DoD News Briefing - ASD PA Clarke and Rear Adm. Stufflebeem
(Also participating was Rear Adm. John D. Stufflebeem, deputy director for operations, current readiness and capabilities, Joint Staff.)
Clarke: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy New Year! Charlie's not back, so I feel like we can't get started.
Let me just address one thing up front here. Over the last few days, there have been a lot of stories about activity in Afghanistan, and I fully admit some of it has been confusing. So I just want to restate what our general policy is, and that is, in general, we do not talk about operational details for the obvious reasons. It puts people's lives at risk; it gives the bad guys a heads-up as to what we're doing.
We try hard to give you information when we can that tells you something has happened, when it won't do any harm to a future operation. But in general, we're not going to get into operational details; we're not going to get into, as many people wanted to over the last couple of days, you know, waving people on and off various aspects of stories. If you do that, we can very quickly get ourselves to a place where we've painted a very clear picture about what an operation might be -- a current one or an upcoming one. So, in general, we are going to try hard not to do that. But we are going to try to give you as much information as we can.
Q: Torie, Central Command, yesterday morning, was talking about an operation as it was in progress, and it seemed to only be 12 or 14 hours after Admiral Quigley said that there is no operation of any kind. Was Admiral Quigley just misinformed? Was he lied to? And how do you explain all of that?
Clarke: You know, I don't think it's particularly useful to go over everything over the last couple of days. As I said --
Q: But it's confusing.
Clarke: As I said --
Q: And I don't think it was on the part of the journalists that made it that confusing.
Clarke: I didn't say that. I said it's been confusing. And I'm just trying to reassert and reestablish what our general policy will be.
Q: Did the United States military spokesman lie about --
Clarke: Oh, absolutely not. Absolutely not.
Clarke: Let me go on to a couple of other things. We always try to remind people about this unconventional war is about more than things military, and it continues to be fought on several different fronts. On Monday, Secretary Powell, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Attorney General, designated six additional groups linked to terrorist activities whose assets will be frozen. [ news release ] The groups were identified last week by the Council of the European Union.
And this morning, Moussaoui's being arraigned in Alexandria. He's the first person charged as accomplice in the attacks on September 11th. And I point these out just to underscore again this war is not just military. It's economic. It's diplomatic. It will continue to be fought and prosecuted on several fronts.
And then one more thing before I turn it over to the admiral: some good news on the humanitarian front -- you may have seen some reports of this, but in December alone, the people of Afghanistan received more than 114,000 tons of food. And today, in Kabul, they are beginning a three-month campaign to provide vaccinations to the children in Afghanistan that aims to reach nine million children. So it is a multi-faceted effort that we are continuing on many different fronts.
Stufflebeem: Thank you.
Well, good afternoon, everyone, and I'd also like to add Happy New Year to you, as well.
Let me very briefly just catch you up on a little bit of what's been going on with operations. And as you have seen, it's been relatively quiet. We're continuing to fly missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Most of these missions are on call for close air support, such that may be needed.
The last strike that was conducted was on Friday, the 28th, and this was in the vicinity of Gardez. We hit a compound where pro-Taliban forces were at. To clear up one possible point of confusion, this strike on Friday on a pro-Taliban compound is not the same that was reported two days prior, on Wednesday, the 26th. That was south of Gardez; this was north of Gardez. They both were military compounds -- good intelligence on that.
We've also developed detention facilities to accommodate more detainees that have been turned over to the coalition. We're currently holding approximately 221. Two hundred of those are in Kandahar -- eight of those are now on USS Bataan -- twelve at Bagram, and one in Mazar-e Sharif.
In the coming days, you'll see some increased activity around the Kandahar airport, as several elements of the 101st Airborne begin arriving and turning over responsibilities from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. And they'll begin the back call on board USS Peleliu shortly for further operations. But in keeping with our policy of not getting into operational specifics, we won't provide any more details other than that.
