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DoD News Briefing 17/10 - Clarke and Stufflebeem

NEWS TRANSCRIPT from the United States Department of Defense

DoD News Briefing Victoria Clarke, ASD PA Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 2:15 p.m. EDT

(Also participating Rear Admiral John D. Stufflebeem, Deputy Director of Operations for Current Readiness and Capabilities, Joint Staff. Slides and videos shown in this briefing are on the Web at

Victoria Clarke (Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs): Folks, we're going to get right to it today. And some of you know the briefer for today. For those of you who don't, it is Rear Admiral John D. Stufflebeem, Deputy Director of Operations for Current Readiness and Capabilities from the Joint Staff.

Sir? Thanks very much.

Adm. Stufflebeem: Good afternoon. Our operations against al Qaeda and their supporters continue. I'd like to give you a little bit of information about yesterday's events.

On Tuesday, we struck 12 planned target areas, which included airfields and air defense, AAA sites, including dispersed armor and radar at those sites; ammunition in vehicle storage depots; artillery camps and buildings; military training facilities, including armored vehicles, trucks and buildings.

Approximately 90 to 95 strike aircraft were utilized. About 85 of those were carrier-based tactical jets. About five of those were land-based bombers, and less than five were AC-130 Spectre gunships. (Laughter.)

As was released yesterday, one of our missions did hit a Red Cross warehouse that stored humanitarian goods. This building was within a set of targets we had identified as being used for military storage by the Taliban.

Again yesterday we continued to fly C-17 missions in support of humanitarian relief. We delivered approximately 53,000 humanitarian daily rations. Four C-17 airdrop missions delivered those yesterday. To date, we've had nearly 400,000 HDRs dropped.

Today I have two sets and pre- and post-strike images from Monday's strikes. The first photo depicts a military training facility near Kandahar -- one of those facilities used by the Taliban's 2nd Corps. Yesterday we showed two gun video-camera videos of the strike. These images more clearly show the complex and its armored vehicles that were destroyed.

The second set of images depicts a Taliban deployment area near Kabul. It's used for vehicle storage, repair, and re-supply. In the post-strike image, you can see the storage buildings and warehouses that were destroyed.

Weapons system video clips to look at today, from yesterday's strikes, generally involve the Kandahar military facilities in southern Afghanistan. This video comes, again, from yesterday.

The first clip shows a garrison facility of the 2nd Taliban Corps. It's clear here that the barracks in this facility were hit.

The second clip depicts a bivouac area for the 2nd Taliban Corps. And here we can see some of the Taliban vehicles in the open that were destroyed.

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

Q: Admiral, could I ask two questions? Number one, has the Northern Alliance -- are they moving on Mazar-e Sharif? Have they taken it? And number two, have you begun hitting the entrenched Taliban positions north of Kabul protecting that city?

Adm. Stufflebeem: To the first question, we have not seen reports that the Northern Alliance have taken Mazar-e Sharif. I would characterize this battle as going back and forth, or ebbing and flowing between the Taliban and Northern Alliance. I think the last report I saw was that they were at the airport, which is about 10 kilometers southeast of the city itself.

I won't characterize for you what we're doing today or what we'll do in the future. But I will reiterate what has been said before: that we are continuing to support our campaign objectives, and where those cross with that of the Northern Alliance, then we obviously have a mutual benefit.

Q: Well, I mean, you've said repeatedly that you're striking Taliban positions around Kabul. Why won't you say whether or not you're striking those dug-in positions that the Northern Alliance have been pressing you to hit?

Adm. Stufflebeem: I think the best way to characterize that is that we have a campaign strategy. We're following that strategy on the timeline and in the manner that suits our campaign. Where and when that comes in to support the Northern Alliance will be determined by our national command authorities.

Q: Can you help us --

Q: Admiral, can we do a follow-up, please, on that?

Can you be a little more specific, if possible, when the area of cooperation get specific? I mean, what are we doing to assist the Northern Alliance? Are we flying close-air support? Are we helping them with ammo, are we helping them with training? Is the Pentagon involved? Is the CIA involved? Can you tell us anything at all?

