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DoD News Briefing - ASD PA Clarke and Rear Adm. Stufflebeem

Presenters: Victoria Clarke, ASD PA
January 07, 2002 12:00 PM EDT

(Also participating was Rear Adm. John D. Stufflebeem, deputy director for operations, current readiness and capabilities, Joint Staff. Slides and videos shown in this briefing are on the Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Jan2002/g020107-D-6570C.html)

Clarke: Good afternoon. Three months ago today, Secretary Rumsfeld stood behind this podium and announced the direct, overt military actions that were underway in support of Enduring Freedom. [ transcript ] And I just want to remind you of a few of the objectives he outlined that day.

The military operations are focused on achieving the following outcomes: to make clear to the Taliban leaders and their supporters that harboring terrorists is unacceptable and carries a price; to acquire intelligence to facilitate future operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban regime that harbors the terrorists; to develop relationships with groups in Afghanistan that oppose the Taliban regime and the foreign terrorists that they support; to make it increasingly difficult for the terrorists to use Afghanistan freely as a base of operations; to alter the military balance over time by denying to the Taliban the offensive systems that hampers the progress of the various opposition forces; and to provide humanitarian relief to Afghans suffering truly oppressive living conditions under the Taliban regime.

I think it's pretty safe to say that we've made significant progress toward accomplishing those objectives. The Taliban no longer run the country. An interim government is in place to begin the restructuring of Afghanistan. We have debilitated the al Qaeda forces to a certain degree. We have killed or captured some of the leaders, both Taliban and al Qaeda. And we have assisted in delivering a record amount of humanitarian supplies to the people of Afghanistan.

We can say with real confidence that our military operations are on track. We're pleased with the progress thus far, and, of course, we're very grateful to the men and women in uniform who continue to risk their lives daily in the defense of our freedoms.

And with that, I'll turn it over to Admiral Stufflebeem.

Stufflebeem: Thank you.

Good afternoon, everyone. Just a quick update on operations that continue in Afghanistan. Focus continues on locating al Qaeda, Taliban and their leadership; to interview detainees in Afghanistan for intelligence, and to prepare for their transfer and detention at the Guantanamo Base facility; and to support international humanitarian relief operations in Afghanistan.

In Zhawar Kili, we found a number of tracked military vehicles and artillery pieces after last week's strikes, and we have worked again to destroy them from the air. At Khowst, we also found a small number of anti-aircraft weapons, and used airstrikes yesterday to destroy those.

The number of al Qaeda and Taliban detainees transferred to U.S. forces in Afghanistan continues to grow and the current number now stands at 346. There are 300 in Kandahar, 21 at Bagram, 16 in Mazar-e Sharif, and nine on USS Bataan. We expect to be able to begin transfer shortly of many of these detainees to the facilities in Guantanamo Bay.

I have a video clip for you today of an airstrike from January 3rd on the camp and cave complex near Zhawar Kili. The strikes came after members of al Qaeda were observed attempting to regroup there. It's been struck on several occasions since last Wednesday, including over this past weekend.

This is an image that's was taken from an AC-130 video camera. The strikes were conducted by B-1 and tactical aircraft from the carriers. We also have a set of still images of the same facilities, which are of a pre-strike and post-strike image. And what you see there are the cave openings on the side of the cliffs that run down through this large wadi. There also had previously been some above-ground facilities, and this was used to store military equipment as well as supplies. You can see here many of the caves, openings have been closed.

And with that, we'll take your questions. Charlie?

Q: Admiral, Torie started the briefing by ticking off a number of aims and targets that the secretary stated and the president stated at the beginning of the campaign. One of those aims was to bring the people responsible for this to justice. Omar is still on the loose. Bin Laden is still on the loose. How many senior people have you got, Taliban and al Qaeda people, have you got in U.S. custody? And can you say that there has been any success at all here until you begin to bring these people to justice and put them on trial?

Stufflebeem: Well, you certainly can say there have been successes, and many of those have been recounted. But I think, as the secretary has also said, this is the beginning of a global war on terrorism. The campaign is focused currently in Afghanistan, but there are also operations that are occurring around the rest of the world, not all of which is visible to us.

