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DoD News Briefing - Rear Adm. Stufflebeem

Presenters: Rear Adm. John D. Stufflebeem, Joint Staff
October 24, 2001 1:30 PM EDT

Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2001 - 1:30 p.m. EDT

(Slides and videos shown in this briefing are on the Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Oct2001/g011024-D-6570X.html )

Stufflebeem: Yesterday's operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban efforts continue to focus strikes against the forces in the field and on targets of opportunity, and in engagement zones near Mazar-e Sharif, the Shomali Plains, which is near Kabul, as well as near Kunduz and Herat. We hit five planned target areas, which included terrorist camps and forces; Taliban command and control; Taliban forces, both afield as well as those in garrison; and that includes armor, vehicle maintenance and storage facilities.

The CINC used about 90 strike aircraft. About 75 of those were carried based; about 10 long-range bombers; and the remainder were land-based tactical aircraft, which include AC-130s.

We flew two C-17 missions yesterday in support of humanitarian relief to the people of Afghanistan. They delivered approximately 34,000 humanitarian daily rations. That brings our total now to over 785,000.

Today, I have an image from Monday's strike. On the pre-strike image you'll see a set of Taliban barracks located near Kabul. This was used as a military garrison and a small-unit training site. You'll also note that there is a fort, which is a historic structure, approximately 500 meters from the military buildings. In the post-strike image, note that the military facilities are all heavily damaged or destroyed, but the fort appears to be unharmed.

We have two video clips from yesterday's combat operations. The first is of a motor transport facility outside Kabul. There's a large maintenance and repair facility with numerous warehouses, maintenance and administrative buildings. This is the third strike you will have seen on this facility, and you can see that there are three long warehouses that will have been destroyed.

The second video is from southern Afghanistan near Kandahar. The video shows an armored vehicle from the First Taliban Corps. The dark starburst patterns that you see on the ground are impact craters of prior strikes. I think that's on the video clips.

Finally, I'd like to clear up a question yesterday about the helicopter operations in Pakistan.

You recall that on Saturday the 20th, two Marine Corps CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters went into Pakistan to pick up the disabled Blackhawk aircraft that went down in a mishap. And you recall that the helicopters flew into a refueling base in Pakistan, put that slung helicopter down and went to a refueling position when they started to take ground fire. It was at that time that the fire was returned and the mission commander aborted the mission -- shut off refueling operations, recovered all the personnel who would've gotten out, and safely exited the area, returned back to base.

I wanted to report that as of today, the Pakistanis have, in fact, secured the area as we thought and knew that they would. The Marine 53s have gone back in and recovered that mishap aircraft, and all are safely under U.S. possession.

Q: That happened today?

Stufflebeem: That was today.

And with that, I'll take your questions.

Charlie?

Q: Admiral, are there any signs at all that the Northern Alliance is making any progress or that the Taliban are pulling back from entrenched positions north of Kabul or protecting Mazar-e Sharif? And I misspoke yesterday when I spoke about Fifth Corps. Are you having any success at all in striking the 055 Brigade, which are mostly al Qaeda?

Stufflebeem: I don't have any reports as to how the battle is going today. I still firmly believe that we're watching this battle move rather slowly on the ground. They're still exchanging artillery. We are still attacking their forces. We know we're having an effect on their forces based on what we see from pilot reports that are coming back.

I have seen some reports -- I guess they are reported in the press -- that some of the commanders in the Northern Alliance are feeling comfortable that we're having an impact. I have not seen that they have advanced their lines closer to Kabul or closer to taking over the airport. That's not to say they haven't, but I just haven't seen that.

In terms of the 55th, we are targeting all of the Taliban that we find.

We have an interest in the 55th Brigade because that is one that had previously been identified as being populated with al Qaeda fighters. I can't tell you that I know exactly or specifically what the status of that brigade is, but it is under attack or has been under attack.

Q: You made reference to an airfield. Are you referring to the Mazar-e-Sharif airfield or Bagram?

Stufflebeem: In yesterday's attack?

Q: No, you said you haven't -- you said, "I have not seen that they have advanced their line closer to Kabul or to the airfield."

Stufflebeem: Mazar-e-Sharif.

Q: Mazar-e-Sharif.

Stufflebeem: Yeah. Because you know they're going after both.

