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Enduring Freedom Operational Update - Rear. Adm. Stufflebeem

Presenters: Rear Adm. John D. Stufflebeem, Joint Staff
October 26, 2001 1:30 PM EDT

Friday, October 26, 2001 - 1:30 p.m. EDT

(Slides and videos shown in this briefing are on the Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Oct2001/g011026-D-6570C.html )

Stufflebeem: Good afternoon, everyone.

Yesterday U.S. operations continued in Afghanistan against al Qaeda and the Taliban, with strikes in 10 target areas. These were located generally in the North, in support of opposition groups, and around Kabul, in the Shomali Plain, as well as in the South, near Kandahar.

The targets included terrorist and Taliban command and control elements in cave and camp complexes, airfield and air defense assets, storage and supply depots, Taliban military forces in garrison and deployed, and emerging targets in engagement zones.

The CINC used about 60 -- I'm sorry -- used about 80 strike aircraft. About 70 of those were carrier-based. About four to six were land-based tactical jets, and the remainder were long-range bombers. We also used a small number of Tomahawk missiles yesterday.

We dropped leaflets across the northern region, as well as near Kandahar, and flew several Commando Solo broadcast missions.

We also continued our support for humanitarian relief operations in Afghanistan, with two C-17s dropping approximately 34,000 humanitarian daily rations. And that was in the North. That brings our total now up to over 850,000.

We have four video clips from yesterday's operations to show you. The first two clips are strikes near Kabul.

This helicopter was in an engagement zone and became an emergent target. The next clip shows a hit on a Taliban communications facility in the outskirts of Kabul and represents our efforts to continue disrupting and degrading Taliban command and control.

The third clip shows a strike --

Staff: Just wait one second.

Stufflebeem: I'm sorry. Here it comes. The third clip shows a strike on the Kandahar military training facility in southern Afghanistan. This was a complex of barracks and bunkers. We hit two of these here. They were used by the Taliban 1st Corps.

And the last clip is a hit on an armored vehicle -- in this case, an armored vehicle that was, until yesterday, used by the Taliban 5th Corps in the Mazar-e Sharif area. This was a successful strike in what appears to be deteriorating weather conditions.

As we've said before, we have an all-weather, all-season -- including winter -- force. And with that, I'll take your questions.

Charlie?

Q: Admiral, what's the United States reaction to the capture and execution of Abdul Haq? And did any Americans, including troops, go into Afghanistan with him? And were any captured?

Stufflebeem: To the first part of your question: I have seen the reports that the commander was captured and may have been executed. But those are reports, I believe, that are coming from the Taliban, and we have yet to be able to either confirm or deny those.

We have no indications that there were any forces captured -- certainly not American -- with him. So there's just not enough information for us to be able to confirm it.

Q: So no Americans went in with him?

Stufflebeem: None that we're aware of.

Q: Did any American forces attempt in any way to rescue Abdul Haq, as some Taliban reports also indicate -- that there was a rescue attempt -- helicopters or anything of the sort?

Stufflebeem: I don't have any information that any rescue attempt was made. And again, this is coming from inside enemy territory, so it's an unconfirmed report, as far as we're concerned. We can't confirm, in fact, he has been captured, much less executed. So we're just going off what the Taliban are putting out. And I've not heard or seen any reports that indicated that -- that we know, in fact, that that happened, much less any kind of a search-and-rescue effort.

Q: At any point did Abdul Haq, whether he's been captured or not, did at any point he communicate with the U.S. government that he was in trouble, and that the U.S. military somehow attempted to respond in a rescue effort? You would know whether the U.S. military responded in some way.

Stufflebeem: Yes. That's correct. But I haven't seen any reports of that at all.

Q: Just to be clear, Admiral, did the U.S. fly any combat-support operations to try and help Abdul Haq? Not search and rescue but combat support, as --

Stufflebeem: Not that I'm aware of. Again, these are unconfirmed reports coming out of the Taliban, and so we just don't know the veracity of them. I don't know of any instances in yesterday's efforts that were in support of an individual.

Q: You don't know whether or not the U.S. Central Command provided forces to try and help Abdul Haq?

Stufflebeem: I have no reports that indicate that they did that.

Q: I thought it was today, not yesterday. Wasn't it early this morning?

Stufflebeem: Well, the reports have come out this morning that he was captured and may have been executed, but --

Q: Just so we don't have a time difference here, that's all I'm saying. So you don't know in any time frame that the U.S. did anything in any way to assist him, when and if there was an emergency call?

