Enduring Freedom Operational Update - Rear. Adm. Stufflebeem
Tuesday, October 30, 2001 - 2:06 p.m. EST
(Slides and videos shown in this briefing are on the Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Oct2001/g011030-D-6570C.html )
Stufflebeem: Very briefly, just a recap of yesterday's operations:
These efforts included terrorist and Taliban command and control locations, including bunkers and tunnels, an airfield, and Taliban military forces aligned against opposition forces.
Our efforts involved strikes in 13 planned target areas, as well as against targets in several engagement zones. We used about 70 strike aircraft yesterday, of which 50 to 55 are carrier-based, about six to eight were land-based tactical, and about the same number were long-range bombers.
We dropped leaflets in the North and East, and continued our Commando Solo broadcast missions as well.
Two C-17s delivered more than 34,000 humanitarian daily rations yesterday and brought the total to date to more than 990,000. If drops go as scheduled today, we'll reach more than million.
Our video clips today are both from October 29th, yesterday, and highlight our continued efforts to degrade deployed Taliban forces within engagement zones.
The first is a double clip. It shows strikes on two armored vehicles caught sitting essentially beside each other southwest of Kabul. First, the top vehicle is hit, and then we'll see a hit on the second vehicle from another aircraft, which is just beneath those burning remains of the first.
The second video is a very clear close-up of a Taliban tank caught in the open, northwest of Herat. And the hit pretty well speaks for itself.
And with that, I'll take your questions. Charlie?
Q: Admiral, more than a week ago you said that the situation was still unclear around Mazar-e Sharif, that it was a battle -- (off mike). It wasn't clear whether the opposition had taken the airfield. Are things any clearer now? Is the Northern Alliance moving on Mazar- e Sharif at all?
Stufflebeem: Well, we know that they're having successes. We know it's a difficult and tough fight. We know that there are multiple opposition groups that are aligned against multiple Taliban groups. So the best way to summarize that answer for you is that it is extremely complicated, there are many forces involved, there are many different commanders involved, and there may be more than one objective that I'm not sure about in terms of are they all after the same thing.
The one thing that's for sure is that it's heated. We are very happy now with -- well, not happy now. We are pleased with the coordination that we're being able to provide, that we weren't able to do before, that the secretary alluded to.
Q: Does Mazar-e Sharif seem to be any closer to falling now than it was when the campaign started, when the air campaign started? Do you have any evidence at all?
Stufflebeem: "Evidence" would be a wrong word to describe Mazar-e Sharif. I think that the outcome is uncertain, and I think that the time for when that will occur is uncertain if you look at it from the perspective of the ground forces.
If you look at it from a higher perspective of the objective, I think that it's certain that we will defeat the Taliban. We will do it in consonance with the Northern Alliance and other opposition forces. So it is a matter of when as much -- more than it is a matter of if. But it's just not clear right now to be able to say that we have a timeline as to when that will occur.
Q: Given all of that, can you explain why the Pentagon, Secretary Rumsfeld, who has been so reticent along with all of you to give us information, has now chosen to very publicly state that there are a small group of Americans in the north in potentially contested territory doing this very sensitive work? How are they being protected? Are you not concerned that you've now just made them potentially quite vulnerable if it's such a small group of Americans?
Stufflebeem: Well, you've asked a question within a question, one being to ask for me to explain the secretary's remarks. (Laughter.) And I can't speak better than how the secretary does. (Laughter.)
Q: Well, let me try --
Stufflebeem: Let me answer this way. We are always concerned for the safety of American forces, anywhere in the world, in a combat zone or in a combat environment. And we are taking an element of risk in putting combat forces on the ground, but it's a measured risk. It's a risk that is part of a plan.
Now, I think more of the larger question of what you're asking is the -- to try to get the secretary and those of us up here at the podium to talk more about what that strategy might be or what that campaign might be, and those are things that we just cannot divulge. We're very confident in what our plan is going to accomplish and what objectives there are. It is extremely difficult to put it on a timetable, especially a timetable that others might like to have. But in any conflict to assure an outcome, you have to take risk. And certainly our forces on the ground in whatever number that they are or might be is going to be a concern to commanders who are responsible for them. But the American public can rest assured that we're not doing things blindly. We're not doing things haphazardly. We're not outrunning our headlights and doing things in a willy-nilly fashion. It's done very considered.
