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DoD News Briefing 20/11 - Clarke and Stufflebeem

NEWS TRANSCRIPT from the United States Department of Defense

DoD News Briefing Victoria Clarke, ASD PA Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2001 - 1:29 p.m. EST

(Also participating is Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for current readiness and capabilities, Joint Staff. Slides and videos shown in this briefing are on the Web at

Clarke: I have just a few updates and then I'll turn the briefing over to the admiral.

As you know, we continue to deliver humanitarian rations. We're now over 1.6 million daily rations delivered, and additional aid is being provided by USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development]. Last week the supplies, humanitarian supplies began to move into Afghanistan from Uzbekistan by barge. The first shipment contained 50 metric tons of wheat flour, as well as blankets and winter clothing. Just today, another shipment left on a barge from Louisiana, due there in mid- to late-December. USAID is the lead agency for the effort, and there's more information about the humanitarian efforts overall on the back table. [ White House summary: ]

The U.S. military will soon begin to work with coalition members in the area to clear selected roads in and around Mazar-e Sharif to pave the way for future humanitarian assistance operations. That work may include engineers for road repairs and explosive ordnance details to clear mines and booby traps.

We've had quite a few questions following up on the rewards being offered for the terrorists. You should direct most of those questions to the Department of State. And there is a web site, , for more information. I know our press office has made available the Commando Solo scripts and the leaflets, but we do have those if you need them.

Looking ahead. Secretary Rumsfeld will travel to Fort Bragg and Polk Air Force Base, North Carolina, tomorrow to receive briefings and demonstrations on the capabilities of U.S. Special Forces. The Special Forces participating tomorrow will include the Army Rangers, Navy SEAL teams, and Air Force combat control teams. [ press advisory: ]

And as tomorrow is the day before Thanksgiving, he does want to express his appreciation for the dedication and the hard work and the commitment of all the men and women in the U.S. military.

They and their families are sacrificing every day for us, and for that we are very grateful. And I do want to say a special word, since we won't be in here tomorrow, to the families of those who lost loved ones on September 11th.

As we move into this holiday season, we want you to know that you are in our thoughts and prayers, and we're caring about you.

And with that, I will turn it over to Admiral Stufflebeem.

Q: Can we just ask -- just as a point of information: How about briefings over the Thanksgiving weekend?

Clarke: We're trying to work through that, Charlie, and we're working with CentCom and others to see what we think the level of activity will be. But we'll let you in the next -- probably later this afternoon.

Q: Will that include tomorrow, or is that a normal day tomorrow?

Clarke: Tomorrow is a normal day.

Q: Can I ask you two follow-ups?

Clarke: Sure.

Q: The secretary, where does he plan to spend Thanksgiving weekend? Is he going to Taos?

And secondly, if I were in Afghanistan and wanted to claim my $25 million reward, what kind of currency would I be paid in? (laughter)

Clarke: I don't know the answer to the second one. And the secretary hopes to go to Taos this weekend.


Stufflebeem: Well, good afternoon, everyone.

Yesterday, our operations continued towards our objectives of dismantling al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership. And I would tell you that the situation in Kunduz and Kandahar remains the same, which is as a standoff. We now approximate about three-quarters of Afghanistan is no longer under Taliban control.

We're observing the opposition groups, working to establish civil order and consolidate their gains, as well as continuing to reduce the Taliban and foreign-fighter pockets of resistance.

Most notably, they're working with counterparts, and these are Afghan counterparts, from within the Taliban, opposite those of the opposition groups in negotiations for surrenders in both those areas.

Operational efforts were primarily focused, and continue to be so, on al Qaeda and Taliban cave and tunnel complexes, Taliban and al Qaeda forces in the Konduz and Kandahar regions. We used about 65 strike aircraft yesterday. About 50 of those were tactical jet aircraft from sea-based platforms, approximately 10 land-based tactical jets, and about the same number of long-range bombers. We dropped leaflets in two locations in Afghanistan yesterday, as well as continuing the Commando Solo broadcast missions. Three C-17s dropped more than 55,000 humanitarian daily rations, which brings our total to now more than 1.7 million.

Today we have a pre- and post-strike overhead image for you. The image depicts our continuing efforts to support southern opposition groups. This is a Taliban armored formation consisting of tanks and armored personnel carriers south of Gardez. The formation was bombed on Saturday the 17th, and it destroyed many of the vehicles. I'd like to point out here that this was done with precision weapons, and as such you'll note that most of the buildings appear to be unscathed.