And with that, we'll take your questions. Charlie?
Q: Admiral, other than the U.S. Marines north of Kandahar looking for information or intelligence on the whereabouts of Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, are U.S. Special Operations forces participating directly in searches for bin Laden and Omar?
Stufflebeem: Best -- the most accurate answer is, special operating forces are involved in the search for al Qaeda and Taliban leadership. When you ask, are they doing it directly, I infer that you're asking, are they doing that solely on their own?
Q: Or taking part in it.
Stufflebeem: And they are, with anti-Taliban forces that are searching for this leadership. So in that regard, they are on the hunt. To say that we have U.S. forces that are specifically deploying and have a mission requirement of only going to look for these two individuals wouldn't be correct, though.
Clarke: But it would be correct to underscore, again, one of our primary objectives is to get the al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership, and we'll use whatever resources, in a very forward-leaning manner -- whatever resources it takes to get them, including Special Operation forces.
Q: And is the U.S. military taking part in negotiations for the possible surrender of Omar?
Stufflebeem: Well, I don't know that there are ongoing negotiations specific to Omar. I am aware and have seen reports of Taliban forces that are negotiating with anti-Taliban forces, specifically with Mr. Karzai and his group, for terms of surrender in the region northwest of Kandahar. But I think it's a leap of faith that -- if we believe that that is on the benefit or on the behalf of Mullah Omar himself. These are Taliban forces that are looking to negotiate themselves out of a predicament with anti-Taliban forces.
Q: Could you give us a little more detail at all about the Special Forces being "on the hunt"? Is this some new particular information you have or is this -- this has certainly been going on all along. Is there anything new here?
Stufflebeem: No, nothing newer than what you have been witnessing in Tora Bora, for instance. Special operating forces have been searching caves for evidence there, and special operating forces whom (sic) are with anti-Taliban forces that are out are looking for leadership. So to say it's a new mission or a shift in the mission is not true. We will continue to look for the leadership, as we have been, so no particular change.
Q: Could you also give us a little more detail about the Marines and the mission they undertook -- why 200 were needed, why so many Marines were needed for this?
Stufflebeem: I'll say -- only this way, just sort of in a generic sense. I don't know the specifics and the numbers of the Marines you're speaking of. That may have been a point of confusion a couple of days ago. I will say that they were -- now that this operation that they particularly were looking at is over with, they were not on a hunt, per se, for Omar. They were out doing survey evaluations, so they are looking at locations and facilities where we had good evidence that there had been previously al Qaeda and Taliban forces, and they're collecting physical evidence. And maybe another way to put it is that we're casting a relatively wide net to build intelligence.
Now, you asked specifically about the Marines, and so I'll go so far as to say in a generic sense, you have to look at doctrinally, how do the Marines train? They're self-contained, and so when they go out to do a survey evaluation or a security operation, they take a relatively heavy force for perimeter security, as well as securing the facility inside of that, and then doing the work that they're there to do. That doctrinally is somewhat different than how other special operating forces train and do their business, which may be lighter and with fewer forces. I think that's a better explanation of what you saw there.
Q: Sir, you --
Q: Go ahead.
Q: Sir, you pointed out that special operations troops are and have been participating and that there's a search that is ongoing for al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership. There's also the possibility that has been raised by government officials that Taliban and al Qaeda leadership have switched to Pakistan. Are special operations troops of the United States participating in the searches in Pakistan?
Q: They are not?
Stufflebeem: Special operating forces are operating inside Afghanistan. So the forces that are supporting them from neighboring countries are there to support them, not conduct operations in those countries.
Q: And a follow up. The search that was conducted by the Marines that you've just described -- the search for evidence can be a very specialized search. Were they accompanied by civilian investigators such as the FBI?
Stufflebeem: I don't know. You'd --
Clarke: I don't know. I've not heard anything.
