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[Also attending were U.S. Rear Admiral Craig Quigley and U.S. Ambassador to Uzbekistan John E. Herbst]
Rear Admiral Craig Quigley: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. General Tommy Franks is the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Central Command and is in the middle of a trip to a variety of nations in his area of responsibility. He and Ambassador Herbst have agreed to spend some time here this afternoon to take your questions.
General Franks: Good afternoon. I am delighted to be back in Uzbekistan. As Admiral Quigley said, we are in the middle of a multi-nation swing. We've been on this trip for about eight days. This is my third visit to Uzbekistan, and it is a good experience to be back.
I've met today with President Karimov and I've met with several of his ministers. We had very good meetings, and discussed a wide range of subjects. Obviously we discussed the campaign against terrorism, we also discussed our training and military exchange activities in this country. Prior to coming here, I had the opportunity to visit the leadership in Bahrain, in the United Arab Emirates, in Qatar and Saudi Arabia and Egypt and in Oman. I was in Pakistan yesterday.
The purpose of my visit to each one of those countries is the same as the purpose behind my visit here, and that is to discuss our ongoing operations. But as many of you know Central Command is responsible for 25 countries in this region and so this has been an opportunity to visit several of those countries to have the sorts of discussions and consultations that I have described.
Ambassador, is there anything you would like to say?
Ambassador Herbst: I think you said it all. Thank you.
General Franks: Ok, well then we will be pleased to take your questions.
Question From Uzbek Tv: You have just met with President Karimov. Could you please go into details of your meeting with him and what did you discuss?
General Franks: As I mentioned in my opening remarks, we had a full, free, frank discussion of our ongoing operations and operation Enduring Freedom. We also discussed our ongoing military-to-military contacts. And as well this morning I met with the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. We had wide-ranging, fruitful discussions.
Question From Nbc: General, with bombs going astray apparently and civilian casualties mounting, and the Taliban forces proving to be a formidable enemy, and the anti-Taliban rebels, General, seeming to show little appetite, skill or willingness to take the fight to their enemy, words like "stalemate" and "quagmire" are starting to attach themselves to the operation. And the question, General, several weeks into this, can you define what this mission is: is it about identifying and eliminating bin Laden and his associates? Is it about deposing the Mullah and his government? Is it about creating a new government, a new regime inside Afghanistan? Why is the United States here?
General Franks: That's a multi-megaton question. Let me approach each point, if I can. First off, what is the operation about? What are the objectives? The overall operation around the globe is to disconnect, to destroy terrorist networks with global reach. As the President and Secretary Rumsfeld have said, I think, on many occasions, the operation in Afghanistan is the destruction of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network and the destruction of Taliban leadership which provides safe harbor for that terrorist organization and obviously this is a part of our overall global campaign.
With regard to your comment or your question concerning stalemate, of course, I don't believe that this operation is a stalemate. I think the President has said on several occasions, I know the Secretary has said on several occasions, that we are committed to this as long as it takes. And so, in my view, it is not at all a stalemate. I believe that we are on the timeline that we established which essentially is the timeline that we exercise at our initiative.
You mentioned the loss of civilian lives. I think anytime there is a loss of civilian life in a war it is sad, but it is also a war. Our motivation is to set conditions that will permit us to achieve the objectives which I mentioned in the first part of my answer. And one other quick point along the same lines. We want this operation to be measured; we want this operation to be mature; we want this operation to focus on targets and target sets. We want to conduct this operation on our timeline. And I think we are on that timeline and in a position of initiative at this point.
Question From Turkistan-press News Agency: General, you had meetings at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at the Ministry of Defense, you met with the President. Did the United States and Uzbekistan set any new directions for cooperation in the framework of this anti-terrorist operation?
General Franks: I think I got the question. If I didn't get it all, then come at me again, please. Essentially, the question is about the setting of pre-conditions. I believe that it has been widely publicized that we have a great many nations involved in this campaign against terrorism. I think it has also been well documented over time that some of the nations involved in this effort are perhaps in a floating coalition. The idea being that we will have nations which will involve themselves by providing financial support, we'll have other nations that involve themselves by providing other sources of support which they choose for their own national reasons, not to talk about. We have some nations who very openly talk about military formations and military support they provide.
And I believe the best and most direct answer to the question is to say that each of the nations in this counter-terrorism campaign around the globe will certainly speak for themselves with respect to what they are providing in the categories that I've mentioned a few minutes ago. And I don't think it is my place to do that. Please bear with me, then, if I don't comment. Let me further add, though, that we do have what we need in order to be able to conduct this operation.