I also have four videos for you today. The first video is from the 15th of November. It's a strike against a Taliban and al Qaeda supply complex at Pewar Kandar in eastern Afghanistan. It consisted of buildings, bunkers, and underground storage facilities, was one of the major al Qaeda camps funded by Osama bin Laden, and has been used as a supply depot and training camp for terrorist operations. The strike here is on the cave and tunnels.

The second video shows a direct hit on a Taliban tank south of Kandahar that was seeking cover in a wadi. As a last remaining -- as the last remaining Taliban stronghold, coalition forces are focusing the air strikes in that area. And that was from the 15th, as well.

The third video is from Kunduz where Taliban and foreign fighters remain surrounded and isolated. It shows a strike on an armored vehicle formation. This was taken on Sunday the 18th. As you'll see, the vehicle was destroyed.

And the final video shows a direct hit on isolated Taliban forces occupying a trench system outside of Taliqan.

And with that we'll take your questions. Charlie?

Q: When was that?

Stufflebeem: That was also on Sunday.

Q: Also Sunday? Thanks.

Q: Admiral, did you say the United States is working on negotiations with the opposition on the surrender of Kandahar and Kabul?

Stufflebeem: No. The opposition forces are working with Afghans.

Q: Is the United States taking any part in that at all?

And how is the Defense Department -- the secretary made clear that he doesn't want the Taliban and hard-line al Qaeda fighters to be able to get out of Afghanistan, with or without arms. How is the Defense Department trying to bring any influence into these negotiations to make sure that that doesn't happen?

Clarke: When we're asked, we'll provide advice. The secretary made clear yesterday it's our strong preference that these people not be able to flee and cause trouble elsewhere, or get out of the country and continue to do what they've been doing. And so we have provided that advice.

Q: Told the opposition?

Clarke: Mm-hm. (Affirmative response)

Q: Admiral, I know you don't discuss operational details from the podium, but I'll ask you first, and then I'll ask it another way, then I have a follow-up. (laughter)

Clarke: We try not to discuss our operational details at all.

Q: Right. Are there U.S. Marines on the ground now in Afghanistan? And if so, how many? And if you won't answer that -- (laughter) -- if there were U.S. Marines on the ground, how many would there be, and what would they be doing? And then I have a follow-up.

Stufflebeem: I do not know if there are presently U.S. Marines on the ground in Afghanistan, as I stand here. I do know, as we all do, U.S. Marine forces are in the theater. We have two amphibious readiness groups there, Peleliu and the Bataan. Those forces have been ashore; they have participated in operations, some of which you are aware of. General Franks has them at his disposal and to utilize them in traditional doctrine ways that the Marines are trained in, as well as supporting special operations.

So to get into what it is that -- if they were on the ground, what they'll do, I think I'll just defer to the doctrine that they're trained in to do their business. They have the same rules of engagement as the forces who have been in the country are operating under. And the forces are available to General Franks to use either to set conditions, or because the conditions are such that he would like to use them at that time. And just let it go at that.

Q: And the follow-up, then, a little strange follow-up, that maybe doesn't seem quite as a follow-up. But since the negotiations are taking place and it's a standoff, as you say, and we hear reports that the opposition have given a three-day ultimatum to the Taliban and supporters in Kunduz, are our bombing efforts standing down or diminished somewhat during that standoff period?

Stufflebeem: The air strikes that are supporting the opposition groups, and specifically to Konduz, as you are describing, are presently on call.

So as our forces are calling them in to that engagement zone, if you will, or for that close-air support, or at the request of opposition groups, they're brought to bear.

As I have last viewed it, that is continuing. I've not seen or heard of a cessation of that. But we are responsive to the opposition groups, whom we are supporting in that effort right now. And I think that it would be fair to say that if the opposition groups were to ask us not to bomb a specific facility or a location so they could continue their discussions, we'll certainly honor that.

Q: Admiral, there's reports that Northern Alliance have been increasingly vocal about not having foreign troops, peacekeeping troops, on the ground. And now there are some reports that perhaps some British troops were prevented from getting into Bagram Airport, north of Kabul, because of those concerns. Is the Northern Alliance perhaps dictating what kind of troops are coming in, as far as the coalition is concerned? I mean, are these concerns somehow playing into the troop deployment -- the Northern Alliance concerns.

Stufflebeem: I'm aware of one report that you have referred to from some of the opposition force commanders concerned about the missions of forces that may have been coming into the country or, in fact, are in the country. I know that those force commanders' concerns have been allayed and that the forces whom are on the ground -- it's understood by the opposition force commanders what their mission is, and that there is currently no objection to that.