Adm. Stufflebeem: I think that's too specific in terms of what you're looking for directly to the Northern Alliance. Again, our campaign objectives are to get those instruments of power that the Taliban use to support al Qaeda done away with. Where we are able to do that and take those instruments of power away from the Taliban, and where that is supportive to the Northern Alliance happens to be, obviously, agreeable to both of us, but we are not shifting our campaign for other than what our national command objectives are.

Q: Okay, but a follow-up if I may, then.

If there are targets, say, in the area that the Northern Alliance is pushing toward, and we are now going after targets of opportunity, is there an emphasis to try and assist them by taking out targets that would block the way, targets belonging to the Taliban, in their path as they move towards Kabul?

Adm. Stufflebeem: I wouldn't characterize it as that we're taking out targets of opportunity as much as we are going after targets that are consistent with our campaign objectives.

Q: Admiral, could you tell us where the less than five AC-130s were operating, what they were doing?

Adm. Stufflebeem: Well, they were in Afghanistan. And you can imagine, from what you learned about the AC-130 yesterday, they bring some very specific capabilities that are not resident in all aircraft.

The AC-130s provide a level of effectiveness that other aircraft don't necessarily bring to bear. And therefore, the kind of targets that they are put against are those targets that are specifically, if you will, not unique, but most effective for that kind of a weapon system.

Now, I described to you the target sets that we were involved in. That includes engagement zones. An engagement zone is one that the AC-130 is particularly well suited to. So in those areas is where those less than five are utilized.

Q: Can I follow up? Have fighter pilots been given the "fire at will at targets as they emerge" signal?

Adm. Stufflebeem: No. I think what you may be referring to is the term "kill box," which is a misnomer. What you're referring to as a military doctrine is a tactic of interdiction called an "engagement zone." Within an engagement zone, targets are predetermined by type, and there is a controller in that area who has the ability to positively ID those targets, and then can bring in under his control those aircraft to destroy those.

An example would be tanks, artillery, surface-to-air systems that are mobile. When they can be positively identified, the aircraft are in these engagement zones and they are directed to those targets.

So there is not a free-fire, free-target environment.

Q: Admiral, you mentioned a moment ago that the Taliban and the Northern Alliance battle for Mazar-e Sharif, it's going back and forth, indicating that the Taliban are putting up pretty stiff resistance. Well, what does that say, then, about the effectiveness of the days of pounding by U.S. bombing?

Adm. Stufflebeem: What does it say? I think the way I'd characterize that is, again, our campaign objectives are for what the national command authorities have given us the task for. We are going to get rid of those military elements of support that the Taliban has to use to keep al Qaeda protected. We are systematically attacking those elements of the Taliban military that will take away the Taliban's capability to support al Qaeda. Where those cross in support of the Northern Alliance objectives are a good thing. But to say that we are actually working our campaign strategy specifically into that target set is beyond a reach of our campaign at the moment.

Q: Admiral, to follow up on that; in the areas, though, where you have attacked the Taliban military structure, specifically to support those campaign objectives, what reaction have you seen in the last few days from the Taliban military in terms of any organized opposition or firing against U.S. forces? Have you seen any resistance, any movement, any MANPADS firing? Or are they just sitting there and taking it?

Adm. Stufflebeem: I have not seen any reports that they are returning fire on our aircraft. Now that's not to say that they haven't been doing that. I will tell you from a cockpit perspective, where I spent the majority of my career, I think oftentimes I probably was shot at and didn't know it.

Our sense is, is that as we are attriting these Taliban military targets, their ability to respond is falling away.

Q: Are you seeing any firing by MANPADS, or do you now assume that that threat -- the inventory is so old, the MANPADS, the shoulder-fired, are just not a problem to worry about?

Adm. Stufflebeem: I think it would probably be fair to get some experts to go back and take that question. I have not seen any reports that they have fired any MANPADS in the last few days.