Stufflebeem: That's correct. I think the best way for me to try to be clear about it is that the first time that we had heard about this incident was when it was reported. And I think that that had been released by the Taliban. So I have no reports that the Central Command in any way was aware of this, much less responded to it.

Q: If Haq were executed, would that deal a significant blow to our efforts in the south?

Stufflebeem: I don't know. I know that he was very well respected in the area, but that's all I know. In terms of effectiveness, of what that means to opposition groups, I really don't know.

Q: What can you tell us about reports from the ground that that Red Cross food warehouse was hit again -- was either hit or had got bomb damage?

Stufflebeem: I've heard a report that the possibility of a Red Cross warehouse was damaged in the vicinity of one that had previously been struck. But I don't have any other information on that. I don't know if it was damaged by Taliban forces or anyone else. So, I'm sorry, I just don't have anything for you on that. But we have heard the reports, and we're digging.

Q: Are you talking about the report from the Red Cross to the press, or are you talking about reports from your own military people?

Stufflebeem: The reports that I've heard are from the Red Cross.

Q: Admiral, you mentioned in your introduction that cave complexes had been hit. Did those include leadership posts, and were they hit with bunker-buster bombs? Can you just give us any details on those attacks?

Stufflebeem: Well, I won't specifically respond to the type of weapon that we're using on specific targets. And I have said before that we're trying very hard to pull down all forms of intelligence and then verify what it is that we have. The caves that we believe are inhabited by either Taliban or al Qaeda forces, by whatever way that we can get those and verify those through a second source, is maybe a good way to put it, we will attack. The character of which caves and who may be in there, we don't have that --

Q: But did this fall in that category? I take it you're saying this did fall in the category of having obtained intelligence to indicate that there were in fact leaders populating these caves?

Stufflebeem: Forces. Forces. I don't think that -- we can't -- I wouldn't characterize to you that we know [what] specifically is in them. We know that they're being occupied and by forces that are opposed to us. And therefore, that's why we struck them.

Q: Admiral, it was one week ago today that we learned about the Special Forces raid. There have been no reports since then of anything comparable. Does that indicate that there has been nothing comparable since then?

Stufflebeem: Well, the chairman has articulated that there are times when we'll do things invisibly and keep them invisible, and there are times when we'll release the information that comes. I think the best way to leave that is that we have a campaign with -- and a very complicated campaign, that has a number of objectives, and we have a time line for a number of these objectives. There will be opportunities for us to use all forms of force in all kinds of ways. And we will stick with -- some of that will be just withheld due to the sensitivity of those missions. So I wouldn't want to characterize whether we are, whether we aren't. I'll just confirm or deny and just continue that we are prosecuting it in all ways we can.

Q: Admiral, Northern Alliance leaders continue to say that if U.S. airstrikes increased on Taliban front lines, that they would be able to take Kabul and Mazar-e Sharif without U.S. ground troops. Yesterday General Myers said that the attack -- the airstrikes are not piecemeal, and that the frequency and amount of bombing is proceeding according to plan. What is the plan?

Stufflebeem: Well, I think a way to describe it is that there may be more than one plan. The plan, of course, that we're working off of is ours. General Franks has a very systematic campaign laid out, with objectives as to what it is that we must be able to achieve. The Northern Alliance may also have their own plans, and they certainly have their objectives.

We are supporting the Northern Alliance. What they are doing is supportive of part of our effort. But it would be unfair to characterize that we have meshed, necessarily, what may be their plans with ours. We're sticking to our game plan, our strategy.

Q: Which is what?

Stufflebeem: And again, where it crosses with wherever the Northern Alliance may have, that's a good thing. But we are not going to adapt our game plan to theirs, necessarily, nor would we expect them to adapt to ours. So we're mutually supporting each other.

I understand that there may be a level of frustration in some of the areas that it's not exactly what they would hope it would be at that particular place on the ground on any given day, but we are supporting them. They are doing things that we think are helpful in fighting the Taliban. But we're very focused on what we're after and how we're going to do that. And we'll do that on our time line.

Q: If I could follow, we're dropping about 300 bombs, on average, a day. In the big picture, that's not a lot. Could we do more? What is the plan?

Stufflebeem: Well, dropping bombs is specifically related to targets. And we do -- we work very hard to make sure that we've got exactly the right kind of targets that we wish to go after, in consonance with our strategy. There is a perception that there are front lines and that there are force-against-force traditional armies out there, which is really not the case. This is a much looser and a much different kind of environment than what you're maybe alluding to, and therefore I understand there may be a frustration that there may not be or should be more bombs in a particular area on troops. But it's not that clean. It's not that clear that the lines are drawn that straight or that easy to be able just to go ahead and pick apart.