Q: Does that mean the current force that's in there now or the British have talked about several thousand more, perhaps as the opening force of a multinational something?

Stufflebeem: I don't know about the future force deployments or the potential for future force deployments. I am only aware of those British forces that, in fact, have gone into Afghanistan, and the initial concern, that I believe was probably a misunderstanding as to what their mission was, and that that has been resolved. In terms of the future operations, I'm not aware of what that would be.

Q: Admiral, you said both Kunduz and Kandahar are at a standoff. Could you elaborate on that? And also, does the U.S. military have any real concerns that, say, for instance, Kunduz could turn into a bloodbath, or -- what is the U.S. military worried about for these two areas?

Stufflebeem: No particular worry about the areas; monitoring them very closely. By a standoff, it's not unlike what we observed around Mazar-e Sharif before it fell. There are areas of very active fighting, described, I think, as fierce fighting. There are other areas of negotiations between opposition and Taliban forces.

We hear anecdotal reports from inside the city of non-Afghans and what they would intend to do, which would tend to be dig in and have to be dug out, I suppose. So there is that mixed -- there is that mixed bag of what we're hearing, reports that might tend to be positive in one sense or negative in another sense. So it continues a standoff because it's not clear as to how it will be resolved.

Those forces have fought the opposition groups. Those forces have been previously in control of the country. And this is a refuge, if you will, that they hope that they can get out of. It's not clear as to whether or not some or all will be able to negotiate their way out. It's not clear if all want to negotiate their way out. And so to hypothesize or to suppose that this may become an area of concern because of the conflict that may ensue is not there yet. So I think we have to let some more time go by, see how these negotiations between them are going on, see how the fighting is going on, see what effects that our air strikes are having, which at the moment appear to be providing good pressure, and see how that facilitates the outcome of it.

Q: Is that in both cities, Admiral?

Stufflebeem: Well, we were talking specifically about Kunduz, but it's not dissimilar down in Kandahar.

Q: Admiral, are we planning on continuing attacks on Thanksgiving? And second question, what are we doing for Thanksgiving dinner for our troops out in the theater of operations, in Uzbekistan or Afghanistan, and the ships in the region? Any special --

Stufflebeem: I don't know. As I understand it, I think the USO is out to entertain the troops. I can't tell you that I know where. I just haven't looked into that, to be honest with you. Because this is an active war zone, our troops will not be standing down to have a typical turkey dinner. As has been alluded in the last couple of days repetitively, those who would oppose these efforts are not going to take a stand-down, and we wouldn't anticipate one either.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Admiral, you mentioned around Mazar-e Sharif, U.S. forces or, if you would, coalition forces to prepare the way for relief supplies. Is the U.S. going to be ready to do that, prepared to do that throughout the rest of the country, if necessary, or do you not see that as being part of your mission? And a related question: is the U.S. inspecting airfields around the rest of the country to see if they are suitable places for bringing in relief supplies?

Stufflebeem: Our forces are working as part of their mission to do assessments of airfields to determine their suitability for either coalition use or to deny use for any other aircraft that we wouldn't want to have in there. We are working to set the conditions for humanitarian assistance gains -- I won't say predominantly -- the focus now would tend to be in the North. That is the area of the greatest need, and so therefore, that's where most of the humanitarian assistance work is being done. As other areas become either vulnerable or need, I believe that we will provide the assistance to set those conditions so that nongovernmental organizations and others can get in there to do the work.

Q: Admiral, with all of the bombing of caves and tunnels, are you still confident that Osama bin Laden is alive? And I have a follow-up.

Stufflebeem: Well, I'll make no judgment on what I think of -- or where I think Osama bin Laden is. It's possible that on one of these strikes, he may be killed. It is also possible that he may survive. And as the secretary has pointed out, it's possible that he might slip out. We are using every avenue of intelligence gathering, we're using every contact that we have with opposition groups and locals on the ground to help narrow the possibilities of where al Qaeda, leadership al Qaeda may be at, and then targeting those tunnels and complexes accordingly. But to be able to -- I couldn't give you any level of confidence on one way or the other.

Q: And my follow-up is, based on your answer, is that -- is that based on a lack of intelligence, namely, the fact that we do not have a body, or is it based on intelligence either from an individual or an organization that has indicated they know where Osama bin Laden is but they're either waiting for the right price or the right time to give that information to the United States?

Stufflebeem: Well, that's a tough question. And I think any part of that could be possible. If we had specific intelligence that would tell us where he is at, we'd have him. If we knew he had been killed, we'd be able to produce that. So I think that's about as close as we can quantify.