Q: So having said that, I guess my question is if something changed in the last day or so or recent period of time in this piece of territory that now allows you guys to stand up here and publicly acknowledge this existence when you have been so reticent about any public disclosure of information regarding U.S. troops in the region? Why can you now talk about this?
Stufflebeem: Again, you're asking me to qualify an answer the secretary has given you. And I think that the best way to respond is that when he's comfortable to provide information to you, to the American public, as to what it is that we have done, then the rest of us certainly do feel comfortable to be able to reinforce that. To go any step beyond that, to talk about what has changed, what's different, what phase are we in, is really getting into -- you know, coming from behind to try to lead into something in front of. And we're just not going to go there.
Q: Let me ask you about a comment that you made, a remark that you made. You're probably -- the most famous quote now from these briefings has been the one about the --
Stufflebeem: That's not very comforting -- (laughter).
Q-- about the surprise you expressed about the Taliban doggedly holding on to power. I'm just paraphrasing here. Do you think people read too much into that, or do you think that that was -- it seemed to fuel the perception that the Pentagon was surprised at how hard this was turning out to be. I'd like to give you an opportunity to extend and amplify your remarks. (Laughter.)
Stufflebeem: And I appreciate that. (Laughter.)
Well, I hadn't thought through my answer very carefully when I was asked at the time. And I think that what I found surprising was that -- I know what the inevitable outcome is going to be. I know that we're going to defeat al Qaeda. I know that the Taliban is going to be defeated unless they're willing to give up al Qaeda and to renounce the support of terrorism. What caught me by surprise was that they didn't see that inevitability. And the more that I look into it, especially from the secretary's point of view, and study it from a Taliban perspective, they don't see the world the same way we do. And therefore, I made an American judgment about a Taliban decision. They are going to have to come to this decision, and there's no doubt they will; when and if is up to them. I was expressing at the time that I was surprised that they just didn't see the same inevitability that I believe will be fact.
Q: Admiral, you said a moment ago that the U.S. is now pleased with the coordination on the ground with the Northern Alliance. Does that mean that the U.S. troops that are now on the ground there working with the Northern Alliance, as the secretary has so stated, does that mean that those U.S. troops are taking charge of that battle and, in fact, directing the battle on the ground there?
Stufflebeem: No. Opposition forces are waging their campaign, as the secretary said, and have been for quite a long time. They have their objectives. It is not our intention that we would necessarily force our tactical objectives on them. We wish to support them.
And I don't mean to have overplayed that adjective to say I was "pleased," whereby previously we're displeased. That's not the case. I think I probably misused that word, or should have picked a better word to describe that we now have been able to take advantage of the conditions that we set that allowed us to have this position where we can be advisers to them. They've asked for this; they've asked for support, they've asked for help, they've asked for liaison for the airstrikes. And we are now in a position where we've been able to provide that. Well -- and that's -- and I think that's really sort of characterizing how I can say that we're now pleased about that.
We weren't previously in a position that we could have somebody necessarily with one or more of those opposition groups to provide the assistance they requested. As time has gone on in this very short campaign, we were able to achieve those objectives, set those conditions, and now that coordination is occurring.
Q: Admiral, could you tell us when -- how long they've been in? I know you can't tell us exactly what day they got there, but has it been days or weeks? And when did you start seeing that change, the greater control, or the greater communication with the Northern Alliance?
Stufflebeem: Well, it's been a matter of days; it's not been a matter of weeks. And we're only into, I think, a fourth week of this. So a matter of days sort of covers both. (Laughter.)
But I think the first time that we acknowledged that this coordination and this liaison was in fact occurring was yesterday. And to be honest with you, I don't know how many more days before that it took us. And you recall, getting into this part of the country is extremely difficult. When you see reports, and in some cases video, coming out of this part of the world, the traditional way of travel is principally by four-legged animal. So getting in, making sure that you are with the right group, which is important, is somewhat problematic. And you don't necessarily want to just show up and announce yourself too loudly.
Q: Admiral, can you talk at all about whether there's been any better coordination with the tribes in the south, and any of the rebel factions in the southern part of Afghanistan? And if not, talk a little bit about why it's so hard to set those conditions you talk about to coordinate with these groups? Why is it so much harder in the south than in the north?