Q: Admiral, following up to your -- you said that we are going to get rid of military elements of support that the Taliban has to use to keep al Qaeda protected. And yet yesterday we were shown gun-camera footage of a U.S. strike aircraft taking out a tank behind a dirt berm protecting Mazar-e Sharif airport. Can you square that? I mean, that tank that's protecting that airport doesn't seem to be protecting al Qaeda; it seems to be protecting the airport against attacks from the Northern Alliance.

Adm. Stufflebeem: Our strategy is to go after those elements of military power. That was a Taliban tank. It's in the Taliban military. The Taliban military is supporting their leadership, and their leadership is supporting al Qaeda. So we are systematically pulling away at those legs underneath the stool that the Taliban leadership counts on to be able to exert their influence and power.

Q: Admiral, can I ask you about your strategy, please? At this point, would it undercut the strategy you've described here if there were a bombing pause to allow humanitarian relief groups to do their job the way they'd like to? Would the gains that you've realized be reversed in some cases?

Adm. Stufflebeem: You're talking to an operational tactician, and you're asking more of a policy question. From what I have seen, there is nothing that we are doing in our very structured campaign that should prevent the NGOs from being able to do what it is that they need to do.

I have seen anecdotal reports and some reporting that the Taliban are preventing the NGOs from doing what they should be doing. So I think that our sense is that we are supporting all efforts. Now I would go out to say that it's obvious that it is very inefficient to provide humanitarian support from the air, and that it is most efficient when done from on the ground. And we would do anything to encourage the NGOs to be able to help those who need it. I think it's the Taliban who is preventing that more than it is our strikes.

Q: Admiral, can you help us back to the engagement zone a moment? When did you transition into engagement zone types of strategy? And how many engagement zones are there? Are there a dozen? Give us a ballpark -- so we have some idea of how many blotches on the map there may be.

Adm. Stufflebeem: Yesterday was the first time that we formally used the engagement zones, as I've defined it for you. I would not want to characterize how many that we had done, because it can broadcast the capability of how much we able to do or want to do.

But let me put it this way. As a doctrine, as a tactic of interdiction, there isn't any part of the country that couldn't be under an engagement zone.

Q: And when you're flying AC-130 gunships, is your definition of an engagement zone slightly different? Do they need an AFAC to give them permission to fire at targets? Or because they are a crew, do they have a slightly different mechanism to let them pull the trigger?

Adm. Stufflebeem: The AC-130 crews fly with a FAC on board.

Q: Okay.

(Cross talk.)

Q: Admiral, just to clarify the --

Q: Admiral -- yes, I'm sorry. I just wanted to -- Admiral, I just wanted to clarify -- I want to get back again to the question of engagement zones and clarify, because I'm a little bit confused, and I imagine my readers are, too. So can you help explain for a layman what changed about -- what is the change that -- that changed from a few days ago, when they began being able -- pilots began being able to go after emerging targets? Now there's something called "engagement zones." I don't quite understand the difference in terms of tactics. Can you take us through that again?

Adm. Stufflebeem: Simply put, we now have the access to be able to do engagement zones that we might not have had with an air defense capability that we've recently taken out. So one is, we have set the conditions where we now can utilize this doctrinal tactic.

Secondly, we're also in the deliberate construct of our campaign. We are now at a point where I think what you're seeing is, we now have the adaptability to bring this effectiveness to bear. We are now forcing the targets out, to be able to attack, that we might not have had as much access to before.

Q: What forces --

Q: Can I just follow up on that? Because there had been reports -- I guess there were reports in some of the papers today that pilots were being given discretion to choose their targets.

You said that isn't exactly the case. So could you just clarify what they are being allowed to do?

Adm. Stufflebeem: A pilot of a strike aircraft who is given a mission in an engagement zone knows what type of targets he'll go against. He knows he'll be going against mobile armor or mobile surface-to-air capability. There will be a forward air controller who will find those targets and pass those targets to those pilots to attack.