So what you're seeing is a work in progress. The job is not complete, and those leaders whom we wish to have from the al Qaeda and Taliban chain of command, if you will, we are casting a wide net -- a worldwide net as well as regional, for where they are.

I think that it would probably be useful to explain my position, as a joint staff operations officer, to point out -- not so much the obvious about how difficult it is to find an individual, but how important it is to develop an intelligence picture that is not just on one individual but on all of the individuals who either posed a threat or are or could pose a threat in the future, and therefore we're going to work very hard to build that intelligence. Now we've been walking somewhat close to the edge of the ice in describing where somebody was, where we think somebody is, or where they're not. It is a fact that there have been a wide variety and number of reports, and they put together a mosaic. And I think from this point, from a Joint Staff perspective, we will stop speculating openly about where they may be at or where we think they are as we build this intelligence picture which will allow us to have, if you will, the sanctuary to be able to move when the time is right without giving anything away.

Clarke: And also, let me add two things to that. One, the secretary and others have made it very clear, it's not just about Osama bin Laden. He probably said it on October 7th and the days after that, that you could have Osama bin Laden then and you would not have begun to solve the problems that we're trying to address, in terms of this war on terrorism at large.

And secondly, we have been successful in debilitating the leadership of both the Taliban and the al Qaeda. To date we have declined to give you names, titles, those sorts of things, and that's a decision to be made by the secretary, and he'll do it when he thinks it's appropriate. So we have made progress in debilitating the leadership structure, and certainly it's about much more than just Osama bin Laden or Omar.

Q: But you won't even give us numbers of senior leaders that are being held. Why? That leads to the speculation you have very few, if any.

Stufflebeem: Well, you should not speculate that. We know senior leadership is being detained, we know senior leadership has been killed, and we know senior leadership is not yet in custody. And therefore, for those whom we either know have been killed or assume they've been killed -- for those that we have in detention, we're using that as a way to help build a larger intelligence picture, which may include, where can we go to get these others? And until we get to a position where we have those majorities, or until the secretary's comfortable to talk about it, we are potentially giving away valuable information by saying who we have, when we have them, where we have them, et cetera.

Clarke: And I -- again, you can go back to the secretary's comments on October 7th -- I think people in this room would agree, if on October 7th, people had predicted that the Taliban would be largely out of power, there would be an interim government in place and all this other progress had been made, I don't think most people would have accepted it. And again, we try to point people to the fact that this is not just about military operations. The war on terrorism is also economic and financial and legal, and there have been significant steps made in those senses, as well.

Q: Admiral, Senator Graham was fairly categorical yesterday that bin Laden and Omar probably aren't in Afghanistan. Is that your assessment, or is he wrong?

Stufflebeem: Well, I -- I'm going to go back and, at least for the time being, I'm going to stand on a position of not talking about where we think he was or where we think he is. And there are many different opinions out there, and they're all being taken in consideration. But we're trying to build a book here, and as you gather your facts to write this book, you're going to a lot of different places and doing a lot of different things. And so what we don't want to do is to play our hands into what may be coming next or what should be the next place to go as we eliminate those things in public.

Clarke: Esther. Let's go to Esther.

Q: Yes, can we get a few details on those strikes, please, at Zhawar Kili and Khowst? What aircraft was used? How many of the various types of aircraft? Were they carrier-based, et cetera? Can you also tell us the date and time of those two strikes? And in the case of Khowst, can you specify for us what and how many anti-aircraft forces were destroyed?

Stufflebeem: Well, the Khowst, or Khowst -- [pronounces it to rhyme with "Faust" rather than "coast"] -- is how I'd call it -- target area was undertaken by carrier-based [and land-based] jet aircraft with precision-guided weapons. They were called onto artillery pieces. I don't have a number as to how many there were that were attempted to be destroyed or how many were destroyed. But that was what the target was, and that was yesterday.

To the first part of your question, the strikes on the cave complex were on the 3rd and 4th and again yesterday. And they -- we've been flying, traditionally -- and I'd stop providing the numbers only because it would become very repetitive -- but we're flying a little bit more than 100 sorties a day, and we're using land- based aircraft -- the B-1s and the B-52s, our long range bombers. We're using the carrier-based aircraft and coalition aircraft -- carrier-based, as well as land-based.