Q: Admiral, some of the Northern Alliance forces, and particularly the commander, Dostum or Dostum (changes pronunciation), has indicated that they provided precise targeting information to the United States, and that in fact those targets have been hit effectively. Can you confirm whether that kind of close coordination is going on?

Stufflebeem: Jamie, I can say that -- and it's really repeating myself, but as you know, we use all sources of intelligence. And we try to and do corroborate all sources of intelligence. All information that comes to us on potential targets we take very seriously. We don't turn any down.

I don't want to characterize the specific relationship that we have with that commander on the ground right now other than to say we are helping him and his troops, and he is helping us in our effort.

Q: And just to follow up another question from yesterday, you indicated some kinds of indications that the Taliban may be hunkering down, moving into cities, putting things near civilian targets or mosques. Can you tell us today whether that appears to be the case? Is there any more indication of that?

Stufflebeem: Yes.

Q: Can you give us any idea what's happening in terms of their dispersal, moving next to civilian targets?

Stufflebeem: I really can't tell you much more than what is being widely reported. I saw a news account of interviews with refugees coming into Pakistan -- I read it this morning; I think it's from yesterday's papers -- that interviewed some refugees who were describing how the Taliban are moving into neighborhoods, staying in people's houses, putting their troops into university dormitories or using religious mosques to hide their vehicles. I think it's now a matter of fact, and we're getting that from open-source reporting.

Q: Admiral, when the Pakistani authorities secured the area from where that ground fire came, did they apprehend anybody, or were they able to determine who fired on the American helicopters?

Stufflebeem: We don't know if they apprehended anybody in that small occurrence on Saturday. I just don't have any more information for you on that. We know that they secured it. We were comfortable to go in and retrieve the helicopter that had been downed in the mishap. But we don't know who they were. I would suspect that they don't know who they were. I think it was confusion in the fog of some operation happening in the vicinity, where there may have been people confused as to who we were and what we were doing.

Q: Admiral, can you provide us with some clarification on issues raised yesterday? Maybe you still don't have them. Two villages where there are pictures of lots of dead people, supposedly civilians -- one of the villages is Tarin Kot and the other one is Chukar, number one.

And number two, there are reports of the Taliban messing with food supplies -- poisoning, so on and so forth. Do you have any knowledge of any of those sorts of things?

Stufflebeem: I'll forget one of the questions, I'm afraid.

Q: Sorry. Two villages. Poison. (Off mike.) (Subdued laughter.)

Stufflebeem: We have been pulling very hard on the specifics of your question with those villages. We do not have any factual reports of what occurred in those villages.

I don't know that that was done by errant weapons or if it was done by other forces. And I think that it's best -- well, another way to put that is that it's a very difficult environment to get anything out of there. There are very few and substantive reports that we can count on coming from out of enemy territory.

Once we have accurate information, we will always confirm what we have done, including if we've not done it correctly. But at this point, we just can't confirm what is being shown to us or described to us from on the ground. So we're still looking.

Q: So imprecise information and you're still looking on those --

Stufflebeem: Yes.

Q: Okay. And then --

Stufflebeem: Now the second question was --

Q: Reports that some of the food supplies coming into the country are being modified or altered by the Taliban -- maybe poisoning of food supply.

Stufflebeem: The United States has obtained information that the Taliban might intend to poison humanitarian foodstuffs. The report that we would do that is categorically false. We would never poison any foodstuffs. We are humane people. We want to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need. It's just beyond our comprehension that we would consider poisoning a food source.

But, we have obtained information, so I will confirm for you that there are reports that the Taliban might poison the food and try to blame the United States.

Q: Are you talking about the HDRs or some other -- or wheat, or what kind of food are you talking about?

Stufflebeem: Well, the United States is providing more than just the HDRs. We're providing, I think, the predominance of what humanitarian assistance has been brought to bear to date. So I think -- I don't know the context of how the Taliban has characterized this threat, but I would view that they might consider any food source, or any humanitarian aid as something that they might taint.

Q: You have no evidence they have done this? You have reports -- not open-source reports, but you have other reports indicating that they may intend to do this? Is that how you're stating it?

Stufflebeem: I would say they're not open-source reports. I would say we obtained information that they may tend to do that.

Q: Admiral, could you clarify, the Marine CH-53s, were they off the Peleliu or were they operating from a land base in Pakistan?