So the sense that there is any freewheeling or any self- determination is really not correct. Those target types have already been predetermined. If they are in that engagement zone, and when they can be found and positively ID [identified], they will be attacked.

Q: But what if the pilots finds the target himself without the aid -- what if he sees a tank moving in the engagement zone? Can he then act?

Adm. Stufflebeem: He has to have the release authority from the forward air controller. So if he finds a target, he'll call the controller's attention to it for a positive I.D., get the authority to attack that target, and then will.

Q: One follow-up question on the gun camera video that you showed us today. We saw a barracks, a garrison being attacked. Do you have any idea if there were Taliban forces in those buildings and any idea at this point of how many casualties you've caused on the ground?

Adm. Stufflebeem: We don't know, and we don't keep those kind of statistics. (Cross talk.)

Q: Admiral, some have said that the Northern Alliance had moved into the airport. Does that mean they have actually taken the airport? And how significant will that be if they have an airport, with the U.S. forces able to use that?

Adm. Stufflebeem: The reports I have seen is that they are at the airport. I've not seen a report that says they have taken [it] and control the airport.

Q: And how significant is that airport?

Adm. Stufflebeem: It's extremely significant. It's a large airport. It would provide a number of allies or coalition forces, if control of that area was available to the U.S. or others, to be able to move closer into the country.

Whether or not it would be used or will be used -- don't know.

Q: Admiral, are the FACs on the ground or in the air? And if on the ground, whose are they?

Adm. Stufflebeem: We are currently using airborne FACs.

Q: Admiral --

Q: Is that an emphatic statement --

Adm. Stufflebeem: Ground controllers -- ground forward air controllers can be used in the same mission.

Q: But not yet?

Adm. Stufflebeem: As of the missions that we flew yesterday, we used airborne controllers.

Q: Admiral, have all the fixed surface-to-air missile sites been attacked and neutralized now -- all of them? The fixed ones I'm referring to.

Adm. Stufflebeem: We have attacked all of the fixed air defense sites that we have found to date.

Q: Attacked and destroyed, or do you know?

Adm. Stufflebeem: Well, there is a fact-of-life time delay in knowing what you may have destroyed. You know, from a pilot perspective, when I release an air-to-ground weapon on a site, I can tell you if I've hit the site; I can't tell you if I have destroyed the site. So it takes a little bit of time to develop your confidence that you in fact have destroyed it.

Q: Have you seen any surface-to-air missiles fired of that type?

Adm. Stufflebeem: We have not.

Q: Admiral?

Q: The National Imaging and Space Agency has confirmed that last Wednesday the Department of Defense entered into agreement with States Imaging Inc., giving the military exclusive rights to a civilian satellite, and as part of this agreement, that it prevents news organizations from buying any satellite space to look at places in Afghanistan, including locations where there have been allegations of civilian casualties.

Why did the Pentagon feel it was necessary to take this step? And secondly, how much did it cost?

Adm. Stufflebeem: I'll have to defer that question. It's outside of my area of expertise. I'm dealing with the operations that are currently ongoing in Afghanistan. I'm just not -- if I could ask that question to be taken, to have another area answer it.

Q: Admiral, when you talk about pre-program -- the pilots know what kind of targets they're going to hit, is that because of the specific munitions package that they are given? In other words, they are given a particular mix of munitions for particular missions -- for the particular targets that they know they're going to be going up against?

Adm. Stufflebeem: The types of targets are nominated to the CINC. The CINC determines which of the targets that he wishes to have attrited. When that mission is then placed on the ATO, the Air Tasking Order, those munitions are then made into that mission.

Q: Admiral, could you tell us -- you said the engagement zone doctrine was put in place yesterday. What kind of tactics were being used prior to that? How were emerging targets selected and hit? I assume that many more of the targets -- the pilots knew, as they were taking off from the decks of the carriers or in the bombers, they knew where they were headed, as opposed to just flying around and waiting for direction. So could you describe the difference between Tuesday and now, the engagement zone doctrine, and what came before?