Stufflebeem: I don't know who was with them, to be honest. I'm sorry.
Clarke: And we don't have much of a report back in terms of what they found.
Q: On the same topic, about what they found, could you bring us up to date on what's been found in the way of physical evidence in the Tora Bora searches, which have been going on for some time now?
What have you come back with?
Clarke: My sense is that it continues to be evaluated. Again, we have preliminary reports back. I don't know if you've heard much different than that.
Stufflebeem: Right. Preliminary reports. And just to give you a sense, they're collecting papers. They're taking photographs. They're looking, in some cases, at equipment.
Q: How about bodies?
Stufflebeem: I've not seen any reports that indicate they have either found or are looking specifically for bodies. So I don't know if that's happened or not. They're clearly looking for physical evidence, and in some cases you would call it forensic evidence. But I have not seen anything on bodies.
Q: Admiral, if you could -- just to clarify, you said that Special Ops are involved in searching for al Qaeda/Taliban. But it was over the holidays that -- I mean, the head of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, said there was this massive manhunt for Omar and that U.S. Marines were involved in that mission. Is he misspeaking?
Stufflebeem: (To Ms. Clarke.) Sure.
Clarke: We're here to speak for the Department of Defense, and it's enough of a challenge. It just would not be right for us to get in and comment on everything the head of the [interim] government might be saying or not saying.
But we've been very clear what our intent is. We are working closely with, consulting closely with the interim government on those primary objectives, and we have a great deal of confidence that they too are focused on the same objectives.
I couldn't parse his sentences word for word, but we're going to use all the resources necessary, including the Marines, in the appropriate functions to get the job done.
Q: But CENTCOM says that these Marines were not involved directly in the search for Omar. Is that true, or isn't --
Clarke: You missed my remarks at the beginning.
Q: All right.
(Cross talk, laughter.)
Q: There are officials and commanders in Afghanistan saying that they now believe that bin Laden may be with Omar in -- somewhere in central Afghanistan. Do you have any information to corroborate that, to shoot that down, anything on whether bin Laden might be now with Omar?
Stufflebeem: Well, I have seen those reports that you're referring to. As the secretary had alluded to, I think last week, the reports are all over the map.
And so, there is not a preponderance of reports that would allow us to pinpoint a location, because if we had that, well, we'd have a -- so it's still widely varying as to what you hear and what it says. So we don't put any type of credence in it right now.
Q: Admiral? There have been assertions that rival commanders are using American bombing runs essentially to fight their own battles. And we have been told that sometimes we use intelligence provided by others. But can you describe to us what we use beyond that intelligence to verify the targets we're hitting -- for instance, this convoy in Paktia province -- is what we believe it is? Can you describe the steps we take beyond what we may hear from other folks on the ground, friendly forces on the ground?
Stufflebeem: Well, I cannot answer this too specifically much further than to say that General Franks and particularly those forces in Afghanistan are confident in the target selection process, or the target assignment process, since we're dealing with close air support for the most part.
To get into more specifics considering how we're collecting the intelligence on that, I have heard a report, one report only, of what you allude to, which may be that one competitor may be trying to use our capability for the benefit of his versus another. And our special operating forces on the ground and other government agencies work very hard to prevent that from happening. So I don't believe that that is, in fact, true. And I know that that is a priority for General Franks to avoid.
Q: Admiral, there are lots of reports quoting Afghan commanders directly, including Governor Shirzai of Kandahar, that some sort of deadline has been set with the Taliban forces around the Baghran area. Two or three days is sometimes mentioned. There are reports that weapons are being surrendered by Taliban forces up there. What is the status of this surrender request, if anything? And what is the U.S. position right now? I mean, what's the state of play? Is the United States waiting for this surrender to happen? Are our forces on standby while that surrender is in process?