They are predominantly flying close air support missions or on-call interdiction missions to be called in by the Special Forces working with anti-Taliban forces.

Good enough?

Q: Admiral, on the detail of the strikes on the armor, were these items that you pulled together and then destroyed, or were they things that, as you say, were targets of opportunity that were found? I mean, after two types of strikes on that camp area, was this something that emerged?

And also, could you give us some detail, if you have any, on the ambush involving Chapman, in which he died. What types of individuals were involved in that? Was it a shooting from both sides? Evidently there are some reports a teenager was involved.

Stufflebeem: We don't yet have good facts on the ambush that killed Sgt. 1st Class Chapman. And that's probably the best way to leave it. We are trying to determine what happened so that we can prevent something like this from happening again. It most definitely was an ambush, which would tell us that this was something that was anticipated and, therefore, in some regard, must have been set up. And it was a small-arms firefight. But we don't have any more definitive details on that, and so we're trying to look for it.

Getting back to your question on the cave complex, in eastern Afghanistan, and particularly in the Paktia province, where we have conducted these strikes in recent days, this is what you would call a relatively active area. Paktia province had previously been a support haven of al Qaeda and the Taliban. There are obviously still al Qaeda and pro-Taliban that are loose there, and we're continuing to find them, and we're continuing to strike their equipment as we've found them. So, when you find tanks, it's pretty easy to determine that they're not ours and, therefore, they're clear targets.

Q: Can you give any numbers? Dozens? A handful?

Stufflebeem: The sense I had is handful. I never saw a number on how many it was. It was a positively identified target; bring in aircraft on call to take care it. And the exact numbers, I don't have.

Clarke: Tom?

Q: How far was that incident with Sergeant Chapman from the cave complex itself? And is what you just said, with regard to the locality there, that it was -- that there was a lot of support there for al Qaeda, does that extend also to that immediate area where the ambush took place? In other words, can you give us a little bit of a sense of the context in which this ambush took place, both geographic and political?

Stufflebeem: Well, I can't talk to the political. I don't know that. And I don't have -- I just don't have a lot of specifics about what the team was doing that was in there at the time when the ambush occurred. This is a continuation of our forces in concert with anti-Taliban forces, working with local tribes, and knowing that there are bad guys that are loose in this area.

It was in the Paktia province. It was southwest of Khowst. I don't -- I'm trying to recall in my mind's eye on a map. It was not in a cave complex area that we have struck recently, but how far away from it it was, of that I'm not sure. But it was not the same vicinity.

Q: Was what you said -- does that also apply to this area, that there is a large pro-al Qaeda sentiment in that area?

Stufflebeem: Well, I can't tell you that I know the sense of the Paktia province today. It had been an area in eastern Afghanistan that had been very sympathetic to the previous regime and forces there -- well known. It obviously is an area of interest still, because al Qaeda had built a large training and supply complex in this area. I mean, not that far north is Tora Bora. And so this region, if you will, or this province had been a hotbed of support. This also is an area that we did not have a lot of anti-Taliban coordination or connection with, as we had initially in the north and as we have seen around Kandahar. So to say it's a more dangerous area than the others right now is probably accurate.

Q: Admiral?

Q: Admiral, can you --

Q: Can you tell us numbers at all of al Qaeda fighters left? I know you had intelligence early on in this training camp that they were regrouping there. And how many were regrouping there? Are they still traveling in convoys? Is there something identifiable about al Qaeda fighters still that tips you off? I mean, not in terms of real intelligence reports, but generally how many you're seeing still or believe are in the area.

Stufflebeem: There's a couple ways I can answer that. From the perspective of our special operating forces and the soldiers on the ground, just the knowledge or the thought that one armed al Qaeda member is loose in an area is a danger that makes all of the area dangerous.

We have not -- I have not seen reports that indicate to me that they have regrouped to the point where they are now traveling again in convoys that we had seen previously, nor have -- in the intelligence reports that I have been monitoring do I have a sense that there are large groups that are ready to get back together. They are obviously widely dispersed. They are attempting to try to regroup so that they can amass for leadership and mischief purposes, but the numbers that I sense as I look at this broad mosaic of what they are is that these are small numbers and they're just trying to find each other and then, obviously, to continue their war.

