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DoD News Briefing 25/1 - Rear Adm. Stufflebeem

DoD News Briefing - Rear Adm. Stufflebeem
NEWS TRANSCRIPT from the United States Department of Defense

DoD News Briefing Rear Adm. John D. Stufflebeem, Joint Staff Friday, January 25, 2002 - 1:03 p.m. EST

Stufflebeem: Good afternoon.

In yesterday's ground operation at Hazar Kadam, our forces discovered a large cache of weapons. Reports indicate that these include more than 400 60-millimeter mortar rounds, more than 300 rocket-propelled grenades, some 300 100-millimeter rockets, and thousands of rocket fuses, more than 250 automatic grenade launcher rounds and more than half a million small arms rounds. After the raids, an AC-130 gunship was called in to destroy the cache, and reports I have is that there were significant secondaries from that.

The screening and interviewing of the 27 individuals detained in this operation is ongoing, and I don't have any additional information for you today about who they are, what they are or what they were doing.

A total recap of the numbers of refugees (sic) [detainees] to date is we have currently 302 in Afghanistan under U.S. control, and you know the 158 down in Guantanamo Bay, for a total of 460.

And finally, a Predator unmanned aircraft crashed yesterday as it attempted to land at an airbase in the region. It was coming back from a mission over Afghanistan. And while we're still assessing what might have caused the crash, it was clear that it was not due to hostile fire.

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

Q: Admiral, Torie said this morning that these captives had some significant importance, what they were doing, what they were surrounded by, the accoutrements, or there were indications there was some importance to these people. Can you in any way go into that? Indicating they were not just foot soldiers -- (inaudible word) -- whatever.

Q: (Off mike.)

Stufflebeem: I understood what you meant. I don't have any information and I just don't know, and therefore, I just can't characterize for you what level or what -- or who these people were. I haven't seen any names. I haven't seen any jobs or positions. The only thing that I know is the number of them, where they currently are, and they are being interviewed now. And that's all I know.

So I'm waiting to see what reports may come out.

Q: How about cellphones and laptops, that kind of thing? Any of that found?

Stufflebeem: As I recall, it was clearly a weapons storage facility or a weapons cache is the way -- and there was more than just one specific location; there were probably what you would call several targets of where these weapons were warehoused and stored.

And then let me correct myself. I said weapons, but I meant to say ammunition -- munitions.

There was only a minor amount of materials that were recovered. So I get the impression that this was not a great find of things like you'd mentioned.

Q: You've talked in the past about pockets of Taliban and al Qaeda remaining around Afghanistan. This was clearly one of those. But how do you assess these pockets? Are you seeing just the dregs, the -- you know, the ones and twos? Are you seeing pockets that have any substantial ability to do anything, to launch any operations, to communicate with each other? How do you assess these pockets of resistance?

Stufflebeem: Well, I won't say it's my assessment, but I'll say that the sense that I have is that these are groups of 20, 30 people, obviously getting together, with what intent we don't know for sure. We -- as you know, we have lost a soldier in this combat. So we make an assessment or we make assumptions that these are hostiles and that they would continue to intend to do hostile acts. If they are Taliban, they probably don't want to give up the way of the Taliban. And if they're al Qaeda, we know what their mission is, which is to kill people, including Americans. So -- is that descriptive enough for you?

Q: Except just to go into one other point. You have talked about the fact you've degraded command and control or command -- communications between various al Qaeda elements. Do you think any of the al Qaeda have an ability to communicate to other locations from where they are, or are these pockets of resistance completely isolated? The functioning of the al Qaeda with Afghanistan now?

Stufflebeem: The functioning of al Qaeda as an organization has clearly been -- I dare not use the E word, but it's been clearly taken down in Afghanistan. The backbone of what gave them the communications capability is physically gone.

Now the ability to buy telephones, cash -- you know, this is a society that lives off of cash out of their pockets -- and so the ability to buy cellular phones is prevalent. And so the ability to buy a phone and then to use it or to borrow a phone and use it or to be on a tactical field radio with someone who does have a satellite-capable cellular telephone is a way that I understand that, if they're trying to make contact outside or working from within, this is how they would conceivably do it.

Q: So they're sort of just going to -- (inaudible) -- and buying cellphones and re-establishing themselves that way?

Stufflebeem: Sure.

Q: Admiral?

Stufflebeem: Yeah.

Q: Admiral, the weapons cache -- was that at just one of the compounds? And can you explain the relationship between the two compounds that were attacked? Were they close to each other? Did they have different purposes, different groups of people?

Stufflebeem: I've seen the imagery of what this looks like, and the best way to describe it is that there would be, in a classic sense, what you and I would consider a compound. It had a building -- large building, and, I think, a small building, inside of a fenced area. And then outside of that were some more buildings. And so the way I'm inferring -- the attacks were on several targets, which included more than one building and more than just what was inside the fenceline.