Adm. Stufflebeem: Well, okay. The doctrine always exists. It's not one that you would necessarily turn on or turn off. It's do you have the access, do you have the targets? We have been systematically working our way through a very deliberate campaign. We achieved the access that we desired to achieve.

We have attacked those fixed sites that we wanted to attack. We are now looking at those other military instruments, if you will, those other military articles, to attack to help bring down the Taliban's power.

Q: Admiral?

Q: I'm sorry. My question is, you said that using the engagement zone doctrine began in earnest on Tuesday. You had established that you'd taken out enough air defense sites that this was something you were able to do. What were you doing prior to that? Was every plane that took off -- did they know where they were going, when they were taking off? And if so, how did you handle emerging targets back then, because you were hitting emerging targets?

Adm. Stufflebeem: Well, emerging targets is an ongoing adaptability. It is also a strength that we have from the all-source intelligence that we can pull down, as well as knowing what the fixed lists of targets are. As we go along in this campaign, more targets emerge. They may be fixed or they may be mobile. We're going to have and do have the capability to attack all of that.

Q: Admiral, you said --

Q: Sir, talking to pilots last week on the aircraft carriers, they said that they had what was called "flex-targeting authority." Could you explain what that concept is and how it fits in with this?

Adm. Stufflebeem: Sure. As a concept, flex-targeting means that you're not going to launch with your particular set of bombs only to one target, and if you don't achieve that target, you return. We have a requirement that all pilots positively ID those targets or you positively have the coordinates for those targets for those beyond visual weapon-type of bombs.

There is a capability, because of this emerging targets and mobile targets, that if you go to your primary targets you are assigned and you don't need to drop or you can't find it, you have a second or an alternative target, either mobile; you can be pulled into an engagement zone if you have -- we've demonstrated this more than once, and not just with the tactical aircraft that you have heard from on the aircraft carriers. We're using power in ways today that we had never thought before. For instance, bombers that go to a target, come back to a tanker, and are sent to another target. That's flex-targeting. That's using bombers in a way that we hadn't previously done that -- flexibility that this environment breeds.

Q: Those alternative targets could also have been -- they go out there with those alternative targets in mind --

Adm. Stufflebeem: For fixed sites, yes. If they are targets that are developed in the course of that time frame, they can be identified and designated in an engagement zone, or the commander can go ahead and call airborne and re-frag [redirect] a mission airborne.

Q: Admiral?

Adm. Stufflebeem: Charlie?

Clarke: Sir, we need to make this the last question -- (off mike).


Q: You said about 90 to 95 aircraft were used yesterday. Since it's almost midnight, could you tell us if the aircraft being used today are approximately that number?

And number two, the Taliban claim that you bombed a truck near Kandahar today killing a number of people. Do you have anything on that?

Adm. Stufflebeem: Charlie, you'll have to ask me that tomorrow. I can tell you about what we did yesterday.

Q: We're talking about civilian casualties.

Adm. Stufflebeem: I have not looked at what we are doing today. As you know, our policy is not to describe the ongoing operation, and therefore, I haven't even taken my time to take a look at how the results have been coming today.

(Cross talk.)

Q: How about the truck near Kandahar?

Adm. Stufflebeem: I don't have any reports on that truck. I'm sorry.

Ms. Clarke: Admiral, thanks.

Q: Torie, can we ask you a question about anthrax? Given everything that's happened on Capitol Hill, do you have any information about anybody in this building who has had any reason to be tested for anthrax exposure? Do you know anything about that?

Ms. Clarke: Repeat the question.

Q: Given what's happened on Capitol Hill, is there anything specific going on as far as people who handle mail at the Pentagon?

Is there any reason why any of them may need to be tested for exposure to anthrax? Any incidents of mysterious white powder envelopes, that sort of thing?

