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DoD News Briefing 28/11 - Rear Adm. Stufflebeem

NEWS TRANSCRIPT from the United States Department of Defense

DoD News Briefing Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, Joint Staff Wednesday, November 28, 2001 - 1:30 p.m. EST

(Slides and videos shown in this briefing are on the Web at

Stufflebeem: Good afternoon, everyone.

We continue operations and focus on building pressure on al Qaeda and the Taliban through strikes on fixed and emerging targets. We also continue to increase the number of our Marines on the ground in southern Afghanistan.

We conducted airstrikes yesterday in four planned target areas, concentrated against al Qaeda and Taliban cave and tunnel complexes and support infrastructure in the Jalalabad area, as well as emergent targets in the South, which included command-and-control elements and Taliban military forces. Yesterday we used about 120 strike aircraft, of which about 100 were tactical from sea-based platforms, about 12 to 14 were land-based tactical jets, and between six to eight were long-range bombers.

We again dropped leaflets, this time in the Kunduz and Kabul areas, and continued our Commando Solo broadcast missions.

Our humanitarian relief support continues, and yesterday two C-17s dropped again 34,000 humanitarian daily rations, and one C-17 dropped 16 containers of wheat and blankets. And this was near Mazar-e Sharif. To date, we've delivered more than 1,930,000 humanitarian daily rations.

Today we have four videos from recent strikes in southern Afghanistan. The first of today's clips are from Sunday. They show two in a series of strikes against an armored column that was on the move. This was the one that was reported in southern Afghanistan heading east at about the time that the Marines were infiltrating. The vehicles were destroyed. And by the size of the secondary explosions, there were apparently fuel and ammunition in this convoy. And these are Navy F-14 images you're seeing.

Q: (Off mike.)

Stufflebeem: Right, just from a different angle, so the road doesn't appear quite as obvious.

Q: And it was heading east?

Stufflebeem: They were heading east.

The last two of today's clips were from yesterday's strike on reported Taliban leadership locations near Kandahar. These videos are from F-16 gun cameras, which show multiple munitions dropped by a B-1 bomber. The first video is of a macro-view of a Taliban complex, and you'll see the numerous hits around the compound, both in the upper left and lower right corner. The second video is a zoomed-in view of one of the complexes that was bombed. And as you can see, the facility was virtually destroyed.

Q: How many bombs were coming down?

Stufflebeem: I don't have the exact number. I think it was on order of about 10 all total.

Q: What kind of munition was it?

Stufflebeem: Precision guided.

Q: (Off mike) -- the B-1?

Stufflebeem: It was from a B-1.

We do not have any specific names or information of who may have been in that facility, other than the initial reports of it being Taliban leadership.

And with that, I'll take your questions.


Q: Admiral, now that Mazar-e Sharif and Kabul and Konduz have fallen, would you describe Kandahar and perhaps Jalalabad as besieged cities? Are they tightly surrounded by the opposition, allowing very little flow in and out? And what does intelligence tell you about the ability of the opposition and how soon to take Kandahar?

Stufflebeem: I think General Franks probably gave you the best description yesterday, if you saw his comments, in describing both the area south of Jalalabad and Kandahar.

To say that they're "tightly ringed" is probably a little too strong. There certainly are opposition forces around and, in some cases, in the areas. But there is, again, a number of conflicting reports as to when they actually might be considered controlled by those opposition groups. Intelligence -- it's too early to tell when the outcome will be for both of those. Pressure is building. I would say that the best way to characterize it is that the pressure has been stepped up, and there are fewer Taliban and al Qaeda forces that are resisting than there were days ago.

Q: Admiral, can I do a follow-up?

Q: Have you any indication of surrenders in Kandahar, like there were in Mazar-e Sharif and Kunduz?

Stufflebeem: No reports, as of yet, that give you that same magnitude that you saw in Mazar-e Sharif that are occurring right now. However, there still are active negotiations ongoing, and we could see that. That's possible.

Q: Admiral, if I understood General Franks correctly yesterday, he said we are not bombing inside Kandahar proper, to cut down on the possibility of collateral damage. What about the AC-130 gunships, which are very good against urban warfare, are they being used down there?

Stufflebeem: I haven't seen any reports of any of the strikes that have showed actual attacks inside the city of Kandahar. So I can't say categorically no, that they AC-130s have not fired into Kandahar, but I've not seen in reports that they have.

Q: Admiral, can you shed any light on the circumstances in which the CIA person was killed in the prison uprising? Was he with other -- was he with military personnel, in communication with military personnel that would explain what was going on?

Stufflebeem: To be quite honest, I don't have any information on the specifics of what happened to that individual. I'd have to refer you to the agency. They may have more. But I just haven't seen anything other than just a confirmation of who he is and that he was killed.