This was -- this was out in the hinterlands, in the hills, a very unpopulated, agricultural type of an area. It would be easy to see that if you were in one building, you would have, you know, a clear visual view of other buildings, and so I think these were multiple targets in an area.

Q: So there was just a single compound then, not two compounds? Was that yesterday?

Stufflebeem: Well, the way the raid is described is, there are two compounds. And the way that I'm looking at this -- you know, again looking at the picture in my mind's eye -- is basically three different sets of buildings, one of which had a fenced compound around it. So I think that it's defined as two compounds that way.

Q: Admiral, we've heard from this podium that there's a lot of intelligence coming out that's leading to finding some of these cells inside Afghanistan. In early December, we pulled out a lot of the 75th Ranger regiment. Is there now a move to put more Rangers back in, seeing that you're finding more things? Is there an effort to beef up the force on the ground, now that there are perhaps more targets that are becoming available?

Stufflebeem: You're tiptoeing into what could become future operations. And I don't want to retreat and give you a standard answer as much as to be as honest as I can with what I can say now.

You've got a good feel for what the range of forces are that are available to General Franks, that he has in the theater. He will move them in and out, based upon either a rotation -- for instance, we've already disclosed that the Marines that had set up facilities in Kandahar would be replaced by Army, the 101st. So they're moving forces and rotations to allow other rotations to continue that would go from in and out of the theater at this point.

General Franks is comfortable with the type and level of troops that he has on the ground now, given what missions they're prosecuting. If he finds, as additional intelligence is developed, that there is a need for more forces to go do that, I think he'll respond that way. So he'll do what he needs to do, and right now he's happy with who he has and what they're doing.

Q: Okay. So it's not leading to more strength going in, based on the intelligence gathering so far?

Stufflebeem: I see where you're going and -- the idea being as we're getting smarter and learning more about all of this, do we need more forces to go -- actually go take it down? Not yet. No indications yet that that's what we need to do.

Q: Admiral, how many American forces were involved in those simultaneous raids, those two -- at the compounds we were just talking about, how many?

Stufflebeem: You know, I don't know. I never thought to even ask how many it was. Our special operating forces traditionally move in relatively small groups, teams. When the Marine Corps moves to take an action themselves, they tend to be a lot of heavier and bring a lot more sustainment with them. So a relatively small group is what I would say, but --

Q: Are you not through with that area and -- in the way you described Zhawar Kili earlier as being sort of through with them? What's of interest to you there or not?

Stufflebeem: Well, I may have given you the wrong impression about Zhawar Kili. So let me go -- I won't go back and revisit that, but let me just say it this way: We are constantly monitoring all the areas that are potentially or have been areas of either hostilities, known bad guys or potential dangerous areas. And even though we have now gone to this particular compound, we have found this cache of weapons, we have this number of detainees, and we may develop more intelligence, that's not to say that there may not be an occasion to go back there, one, just to see if anything has changed -- Are people starting to show up there again? Are they trying to dig out what may have been blown apart? Or are they going to use this as a way station to get together from other parts of the country as they try to collect together for what their purposes are?

So we're going to keep eyeballs on, and we'll keep revisiting when it's necessary.

So far, and in the case of Zhawar Kili, when we finish the operations there, you shouldn't assume that we won't go back, but it will be on indications that we need to go do something.

Q: Admiral, in the Philippines, I'm wondering if you'd just give us an update, the number of troops that we have there. And secondly, have any U.S. forces participated in -- directly or indirectly, in any combat operations conducted by the Philippine units?

Stufflebeem: I cannot tell you what the numbers are, because I don't know today or within the last few hours what the number was. It's in the hundreds.

I have not seen any reports that indicate that the U.S. is involved in any combat operations. And let me just be clear what it is that we're doing there at the moment. We have a Joint Combined Exercise Training team that was previously scheduled to be in the Philippines for our training, and they're there. We have been asked or invited by the Philippine government to also come and provide training to their forces, and we are also doing that. And so for, I think, the time being, is that -- the training that we're getting out of the JCET, as we call it, the Joint Combined Exercise Training team -- with that, and then with what they've asked for in terms of training and assessment and assistance to their forces, that's what we've done so far, and only that.

Q: But as part of that training, have any shots been fired?

Stufflebeem: Not by U.S. forces that I've seen. I am seeing reports that the -- and I need to leave the details of this, certainly, to the Philippine government. This is their purview and responsibility. But I know that their military is actively looking for terrorists, and I'm sure that they've had some engagements.

