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Enduring Freedom Operational Update - Rear Adm. Stufflebeem

Presenters: Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, Joint Staff
November 02, 2001 1:30 PM EDT

Friday, November 2, 2001 - 1:30 p.m. EST

(Slides and videos shown in this briefing are on the Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Nov2001/g011102-D-6570C.html)

Stufflebeem: Good afternoon, everyone.

Yesterday coalition efforts continued operations in Afghanistan against al Qaeda and the Taliban. The focus of operational efforts included targets involving active and suspected terrorist and Taliban cave complexes, Taliban military forces, in particular those engaged with or arrayed against opposition group forces, and other emergent Taliban military targets.

Yesterday's operations involved strikes in nine planned target areas, as well as against targets in several engagement zones. We used about 65 strike aircraft, which included about 50 carrier-based tactical jets, about eight to 10 long-range bombers, and the remainder land-based tactical jets.

We continued our Commando Solo broadcast missions as well.

Our humanitarian daily ration airdrops yesterday included two C-17 missions that delivered more than 34,000 HDRs and has brought our total to about 1,000,100.

We have three videos today of strikes from yesterday on a military facility of the Taliban's near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. The first clip shows a direct hit on one of five armored vehicles in a loose formation at a facility. The second clip is a close-up view of a subsequent hit on another vehicle in the same area. This is probably an armored platoon-size unit, and this is near where the first strike was. And the third clip shows a direct hit on a building at the same Taliban facility near the armored platoon, and it was destroyed. And these are from F-18s.

Q: And that building was?

Stufflebeem: Taliban command and control.

And with that, I'll take your questions. Charlie?

Q: Admiral, in keeping with what the secretary said about getting the additional troops in as soon as humanly possible, have you begun putting small numbers of additional troops into Afghanistan, spotters and people who liaison with the Northern Alliance? And could you briefly tell us -- could you update us on the number of weapons used so far? You said, I think, a minimum of 3,000 before. Could you update us on that?

Stufflebeem: Charlie, to your second question, let us take that and get back to you. I didn't look today at what the number of precision, non-precision weapons have added up to today, so I don't want to just give you my guess.

On your first question, as the secretary alluded, we have been trying to get special forces into Afghanistan and we are continuing to do so. I think within the last 24 hours, it would be fair to report that weather has been hampering our efforts. But we won't stop.

Q: So you haven't -- excuse me. So you haven't managed to get any in yet?

Stufflebeem: The ones who are presently trying to get in have not yet successfully gotten in.

Q: What kind of weather are you talking about? Are you talking about the fog, or dust, or --

Stufflebeem: Well, predominantly this time of the year what is happening are suppressed levels of freezing rain. So as the country starts to transition to its winter season and the rains are starting to fall, in the freezing altitudes, of course, that's very difficult on helicopters, much less any aircraft. So we're starting to see some of that.

Q: Admiral, would you clarify something on that that? When you use the term "special forces," are you referring to Army Special Forces, or are you using that term generically?

Stufflebeem: Generically. And I like to leave it that way. They're U.S. special forces and they are providing what has been requested as they get in with other opposition groups in the north.

Q: Do you have a tally of how much this costs per week or per day so far? And also, could you talk a little bit more about these suspected caves and terrorist complexes? Is there a danger that as you attack something that's just a suspected complex, that you actually may be hitting civilians that are seeking refuge in caves?

Stufflebeem: To go back to your first question, I don't have a good idea of how much it's costing on a daily or weekly basis. I'll give you my opinion; I think that the cost is right. (Laughter.) But the exact money figure, we'll take that and see if we can get you an answer on that one [At this time we do not have an overall cost of the operation].

On the second question you've asked, suspected caves should not be viewed as just any visible caves that we might find. These are caves that, through intelligence sources, we would believe have been or would be used by al Qaeda and Taliban forces. If we were ever to learn of caves that are used strictly by civilians, those are ones that we would not strike.

Q: And so the difference between the two is that one of them you see people or materiel moving in and out, and the other one is something that you receive intelligence about, perhaps --

Stufflebeem: That very fine distinction that I'm trying to stay away from would be those that we know and those that we either knew of or have confidence in.

Q: Admiral, have you seen any -- or have there been any clashes in the south between opposition forces and the Taliban? And have there been any U.S. assets -- helicopters or whatnot -- used in support of that?

Stufflebeem: I have seen reports that there are tribes who are not supportive of the Taliban in the south. Within some of those reports, there is indications that some may be actively fighting the Taliban. And we certainly hope so.

In terms of U.S. support of those tribes, it would be premature to paint for you a picture that would describe our relationship that we're having with the forces in the north. It's not the same in the south yet.

Have we supported tribes in the south? We are working to be able to establish the relationships with those tribes who are opposing the Taliban to be able to do that. I don't have any reports, and therefore, I can't give you any specifics on what it is that we may have done for them so far.