Clarke: Let me say two things about -- one, we have made it very, very clear what we intend to do and how we intend to prosecute this campaign. And we don't plan for or anticipate of have any pauses going on, anything like that. We continue to operate in a very forward-leaning manner. And then in terms of what you've heard, I'd just say there are lots of different reports, and over the last weeks and months we've often heard about deadlines and negotiations and surrender negotiations.
We still have relatively few eyes and ears on the ground. So we deal with the best information we have. What's most important, I think, is that we intend to prosecute this in a very vigorous fashion.
Q: Okay, how about the weapons part of that?
Clarke: Again, I've seen and heard those sorts of reports. I don't have any information on those.
Stufflebeem: I don't -- I -- the only -- I can't add much more than to say, again, these are Taliban forces negotiating with anti-Taliban forces. And so they're trying to work this out amongst themselves. Anti-Taliban forces know exactly what our position is. There has been no change in the posture or the intentions or objectives that the U.S. or the coalition, I should say more properly, has in this campaign. And so we're monitoring it very carefully, and we will intend to participate for as much as they will let us.
Q: Admiral, if I could follow up on that, what are you going to do with a negotiated surrender? Are you going to try to snatch the Taliban fighters, particularly the foreign ones?
Stufflebeem: Well, this is very similar to what we've seen throughout the country already. I mean, there have been many instances where there were surrenders. There have been many instances where they've just evaporated -- changed sides. And I think this is just another example, that we're seeing the same thing. It's the culture within this area. And so, as the secretary has said more than once, those who would intend to do harm to others -- we don't want that to happen. And therefore, we want to have positive control over whom those would be.
Q: Mostly foreign people --
Stufflebeem: Correct. If there are those who are Afghan nationals, and they work it out with other Afghan nationals to their satisfaction, to the constitutional government -- provisional government's satisfaction, then we'll respect that.
Q: Admiral, negotiating the deal to go home, I mean, are you going to move in and --
Clarke: Just to -- just to underscore what the admiral said, we've made it very, very clear, consistently, what we expect the disposition of these people should be -- particularly the leadership. We've made it very clear, and so far, the cooperation has been quite good.
Q: Admiral, you --
Q: Admiral Stufflebeem, can we go back to that, though? And having said all of that, what about Omar, himself? Are you willing -- the U.S. willing -- to let him face justice in Afghanistan, or must he be in U.S. hands?
Stufflebeem: I think the U.S. government position has been very clear on that. And with the leaflets out for the reward of Mullah Omar, I think -- I don't there's any doubt about what we want to see happen.
Clarke: I think we've --
Q: Could you just clarify for me, then: What is it that you want to see happen to the mullah?
Clarke: It has been made very clear that we expect to have control of him and, to go against a little bit what I was saying earlier, from what we have seen from reports from the interim government, from anti-Taliban forces, they understand and have said, "We understand that if we come under control of Omar, he will be turned over to the United States."
Q: Admiral, there has been some concern expressed that with the escalating tension between India and Pakistan, Pakistan has indeed taken some of its troops off its western border. And I'm wondering if it's the Pentagon's concern and belief that many al Qaeda fighters have in fact fled into Pakistan with fewer Pakistani troops at the border?
Stufflebeem: Well, it's not clear how many al Qaeda have in fact crossed the border. In the area where there have been reports and where there have been arrests, Pakistanis have in fact detained a number of al Qaeda forces, some of which have been turned over to U.S. That is in a federally-administered, controlled area, which is not the same necessarily as what may be in the rest of Pakistan. So that's a very difficult area to administer. We're watching very closely the tensions that exist between the two countries, and we're very hopeful that they'll exercise judgment and prudence in not getting engaged with each other. But at this moment, I would say there's no concerns here about what their forces are doing.
Q: Just to follow up -- but have you made any estimates based on the amount of fighters you thought were at Tora Bora and then the amount of -- the body count and the amount of prisoners you have, about how many might have in fact escaped the region?