Stufflebeem: If you don't mind, I would not like to characterize where they're operating from. You know generically what forces we have in the area. You know that Marines typically come on amphibious ships. Whether they were operating off the ship or off a land base is really immaterial to this.

Q: Admiral, there are some reports on the ground that the coalition air campaign is actually gaining -- strengthening support for the Taliban, and the Taliban feeling a little bit more confident handing out weapons to people there. Does that present a problem? Are you concerned about that? And how do you differentiate good guy from bad guy, if that's the case?

Stufflebeem: Well, this is another instance of very imprecise information coming from inside this enemy environment. I could take that a couple of different ways. I would view that as a very desperate measure, if they're drafting or conscripting people and then arming them to fight. I think that's a desperate situation, if that were true.

On the other side, it's also of alarm if there are more forces that may be coming to bear in this campaign.

Q: If I can follow up. Has the U.S. struck a deal for the base in Uzbekistan? Is there a lease there or some kind of deal with the Uzbeks?

Stufflebeem: I'd have to ask you to take that to policy. I don't know anything about a base contract or lease.

Let's move over here.

Q: Yes, sir. About two and half weeks into this campaign, what can you -- what have you learned about the strengths and the vulnerabilities of your enemy? Do you see the Taliban any differently now than you did before the campaign began?

Stufflebeem: Well, that's a good question, and I can take that pretty far along. So let me think briefly. They are proven to be tough warriors. We're in an environment they, obviously, are experts in, and it is extremely harsh. I am a bit surprised at how doggedly they're hanging on to their -- to power; I think that's the way to put it. For Mullah Omar to not see the inevitability of what will happen surprises me. But we are prepared to take however long is required to bring the Taliban down. I think that's the best way to put it.

Q: Given that surprise, the only implication of that as far as tactics and strategy, that you need to be more patient than you might have thought you would need to be, is that the only strategic implication or tactical implication?

Stufflebeem: We definitely need to have patience. The entire world needs to recognize that terrorism and terrorists are a much different kind of threat than we have ever faced before. As the secretary has said from this podium, we've always had wars where you had clear lines and you knew clearly who the enemy was. And this is no longer the case. And I think the president has also correctly alerted the American people that this is going to take a long time because these are the kind of people who, one, want to survive to be able to rain their terror and fear on others around the world, and they're very patient. It takes years, apparently, to put together some sophisticated operations that we have seen firsthand. We have to expect that that's going to continue to be their modus operandi, and we're going to have to have equal patience and we're going to have to have more determination to win. But this is going to be a long, long campaign.

Q: Admiral, can you go back again to the poisoning of the foodstuffs, to explain why it is the United States should be believed on that claim, and if there's any more way you can elaborate on that? And also, is the United States taking any precautions, because those people in Afghanistan now, hearing that, may be alarmed to eat anything? What could you say to them?

Stufflebeem: I want to reaffirm that there is no truth that we would poison it. I want every person who can receive humanitarian assistance to do so from an agency that they can trust. And those who have control of those foodstuffs that are not reputable, is one way to put it, I guess -- for instance, the Taliban, who we know have control of some Red Cross warehouses of foodstuffs, or Taliban who may be collecting the humanitarian daily rations that are dropped -- if it comes from that source, I would be very suspect.

We are confident in the information that we have, that they may intend to poison one or more types of food sources and blame it on the Americans. We are releasing this information preemptively so that they will know if the food comes from Americans, it will not be tainted. If the food comes from any other source -- well, that's not true; there are many non-governmental organizations that we all trust. But if it comes from Taliban control, they must be careful. It's not the Americans.

Q: Are you indicating that to people in Afghanistan who might eat the food? Are you communicating that?

Stufflebeem: We're going to make sure that that is as widely known as fast and as far as we can.

Q: Admiral, what does your information tell you on how they may attempt to contaminate this food? Do you have specifics on how they may attempt to do that?

Stufflebeem: No specifics, Mick. Just that they may intend to poison it and try to blame it on the Americans.

Q: Okay. And one follow-up. Al-Jazeera TV is reporting that a U.S. base has been established somewhere between Kandahar and Herat. Can you address that? Is that true?

Stufflebeem: Can neither confirm nor deny.

Q: Admiral, on the information, can you give us, though, just a little bit more information about the type of information this is, such as is this an electronic intercept, a signal intercept? Can you be a little more specific in that?

Stufflebeem: I cannot. We use all-source intelligence methods, and I would not want to hazard how we come by this information.