Q: Speaking of shots fired, can you just give us an update, for the record, how many bombs have been dropped in Afghanistan and how many precision-guided? Why I ask is this: The president the other day made a point of saying in the '03 budget we're going to ask for more money to buy more precision-guided weapons and other things. Just for some size and scope, what's been dropped to date, and how much has that depleted the precision-guided inventory?

Stufflebeem: Tony, let us take that question and see if we can get you an answer. I just haven't looked at -- it's been -- you know, the last time that we expired -- expended any ordnance was yesterday, with an AC-130 on this cache location. Prior to that, we dropped a couple of precision weapons on the MH-53 that landed hard and we don't want to see turned over. From before that, it's been a while. So I've not even just looked at them for a while.

Q: Could you check?

Stufflebeem: Sure.

Q: And could you provide that at a briefing, please?

Stufflebeem: If I have the numbers next time I brief, then I'll certainly bring those back. But maybe we can get them to you sooner.

Q: A couple of different things. There seemed to be five extra detainees that we don't really know where they came from yesterday. There was 297, and today there's 302; is that right?

Stufflebeem: Correct.

Q: So we know -- and the 297 counted the 27 that were taken.

Stufflebeem: Right.

Q: So can you explain where those five came from? And could you also tell us the intent for the facilities and the two compounds? Are they going to be flattened the way that Zhawar Kili was, or has that already happened with the secondary explosion?

Stufflebeem: Well, I don't know that the facilities were actually flattened. They were attacked by an AC-130, and as you know, they fire howitzer rounds and heavy millimeter machine-gun munitions. The secondary explosions that occurred from hitting the munitions areas more than likely took those buildings apart. But I haven't seen imagery so; therefore, I can't tell you today that I know it's flattened. I don't know that we intend to go back and strike it again. I think that the general is satisfied that that facility and what we wanted out of that thing has been taken care of. It may be that we need to go back and put some more on there later.

And your other question was -- ?

Q: The detainees, the five extras.

Stufflebeem: Yeah. I do know the answer. I'm not sure -- they were turned over to us by the Afghans. Let me put it to you that way.

Q: Yesterday? Thursday?

Stufflebeem: I can't tell you I know the exact day that that was done, but I think your math is accurate and for that reason. I think it's within the last 24 hours that they were turned over by Afghans to us.

Q: Admiral, officials at Guantanamo say that another 60 cells are ready and that they're pretty much done with another 60 above and beyond that. What is holding up the transfer, then, of additional prisoners from Afghanistan? These officials at Guantanamo say since Wednesday they've had 60 ready to go.

Stufflebeem: Well, you know that the secretary [of defense] stopped the flights. And of course I know that, and I guess all of us in the chain recognize that. I can't tell you that I know all of the rationale that he used to do that. I do know that the assets -- some of the assets, the airlift assets that have been used to move these detainees are currently being used to help move the 101st in Afghanistan. So we may be seeing a second order effect here of some time-sharing of the transportation assets. And I do not know when the secretary intends to restart, or if he even actually does intend to restart sending detainees down there. So I'd have to defer that to him to give you a better answer.

Q: Admiral, was the site that was raided yesterday -- sites -- was that bombed at all during the campaign?

Stufflebeem: I'm sorry, say it again?

Q: Was it bombed? Was it attacked by air before yesterday?

Stufflebeem: No.

Q: Or is this the first time.

Stufflebeem: No.

Q: Okay, were there indications, then, that this ammunition has been there for a while, or if this was newly stored there?

Stufflebeem: I don't want to get into the intelligence-collection process specific to how we found out what we did about this location. Suffice to say, we had been watching this facility for a while and looking for the kind of indicators that would tell us what should happen there.

Because of the indications that we had, it made more sense to take this target with a direct action than it did just to strike it with precision weapons alone.

Q: But my question is, it either implies that either this was a large cache that was overlooked during the campaign or that, as these forces have regrouped, they brought ammunition with them, presumably to stage attacks -- guerrilla attacks -- against coalition forces.

Stufflebeem: Right. I don't know how long we knew this cache was there. We did not know how much of a cache was there. This was what we discovered when we got on the ground -- that this was a -- they were stockpiling a lot of ammunition there. I don't know, and I think that that'll come out as probably part of this interrogation, as to how long it had been there, how long it had been either unattended or attended or even, maybe if it had only been recently put together there.

Q: Were there underground components to this site, as there were at the Zhawar Kili, that surprised you all?

Stufflebeem: No. Well, not that I have seen. Apparently, from the reports I've seen so far, all we see was what was above ground, found all this ammunition, hit it and got those folks out. And now we'll go back and just --

I've got time for two more question.

Q: Admiral? From that last answer, it sounded like you had some intelligence perhaps indicating maybe Omar or bin Laden or people like that might be in the area. Are you suggesting that was one reason you had this raid on the ground? And can you tell us the latest in the search for Omar and bin Laden?

