think we're having a few little technical difficulties so they might patch others in but since you're here alive and well and you were nice enough to show up on time we might as well just get started.

All I would say at the start of this is we just got back, the secretary of Defense just got back from a trip to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, a visit with troops at a base in the region, and then a quick stop in Bagram, Afghanistan, where we had troops, and then we went to Brussels for two days of NATO.

It was a pretty extraordinary trip in a lot of ways and I'd just say two things. One, it is very clear from our visits to those countries and the meeting with all the NATO member countries that September 11th has had such a huge impact on countries and leaders around the world, and they're clearly taking a hard look at their roles and relationships going forward. And very, very clear and unwavering support for the United States and what we're trying to do in the war on terrorism.

The second thing is, it's just so amazing to be with the troops over there, to be with the troops in the region who are working and living in very, very difficult conditions on the ground in Afghanistan and at the base in the region. It couldn't be more inspirational. They are so committed, so dedicated.

I talked to lots of them and I'd say, "So how do you feel being here at the holidays?" -- thinking I would sort of help buck them up or whatever. To a person they said this is where I should be. What we're doing is so important and I'm so lucky to be working with the kinds of people I'm working with. This is where I want to be over the holidays.

So it was pretty amazing. We always feel good when we meet with the troops, but I just wish everybody in this country could see these young men and women because they are truly remarkable.

With that, I'll just stop and see if you have any questions or comments.

Q: Okay. I wanted to ask you, first of all, specifically about the deployment of the 3rd Army Headquarters to the region. What can we make of that? What is the reason they moved over there?

Clarke: We try not to go into too many specific details about what troops might or might not be doing, because if you give a lot of detail it gives the bad guys, it gives the enemy a pretty clear picture of what you're trying to do. So we don't give too many details.

But we have, and actually it's an interesting question because it came up a lot on this trip. We've made a real point lately of reminding people about our military objectives and very clearly right now we are focused hard on rooting out the remaining Taliban and al Qaeda leadership. We've had a certain amount of effectiveness in degrading their capabilities and reducing their abilities to roam freely, but the very senior leadership is still out there somewhere, so we are very committed to finding them. Clearly some work needs to be done to help ensure that Afghanistan does not become again a safe haven for terrorists to roam and operate. So they are very much a part of our military objective and we're focused very hard on them.

There are other things going on. Obviously delivery of massive amounts of humanitarian aid is important and we're participating in that. Coordinating closely with the British and others on the international security force in and around the city there is important, but we want to make sure people understand that we're focused very hard on our primary objective.

Q: We've been in contact with the folks with 3rd Army, and this is just for my information, public affairs guidance here. They're saying that if they deal with us on any stories that we can't identify what countries their soldiers are in. That we can only say that they are somewhere in the Middle East.

I'm trying to figure out what, is that guidance that they're getting from the Pentagon on that? That seems a little broad to just say somewhere in the Middle East.

Clarke: Well, it actually isn't that broad. We tend to say, especially if troops are deployed to some of the countries in the region, we tend to say in the region, and there's a pretty good reason. We have been getting extraordinary support from many many countries around the world in the war on terrorism. A lot of what they do you can see, and some of it you can't see it, and different countries have different domestic concerns and considerations. Some are very willing to help and participate in a variety of ways but they just can't have a lot of visibility of U.S. troops and U.S. equipment and U.S. resources on their ground. We understand that completely, we understand those sensitivities. So it's one of the reasons you hear us say repeatedly, we will allow other countries to articulate, talk about what they're doing and what they're not doing in the war on terrorism and we try to be very sensitive to that.

On this recent trip I was just telling you about, we visited troops at a country in the region and we emphatically did not disclose where we were. I know it's hard and it's hard on people who are trying to communicate to their readers in a particular community or particular market -- hey, these are our young men and women. It is hard. I understand. But for the considerations of getting the kind of participation we want, we think it's a tradeoff worth making.

Q: So are we then going to be limited only to saying that these troops are in the Middle East?

Clarke: It depends on where they are. For instance, certain kinds of troops and resources that are in Afghanistan we talk about freely and there is a lot of media in Afghanistan now covering the troops that are there. There are some Special Ops forces and activities that we don't talk about for obvious reasons. But in Afghanistan, we actually have a lot of freedom to talk about who's there and what they're doing and those sorts of things.

