'We're Going to Eradicate Al Qaeda,' Admiral Says
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 5, 2001 "We're going to eradicate al Qaeda from Afghanistan and take away the Taliban's ability to support terrorists. There isn't anything that's going to deter us from that mission," Rear Adm. John D. Stufflebeem told reporters today during a Pentagon press briefing.
The admiral's comment came while answering a question on whether the United States is going to satisfy continued Northern Alliance calls for more air support. "We would intend to support them to meet their objectives as long as we stay on our campaign objectives and meet ours," he said.
"What we're doing with the Northern Alliance is mutually supportive," said Stufflebeem, Joint Staff deputy director of operations for current readiness and capabilities. "If there ever comes a time where that may not be the case, (continued U.S. support would) have to be decided by the senior warfighters."
He said he could only anecdotally report the effects of U.S. bombing on Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorism network. "Al Qaeda is an elusive organization," he noted. "Their leadership is shadowy. They don't want to be found. They want to survive. They want to use other humans as their shields. Our sense is that they're very satisfied that the Taliban is doing their fighting for them.
"We have not seen active evidence that Al Qaeda is active in Afghanistan. We've taken away their ability to use their training camps. We've taken away their known infrastructure. We're striking at the caves that we have learned that they use or have used. So we believe that we are chipping away at al Qaeda."
Al Qaeda isn't free to operate in Afghanistan at this point because the United States is keeping up the pressure throughout the country, Stufflebeem said.
"That's one of the most significant reasons why the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs have articulated that we would not stand down during the month of Ramadan and give al Qaeda the opportunity to regroup and continue training," he added.
Stufflebeem told reporters that he isn't sure when the Northern Alliance intends to launch an offensive anywhere in Afghanistan. "I've heard reports that they may be ready to move, but until they do, I think it's supposition on our part," he said.
As to whether U.S. strikes have "prepared" the battlefields so the opposition can move, the admiral said that's a matter for Northern Alliance field commanders to decide. "(They) will have to determine when they feel ready to move. We're helping to set those conditions by taking down Taliban resistance. Air strikes on Taliban positions will help the Northern Alliance," he said.
"It would be incorrect for us to assume that after so many missions of prepping (a) particular battlefield that we would say, 'It's ready for you to go; you should be going now,'" Stufflebeem said. "They've got to make that determination themselves on the ground."
He said once the Northern Alliance feels comfortable enough to launch an attack, the United States "will help them in anyway we can."
The admiral said DoD is suspicious of the reported number of people going across the Pakistan border into Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban. He also said DoD thinks that a substantial number of Taliban troops have been lost. One of the best indicators of this, he said, is that Taliban forces haven't responded to opposition fire for days in some areas.
"My guess is, that would be because they're either hunkered down and aren't coming out or they're not able to fire," he said. "I think that's a positive sign."
Asked about the effectiveness of 2,000-pound bombs and "bunker-busters" on the maze of mountain caves in Afghanistan and whether the United States has intelligence that anyone's using them, Stufflebeem said U.S. attacks are based on more than intelligence -- Afghanistan is famous for all its caves and Afghans have a history of fighting from them.
The Russians have also briefed U.S. leaders on the cave warfare they faced, he said. "And there is, in fact, some intelligence that they are using the caves and have used the caves," Stufflebeem said. "When we feel comfortable that we have a known facility or suspect that it has been used, then we strike it."
In his report of weekend operations, the admiral told reporters that coalition forces struck five planned target areas that included active and suspected terrorist and Taliban cave and tunnel complexes, and Taliban military forces, particularly those arrayed against opposition forces. About 75 strike aircraft -- seven to 10 long-range bombers and the rest sea-based and land-based tactical jets -- took part.
He said Commander Solo broadcast missions continued, as did humanitarian ration air drops from two C-17 transports. The more than 34,000 ration packages delivered over the weekend brings the total dropped to nearly 1.2 million.