Stufflebeem: Well, no, I cannot tell you about the latest on the search for Omar or bin Laden. They are part of the leadership, and we have directions from the president to take down the leadership. So we're working at that -- and at every level. So I have nothing more -- that I just have -- that I can give to you about them, specifically.

Q: And was this raid -- was there any thought that perhaps they might be there?

Stufflebeem: Not that I have seen. As you can imagine -- I mean -- again, not calling this a phase, but we're at a part in this campaign where we have dismantled this ineffective government, the Taliban. We have disrupted all of al Qaeda's efforts that had been previously coordinated to the communications, et cetera, that we have severed.

And so what we have now are -- is this scattering effect of these fighters, wherever they may be, and we're watching them get together in pockets. And when they collect and we can identify and we can locate, then we're going to go after it. In some cases, it may be too dangerous to put a team in there and try to get detainees, which our first preference would be, for the intelligence value.

It may be that in some of those cases that we may just have to use weapons from a standoff and ensure that they're all killed, and reduce the risk of our forces. So you should take from that that this environment is going to look like this for a while. There were a lot of Taliban and a lot of al Qaeda in this country. And we don't do body counts, nor actually do we do head counts, but we know we haven't gotten them all. And so we believe it's a hostile environment. We'll keep looking, and when the indicators come up, as General Franks terms it, actionable intelligence, we'll move against it in the smartest way.

Q: Admiral?

Stufflebeem: One last question.

Q: Putting your attention on another topic, Secretary of the Army Thomas White, a former Enron executive, this week Public Citizen accused him of taking action to benefit Enron weeks after he took his post, including pushing for the privatization of energy services serving the military. Can you say if the Pentagon is at all investigating that or is at least concerned about a possible conflict of interest?

Stufflebeem: There is nothing I can say about Enron or any of the officials in the administration.

That was not an operations question, so I'll allow one operations question.

Q: There was a report that the Afghan authorities have seized a van that may have been packed with chemical weapons or explosives. They're apparently going over it now. It may have been part of a coordinated attack on the Afghan authorities or perhaps U.S. forces about the time of the secretary of State's visit on the 17th. Do you have any information on that? And as a second part: Have there been any changes in security arrangements, not only for U.S. forces but also for all these dignitaries, U.S. dignitaries that have been going in and out of the capital?

Stufflebeem: I don't have any information about the van, only because I've not seen anything on it. So there may in fact be some good reports, but I just haven't run across them. So I'm sorry, I don't have anything for you on that at all.

Q: Do you know of any kind of ongoing threat toward either the interim government or dignitaries that are going in and out, separate from that on U.S. forces?

Stufflebeem: The way to characterize our -- the best response to that is that we assume that there are threats against military personnel, civilians, including VIPs who would visit the country. It's a hostile environment. Or maybe a better way to put it is that it is potentially a dangerous environment, because bad guys are loose and we haven't got them all yet. Our forces, of course, provide their own force protection. Armed military folks are experts at that. General Franks and his component commanders in the theater have all the forces that they need to be able to provide what you would consider to be adequate security for those VIPs that come in and go out. Certainly, as intelligence might provide information that a specific threat is known, that will be acted upon and additional measures will be taken to prevent that.

But I don't know of any specific threats that say that there is anything new either against the armed forces that are currently on the ground or that are -- that were or are specified against any VIPs.

Q: And any recent changes in those security procedures for VIPs? Any beefing up of those forces or any reallocation or anything along those lines, just recently?

Stufflebeem: Honest answer is nothing that I'm aware of.

The last thing I'll just say is, Tony, while you were sitting there awaiting the answer, as fast as I am to run down the street and back again, we have delivered approximately 18,000 pieces of ordnance, and roughly 60 percent of those were precision-guided.

Q: Could you get back to us, Admiral, on the number of troops who might been involved? I mean, unless you had a Sergeant York involved here, if you killed 15 people and captured maybe 27, it would have probably taken dozens to do this, right? Could you get back to us?

Stufflebeem: On how many people were involved in the raid?

Q: How many people were involved --

Stufflebeem: I'll go find out. Again -- well, appreciate this: We don't necessarily always know exactly what we're going to expect on the ground. We do show up with overwhelming force, though. It doesn't always manifest itself in the number of troops who hit the deck. Having an ability to have aircraft on call from over your shoulder at a moment's notice, having a rapid reaction force that can be called in at a moment's notice, and having ships like the AC-130 gunship available and overhead to you at the time is probably more than enough firepower to take care of what we would get there.

Q: Anyway, if you could get back to us --

Q: How many Predators went down, have you lost since you started this? Four?

Stufflebeem: Oh, gee, less than -- (off mike).

Q: Do you have any left, with this --

Stufflebeem: I don't know, but we do have --


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