Question From Usa Today: Good afternoon, General, the nominal allies on the ground for the U.S. -- the Northern Alliance -- have told us and others that they are short of food and other supplies. But perhaps more importantly from a military perspective, they seem to be fighting among themselves as to who will do what. What strategy would you like to see them implementing at this time?
General Franks: I mentioned in my opening remarks that we've been traveling about the region and talking to leaders in the region. I did not mention that we also had discussions with leaders of the opposition groups and will continue to do that both in the south as well as in the north. Our purpose is to satisfy ourselves that each of the groups with whom we cooperate has mutual and shared interests with us. And the needs of each group will vary by group and our ability and willingness to support the groups will also vary by group.
Question: Sorry, General, the question was about their strategy. Sorry if it got lost in the translation. What would the U.S. military like to see their strategy on the ground be?
General Franks: I think that is a fair question. I will do my best to answer it. I think one will find that there are certain opposition groups in certain places that may well contribute directly to our core objectives, which I announced earlier. It may well be that there are other opposition groups in the position to assist us, for example, in opening a land bridge so that we can move massive amounts of humanitarian assistance for more than seven and a half million people in Afghanistan who need it.
And so actually we will address each of the opposition groups in terms of what our mutual interests might be. I think it has been said that those who expect another "Desert Storm" will wonder every day what it is that this war is all about. This is a different war. This war will be fought on many fronts simultaneously. It will be fought with economic tools, it will be fought with intelligence tools, and it will be fought with lethal tools. And the fact is that each of the opposition groups will contribute in different ways to those approaches. That gets closer to your question?
Question From Latvian "respublika" Newspaper: How will countries -- candidates to NATO membership -- participate in this anti-terrorist operation and how would you describe their participation?
General Franks: Having to do with NATO nations, let me address that as well as the nations of Central Asia. You know that relationships that we have in this region weren't started after the 11th of September. I've been in and out of this area on many occasions over the last several years working with the militaries of all the countries of the region. Obviously when it comes to the historical and traditional NATO countries, we have relationships with them, some going back over a long, long period of time. The best answer I can give you and the most honest answer I can give you is that a great many of these nations are contributing to this effort in a variety of ways, not the least of which is national liaison elements, many of which are today at my headquarters in Tampa, Florida. And it is within that cooperative arrangement that one finds some military forces being offered, military capability, one finds intelligence and so forth, as I mentioned before. So each will participate in a different way, but I will say at this point that what we see we find to be satisfying.
Question: After you met with [Pakistani] President Musharraf yesterday, he publicly suggested a cease-fire during Ramadan and he seems to be suggesting that this would be a step forward in terms of a political solution. What is your response to that suggestion?
General Franks: I had a very good discussion with President Musharraf in Islamabad, Pakistan, yesterday. Our leadership and certainly I am of a mind that we should take on board, that we hear what each of our partners and supporters in this effort has to say. Without specifically acknowledging President Musharraf's comments to which you made reference a minute ago, [I] would say that I think we should leave it to each of these national leaders to, you know, to say what they choose to say. I will tell you that everything President Musharraf had to say to me is taken very seriously. But I will not confirm for you that the President suggested to me that either I should or should not continue military operations during Ramadan. I think it would be wholly unrealistic to expect that I am going to describe the conduct of our future operations. So I would ask that you not take any such implication away from my answer.
Question From Upi: What is the number of U.S. servicemen in Uzbekistan? Are they located at the border and what units are they?
General Franks: Actually I won't tell you how many supporting nations, American or otherwise, are located in Uzbekistan, because I believe this should remain a prerogative of the leadership of this country.
Question From Bbc: How will the U.S. conduct the control of its military aviation in Uzbekistan? Is the United States planning to establish a military base there and is the United States giving a guarantee to Uzbekistan from the threat from the ruling Taliban regime?
General Franks: Well, let me say that the relationship that we have on the military side between my own country and Uzbekistan is a relationship of mutual benefit. The activity that we conduct within Uzbekistan may well change from day to day and from week to week. And as to the specific question about "do we intend to do aircraft control from Uzbekistan and if we do, where will it be?" I don't think it is appropriate for operational security reasons for me to talk about what we think we will do in the future. Let me simply reinforce the point to say that the relationship and the arrangements that we find are certainly satisfactory to our efforts.
Question: General, could I push you on one answer that surprised me a little bit? You seemed to suggest that we are right on the timeline. Many officials at the Pentagon would readily admit that they are frustrated and surprised at the slow pace of the war. And in particular, they point at Mazar-e-Sharif, which they thought would be under Northern Alliance control by winter. They now have serious doubts about that.
General Franks: I think that is a fair question. And obviously I can't comment to reports you reference reports within the Pentagon. I can tell you that my boss, the Secretary of Defense, and the President have not indicated to me any frustration with the pace of this activity.