Q: Admiral --

Q: Admiral, let's just say, for the sake of argument, that in the past week there haven't been any ground operations like you saw last Friday. Even though you have made a very strong case for the contribution that ground forces can provide in certain circumstances, what would be the -- what is the thinking about if in fact they haven't been used, what would be the thinking for why they have not been used? You've said that there are -- you have to -- there have to be opportunities for them to use them. What are some of the factors that would go into that decision?

Stufflebeem: Well, it's a good question, and it's a fair question. I don't want to get into characterizing what our future operations may be. Within our armed forces and the capabilities that we have to bring to bear, it's fair to say that we'll consider everything. Where we will do it and when we will do it will be for a very specific example, and we wouldn't want to broadcast, either, [our] intentions, even in a hypothetical. We just don't want to give them any particular chance to be ready; we want to be able to use surprise on our side. And that's why many of these kinds of operations will remain invisible.

Q: And there are some circumstances that are better for the use of ground troops than others, apparently?

Stufflebeem: Yes, absolutely. (Laughter.)

Q: As you know, the British announced today that they are committing commando units. Does that mark the beginning of a phase in the operation that's coming up -- the fact that they are now going to be in place where they were not before?

Stufflebeem: I wouldn't characterize it that it is a mark for a phase as much as I would believe that our coalition supporters, our coalition members, have intentions and capabilities that they want to offer to this effort. When they will do that is obviously at their timing. The advantage is obviously for them when they can do that.

And how and when they will be folded in and utilized within the coalition is still to be worked out in some cases, and in others, it already has been worked out.

I think the best way to leave that is just that we're very happy for all of the support that the coalition is bringing to bear, and it comes in various ways -- a number of forms, and we are blending those in. But we will do that under the unified command of General Franks, who will determine when and where the appropriate force is to be brought to bear.

Q: They are moving -- they are moving into place now, not last week, not next week, now. Again, wouldn't that indicate that now is when some new phase of this is going to be? And you can choose whatever word you want from phase, but that a new facet of this operation is going to begin?

Stufflebeem: I think the best way to describe that particular answer is to say that we now have this capability added to the capability that we have in the theater. To believe that it marks a beginning or an end of something is not as accurate as: it is an additional force that's been brought to bear.

Q: Admiral, there is a growing chorus now -- it's still a small chorus, but it's getting louder -- of critics who are saying that the United States appears to be bogged down; that the superpower's military might is not proving effective against the Taliban, and that the campaign itself doesn't appear to be going anywhere.

Can you address the criticisms that it is getting bogged down, and that it may be having a more negative effect on the region than a positive effect on the ground?

Stufflebeem: I'll comment on that this way: I don't, personally, believe that we are being bogged down or are getting bogged down. This is a very complicated operation. This is not traditional force-on-force warfare. And there isn't anyone who is better informed or better prepared to put together a strategy for this than General Franks, the current commander in chief. He has built a strategy; it has been approved the national command authorities, and he is in a very deliberate way executing that on a timeline that allows the objectives that he wishes to bring back to the national command authorities to be completed.

There are those who, understandably, are frustrated that this is not happening faster, or that a particular aspect of it is not being employed more, but I don't think that they have the perspective that the CINC does. They're not in the position of where he is at to know what the campaign strategy is, what are the objectives to be done in the intermediate and, therefore, how the progress of that appears. General Franks is satisfied; we're satisfied with the way that the campaign is being conducted.

And we all have to just recognize that because this is non-traditional warfare, we see non-traditional warfare means employed when I bring examples of strikes up here, and some of the reporting that's coming out but this a different kind of war than we've ever fought before. And the complexity of it is what the chairman referred to as the most difficult task we've had since the Second World War.

And therefore, it is -- that -- there's a different way, and there's a different time to get this job done, rather than just moving on to the concerns of, "It's not going quickly enough." We have to learn -- if we don't have patience -- we have to learn to have the patience to allow us to be able to achieve our objectives, and they're interrelated with many, many factors that are beyond the control that we had, say, in the case of going into Iraq.

Q: Well, part of the overall game plan is to not lose the support of the moderate Arab world. You have people like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt saying the United States needs to accelerate this and get it over with rapidly. But he is not the only voice among American friends in the region that say the bombing phase needs to get over with quickly.