Stufflebeem: Well, I think that -- just very simply put, the south is more problematic than the north, but for a very simple reason. The Northern Alliance, who is openly opposed to the Taliban, has asked for assistance. It may be fair to characterize that we have not heard necessarily the same characterization from Pashtun tribes in the south. We are certain that there are those tribes in the south that are not loyal to the Taliban. In fact, I would hazard a strong personal guess that there are some who outwardly oppose the Taliban. But it's problematic for that reason that we have not been invited, we have not been asked for, we have not been requested, as we have in the north.
And the other is a matter of access. Southern Afghanistan is an extremely remote area. It's far from anything. And therefore it can be problematic to easily get in and sustain in southern Afghanistan as compared to the north for the time being. Now, we demonstrated in the raid that occurred that we do have access and we can pick the location and the time of when we will strike. And we can do that just about anywhere in the country.
To make a leap of faith, or a leap in judgment to assume one thing from the north as it applies in the south is not fair. It's just quite a different tactical area, it's quite a different geographic area. And there's quite a bit of difference in terms of organized opposition.
Q: Today is the day for openness here at the podium. I thought I'd ask you, for about a week or so we've heard that the daily strikes have been conducted by four to six land-based aircraft. You described the others as bombers and carrier-based. Can you say whether there are land-based aircraft supporting the Northern Alliance from Uzbekistan or Tajikistan?
Stufflebeem: I cannot say that.
Q: Admiral, you were talking about the actual Special Ops raids. Number one, can you give us an assessment of what the intelligence take was without getting into details? Was it useful, and how so? And how many people do you estimate American forces had to kill in order to get into that headquarters to try and bring out pieces of information?
Stufflebeem: Well, you know it's a matter of our policy not to discuss intel operations.
Q: But it's the day of openness. (Laughter.)
Stufflebeem: (Laughs.) When have I never not been open with you?
The raid was a success. And it was a success on many levels. We can't convince ourselves, or maybe a better way to put it is I couldn't tell you that the benefit of doing the raid is what was taken out. That may be part of it. And what we gleaned from that is helpful. It's helpful by what we learned and what, in the absence of what we learned, is intelligence as well.
It's also important to be able to see a battlefield from on the battlefield. An Army expression is -- is you have to walk the terrain to understand it. And that's a tremendous -- of value in its own intelligence as well as the ability of our forces to have the confidence to get on the ground to conduct operations and to engage an enemy.
As I have seen the reports, it was light resistance. I gauge "light resistance" to be few.
I will tell you that as a military institution, we don't keep body counts, or at least we're not keeping body counts. Maybe in past wars it was done. But we're not doing that. We didn't do that. The commander on the ground characterized in his after-action reports -- that it was light resistance. And so we assumed that that's just a few number of enemy that were engaged.
Q: Admiral, can I just on the ground -- the limited number of ground troops there right now, they're providing classic forward air- control type of activities, it sounds like. Is it fair to say they're giving a degree of precision now to attacks against the Taliban that were heretofore, even a week ago, we couldn't do, in terms of assisting the Northern Alliance?
Stufflebeem: Well, there's two parts to your -- a two-part answer to your question. The -- any time that you have air control from the ground available, it will invariably be more accurate than what you can discern for yourself from the air. So that's an inherent fact. And we also will have a better appreciation of what is occurring on the ground than what we can discern from the air.
I'll give you a cockpit perspective of that as an example. From the air, it's virtually impossible for me to tell one artillery piece is firing on another and verify whom is who. But from on the ground, it's very easy to tell, especially if you're taking the incoming and knowing where it's coming from and able to pinpoint where that strike ought to be put at.
So that precision is resident in that capability of having those liaison officers on the ground, yes.
How much did it change from what we previously had seen? I think you've seen that for yourself in reports that we bring to you, is that we're now devoting more effort to that part of the campaign, i.e., those Taliban forces on the ground.
Q: Are they providing night assistance to fliers as well as daytime, or is it mixed?
Stufflebeem: Our capability is day and night.
Q: Are they helping bomb caves? Are they helping pinpoint entrances and special locations in the caves and mountainsides?
Stufflebeem: I don't have any specifics on what it -- you know, how they're conducting their liaison business. Therefore, I just don't know if they're actually pointing out caves.
Q: Can you characterize what the Pentagon knows about the Taliban or the al Qaeda having explosives with radioactive material -- these "dirty bombs," and the level of concern about that?
Stufflebeem: That who has these?
Q: The al Qaeda or the Taliban.