Q: Do you know that he was working with U.S. Special Forces present at the time?

Stufflebeem: I don't know that. I don't know that there was a specific coordination going on. The CIA and Special Forces have been working and had been working very closely together on the ground. In this particular incidence, I just don't know.

Q: Admiral, can you tell us how many cluster bombs have been dropped up to this point in the war? And how are the targets for those cluster bombs selected? Is it exclusively front-line troops?

Stufflebeem: I can answer the last part of your question. The first part I just don't know. I don't know the numbers of cluster bombs that have been dropped. I'm sure we can go back and research that. [About 600 cluster bombs have been used.]

But to the second part of your question, cluster munitions are most effective against troops that are in lightly defended positions. So the place to best use them is in an area that would have minimal collateral damage impact and maximum numbers of forces that you would wish to kill.

So those particular lines of confrontation, as we saw, that were arrayed on the south side of Mazar-e Sharif, especially in those foothills, is a good physical example of an area that those weapons would be most often used in.

Q: If I could follow up, can you tell us what type of cluster bombs were used?

Stufflebeem: What type. I'm sorry; I couldn't tell you that -- cluster bomb munitions is all that I know them by, and what they do.

Q: Admiral, what does the United States think -- what do you think that that armored column that was heading toward the Marines -- what was the intent? Was that apparently an effort by the Taliban? Were they planning to attack or engage the Marines, or do you have any idea what they were up to before those airstrikes took place?

Stufflebeem: Right. A little impolite, but I don't think we'll ever know now. We did not have intentions. We only had just the physical indications that this column was formed up and moving from the southwestern part of the country eastward. And once discovered, then positively identified as belonging to Taliban, they were successfully attacked, and we don't have any -- any indicators as to what their intent was.

Q: Do you even know if they were on a suicide-attack mission against the Marines?

Stufflebeem: We do not know. We just don't know that.

Q: How far away were they at that time -- roughly how far away from where the Marines were?

Stufflebeem: I don't know. The way I'd seen it described was is that they were -- I think the words were something like "approaching the vicinity." So I would say miles, but I really don't have a good feel for how many miles it was.

Q: Do you know if the Marines on the ground have fired a single shot yet? Have they met any resistance of any kind?

Stufflebeem: I've not seen any reports that they have engaged yet. That's not to say, of course, that they haven't, but I just haven't seen any reports that they have.

Q: Secondly, on your attack on the leadership compound yesterday, you said 10 bombs, roughly. You were approximating, I guess. Is that on one of the two focal points, or is that on both of them?

Stufflebeem: As I understood it, there were two facilities in this target area that we had indications of being Taliban leadership locations. How the weapons were arrayed against them, I don't know.

And to be quite honest, I'm not sure about the number 10. Someone had told me that it was about -- about 10.

Q: And you have no idea still whether you did, in fact, kill members of the leadership? You assume you did from your going-in intelligence, but your after-strike intelligence has not given you any sharper view of what you hit?

Stufflebeem: That's correct.

Q: Did your going-in intelligence -- to use that term -- include the possibility that Omar was there?

Stufflebeem: I don't want to get into the specifics of how fine and exact intelligence is or can be. We were confident that it was Taliban leadership. I think we're always going to be hopeful that the senior leadership will be in one of these locations once we get those kinds of reports that allow us targeting information. But it also is a little bit of a leap of faith to make an assumption. And so we wouldn't assume, necessarily, that Omar was there, or would be there, as much as we would hope that he would be there as we attrite the others.

Q: Admiral, following up on the CIA report, yesterday the secretary painted a picture for us -- Taliban turning themselves over to the Northern Alliance, defecting, rejoining, re-defecting, mixing in with some of the townspeople. What are we doing or how can we distinguish the Taliban from the anti-Taliban so that we can recognize friend or foe and this doesn't become another Vietnam, where you just don't know who your enemy is?

Stufflebeem: Well, that's a good question and it is one of the hazards of this area. Afghan nationals who may be with the Taliban who decide to switch and become anti-Taliban may in fact not stay there. We don't know what, obviously, personal intentions would be. We only know what definitive actions are or are demonstrated.

I think that the way that people conduct themselves on the ground -- firstly, U.S. forces are close to opposition groups and in building relationships there, there's an element of trust. If opposition individuals would trust former Taliban warriors to some degree, I would take from that that there is some element of trust to be had. However, any individual with a weapon can become a hostile combatant in the flash of an eye, and I think that we are conducting ourselves in such a way as that we're protecting ourselves from that. And any individual who, by his actions, would fire upon coalition forces -- those coalition forces have to assume that as a combatant unless they know it to be a friendly fire mistake.