I mentioned two points earlier that I think bear reinforcing. The first has to do with initiative and that means that we will undertake our actions on a timeline that is satisfying to us. We will maintain the initiative. And the second is that the nature of our operations is different than from what we have seen before. With respect to Mazar-e-Sharif, we have had discussions concerning a variety of places inside Afghanistan. We have discussed whether it would in fact support our campaign objectives to move toward a variety of places, perhaps Kandahar, perhaps Herat, perhaps Mazar-e-Sharif, perhaps Kabul. And we have taken a decision that says we will remain focused on our objectives and we will retain the initiative rather than providing specific focus on a specific area which would be a lot like previous wars, but not much like this war.
Question: General, I am not sure, but I would imagine that if your objectives are to eliminate Al Qaida and the Taliban and if you believe that in order to achieve those objectives you will likely have to have somebody, either the Northern Alliance or U.S. forces in there to make sure that they are no longer occupying positions of leadership, then one of the suggestions has been that someone actually has to occupy some ground, somewhere in Afghanistan. We have reports that the Northern Alliance is both frustrated with the degree of support from the United States and from other reports that the Northern Alliance simply may be militarily incapable of actually advancing and taking strategically important areas, be they Kabul or Mazar-e-Sharif. My question is, as the theater commander are you willing to commit U.S. ground troops, not simply Special Forces, to take objectives or let's say tactical objectives in order to achieve your strategic objectives of taking out Al Qaeda and the Taliban?
General Franks: Long operation. Not a short operation. And we will take nothing off of the table.
Question From Cnn: A month ago when Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was here to meet with President Karimov, President Karimov indicated that he was not ready to have U.S. ground troops in this country to conduct lethal military operations into Afghanistan. Have you re-addressed this issue today in your meeting with President Karimov? Have you asked about possibly expanding the U.S. missions that are underway here beyond search and rescue?
General Franks: Let me answer it this way. We have found that President Karimov has been very forthcoming in providing us with support. Given the overall nature of this campaign, I think that we are very satisfied with that. So, have there been additional demands placed on President Karimov that he didn't respond to, the answer is no. Uzbekistan, as well as in fact all of the countries in this region, and so many countries around the world, have committed themselves to an objective which is to do away with this business of international terrorism. It would be incorrect to characterize a particular nation as having said you can do this, but you can't do that, or no you can't come here and there. What we have found in the community of nations is, as I've said, satisfying to us with respect to what we need in order to conduct this piece of our operation.
Question: Is there any talk of sending Joint STARS to Afghanistan?
General Franks: It would be incorrect to say that we have not and do not currently consider every element of our military arsenal as well as all of the tools of our power for commitment to this overall campaign. So, I don't think it is appropriate to discuss whether we are going to bring J-Stars into the environment or Afghanistan, but obviously, we have discussed J-Stars as well as a great many capabilities.
Question From The New York Times: Good afternoon, General. You talked about two objectives in Afghanistan. The timeline to get to these objectives is still unknown. Can you tell us a little bit about how much time we are considering? Once those objectives are achieved, do you see a U.S. role on the ground in Afghanistan to replace the leadership?
General Franks: Let me begin with the second question, having to do with once the Taliban is no longer in power in Afghanistan, what then? I believe that there are a great many nations discussing this at the diplomatic level as we speak. As you know, there have been meetings in Pakistan, meetings in Rome, and the responsibility of any military -- ours or any coalition members' military -- at that time to be decided. Now to your first question, which is how long is this going to take? The honest answer is the one that the President has given and that is, it will take as long as it takes. The key for us is the depth of our determination, and the depth of our resolve, and the depth of our relationships. In all three cases the depth is very great.
Question Form Russian News Agency, Itar-tass: General, you said that the Central Command covers twenty-five nations within this region. Can you tell us please whether Russia is among those nations? Is there any cooperation underway between the United States and Russia in the progress of the anti-terrorist operation? Is the military leadership of the United States satisfied with the conditions and extent of this cooperation?
General Franks: I can't comment to the last question about the extent of satisfaction. I think it would be much more appropriate for the Ambassador or for some of our leadership in Washington to talk to that. I will tell you that Russia is not a country within my area of responsibility. Russia, however, is a like-minded state when it comes to this campaign against terrorism. Do we have coordination and cooperation in this effort? The answer is, yes we do.
Question From The L.a. Times: Does your timeline envision being in Mazar-e-Sharif by winter? And also, can you tell us a little about how you got here?
General Franks: Second question first. I got here from Pakistan by flying directly over Afghanistan. And with regard to whether or not we will be in Mazar-e-Sharif by, quote, winter, I think I will stay away from talking about tactics, techniques, and procedures or perhaps intermediate objectives.
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