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DoD Officials Won't Confirm U.S. Ground Troops in Afghanistan

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 19, 2001 – Defense Department officials refused during the Pentagon's daily press briefing today to confirm or deny the presence of U.S. Special Forces troops in Afghanistan.

"As capable as these forces are, ... if or when they're on the ground, being there would make them the most vulnerable individuals engaged in this campaign," Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said. "I will not discuss any matters that could possibly put our people at risk."

Stufflebeem is the Joint Staff's deputy director of operations for current readiness and capabilities.

"There are parts of this campaign that will be visible and parts that are invisible," he said. "And I hope that all of your readers and your audience appreciate that."

The admiral did, however, describe skills special operations units have that might make them valuable in the fight against terrorism.

"Ground forces can provide intelligence that we have no capability (to learn from signals intercepts) or from the air from visual photography," Stufflebeem explained. "The other thing they do particularly well is train forces -- like opposition forces -- to be a force multiplier in achieving objectives either internal to the country or what we hope to achieve out of it."

However, he added, there is not necessarily a "specific correlation to ... what they can do to what they might be doing if they were there."

Stufflebeem described leaflets being dropped near Taliban forces as "part of our arsenal."

"They're providing instructions to those forces for their safety as well as for ours," he said. They appear to be working. "We're hearing anecdotal reports that there are some who are defecting (and) some who are switching sides. I'm convinced that those leaflets are not hurting."

The admiral provided an update of U.S. operations in Afghanistan on Oct. 18. More than 90 coalition aircraft, including roughly 75 carrier-based planes, planned to strike 18 sites. He couldn't say how many sites were destroyed or if any targets of opportunity were hit.

"There's a time lag in getting back the results of what you intend to do," Stufflebeem said. "What we intend and launch for may not necessarily be what we have come back with."

In addition, three C-17s dropped about 52,000 humanitarian daily ration packets, which brings the total delivered to more than half a million to date.

During the briefing, Stufflebeem showed images of destroyed military barracks and vehicle maintenance and storage facilities near Kabul. "While the level of occupancy of these buildings is unknown," he said, "destroying them makes them unavailable for Taliban use during the winter."

He also showed aircraft weapon systems video from attacks on a surface-to-surface missile support facility near Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan and a military training facility at Kandahar in the south.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said he couldn't confirm CNN reports that Taliban forces were planning to blow up a mosque in Mazar-I-Sharif and blame the United States for the damage.

"But it's certainly very clear that the Taliban have not hesitated to destroy religious sites," he said, referring to the Taliban's destruction of the Buddhas of the Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan. Stonecutters and travelers have carved thousands of Buddhas into the side of the valley over the past 1,500 years -- some of the figures are taller than the Statue of Liberty.

The United Nations declared the Buddhas a World Heritage Site. Earlier this year, the Taliban dynamited the two largest of the Buddhas of Bamiyan and have been defacing the rest. Taliban spokesmen called the statues "idols of the infidels."

"If this is true, and their intentions are to destroy a mosque and then blame it on coalition aircrews," Quigley said, "I hope we can hold that up as an example of the Taliban's techniques for destroying such religious sites."

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