Clarke: It's just underscoring what the secretary has said repeatedly: you either have him or you don't. One of the things we are trying to do is surface a lot of information, intelligence, the scraps and bits and pieces the secretary references all the time, trying to find him. But you either have him or you don't. And we don't right now. And in a country of that size and that uncertainty and instability, it's hard to say with certainty where he is.

Q: So just a point of clarification. You're saying you don't have any intelligence from anyone saying they know where he is but they're holding out on the right price or the right time to give that information over?

Clarke: I've not heard anything like that.

Stufflebeem: Nor have I.

Q: Admiral?

Q: Admiral, the first video you showed us today had what appeared to be a fairly substantial concentration of Taliban forces and equipment. Should we be at all surprised that seven weeks into the bombing campaign there are still such large masses of forces around to be struck?

Stufflebeem: I don't think you should feel surprised from the perspective that since this campaign started in earnest and since those conditions that -- or lines of operation, as General Franks calls them -- as those have been worked down, one of the more difficult parts of those military -- or that military that we have been able to get at is finding things like tanks and armored personnel carriers, while Taliban have tried to hide them. They have dispersed them in wadis. We know of late that they had been trying to hide them in cities and behind buildings and things. So where we find them, we go after them.

We don't make an assumption that we have gotten rid of 80 percent of them as yet. We had a rough count of what we thought they might have had when this started, but to -- we'll just keep looking for them and we'll keep striking them when we find them, and we won't make an assumption about how many we've gotten done yet or how many there are left to go.

Q: Admiral?

Q: Could you -- or maybe Torie needs to talk about this -- tell us a little more about the forces that you're going to be sending into Mazar-e Sharif? A rough number? Have they deployed yet? Have they received deployment orders? Are they already over there?

Clarke: Don't have even rough numbers. We are working with coalition partners and with the humanitarian organizations to work through the details of that. But making the area secure and working on the road is a primary piece of it. So it is an intensive part of the administration's efforts right now, but I think it's a matter of days before we have more details.

Q: Is it not just Americans, then? Will it be people from other countries working on the same --

Clarke: We're working with some of our coalition partners to decide who will perform what functions.

Q: Admiral, a follow up on that?

Q: Admiral -- or Torie -- General Franks is going back to Uzbekistan, I believe, shortly, or is on his way, or going in the next few days, and is going to spend apparently a couple of days there. Where do things stand with Uzbekistan now? What can Uzbekistan do additionally to support the U.S. effort, either from a humanitarian perspective, or the bridge, or -- just curious what this trip means?

Clarke: Well, let me give the standard answer, and then if you have anything further. The standard answer is we let the other countries talk about what they're doing and what their levels and types of participation are. We have been very pleased and continue to be pleased with the support we're getting from around the world.

And I don't know if you want to add anything on about General Franks, but --

Stufflebeem: Well, I wouldn't say it's a non-standard response on the other side of that one, but the general, as much of our leadership, has an opportunity to travel and visit with coalition partners, including the surrounding nations and neighbors. We are very thankful, of course, for what it is that they have offered at this point, and are very interested in other things that they may wish to offer.

At the same time, General Franks may be interested in determining for himself some of the assessments of what is available and how things are going from rather -- just reports.

Q: Admiral, there seems to be an unusual concentration of al Qaeda and foreign troops in Kunduz, and I'm wondering if you had any information that would suggest that they were expecting a fight in that part of the country with U.S. forces coming across the border.

Stufflebeem: Don't know what they expect or expected. And to be honest, I don't know how the collection of the non-Afghan forces got to be there. They have tended in the past not to operate as autonomous units but to be blended to some degree with Taliban. It may be that as the country has gotten smaller from this campaign, this is where they have decided to hole up. Exactly why they picked this area or why they are there, or even what their intentions are, are not clear. At the moment, it would appear that they would not intend to surrender or necessarily to give up fighting, because it continues today.

We'll assume that they wish to continue to fight, and therefore the opposition forces are staying engaged there, and we're supporting that with air strikes.

Q: Admiral, you spoke of barge traffic going across, bringing humanitarian relief from Uzbekistan. What is taking so -- what is taking the forces so long to open this friendship bridge? We were under the impression that once the Afghan side of that bridge was secured by opposition forces, that the Uzbeks had basically committed to opening the bridge. But what's taking it so long?

Stufflebeem: I don't know why the bridge is not open. It's not under U.S. control, if that's your question. The barges have been moving across the rivers and actually never stopped moving across the river, and to date they've been effective in delivering most of what the humanitarian assistance requirements have been.