Q: But given that, then, are you concerned in the least that the Taliban supporters are going to claim well, we're making one claim and the Pentagon's making another claim, and the world will have to pick who to believe?

Stufflebeem: No, I'm not concerned. And I think you have to look at how we're releasing this information. We are confident in what we have obtained as information. We are choosing to release that information now before it might become a fact. If it becomes a fact, it's not because the United States is doing something untoward, it's because somebody else is.

Q: Are you communicating that to the Afghan people by way of leaflets as well as the broadcast -- airborne broadcasts?

Stufflebeem: I think that message will get out in a variety of ways and at a variety of times.

Q: Admiral, you spoke a few minutes ago of the inevitability of what must happen to Mullah Omar and his regime. But the tactic of withdrawing to the cities, hunkering down, riding out the bombings, bringing in your military equipment and your best troops, that served Saddam Hussein just fine.

He's still in power 10 years later. Why should it not serve the Taliban just as well?

Stufflebeem: Well, the analogy to Saddam Hussein in Iraq may not be an accurate depiction of what we're facing right now. In that instance, we were in a U.N. coalition to -- for U.N. sanctions in supporting those. And in this case, the United States -- or, if you will, the peace-loving world has been attacked by terrorists who are a much different type of warrior than regular forces that we faced in Iraq.

And I think that -- I've lost the thought. Give me the question again, because I know there was another part I wanted to mention.

Q: Why wouldn't hunkering down in the cities work just as well for the Taliban as for Saddam?

Stufflebeem: Yeah.

Q: We don't want to go fight in cities.

Stufflebeem: But as the president has reaffirmed, what we're doing isn't self-defense. We are taking the fight to the terrorists rather than waiting for them to bring it to us. We don't have a luxury of not going after terrorists. We have to do this. This is in our -- our right of defending ourselves to go after them. It is an extremely difficult proposition if the Taliban were to decide to make this into an urban warrior kind of environment, i.e. in the cities. But we'll use every available instrument of power known on this Earth to be able to find a way to root them out. We'll not disregard any way or any possibility of how we could do that.

I would also say that we will do it without threatening the locals in the cities. It is not our intention to reduce cities to rubble while they hide in there. We will find clever ways to go after. But -- but it's extremely difficult. Very few people know of any more difficult kind of warfare. And so it's going to be very methodical. It's going to take time. And I think that what also has to be recognized is that the local nationals must realize that the biggest reason that they're having a problem is who is bringing the problem to them. And therefore, I think that at some point, they'll grow pretty weary of being used as shields and will start to help that problem as well.

Staff: Just a couple more.

Q: Admiral --

(Cross talk.)

Q: I wanted to ask you to go back to the 55th Brigade. You said they've come under attack. But isn't it also true that they're dispersing small units to other Taliban kind of militia groups to shore them up? And if that's the case, wouldn't it be difficult to really do a lot of damage to the 55th?

Stufflebeem: Well, we've heard some reports that al Qaeda is distributing Arab warriors to other Taliban elements. I don't know -- I just don't know if it's true that the 55th is being disbanded to do that.

We are attacking every garrison of troops, every concentration of troops, every article of military hardware that we find throughout the country. And we know that all corps and all brigades are affected by that or impacted by that. But I don't have any specific information to say that the 55th is being broken down and distributed out through the corps.

Q: Can you give us a better sense of how the attacks are going on them, how strong they are after the attacks?

Stufflebeem: Don't have any specifics. Again, this is an extremely difficult environment to get information out of. And so to say that we are able to keep track of al Qaeda warriors versus Taliban warriors, it's not possible.

I have time for one last question.

Q: How much, in general, do you think they have left on the ground, since you've only seen individual tanks and not masses of forces, as you discussed yesterday? Do you think they've been able to protect and save quite a bit of their capability?

Stufflebeem: I can't quantify for you how much has been saved. We have good confidence in what we have destroyed, and we are systematically continuing to do that. There are less visible physical targets as much as there are now more targets of opportunity. So that would tell me that many of those military elements that they have counted on from the beginning are being attrited.

How much they have left? We're not going to assume anything other than they -- until they're willing to give up, or until they are gone, we're going to respect that they have a capability that is going to take the full weight and the full power that we have to be able to take it down.

And with that, I've got to go. Good afternoon. Thank you.

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