Q: But just to follow up, was there evidence that the Taliban who had surrendered in Mazar-e Sharif were trustworthy or friendly in the eyes of these CIA officers, or was that something that was just misjudged? Or what were the circumstances?

Stufflebeem: Well, if you're speaking about the compound now, specifically --

Q: Yes.

Stufflebeem: We obviously did not know what the intentions of these individuals were. However, they were not under coalition control. They were under opposition group control. I had a sense, without knowing facts, that there were in a large number, hundreds, of these forces who had apparently surrendered. At some point in this detainee status, they then came to some sort of a decision to do -- to take some action and had the ability to be able to do that. There's a lot of questions that obviously need to be asked or answers that need to be obtained as to how that came about or how that can be prevented in the future. My sense is that the opposition groups learned quite a bit from this experience, as well as what we have observed.

But until you can get into a position where you can start to interrogate some of these people and find out what they're willing to talk about, you aren't going to know what the intentions are. So there is that risk that you have to live with.

Q: Admiral, I want to get back to the leadership targets. Is this the top priority now, would you say? And of the targets of opportunity, what percentage or number are leadership targets, would you say?

Stufflebeem: From Central Command's perspective, I don't know. From where I sit watching this, my sense is that the pressure that has been brought to bear is on the leadership. So, you know, I could tell you that the entirety of the effort is to do that. If we break the leadership of the Taliban and break the leadership of al Qaeda, there is very -- or there is reduced emphasis or reduced motivation for troops to stay loyal to the cause and continue to fight.

There will always be pockets who are going to fight to the death in any case. But getting the key leadership and breaking the chain of command is going to render much of that ineffective. And so, therefore, the pressure is on that leadership, and we're doing it in a multitude of ways. You know, initially we were talking about getting at the legs of the stool that supported that leadership. With much of that now gone, and for much of the leadership in hiding and just trying to survive, the pressure is now being applied to shrink down the areas of where they can go to to be found, and then they make the decision if they're going to surrender or fight to the death.

Q: But again, are they the priority target now, the leadership? Are you actually trying to strike them first and foremost?

Stufflebeem: The sense I have is that the pressure that we're trying to bring to bear is on the leadership.

Sir, in the back.

Q: Admiral, there are reports still of planes coming into Afghanistan in different areas and landing. With all of the surveillance equipment that we have in theater, do you have any reports that any planes, other than U.S. military, are coming into that airspace, landing and then leaving?

Stufflebeem: The only reports that I have seen are those that have been reported in the press openly. I think I read or saw this morning that Russia has flown IL-76s into the north and delivered troops and equipment, I think with the stated intention of rebuilding their embassy. I would leave it to Russia to determine what it is that they're doing.

In terms of small aircraft, like helicopters or small single aircraft, the environment, especially to fly around, with very steep mountains, provides some shadowing where you don't see all of it, even with all of our capability to see it from overhead. So, to assume that an airplane could not fly low altitude and terrain-follow into the country and then exit, would be a bad assumption.

We assume that that could happen. We have a lot of coverage in trying to prevent that and see that. We have not seen any reports of that having happened yet.

Q: Admiral, there have been -- there was a report this morning from the South of Afghanistan, between Kandahar and the Pakistani border. Reporters there interviewed a local opposition commander from Pashtun background, who said that he and his men had captured 160 Taliban prisoners after they refused to surrender and that they executed them in, you know, firing squad fashion, and that U.S. forces were present and had objected to the execution of the prisoners. Do you know anything about that?

Stufflebeem: I know of the report that was filed. We do not have any reports from our forces to describe this. And Central Command, I think, is going to try to track that report down to see if there's anything to that.

Q: Admiral, you mentioned that 120 strike aircraft in the last 24 hours -- and I think, on my count, that's about 30 more than three or four weeks ago, when the Taliban controlled most of the country. Could you just give us an explanation for the increase? Is this due to better intelligence, or are the U.S. forces becoming more aggressive? And secondly, what percentage of these aircraft are returning without having dropped their munitions?

Stufflebeem: The fact that there may be a few more aircraft on recent ATOs [air tasking orders] than there were in days past does not signal a change in this joint campaign as much as what General Franks or the CINC wants to bring to bear. There are more aircraft that are being brought to bear for on-call engagement or close air support missions. And part of that is in fact due to more intelligence that is being derived with more people on the ground now. So we're getting more intelligence, better targeting capability. But we also need to have more aircraft available in response and on call, and so that can account for some of it.

But there may be other days where we don't have as many up. So you sort of just have to get a sense that this is the way it's been, and the level of effort is going to be relatively constant through the AOR, because you just have so many available.