Clarke: I also don't think you can make generalizations or characterizations singling out a particular area. Just look at what's happened in the last several weeks. You had the prison uprising in Mazar-e Sharif, you had what was going on at the hospital in Kandahar, you had the activity, the regrouping of the strike last week near Khowst. It is still a very dangerous country throughout, and even if it's a small pocket, it can pose a great risk, as it has.

Q: But does it tell you anything that they regrouped in this particular training camp, a place you had bombed before? I mean, does that show a real desperation? What does that tell you that a number of them tried to get together there?

Stufflebeem: That's a really hard question because you're kind of asking me to sort of get into their heads a little bit. We don't know what they're doing, other than they are trying to regroup. I mean, they're looking for the security that they can try to collect together in numbers. They've been dispersed. We have flushed them out of many areas and they had run for their lives, literally, in many instances, and in some cases have been killed, and also captured. So those who have dispersed it would appear are trying to get back together and regroup so that they can ascertain if they have leadership, do they have mission, can they do operations. And so that's what we're disconnecting.

Clarke: Let's go to the back.

Q: I have a question about the teenaged pilot who crashed in downtown Tampa. I understand that he flew over MacDill Air Force Base for about a minute, a minute and a half. And my understanding is that the base in terms of defense only has 50-caliber machine guns, and also that it relies on Tampa International Airport to alert it of any suspicious aircraft that may be headed toward the base. Representative C.W. Bill Young has raised concerns about the base security in light of what happened on Saturday. So my question is, is MacDill Air Force Base properly defended? And secondly, are there any plans for reviewing base security?

Clarke: First of all, I think anyone who is talking about what security may or may not be at MacDill probably doesn't know, because to thwart bad things from happening, we tend not to go into great detail about what security arrangements are. And two, as an ongoing basis, we're looking at security at installations, at locations throughout the United States at all times, and I'm sure this incident is being looked at appropriately.

Q: Torie, if I could follow up on that, I mean, the fighter jets that were scrambled were from down in the Miami area, 200 miles away. Is that -- for you or the admiral -- is that going to be enough to thwart an attack or protect Central Command?

Clarke: (To Admiral Stufflebeam) You can talk about the process that normally unfolds.

Stufflebeem: Sure. There's a couple things that you have to understand. One is that we maintain random CAPs [combat air patrols], and fighters on alert throughout the country. They respond to threats or unknowns. So part of that is an alert process. When do we know that this is an unknown or a threat aircraft? Now, there are an indeterminable number of training flights that occur throughout the U.S. all the time, student pilots who are learning to fly. There was previously no indication that there was trouble with this individual or trouble from this airfield.

Therefore, I'm -- let me back up just to say that we need to allow the time for the FAA and NORAD and the commander of the Air Force base at MacDill to go back and ascertain the facts in a post-mortem of this to know exactly what happened and then what will need to be different, if anything at all.

But from what I know of it so far, the alert process, there was not a perceived threat. I mean, here was a 15-year-old flight student who did something untoward and unknown to anybody else. He didn't take off with a flight full of explosives. His flight instructor had given him, I think, some requirements -- or a requirement to do some pre-flight -- and it was not his aircraft that he had actually rented. When he decided to -- for his unfortunate personal reasons -- to start it up and take off, there was no way of knowing that he wouldn't just try to turn around and land again to prove his prowess as a flight student.

So how long did it take to be recognized that this is something that has gone seriously wrong and warrants a military response -- and that's going to have to be looked at to get answered -- better part of the question.

Q: Admiral, can we get back to Omar one second, please? After local officials seemed to say last week they had him surrounded, he seems to have gotten loose again. My question is whether this incident last week, where they said we're almost there, and now they say we're not, whether that has made the U.S. rethink the strategy of relying on locals to find these top al Qaeda and Taliban leaders?