Q: So this is basically the host nation sensitivities issue --

Clarke: Correct.

Q: -- on these other ones?

Clarke: Right.

Q: All right, I'll pass that up my chain of command then.

Clarke: And people can always, if they don't get resolution you can always feel free to call me to try to appeal to a higher source, but we're just encountering things we haven't encountered before because it is a very unconventional war, it's not a single coalition that moves as a block, if you will. The secretary likes to say the mission drives the coalition, not the other way around.

Q: Since I guess I'm the only person on the line here the way it sounds, let me switch gears on you here just a minute and ask you a little bit about the National Guard folks that were mobilized both by state governors and then the ones that were called up by the President.

Clarke: Right.

Q: I'm looking at the issue of benefits for these two. The ones who were mobilized by the governors are not going to be entitled to the same sorts of benefits as those mobilized by the president. What I'm trying to get is, and you may not have this at you fingertips but what I would like to get is some sort of breakdown of what the differentiation might be between the two. The Guardsmen that are doing the airport duty, homeland defense sort of thing as opposed to those who are called up by the president.

Clarke: I'll do two things. The first one is we'll ask Major (sic) [Lt. Col.] Dan Stoneking who handles our Guard and Reserve issues, we'll ask him to give you a call this afternoon. And two, it's a great opportunity to underscore they are playing a huge, huge role in this war. It's well over 50,000 now that have been called up and they're providing a variety of functions, some highly specialized, all incredibly important. The Combat Air Patrol which is up over various cities is a real demand on resources and they are providing a big input on that.

I've always been a huge fan of them for the obvious reasons, but they are playing such a critical role in this war, and it's the first time in a long time that the U.S. military has had domestic considerations. That is very much in the forefront of our concerns and our considerations these days, and they're playing a big part in it.

Q: Do you know if the guys flying the CAPs are part of the mobilization by the president, or by their individual state governors?

Clarke: I will double check it with Dan Stoneking since he's the expert, but I believe that is largely the president's, the federal column.

Q: Do you know if there's any consideration at all to the Guardsmen that were mobilized by the governors to get them any sort of additional benefits or benefits that are commensurate with those that were mobilized by the President?

Clarke: I don't know on that specific issue, but one of the benefits of this particular unconventional war and one of the benefits of the huge domestic considerations being given, the homeland security issues, they're looking at all sorts of issues as they affect the Guard and Reserve. The best use of them, how we support them, how we manage them. So it is not unlikely that those sorts of considerations would be taken up at the same time.

Q: Can I take it from what you're saying there that it is something that may be looked at in the future?

Clarke: Yes.

Q: It's not an issue that has really come to the forefront as of yet.

Clarke: I just don't know and I've not been into the details enough recently to tell you, but we'll get Stoneking to call you and he can let you know.

Q: Going back to the issue of public affairs guidance more or less here, what is the situation now in terms of setting up any sort of joint information bureaus or anything like that over in the region there to work with media coming into the area?

Clarke: We've got them.

Q: You have them now?

Clarke: Right. I was in one in Bagram, Afghanistan on Tuesday, and we have one in Mazar-e Sharif, and we have one of sorts with the Marines at Camp Rhino. We have two or three people at Camp Rhino, and we'll just keep looking at other areas and decide on an appropriate basis if we need to set them up there as well.

But yes, the media are finding their way to the center in Bagram and Mazar-e Sharif and we're getting the pool in and out of Rhino and then they go to other places from Rhino. So they're up and operating.

Q: What about in other parts of the region over there, like in Bahrain or Kuwait or any place like that?

Clarke: No plans for it right now. We assess things on a daily/weekly basis. But no plans for it right now. The main interest on the part of the media is to get into Afghanistan and cover things there. So that's what we're trying to facilitate.

Q: Okay. Well, that's all I had for today.

Clarke: We'll get Dan Stoneking to give you a call. I appreciate your interest and I hope you have a good weekend.

Q: Thank you, and have a good holiday.

Clarke: Thanks, you too. Bye.

Q: Bye.


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