Stufflebeem: Well, we have not categorized numbers in particular areas. What we really do believe has occurred is that they have disbanded into smaller groups. It would be, I think, obvious that some have probably gone over the mountain into Pakistan. But we also believe that there are -- some of these small groups are still within Afghanistan and may in fact be trying to get back together. Evidence of that recently we saw with those strikes around the Gardez area.
So we believe that those dangerous groups are still in Afghanistan. There are probably some that have gone to Pakistan, some of which have been rounded up. But we're not losing focus. We're not taking our eye off the ball. This is where the central hub of al Qaeda has been, and the job here is to get rid of al Qaeda. But it's also a global job, and so we also have got this net cast around the world to find out where al Qaeda is or may be going to.
Q: Admiral, can you update us on the search at sea? There was a report I think in the last several days that while there had been a large number of bridge-to-bridge contacts, relatively few boardings.
Can you tell us if that's accurate and, if so, why that is? And have the boardings that you've done yielded anybody in the way of Taliban leadership or al Qaeda leadership?
Stufflebeem: I don't have any numbers in front of me, Bill. We have queried hundreds of ships. We have done permissive boardings, and in both cases have we -- we've not come up with anybody that we're looking for.
The pressure is constant. It's not going to change. We're going to keep looking for al Qaeda or anybody trying to flee who is an obvious warrior in this area.
To date, nearly all of these queries have been cooperative, and therefore the information we're getting prevents us from having to go aboard the ship.
Q: You said "nearly all." Has somebody denied permission to board?
Stufflebeem: I don't know specifically, and I don't want to just get myself boxed into a categorical statement, because I can't tell you that I know that somebody has said, "No, you can't."
Q: Admiral, on the survey operation you talked about -- (inaudible) -- when did that begin exactly?
Stufflebeem: Well, I can't tell you that I know a date that we started, but all along we've been doing surveys. I mean, the -- I use that term --
Q: I'm talking about the operation this week. Did it begin yesterday? Did it begin New Year's Eve?
Clarke: Oh, survey of the compound.
Stufflebeem: I don't know when that started, to be honest with you. But --
Q: Well, I think that's what I'm getting at -- is, Torie, what you talked about at the beginning. Again, why was it that Admiral Quigley, 12 to 14 hours before it seemed like it began, to us -- why was he saying there was no operation taking place at all? I just want to understand whether you believe that Admiral Quigley is owed an apology by whoever he talked to, given that he came out and told us something that was clearly confusing, as he would say.
Clarke: No, I think what went on in the last couple days is a reflection that there's lots of different kinds of activity, and some we can talk about, some we can't talk about it. There were lots of different people talking about what was going on. I don't think it's more -- there's more to it than that. And we'll try to get you more of a certain time as to when that survey took place. It was within the last, let's say, 36 hours -- approximately, but we'll try to get you a more specific time.
Q: Apparently, photographers viewed some 60 Marines boarding three twin-rotor helicopters sometime around New Year's Day at --
Clarke: Do you know, just to push back on you slightly, with all due respect to the people who are on the ground looking at things, because I wasn't -- but over the course of the last two days, or whenever this started, I had -- conservative estimate -- six or seven different people. One told me 20. Another told me a hundred. Another told me, I think, 30 or 40. So --
Q: What do you tell me?
Clarke: What I'm saying is that the Marines went into the compound and conducted their survey.
Clarke: We'll try to get you an exact time. [The mission began shortly after midnight on Jan. 1 and concluded around sunrise on Jan. 2]
Q: Torie, were -- (inaudible) -- photographer who first reported it -- this event, was he removed from the base at Kandahar? Was he asked to leave?
Clarke: Not that I know of.
Q: Can you check that?
Clarke: Sure. [No photographers were asked to leave the airport.]
Stufflebeem: Let's go to the back here.