Clarke: First and foremost, there are any number of reports of all sizes and shapes from a variety of sources about what may or may not be. And to go to something the secretary said earlier, probably the people who may have some sense of his whereabouts aren't saying, at least on our side, because we wouldn't want to telegraph what we might be doing. But there are so many different people and so many different players, there'll be a variety of reports that you'll hear, and we are not going to be in the business of chasing every single one of them.

But in terms of our strategy, it's never dependent on a single thing; it is never dependent solely upon working with the Afghans on the ground. That is an important piece of it, absolutely. And let's never forget, it is their country, not ours. So that's a piece of it. We have other ways of surfacing intel and information, and it's the combination of those pieces of information that work that will probably produce the results we want.

Q: Admiral, on the --

Q: Part of what -- if I might. Part of what I'm asking, though, is whether he's slipping out a second time, if that's true, granted, makes you rethink whether the people that we believe are allied with us in the field are really our allies?

Clarke: I don't think you can make a general judgment that way. Some are. Some aren't. Some change. You know, we know over the last several weeks and months some people have changed sides -- probably more than once.

I just don't think you can make a judgment like that and make that kind of assessment.

Q: If the U.S. is to conduct an effective search, however, for Omar, bin Laden, is there a consideration to increase the number of U.S. ground troops that are participating in that kind of search?

Clarke: There's always consideration given to what's the appropriate number and type of resources at any given time. And that's what we apply. And it is an extremely fluid, asymmetrical kind of world. The admiral can speak to it more articulately than I can, but we use a variety of resources, a variety of people, and it's not the same every day, every week, or every month. So we'll apply what we think is appropriate at any given time. If we think it's more of these kinds of people, we'll use that. If we think it is more work with particular groups on the ground in Afghanistan that's what we'll do.

Q: Well then I guess the question is, does the U.S. now -- does the Pentagon now consider it appropriate, or Tommy Franks consider it appropriate, to increase the number of ground troops to aid in the search for, let's say, Mullah Omar?

Clarke: That's General Franks's and Secretary Rumsfeld's decisions, and I'm sure when they think it's appropriate to talk about what's next or what's different, they'll talk about it.

Q: Could I follow up on Chapman a second? Admiral, you said earlier that there is a suspicion that there might have been a set-up. Because of that, is the U.S. now -- do they have any particular groups or people in mind that may have set up Chapman and that group, or has the U.S. cut off any contact or cooperation with any group that perhaps could have been in a position to set up Chapman and this CIA operative?

Stufflebeem: Well, I've not seen any reports that would indicate that we knew who might have been involved in the ambush. Therefore, we don't know whom we would not trust, in terms of that set-up. We have not withdrawn support from any anti-Taliban forces yet that I am aware of, and we'll continue to work with those who are continuing to prove themselves to be anti-Taliban. For those whom -- and again, General Franks has got people looking at what happened in this occasion to find out what the facts are as best he can determine. And I think that if he determines that this is something that we hadn't expected, one, it will be a lesson learned for troops on the ground to be able to avoid in the future, and secondly it will also determine, well then whom really is anti-Taliban and whom are pro- Taliban, and whom do we now need to add to the list to go after.

(Cross talk.)

Clarke: Let's go to Alex and then Tony to finish up.

Q: (Inaudible) -- have you put forces on the ground yet to investigate the cave complex, training complex, and if not, why not? And secondly, setting aside Mullah Omar, last week there were all these talks of negotiations at Baghran, northwest of Kandahar. You were monitoring those, and General Franks said some weapons were surrendered. What happened to the 1,500 Taliban fighters that were there?

Stufflebeem: We probably assumed a little too much -- or I would say some assumed a little too much -- in believing that the negotiations that were ongoing were on the behalf of Mullah Omar.

There were pro-Taliban forces in the area that were negotiating with anti-Taliban forces -- Karzai specifically -- for their surrender or whatever the details were that they wanted to have.

That -- I can't tell you that I know exactly how that has been resolved, but it has not resulted in detainees, that I'm aware of. So I am assuming that there are people who have crossed over, laid down their weapons. There are those who may have paid money for their way out. There are others who probably just evaporated into the mountainside, as has been their ilk all along. So that -- what I gather is that nothing significant came of that.