Q: Could you --

Q: Are those intelligence reports you're talking about or media reports about the tribes in the south? Excuse me.

Stufflebeem: I'm talking about intelligence reports. I'm --

Q: Could you be more specific about the fighting in the south? What tribe or group is involved in that? There was a report that an aide of the ex-king is leading an effort in the south.

Stufflebeem: I've seen that report you're referring to, but only in the press. I have not -- I just -- I can't give you any specifics about what that is from other reports that I get a chance to review.

Q: There's also a report today that the Taliban are in hot pursuit of Hamid Karzai, who is one of -- a former minister in the Afghan government -- pre-Taliban -- and that he has been one of those that has been trying to pull things together. Are you aware that there is pursuit of him? Do you know anything about the meeting he was trying to hold? Do you know anything about that scene?

Stufflebeem: I think the best way to characterize that is no. (Laughter.)

Q: Admiral, there are mixed reports from various Northern Alliance spokespersons about the effectiveness of the U.S. bombing of the frontline Taliban positions. Apparently, depending on where you stand in Afghanistan, it may look one way or the other. Do you have any sort of assessment, even in a general way, about how effective those strikes against frontline forces have been?

Stufflebeem: Well, I do have a personal assessment, I guess. And you have to go back a little bit and take a look at this region very carefully, and some of these opposition groups. The history in this region is one of survival and convenience. And I think that it is a matter of -- it's well known that groups will change allegiances for whatever purposes suit them, principally for survival. And it is problematic -- that may be not the best word. It is difficult to assess how good of information we may have from any particular group. The best information will come from our own eyeballs, and when we see Taliban forces that we can call strikes on. Other information is not nearly always as good.

And so, the assessment is, is that I think that we're having good effects on the Taliban forces that we strike, but we're also not fooling ourselves into believing that we necessarily have the best targeting information on every strike. We know that the Taliban hear the aircraft; they might possibly even have some idea when the aircraft could be approaching, and they take cover, and use caves as well. So we know we're putting severe stress on them. We know we're having success. But it's also very difficult to get good reports out to measure.

Q: I want to follow up on one thing you just said. How would they know when aircraft are approaching? And then I had my real question. How would the Taliban know when aircraft are approaching?

Stufflebeem: I'll give it to you just sort of as a commonsense view, because that's the way I see it. Individuals with tactical radios, who are hearing aircraft approaching, who relay that to forces who are up forward, would assume that, "Heads-up, there are aircraft headed in your direction," and therefore, they go to take shelter.

Q: The thing I wanted to ask you was, are Special Operations Forces, is their role at the moment, solely limited to supporting opposition forces? That was my first question. And also, if early season ice is already stopping you, what concerns does that raise for you about the reality of the U.S. being a really all-weather force, if you're already running into problems this early in the season?

Stufflebeem: Well, we are confident that we are an all- weather force.

However, there are some conditions that won't let aircraft fly freely. That occurs all over the world.

But I would say that we have an advantage in a cold-weather environment with the technology that we have, with the re-supply capability that we have, with the clothing that we have. And I think that that will help make us a much more effective all-weather force than maybe what could be expected.

Q: Special Operations -- are they solely limited to supporting opposition forces at this moment?

Stufflebeem: We'll say that for the time being the Special Forces are there to support the Northern Alliance and respond to the requests that they have made. Other ongoing operations or future operations we'll leave in question right now.

Q: Admiral, there were reports from the reporters on the Peleliu that three helicopter loads of Marines flew off with heavy gear and left to stay somewhere for a while. Can you tell us where they're going and what they're doing?

Stufflebeem: No and no. (Laughter.)

Q: Are they -- (off mike)?

Q: Admiral, anything to report, so we can narrow it down, on the location of Osama bin Laden? Are we making progress in that regard? Anything you can say about that?

Stufflebeem: No. He's an elusive character. It's very difficult to get accurate information, timely, from off the ground in enemy territory. We're working very hard to refine what we do know. I think that's the best way to leave it. It's going to be a difficult problem, but we're determined to be able to do it.

Q: Yeah, but Admiral, that would seem to contradict the president this morning --

Q: Admiral, if you put more of these liaison teams on the ground, given the importance that you've attached to the humanitarian relief mission and to showing the Muslim world that the United States is interested in helping, not hurting people, are any of those folks going to be working on making sure that the relief supplies get to the right place or setting up field hospitals? Anything along those lines?

Stufflebeem: The answer is an emphatic yes. However, I think I would refer you to USAID (United States Agency for International Development), who has the lead, from the U.S. government perspective, to help facilitate that. And they'll be much better informed in answering the specifics to it.

Q: How soon might that begin to happen?

