"Too Much Dust" to Tell Current Afghan Ground Situation
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 9, 2001 There is "too much dust in the air" to determine the validity of a Northern Alliance commander's claim -- via cell phone -- that his forces are in the strategic Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif, DoD spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John D. Stufflebeem said today.
Characterizing all of Afghanistan as an active war zone, Stufflebeem told reporters at a Pentagon press briefing that "from day-to-day, or hour-to-hour in some places, it may be hotter in one place then the next." Consequently, he said, "There is a lot of dust in the air right now. There are skirmishes happening across various fronts, and with that dust in the air it's hard to tell exactly what's going on, except maybe in some very discreet areas.
By "dust," he said, he meant literally and figuratively. The dust makes it hard to see what's going on, and a lack of complete, reliable information makes it hard to know what's going on. "It's hard to tell what is the likely outcome based on the battle as you see it for the moment," the admiral said.
He acknowledged U.S. awareness of the rebels' intent to take Mazar-e Sharif, Kabul and other cities. Though talking outcomes now is premature, he said, the capture of Mazar-e Sharif would be a huge Northern Alliance success. Further, a victory would open a land route to Uzbekistan that would aid the movement of humanitarian relief and other supplies. U.S. forces could also use an airfield at Mazar-e Sharif and establish other operations there.
Stufflebeem called information about Taliban resistance "a mosaic" ranging from reports of retreats to reports of stiff resistance as if they intend to hold ground. "It's very confusing as to what they're doing," he said. "There are a number of groups who are engaged around (Mazar-e Sharif) and you can't make sense of what's happening yet."
Asked whether Taliban forces are still in a position to launch a counteroffensive, he said he didn't know but warned that the fact they haven't doesn't mean they can't.
"They may have chosen not to do it for reasons we don't know. That's the kind of confusion we're dealing with," he said.
Stufflebeem emphasized that U.S. forces do not advise the opposition commanders when or how to execute their tactics. "We're responding to their requests, providing targeting for our aircraft," the admiral said. "If they may be asked any tactical questions, I think that they're free to respond
He said coalition efforts Nov. 8 focused on continuing to soften the front lines for opposition forces and to destroy Al Qaeda and Taliban facilities in caves and tunnels.
While the day's nine planned target areas were grouped around Kandahar and Jalalabad, more than half of the combat sorties were directed to area near Mazar-e Sharif and north of Kabul, he noted. Of the 78 strike aircraft used, about 60 were from carriers and the remainder was land-based bombers and fighters.
Two C-17 transports dropped more than 34,000 Humanitarian Daily Ration packs, taking the total delivered over the 1.3-million mark, he said.