Now, whether or not Mullah Omar was ever there, we don't know. And we're going -- we're stepping back now in terms of a tactic, if you will, and stop talking about what we think was, or what we thought it was, and dealing more with the what we want, and how do we go about getting that. And we're going to stop chasing, if you will, the shadows of where we thought he was and focus more on, you know, the entire picture of the country -- where these pockets of resistance are, what do the anti-Taliban forces need, so that we can develop a better intelligence picture. And that's what I mean by "casting a wider net."

Your other question -- I'm sorry -- was --

Q: Have you put people on the ground?

Stufflebeem: Yeah, well, I don't want to answer your question for this reason: it's an ongoing operation. We had bombed there on the 3rd and 4th. We bombed again yesterday. But we're not done there, and so it's an ongoing operation. And you shouldn't assume that we won't go in there and verify. But we're finding stuff and we're attacking that stuff, and so it's a current operation. So when and until those people are on the ground there, we'll just sort of leave that unanswered.

Clarke: And one clarification. When you say we probably assumed too much about the negotiations Omar, we meant "we" in the broadest sense.

Stufflebeem: Right.

Clarke: Right.

Q: Can I follow up on -- just on Zhawar Kili, though? Just one clarification. There's been a lot of attention, as you've mentioned, on Zhawar Kili. I think by your own count, some 250 bombs last week alone. Did you have any intelligence suggesting that Osama bin Laden was there?

Stufflebeem: This was an al Qaeda training facility and an al Qaeda storage facility and a command facility. I'm sure at some time Osama bin Laden may have been there, but I don't know that. And we're not chasing that shadow as to when he may have last been there.

Q: But I guess my question is, was there anything, even a soft intelligence report, last week that prompted such a heavy strike last Thursday and last Friday?

Stufflebeem: Well, the strike was prompted by the intelligence collected that there was a lot of stuff there. That's a large camp. There are kind of three areas to this camp as it moves down this large wadi -- above ground and in two separate cave areas.

So there were a number -- there are a number of caves to shut down, a number of above-ground facilities that have been leveled now, or at least most of them have, and after the strikes from the 3rd and the 4th, over this weekend, lo and behold, we find tanks. So something's coming out of the ground and we're after it.

Q: And are forensics experts with the ground troops that are moving now to try to assess what the damage was?

Stufflebeem: Well, we do have people who are experts in collecting information, including some forensics. Whether they're with the group that will go in this area right now, I'm not sure.

Clarke: Last question.

Q: I'd like to take another crack at the issue of how many al Qaeda leaders have been killed or are on the run. Last week the U.S. spokesman in Islamabad, he put out a chart of 42 leaders, he distributed it to reporters, and said six al Qaeda have been killed, the rest are either hiding or on the run. We haven't seen the chart here in D.C., but is that the rough order of magnitude; you and the Joint Staff believe 42 is the universe and about six or seven have been killed to date?

Clarke: Tony, I haven't seen the chart either, and I've asked for it so we can take a look at it. And for reasons that he may or may not explain to you, the secretary at this time is declining to talk about titles, names, numbers, for this time. When he thinks it is appropriate and helpful, he will talk about those things.

Q: Can I ask him a bomb question, a follow-up?

Q: Can I just go back --

Clarke: One follow-up for Tony.

Q: Okay. You mentioned we're still going to go after the caves and all that. Has the U.S. used this new thermobaric bomb that Mr. Aldridge talked about the weekend before Christmas? [ transcript ] That was front-page news across the country. Are those bombs in theater, and have they been used to date? Do you anticipate them being used?

Stufflebeem: Well, Mr. Aldridge did say that our R&D or science and technology groups have put together something and sent it to the theater. I have not seen any reports that Central Command has used the weapons as yet, so I don't believe they have.

Q: You would know if they had, given the high --

Stufflebeem: Well, if I went and asked the question, I'm sure I'd find out. I haven't asked the question. But I've not seen it used. I've only seen just JDAMs. [No thermobaric bombs have been used in Afghanistan to date.]

Q: One question --

Clarke: Thank you.

Q: How are you going to shift them to Guantanamo, ship or planes?

Q: We have a lot more questions!

Q: How are you going to transfer them to Guantanamo, ship or planes?

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