I know --

Q: The Uzbeks -- I mean, because we were told it was -- I think last week we were told that the bridge would be open imminently. And is that still the time frame?

Stufflebeem: Well, we still have expectations that the bridge will be opened, and I think it's a matter of security, and the forces that have responsibility for security of that bridge want to feel sure that the bridge will be protected, because there still are pockets of resistance in the North, and there still are opposition groups that are moving to find and to ensure that those groups are eradicated or at least checked. And that may be one of the conditions to get that bridge open.

Clarke: Yeah, I was just going to say exactly that.

And the use of the word "secured" -- I think people need to be very careful with, because there is still a lot going on in this country. And we want to -- to the extent possible -- provide for the safety and security of the people who are bringing in the humanitarian relief.

Q: Admiral, last week, you said that you believed that Mohammed Atef, key deputy to bin Laden, had been killed in an air strike. I assume you've confirmed that now, or can you tell us whether you've confirmed it and whether you can tell us how many other al Qaeda leaders were believed killed in that strike or any others? And can you name any other al Qaeda or Taliban leader that you believe may have suffered his demise in this bombing campaign?

Stufflebeem: I can't tell you that I have seen any reports that are the definitive answer on Atef's demise. But there has been enough anecdotal reporting and enough reporting that we take it as fact at this point. So we do believe he has been killed. I can't go any further because I just don't have any more definitive information that says we have proof positive, other than just it continues to be reinforced.

We are hearing, along with those reports, that other lower-level leadership may have been killed, as well. I don't have any names. I don't know how far up in the leadership chain that goes. It's been characterized in reports that I've seen as "lower-level leadership." So I just don't have any other names for you --

Q: Can you provide us -- last week there were reports that American troops were going around and looking at various previously suspected bio and chem sites in Afghanistan. Four or five days has now passed since American forces have been able to look at other sites. Have you found anything yet that has raised your suspicions or that has provided you with any evidence that these were active biological, chemical or nuclear sites of any kind?

Stufflebeem: I honestly have not seen any reports that get to any of your question -- or provide any of your answer. I'm aware that there are a number of facilities that need to be looked at, some of which may have already been done, but I just have not seen any reports that have yet to say, "Here's where we are" or "Here's where we have left to go, and here's what we've found." So I think that we're still working through that, is my supposition.

Q: Admiral?

Q: Admiral, what progress is the U.S. making in basing some strike aircraft, such as the F-15E, closer to the fight, so they don't have to go such long distances? Tajikistan had been mentioned. And assessment teams, of course, went to other countries as well.

Stufflebeem: Well, I know the assessments are continuing. I know that some of the assessment reports have been made to General Franks. I have not heard that he has made any decisions or worked out the details of those with any of the neighboring countries as yet. So my assumption is that he is working through that right now.

Clarke: We'll just take two more, because we've got another briefing after this.

Q: Just following up on the Atef question, is it still believed that he was killed by a Predator drone plane? I was just wondering, at this far along in the campaign, how much more or less are you using those?

Stufflebeem: Well, you've given me some new information. I didn't hear that report. What I thought that I understood was that we didn't know precisely which attack may have been responsible. It was my belief that Navy F-18s off of an aircraft carrier may have had the strike that did that one in.

To the other part of your question about UAVs, or unmanned air vehicles, we're continuing to utilize those over the country in a variety of ways.

Q: Admiral?

Q: Admiral?

Clarke: Last question.

Q: Could you bring us up to date on special ops activity in the south? Specifically, there have been reports that small teams have been designated to start hunting al Qaeda and Taliban leadership, as opposed to just doing strategic reconnaissance, interdiction and possible direct action.

Stufflebeem: I can't go much beyond that. What I can say is that strategic reconnaissance -- you should not make an assumption that reconnaissance does not mean that we're not looking for al Qaeda and Taliban. Reconnaissance can do a number of things. And it has been our mission, it remains our mission today, the prime objective for us is to get al Qaeda -- dismantle it, make it ineffective -- and those that would harbor them, in this case, Taliban as the leadership organization. So that's been central to all of our movements in the joint campaign.

Q: But have the special ops -- has the mission expanded in the last three or four days to specifically use those Green Beret teams to look for leadership?

Stufflebeem: Expanded only in the sense that there are more teams on the ground than there previously were, not that there's been an expansion, per se, given to individuals on the ground.

And with that --

Q: Will we see you tomorrow, Admiral?

Clarke: You'll see someone else tomorrow.

Q: Well, happy Thanksgiving to you, Admiral.

Stufflebeem: Happy Thanksgiving to you as well. Thank you.

Clarke: Thanks.


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