Ms. Clarke: We haven't seen anything thus far. On October 12th, we distributed throughout the department, the entire Department of Defense, guidelines on mail handling, which are pretty typical, you've seen them over the last several days -- greater precautions. The workers in the centralization areas use gloves, masks, that sort of thing. But nothing out of the ordinary.

Q: Can you answer the satellite question he asked earlier on the Space Imaging?

Ms. Clarke: No, I'll have to take that one. I was having a conversation over there. [NIMA has contracted with Space Imaging to obtain services to support our operation]

Q: Torie, have those same guidelines gone out to bases all over the country?

Ms. Clarke: Yeah, the entire Department of Defense worldwide.

Q: Torie, the question a moment ago that he wouldn't talk about. The Taliban are claiming that around Kandahar today a bus was hit with about 18 civilian casualties. Do you have --

Ms. Clarke: We've seen CNN reports. That's all we've seen thus far. I've got calls into CENTCOM. But we don't have anything else on it.

Q: Are you planning to respond when you do get something?

Ms. Clarke: When we get better information, we'll let you know.

Q: Okay.

Q: And who will be responding to that question about satellite imaging and what was going on there?

Ms. Clarke: We'll take that one. I honestly didn't hear the first part of the question, so we'll take that and come back to you.

Q: Torie, maybe you could answer the question about a bombing pause since, as the admiral said, it's a policy question. Would it seriously set back the military campaign, reverse some of the gains, if there were a bombing pause?

Ms. Clarke: Well, if you go back to what the objectives of the campaign are, they're twofold. We want to create the conditions so we can have a sustained anti-terrorist campaign, and we want to create the conditions so we can provide meaningful humanitarian aid.

There is some pretty good, credible evidence that prior to October 7th the humanitarian workers on the ground were having great difficulties, and there's been some credible evidence over the last several days that some of the workers that are there are getting harassed and hassled and are being impeded in their work by the Taliban, as the admiral said.

And I'd underscore a couple of things. Prior to September 11th, the United States was the greatest provider of food aid to the Afghan people -- $170 million. We've committed another $320 million of humanitarian aid. And since -- you guys have to help me on the numbers, but since October 7th, I think we're up to 350,000 rations that have been dropped. You know, there are a lot of people -- a lot of the Afghan people who need help, and they need more help. But the reason they need help is because of the Taliban, and that's what we're trying to fix.

Q: So is that a no? You don't you plan on any bombing pause to pave the way for the humanitarian --

Ms. Clarke: We would never reflect what we're going to do on operations, but what we're trying very hard is to create the conditions so we can provide more humanitarian aid. As everyone has said several times from this podium, you can provide more on the ground, and we're trying to create the conditions so we can do that.

Q: So you're not buying the claim that it's the U.S. bombing that is preventing humanitarian aid from getting to Afghan --

Ms. Clarke: It's the Taliban that has made life very, very difficult for the Afghan people, and that's what we're trying to correct.

Q: Torie, another policy question. Is the United States holding its fire on Taliban positions north of Kabul, in order to have more time to assemble some sort of coalition government or in deference to concerns from Pakistan that the Northern Alliance or the United Front don't take control of the capital in --

Ms. Clarke: What we're trying to do is to create the conditions so we can have a sustained anti-terrorist campaign. And as we get meaningful and useful information, we act upon it. But we're not going to telegraph what we are doing or what we will be doing in the future.

Q: Can you just clarify -- Torie, can you just clarify the time frame that they're talking about? When they say "yesterday's bombing campaign," does that go from 12:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., or does it go from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.? I just want to understand what the time frame is of "yesterday's bombing." I understand that that includes overnight.

Ms. Clarke: Mm-hmm. Well, there is some activity around the clock. Because of the -- what we've been able to do in terms of debilitating some of their air defense, things like that, we've been able to have some activity. But it roughly goes till early evening our time. But it takes some time to gather the information.

Q: So it would be -- it would go into the day, their time.

Ms. Clarke: It could.

Q: Torie, thank you.

Ms. Clarke: Thank you.


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