Q: Can you give us any additional details about the Global Hawk crash? And given that the statement about that said that the aircraft was to be recovered, does that mean, at least according to the information you have, that it will be repaired and put back into service, or are you just going to recover it just so that you don't let it fall into somebody else's hands?
Stufflebeem: Well, it went down on land, not in Afghanistan. I hesitate to give you specifics of where because there's a host-nation issue to respect. Initial indications are that it went down for a -- what you would call a malfunction, a maintenance-related malfunction. Clearly it was not shot down. The site of where it went down has been confirmed, and there may already be an accident investigation team on the site to recover, to determine the cause of the accident. When an aircraft goes down -- a Global Hawk, even though it's unmanned, is a pretty sizeable craft, and when it goes down, there's not going to be much you can put back in the air.
Q: Will that be an Air Force recovery team, or does it matter?
Stufflebeem: No, I think it will be Air Force. I think -- they're treating it like an aircraft accident.
Q: Can you tell us anything about the two air strikes that you reported on Friday, last Friday and last Wednesday? And can you confirm that the intelligence chief of the Taliban was killed in one of those strikes, and if so, which one of those strikes?
Stufflebeem: I cannot confirm that the intelligence chief was killed. We don't have good confirmation that he was. The strike --
Q: But you have heard reports.
Stufflebeem: I have heard the reports, but I just can't confirm it. We just don't have the evidence that's proof positive.
The strike that occurred on the 26th, on Wednesday, was on the compound that was of the intelligence ministry, Taliban intelligence ministry. Good confirmation of that. That intelligence piece had been worked up quite extensively before the strike occurred. Subsequent to that, two days later, north of that compound, a different compound, pro-Taliban forces, not related to this intelligence compound at all. Does that help you?
Q: Any information on who may have been injured or killed in either of those strikes?
Stufflebeem: Well, we know that they were Taliban that were killed.
We suspect without confirmation that there were non-Afghans there, as well.
Q: Excuse me, Admiral --
Q: Admiral, could I follow up on that?
Clarke: Two more questions: Mick and then Jim.
Q: Could I follow up on that? Why would it take three months into the war to attack the Taliban intelligence industry? It would seem to me that that would be a pretty much fixed target that you'd want to take out pretty early in the going.
Stufflebeem: Well, I -- your -- it's a good assumption, but what -- I don't know; therefore, I am making an assumption. I don't know that that was where the ministry of intelligence was during all this time. And as we dismantle this government, as it were, they got up and moved. And so the inference that I make is that this is where we found them.
Q: That's my original question. (Laughter.) And if I could follow up on that, it was, you know, bugging me a little bit: What's the latest on Guantanamo? Has the decision been made to conduct military tribunals there? And if not, then what are you going to do with all the prisoners that will be transferred to Guantanamo?
Clarke: No decisions have been reached on the tribunals. It's still under the secretary's review, and we'll let you know when we have information. We will put that out. He has given the go-ahead to prepare Guantanamo as a detention facility. That's all we're saying about it now. It is probably some weeks away before anything gets done there.
Q: And has it even been decided whether military or Justice Department takes control of these detainees? Where is that in the process?
Clarke: Under review. Okay?
Clarke: Now we're going to go to Jim. And that's it.
Q: The Taliban forces that are involved in these negotiations -- do they also include al Qaeda forces? And there have been reports, I think, that there may be as many as two (thousand) or 3,000 of them. Are those reports accurate, to the best of your knowledge? And I believe you said that they were northwest of Kandahar. Is that in Helmand province? And is that in that cave complex in the mountains northwest of Kandahar?
Stufflebeem: Well, the reports that I'm tracking speak specifically to Baghran, which, I believe, is in Helmand province. The numbers -- two (thousand) to 3,000 is much higher than what I have seen. I've seen something on the order of maybe half that. And I've only heard of Taliban forces. Now I make an inference that that may include pro-Taliban forces, but all I've heard is Taliban.
Clarke: Thank you.
Stufflebeem: Happy new year.
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