Stufflebeem: I know that they're anxious to start immediately, and I know that the Taliban are working very hard to prevent it. So I think the time line is --

Q: But in areas where the Northern Alliance is in control and you feel safe putting your own people in, are you looking now to start putting some of those kind of people in, too?

Stufflebeem: Yes.

Q: Admiral, what kind of obligations do we have from the Northern Alliance, who are helping -- how they're going to behave once they take over a territory? I spoke to one person from Afghanistan who was concerned about, if Mazar falls, that there might be a massacre, that every time the city changes hands, there's always a massacre.

Stufflebeem: I think all we can do is just look at the history of some of these individuals and some of these opposition groups. I couldn't guess the characterization of what will happen once they receive an upper hand to claim, you know, a piece of territory. It would be supposition.

I think that we'll -- I think we'll do everything we possibly can to ensure that the Afghan people will find a life of peace.

But to be able to characterize how opposition groups will behave is yet to be determined.

Q: Admiral, you talked about the advantage the United States has in terms of re-supply in the wintertime, in terms of clothing during the wintertime. Is there any intention by the United States to begin supplying winter equipment, uniforms, boots, this kind of survival gear to the Northern Alliance in order to give the Northern Alliance the ability to fight in the winter where the Taliban can't?

Stufflebeem: Well, these are part of some of the things that they have asked for. They've asked for blankets and things. And we're going to make sure that they get what they need.

Q: So you're going to give them the ability -- an increased ability to fight in the wintertime?

Stufflebeem: That is our intention.

Q: Admiral?

Stufflebeem: Over here.

Q: Admiral, on this humanitarian package --

Q: One quick follow-up on that: has the Northern Alliance asked for night-vision equipment so they can fight more effectively at night?

Stufflebeem: Not that I've heard.

Q: On Global Hawk and JSTARS (Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System), there's been acknowledgement within the building that they're going over there. Can you give us a sense of what capability those platforms will give the United States to track Taliban and al Qaeda forces on a fairly regular basis in all weather?

Stufflebeem: Well, the deployment orders, in fact, have been released to deploy Global Hawk and JSTARS. The specific capabilities that they'll bring in this theater I won't specify. I will say that as a matter of public knowledge, that JSTARS brings a capability to track vehicles in all weather. That will be helpful when you're looking for trucks or SUVs or others that are moving around. And Global Hawk is a long-endurance unmanned air vehicle. So you have to think in terms of an ability to help collect information is dwell time: How long are you able to stare at things? And many other aircraft may not have as long of legs as Global Hawk does.

Q: Are SOF (Special Operations Forces) troops equipped with computer terminals so they can actually get JSTARS' feeds or some of that information on the ground?

Stufflebeem: That's a little too specific to get into.

Q: Would JSTARS --

Q: Admiral, just a minute ago, when you were asked about whether the military's been able to narrow the location of Osama bin Laden, you sounded like you said no. And I wonder, then, how you might be able to explain the president's comments this morning, when he said, "We're slowly but surely tightening the net on the enemy, and we are going to get him."

Stufflebeem: I would agree with that. There's nothing -- (scattered laughter) -- flash of the obvious! (Laughter.)

What I don't want to do is to convey a sense that the noose is so tight that it's about imminent. We are tightening the noose. We are confident in some of our capabilities to be able to help tighten this noose. And there is, one, a resolute mission to do this, firstly; and secondly, we have the means. It's a matter of time.

The part that I wanted to leave a little bit ambiguous is, do we see when we're going to get him? No. Do we know how close we are? That's a very difficult question to ask because I'm sure that there are times when we feel very close and other times it's a shadow. So it is most accurate that the noose is tightening, the country is getting much smaller; but to be able to predict when that will be is what I was trying to portray there.

Q: Getting back to the weather, is that complicated by any of the weather problems or challenges that you may be faced with now that, say, you weren't faced with when the airstrikes and the campaign began?

Stufflebeem: Well, from day to day, weather can be a factor for aircraft. Weather can also sometimes be a terrific cover for ground forces. And we also know that there will be days of good weather. So I think the best way to characterize it is that we don't feel constrained by the weather. There will be times when it will constrain some portion of an operation, but it's not going to prevent us from continuing the campaign.

Q: Admiral, the importance of a Northern Alliance victory at Mazar-e Sharif was always that they would cut the Taliban off in the North and then sort of create a domino effect, allowing the Northern Alliance to take the whole northern part of the country. Since Mazar has not yet fallen, have we seen any kind of indication that the Taliban has been cut off or that they have not been able to re-supply the battle up there, or are they allowed to do that without any trouble?

Stufflebeem: They are doing so with extreme trouble.

Q: To re-supply.