The other part of your question was, how much of the aircraft are returning [with ordnance]? From day to day, it'll vary. From yesterday's missions, the majority brought their ordnance back. But it will vary. It depends on what kind of targets emerge or, I should say, how many targets emerge, and then have the positive ID and the controller authority to release it.

Q: Admiral, there have been some unconfirmed reports that there may be some conventional Army forces from the 10th Mountain Division operating inside Afghanistan right now. Can you talk about that and, if they are in theater right now, what they're doing?

Stufflebeem: You know, I can't, but it's only because I've not tracked 10th Mountain to know exactly what it is that they're doing. So I just don't know the answer. I'll go back and look to see what it is they're up to. I just don't know the answer. [A small number of soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division are now operating inside Afghanistan.]

Q: Has the United States yet taken any prisoners? And have any non-Afghan fighters been removed from Afghanistan by the United States for questioning elsewhere?

Stufflebeem: I've not seen any reports that we have taken custody and removed from Afghanistan. I don't know if I would have access to that information, Jamie, to be honest with you. We obviously have had access to people who have been detained, and we're getting information from those who are detained and volunteering information. But I think that -- I think that the U.S. government, in fact, is working through how we would -- maybe not the U.S. government as much as coalitions are working through how we would do detainees outside of Afghanistan. But as far as I know, it's not yet been done.

Q: Admiral, you mentioned that there were leaflet drops yesterday around Kabul and Kunduz, if I understood you correctly. Those areas, as I understand it, are both under control of anti-Taliban forces now. Can you tell us what the leaflets are -- what the purpose of those leaflets is? Obviously, you're not trying to get people to rise up against the Taliban. The Taliban are under control. Are you looking for help in tracking down the leadership? What are those leaflet drops now?

Stufflebeem: There are a variety of ones that are being dropped. We are continuing to drop leaflets that provide information to nationals about humanitarian assistance, use of radios, positive information, I guess you would call it. There also are the "wanted" posters in looking for the leadership of the Taliban and al Qaeda. We are still delivering messages to have those pockets of resistance -- to have those kinds of individuals surrender and give up their fight. And I would tell you that we're starting to see some success from those. In having the interviews with those who are detained, there is information that's coming forward that they are having a positive effect, and so I know that we're happy about that.

I have time for two more questions.

Q: Admiral, you talked about breaking the chain of command in the last day or two. Is there a chain of command to break? I mean, what's the status of the leadership? Are they trying to organize disparate resistance groups? And how are they communicating?

Stufflebeem: They're communicating in a number of ways.

They're using radios. They're trying to meet physically together. And in some cases they are severed from communicating by any means whatsoever. The effect of separating, isolating, and reducing the leadership is then, that the troops under their control are not going to know, necessarily, what it is they should be doing. Any time that you can dismantle the leadership or this chain of command, you then have groups of troops who are uncoordinated, uncontrolled, and therefore much less effective.

In terms of measuring the effect, the pressure again, that we're looking for -- based on intelligence and all-source reporting - on the leadership is to get at it for that reason.

Q: (Off mike) -- Omar and bin Laden still calling the shots right now?

Stufflebeem: We know that there are elements of the leadership that are trying to reach their seniors for guidance. We know that there is guidance that is still coming down from the senior leaders. I think that to say that they are still calling the shots and still firmly in control would be an overstatement. I think they have much less control than they have had in the past because they have much less access, again, to some of these intermediate leaders and to those forces.

Q: Admiral, you mentioned that they are still dropping humanitarian rations. With all the airfields that are now under opposition control, why have we not gone into flying 130s or something like that, you know, where you can deliver them in bulk a little more efficiently than the air drops?

Stufflebeem: Well, we're dropping the HDRs into areas that don't have any other way to get access to easy foodstuffs at the moment. That's one reason. Some of the airfields that we are utilizing are good for short-runway use aircraft. Heavily laden aircraft, like a fully loaded C-130, may in fact not be suitable for a number of runways. There also has to be the coordination established on the ground for those aircraft to get in and those NGOs to be ready to receive and then disburse. I can't tell you that I know that that coordination is, in fact, physically set up on all the airports that have been used so far. But I think those are the elements of what it is.

Q: Quick clarification? On the drop on the compound, were the B-1s the only ones that dropped, or unmanned, manned -- were the B-1s the only ones?

Stufflebeem: It was a single B-1 that dropped its weapons on that compound.

Q: It was loitering?

Q: And that was it? That was the only aircraft that dropped on the --

Stufflebeem: That was the only one that dropped on that compound in that strike.

Q: So the F-16 didn't drop?

Stufflebeem: Did not, specifically.

Q: Okay. Thank you.

Q: See you tomorrow.


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