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Pentagon Briefing

Aired October 17, 2001 - 14:16   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: The Pentagon briefing is about to begin. Let's listen to that and see where they are going and we will come back to this.


REAR ADM. JOHN STUFFLEBEEM, DEP. DIR. OF OPERATIONS, JOINT STAFF: ... and radar at those sites, ammunition and 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 gun ships.

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 of 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 resupply. In the post-strike image, you can see the storage buildings and warehouses that were destroyed.

Weapon 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.

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

STUFFLEBEEM: To the first question, we have not seen reports that the Northern Alliance have taken Mazar-i-Sharif. I would characterize this battle as going back and forth, or ebbing and flowing between the Taliban and the 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 and we, obviously, have a mutual benefit.

QUESTION: 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 with the Northern Alliance who've been pressing you to hit?

STUFFLEBEEM: I think the best way to characterize that is that we have a campaign strategy. We're following that strategy on the time line 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.

QUESTION: May I follow-up please on that? Can you be a little more specific, if possible, when the areas 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?

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 supported 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.

QUESTION: I want to 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 their way, targets belonging to the Taliban in their path as they move toward Kabul? 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.

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

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 on 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 weapons 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 were utilized.

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

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.

QUESTION: Admiral, you mentioned a moment ago that the Taliban and the Northern Alliance battle for Mazar-i-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?

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 strategies specifically into that target set is beyond the reach of our campaign at the moment. QUESTION: 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 man-PAAMs firing? Or are they just sitting there and taking it?

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 would 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.

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

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

QUESTION: Following up, 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 showed gun camera footage of a U.S. strike aircraft taking out a tank behind a dirt berm protecting Mazar-i-Sharif Airport. Can you square that? I mean, that tank that's protecting that airport doesn't seem to protect Al Qaeda. It seems to be protecting the airport against attacks from the Northern Alliance.

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 systemically pulling away at those legs underneath the stool that the Taliban leadership counts on to be able to exert their influence and power.

QUESTION: Admiral, can I ask 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?

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.

QUESTION: 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 ball park so we have some idea of how many blotches on the map there may be.

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 a capability of how much we may be 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.

QUESTION: When your flying AC-130 gunships, is your definition of an engagement zone slightly different? Do they need an A-FAC (ph) to give them permission to fire targets, or because they are a crew, do they have a slightly different mechanism to let them pull the trigger?

STUFFLEBEEM: The AC-130 cruise flies with a FAC-A (ph) on board.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, 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 is the change that changed from a few days ago when the pilots began being able to go out to 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?

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 that 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're 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.

QUESTION: Can I just follow-up on that? Because there have been reports -- I guess, there was report 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 called to do?

STUFFLEBEEM: A pilot of a strike aircraft who is given the 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's 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'd, they will be attacked.

QUESTION: But what if the pilot finds the target himself without the (inaudible)? What if he sees a tank moving in the engagement zone? Can he then act?

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 ID, get the authority to attack that target and then will.

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

STUFFLEBEEM: We don't know and we don't keep those kind of statistics.

QUESTION: You had said that the Northern Alliance had moved into the airport. Does that mean they have actually taken the airport? And how significant will be that if they have an airport? Would the U.S. forces be able to use that?

STUFFLEBEEM: The reports I have seen is that they are at the airport. I've not seen a report that says they have taken and control of the airport.

QUESTION: How significant is that airport?

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, I don't know.


QUESTION: Are the FACs (ph) on the ground or in the air? And if they are on the ground, whose are they?

STUFFLEBEEM: We are currently using airborne FACs (ph).


Ground controllers, ground (UNINTELLIGIBLE) controllers can be used in the same mission. As of the missions that we flew yesterday, we used airborne controllers.


QUESTION: Have all the fixed surface-to-air missile sites been attacked and neutralized now? All of them -- the fixed ones I'm referring to.

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

QUESTION: Attacked and destroyed, or do you know?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, there's a fact of life time delay in knowing what you may have destroyed. 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.

QUESTION: Have you seen these surface-to-air missiles fired of that type?

STUFFLEBEEM: We have not.

QUESTION: I noticed National Imaging and Space Agency has confirmed that last Wednesday the Department of Defense entered into agreement with Space Imaging, Incorporated, giving the military exclusive rights to a civilian satellite. And as part of this agreement, this 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 is necessary to take this step? And secondly, how much did it cost?

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 that question.

QUESTION: Admiral, when you talk about pre-programmed, 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 the particular targets that they know they're going to be going up against?

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 taking order, those munitions are then mated to that mission.

QUESTION: 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 on 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?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, OK. The doctrine always exists. It's not one that you would necessarily turn on or turn off. It is, 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.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, I think my question is, you said that using the engagement zone doctrine began in earnest on Tuesday. You have established that you'd taken out (inaudible) sites, that this was something that 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?

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 list 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.

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

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 were 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. We've demonstrated this more than once and not just with the tactical aircraft that you have heard from on the aircraft carriers.

We are 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.

BROWN: We are going to leave the Pentagon briefing here and go to the other side of the screen, to the right side of the screen. The President is about to speak in Sacramento.





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