Stufflebeem: To re-supply. To re-supply and to reinforce. They are having difficulty. The Northern Alliance objective is to take the Mazar-e Sharif airport and to take the city. They're doing that in a number of actions over a course of a number of groups. They're not straight lines, of course. These are ridges, high ground versus low ground. And there also is the instinct to want to survive rather necessarily heavily engage from time to time. So it's a very fluid environment on the ground there. It's very difficult to predict more -- better than to say ebb and flow.

I'm just trying to paint a picture here that you understand that it's a very complicated piece of terrain. There are very complicated objectives. They are both, I think, determined, one to hold and one to gain. And therefore, you're gong to have this ebb and flow.

Q: A follow-up to that. Assess for us what the Pentagon's thinking is about the Northern Alliance's recent claims that a move on Mazar-e Sharif is imminent, even possibly a move on Kabul is imminent. You seem to be talking about the difficulties that they're facing. Do we believe that they can pull this off any time soon?

Stufflebeem: I do believe they can pull it off. I, personally, can't characterize how soon it would be.

I'm trying to give you a sense that we don't really know when it will occur. It depends very much on the Northern Alliance's -- or the opposition groups within the Northern Alliance, on the tactics they will use and when they will apply them. They obviously are relying on us to do some work, and we are hopeful that they will do some work as well. How that gets finalized, or when that becomes -- when it comes to fruition, it's just not clear. And I guess I'm being very ambiguous only because it's just we don't know when. We don't know when.

Q: But, Admiral, the capabilities that JSTARS will bring, will give, seemingly, the Special Forces on the ground, and the United States, the ability to coordinate those ground actions with air attacks, being managed by the battle management capabilities of JSTARS. So I don't see how you can paint this disconnect. Surely there is, in fact, going to be an even greater connection once these assets arrive in theater?

Stufflebeem: Well, if I have painted a picture that there is a disconnect, then again, I'm just not choosing my words very well. I have to work hard to be clear. We are improving the capability in all avenues and in all parts of the campaign. That's a fact.

Your observations about the inherent capabilities that come with JSTARS is correct.

But to be able to tie that, to say, "Okay, the finality is here," is what I'm trying to avoid. I'm trying to avoid this, "This will happen at any moment." We certainly want it to happen at any moment, but I just don't want to get this false expectation necessarily that it will happen that way.

Q: Admiral, on the Global Hawk --

Stufflebeem: I've got to go. I have time for two more questions.

Q: Can you clarify what's happening with the color of the food packets? Is there any decision made on what to do about that problem?

Stufflebeem: As I understand it, a decision has been made to change the color from yellow. I don't know what the color that has been selected is. Cultural considerations are being discussed, and I know it's being discussed right now. I left a meeting last night where they were talking about that particular issue. And then how quickly it would come, it's just outside of my scan.

Q: What are the cultural considerations in regards to color?

Stufflebeem: I don't personally know, but those knowledgeable in the area do. I think that some colors may be inflammatory or may be representative of, you know, something that might be offensive to some people.

Q: Admiral?

Q: Admiral?

Stufflebeem: Okay, one more question.

Q: On the Global Hawk, this has an all-weather where it can look down through clouds -- can it not? -- while flying high, I mean the bad weather. Does this not allow it to get out of range of anti- aircraft and small-arms fire that you don't have with the Predator?

Stufflebeem: I don't want to talk too much about the specifics of that platform, but I will say this: Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-range, long-endurance vehicle. The ability to put a vehicle over Afghanistan for long periods of time keeps eyes on.

Predator will have -- it has pretty long legs, too, but after a number of hours, it runs out of fuel and has to come back. So that's a tremendous advantage of keeping eyes on for longer periods of time.

I do not wish to discuss the sensors that it has. It does have an all-weather capability of looking through weather, and we'll certainly take advantage of that, but it also has sensors that will be terrific when it's bright and shiny.

Q: Admiral, that was a short one. How about one more? (Laughter.)

Stufflebeem: Is this a short one?

Q: Yeah.

Stufflebeem: One short one.

Q: Yesterday the secretary talked about the difficulty of getting ammunition to people, because you've got to make sure they won't just sell it. And a little while ago, you talked about how allegiances seem to shift. How big a problem is it to figure out who you can trust in Afghanistan?

Stufflebeem: You have to get in there with them and build trust, or learn to trust. And once you see how they operate, you then know whom you can trust and who you probably should not.

Q: Is that a major hurdle right now, I mean, during the war effort?

Stufflebeem: I haven't heard reports of who is, who isn't, how much there is, how much there isn't. We just know as a matter of fact they're survivalists, and in that vein, they may change allegiances at a tactical moment for whatever it is that they need or want to do. So we're going to make sure that with our forces who are embedded, that they'll be able to know whom it is we can and can't trust, and make sure we get the right equipment and right stuff to the right people.

Q: Thank you.

Stufflebeem: Have a nice weekend. Thank you.

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