You are saying it is a deliberate campaign and could go on for weeks or months or longer than that. How do you reconcile the fact that American friends in the region are desperately pleading with the United States to move ahead?

Stufflebeem: I guess I'd reconcile it this way: since we have this responsibility to defend ourselves and have built a campaign to be able to do that, the last thing we want to do is to overdrive our own headlights in trying to achieve an objective before it is ready to be consumed.

Said another way: we do not want to do anything that obviously would break down our support in the world to do this. And that may become a factor in how the campaign is prosecuted. But part of the campaign is also showing our resolve and showing our strength. We're in the right. The terrorists are in the wrong. And therefore, it's important for us to do the right thing and to exercise our right of defending ourselves. And I think that as time goes on, however long that may be, those who recognize that will remain and support that.

Q: Admiral, you mentioned a strategy that you're sticking to. In that strategy, does the use of ground forces become more likely, more extensive or more necessary, does their role increase if the air campaign proves less successful? Is the role of ground forces based on the success or lack of success of the progress of the air campaign?

Stufflebeem: A ground operation is not a result of a failure; a ground campaign is done in coordination -- in this case, with the portion of the air campaign. We will utilize all of our forces and all the types of warfare that we have to bring to bear, with the exception of using weapons of mass destruction, to be able to prosecute this. The time of when that's to come would be in consonance with having achieved certain objectives.

The rest of it or to go any further gets into what -- maybe what our future operations could be. And I don't want to take it any further than, other than just to reaffirm that all of the elements of our capability are going to be brought to bear. When we do this and how we do this will be visible sometimes and obviously not at others. But the assumption that one is a beginning and one is an end, or that there is a failure to be able not to achieve something which would cause you to go into another art or another way of warfare would be incorrect.

Yes, sir?

Q: You said that the weather is deteriorating. You did not specifically say that that is beginning to hamper air operations. Is it?

Stufflebeem: It has not yet begun to hamper air operations.

Q: Admiral, we knew that the Marine helicopters were used in that recovery last weekend and then in -- you know, is there anything else you can tell us that Marines off the ARG have been doing -- have not done (not are going to do) or anything like that, you know, since there are reports that some of them are ashore, providing security at some of the bases we're using. Can you tell us anything about what the Marines are doing in theater?

(Pause.)

Stufflebeem: I can't give you specifics of all of the missions that they are currently performing, because I honestly don't know. I do know what they are trained to do. They have a tremendous capability in the tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel. They have a terrific capability in noncombatant evacuation operations. They are -- they're experts in small-unit tactics in ground warfare.

So I think that it's safe to assume that they are being used in the way that optimizes their strength. And they will continue to be employed as part of the campaign in ways that either support a main effort or a rear effort. I don't want to be any more specific than that.

One last question.

Q: Admiral, you mentioned nearly a million human daily -- humanitarian daily rations, as well as Commando Solo and the leaflet dropping. How will you be able to judge whether and when, as a matter of fact, this has had any effect on the people in Afghanistan, to change their minds?

Stufflebeem: That's a hard question, how would we know if it does.

Q: How would you know if it's useful at all?

Stufflebeem: I honestly don't know. And it's only because I just haven't thought about that question before. We're dropping the leaflets to provide information for the safety of the individuals on the ground as well as to point out to them that what they are suffering through is the cause from al Qaeda and the Taliban. So we are encouraging all those first of all who can, read them and to pass the word to their village people to support the right effort, the effort that is in the right, and not to continue to support an oppressive regime and a terrorist organization. How we are measuring that, I don't believe that there is a specific metric or yardstick where we're looking for the effectiveness as much as it's just part of the campaign that goes out there and provides capability and information that will be helpful.

Q: The reason I asked that, because the secretary has talked about a collapse from within, and he has also said that it would be easier to have Taliban leaders and others defect rather than defeat the Taliban. And yet you say that there is no way to judge whether any of these other propaganda efforts that the United States is using are going to have any effect.

Stufflebeem: Well, we have heard reports -- well, more than reports, we know for fact that there are those who have changed sides. We are -- we know for a fact there are those who have defected. I don't know if it's because of leaflets or because of Commando Solo broadcasts. But we know as a matter of warfare that psychological ops and information ops do work. Our history is replete with positive examples of where that comes into part of the arsenal. So we know that it is a positive part of the campaign. There's just not any specific metrics where we're measuring how many people are defecting or how many people are crossing over as a result of those specifically.

Thank you. Have a nice afternoon.

Q: Thank you.