Taliban Ability to Respond to Airstrikes 'Falling Away,' Admiral Says
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2001 The U.S. is using power in ways today that military tacticians never thought of before. And it's all aimed at reaching the nation's objectives of destroying the instruments of power the Taliban uses to support Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network, said Navy Rear Adm. John D. Stufflebeem.
"We're systematically attacking those elements of the Taliban military that will take away the Taliban's capability to support Al Qaeda," Stufflebeem told reporters today during a Pentagon briefing. "Where those cross in support of the Northern Alliance objectives is a good thing."
Stufflebeem is the Joint Staff's deputy director of operations for current readiness and capabilities.
As U.S. aircraft attack the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, there are no "reports that they are returning fire on our aircraft," he said. However, Stufflebeem, a Navy pilot, pointed out that a pilot could be shot at and not know it.
"Our sense is that the Taliban's ability to respond is falling away," he said.
With the reduction in the air defense threat, U.S. aviators started using a new tactic on Oct. 16 called an "engagement zone." Stufflebeem said "flex targeting" was used to hit those sites -- bomber flew to a target, returned to a tanker and was then sent to another target.
"That's using bombers in ways we've never done before," he noted.
In the first use of engagement zone doctrine, the admiral said the aircraft struck 12 planned target areas, which included airfields, air defenses, dispersed armor, radar, ammunition, vehicle storage depots, artillery camps and military training facilities, including armored vehicles, trucks and buildings.
"About 90 to 95 strike aircraft were used in the attacks," Stufflebeem said. "About 85 of them were carrier-based tactical jets, five land-based bombers and less then five were AC-130 gunships."
He said the AC-130 brings special capabilities to the battle.
"A pilot who is given a mission in an engagement zone knows what type of target he'll go against mobile armor, mobile surface to air capability," Stufflebeem said. "A forward air controller will find those targets and pass them to the pilots to attack. So the sense that there is any freewheeling or self-determination is not correct."
He said if pilots spot targets of opportunity, they call controllers and they make positive identification before assigning aircraft to attack them.
Stufflebeem said Oct. 16 airstrikes involved military facilities in southern Afghanistan, including a garrison facility of the 2nd Taliban Corps where barracks were hit. The images also showed where vehicles were destroyed in a Taliban bivouac area.
Stufflebeem said DoD doesn't have any information about the Northern Alliance taking the northern Afghanistan city of Mazar-e Sharif as some have reported. He characterized the battle between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban as "ebbing and flowing."
He told reporters he wouldn't characterize "what we're doing today or what we'll do in the future." But he reiterated that the U.S. is continuing to support its campaign objectives and where they cross with those of the Northern Alliance there is a "mutual benefit."
Asked if U.S. gains in Afghanistan would be reversed if there was a bombing pause to allow humanitarian relief groups to do their jobs, Stufflebeem said, "There is nothing we're doing that should prevent the nongovernmental organizations from doing what they need to do. But I have seen reports that the Taliban is preventing them from doing what they should be doing. We're supporting all efforts.
"It's inefficient to provide humanitarian support from the air it's most efficient when it's done from the ground," he pointed out. "We would do anything to encourage nongovernmental organizations to be able to help those who need it. I think it's the Taliban preventing that more than it is our strikes."
He said, "one of our missions hit a Red Cross warehouse that stored humanitarian goods. This building was within a set of targets we had identified as being used for military storage by the Taliban."
He said the Air Force continues to fly C-17 humanitarian missions. "We delivered about 53,000 humanitarian daily rations. Four C-17 airdrop missions delivered those yesterday. To date, we've had nearly 400,000 daily rations dropped."