Stufflebeem: Can I comment on -- I don't know the specifics of it, as an answer to your question. We do know that al Qaeda, and we know specifically that Osama bin Laden has maintained an interest in weapons of mass destruction. We know that he has an interest in obtaining all kinds. We would assume and include nuclear weapons or radiological material in that.
I have not seen -- have never seen any reports that the Taliban have or have ever had any radiological or fissile material. I wouldn't discount it out, but I've just not seen anything that gives me a concern or evidence that it's there and therefore would be spread.
Q: If I could follow up: Is the military know or involved in anything about any of those making it out of Afghanistan, any of those bombs, those --
Stufflebeem: I have not seen any reports about those kinds of either radiological-dispersal-type devices nor anything about them getting out of the country, if in fact they had them.
Q: Admiral, last week there were some news reports from Afghanistan which showed some U.S. strikes on some friendly -- some anti-Taliban forces. Is one of the reasons that we have people on the ground now to try to prevent those kinds of friendly fire accidents?
Stufflebeem: It's a benefit to having liaison officers there. Again, I would just remind you that the reason our liaison officers are there with opposition forces is because they requested it, and that's why they're there. And there are a lot of benefits of being there. One of those, of course, is to help direct the strikes with more precision so that there's less chance.
But we have to acknowledge -- and it's a reality of warfare, that not every bomb -- I'll put it in my parlance as a pilot. I can do everything perfectly right and have all of my weapons systems working perfectly and still not achieve a perfect result. There are just so many variables and factors that you can't account for every single weapon going exactly where you want it to go. We call it a Monte Carlo effect, and that's just going to happen from time to time.
Q: Admiral? Admiral?
Stufflebeem: We only have time for two more questions.
Q: Admiral, while most of the strikes continue to come off of the aircraft carriers at this point, can you characterize at all how useful access to the bases in the neighboring countries has been to the operation?
Stufflebeem: The only reports I've seen is that they are extremely useful to us. We're very grateful to all of our allies, we're very grateful to all of our friends who are on the right side of this issue of fighting the war on terrorism. This is but one place. This is the first place. There will be others. In fact, we shouldn't assume that there aren't others ongoing as we speak now. And we're always going to be grateful and looking for coalition and allies to be able to help support the world's effort to rid of this mess. And so therefore the best -- there's just no doubt about it. We are very happy, we are thankful, and they are valuable.
One last question. I'm sorry, I got to go.
Q: Can you -- would you take a cut at this issue of whether the effort so far has been effective or not? I mean, even the president of Pakistan has suggested that the U.S. military campaign has been ineffective, that the Taliban has been strengthened. Would you just sort of go through the reasons that you think that's wrong?
Stufflebeem: Well, that's a very broad question. You're asking me to try to see that question or an answer to that question through a number of set of eyes. And quite honestly, the only set of eyes that I can use are my military ones.
I see the campaign going well. I see us achieving the objectives that we wish to achieve. All of us would wish that there was a silver bullet that we could fire and get this over with and move on to what we might have to do next, wherever it might be. That's not going to happen.
So we are resolute in staying with this until it's done. We know we're making progress. We are satisfied that we're doing the right thing. We -- we're --
Q: (Off mike) -- could you define some of the things that have physically been accomplished?
Stufflebeem: If I go back and review just -- in very general terms from the day we started to where we are now, we can see that we measurably have removed military equipment from the Taliban's arsenal. We have access into the country that we didn't assume on the first few nights that we flew over the country when we knew they still had air defense capability. That's progress. We know from reports that the Taliban is having problems reinforcing one another in various parts of the country. That's progress. We know that the Northern Alliance has requested assistance, and we've been able to provide that. That's progress. There are many different ways to measure this. And there are pundits and there are retirees who can offer their opinions about how they might see it, which isn't necessarily how General Franks has articulated it to our national command authorities.
I think the one last thing that I would say is a little bit to the notion of support for what it is that we're doing. Again, from the military perspective, we are eternally, grateful to the American people for the support, the steadfast support that we have in conducting military operations. And for those of us in uniform, that steels us in our resolve. We know we're doing the right thing, we're going it in the best way that we know how, we're adapting as we go along, we're confident that we're making progress, and we are going to win. And we do that because of that bolt of steel that we have from the American public, who has their reliance on us to get our job done, and the pride that we have in being able to do that.
Q: Admiral --
Stufflebeem: I'm sorry. I can't wait --
Q: Admiral --
Stufflebeem: Excuse me. I've got to get with the secretary. Good afternoon.
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