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Richard Myers Holds Press Conference on Ground Strikes

Aired October 20, 2001 - 12:08   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We interrupt Nic Robertson to go to the Pentagon.


Yesterday, U.S. military forces conducted ground operations in addition to our air operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Under the direction of the president and the secretary of defense and under the command of U.S. Central Command, General Tom Franks, special operations forces including U.S. Army Rangers deployed to Afghanistan.

They attacked and destroyed targets associated with terrorist activity and Taliban command and control.

U.S. forces were able to deploy, maneuver and operate inside Afghanistan without significant interference from Taliban forces.

They are now refitting and repositioning for potential future operations against terrorist targets in other areas known to harbor terrorists.

I have several video clips of yesterday's action to show you. This video will be available on DefenseLink and through the pool after this briefing.

In the first clip, you'll see deployed special operations forces preparing for their missions.

QUESTION: Can you narrate a little some of the things they're putting in their packs or anything?

MYERS: The next clip is of the same forces loading onto transport aircraft and taking off for the trip into Afghanistan.

Next you'll see troops exiting the C-130 aircraft and jumping onto their objective, an airfield in southern Afghanistan.

I think that's pretty self-explanatory.

MYERS: Next we will see actions taken by the special operations forces on the objective. This occurs in the dark, of course, so the video was taken with the night-vision lens. These troops are clearing the airfield, building by building. And you're going to notice at one point in the tape the troops come across a small weapons cache, including rocket-propelled grenades and machine gun and ammunition. These weapons were subsequently destroyed.

Now, that's all of the video, but before we take questions, or I take questions, I'll also give you a quick recap of yesterday's air operations over Afghanistan.

On Friday, we struck in 15 planned target areas. These included Triple-A sites, anti-aircraft sites, with disbursed armor and radar at those sites, ammunition and vehicle storage depots and military training facilities, including armored vehicles, trucks and buildings.

We used approximately 100 strike aircraft, about 90 of them carrier-based tactical aircraft and between 10 and 12 land-based aircraft, including long-range bombers and AC-130s.

Also, yesterday we, again, flew four C-17 missions in support of humanitarian relief, delivering approximately 68,000 rations, and bringing the total rations delivered via airdrops to date to approximately 575,000. Yesterday's drops were in western Afghanistan in Northern Alliance-controlled ares.

Finally, let me pass on my personal condolences to the families of two soldiers killed in yesterday's helicopter crash in Pakistan. They and all who are participating in Operation Enduring Freedom are heroes. They put their lives on the line on behalf of freedom and on behalf of America, and they do it each and every day. And I'm so very proud of them and their comrades in arms. As the president has said, they did not die in vain.

I'll take your questions.

QUESTION: General, how did you get those troops out of the airfield -- or are they still there holding in the field?

MYERS: One of the things that I simply can't do is talk about any of the tactics, techniques and procedures that we use, beyond what you've seen on that tape. We're, as we've said before, we're going to have ongoing operations around the world, and we're simply not going to divulge.

QUESTION: But if I could just follow up, given that the secretary said that the U.S. objective is not to hold any real estate, can you tell us whether that airfield is now under the control of the U.S. military or have you left it?

MYERS: We have accomplished our objectives on that airfield, and that's all I'd like to say about that.

QUESTION: General, news account said helicopters, 100 guys landing. I mean, there was no helicopters there; they were jumping in. Can you clear up that notion, one way or the other?

MYERS: What I will clear up is that we used a variety of aircraft. I will not go into specific types. Again, that gets into the tactics, the techniques and the procedures. We used a variety of aircraft for this particular operation, and I'll just -- let me just leave it at that.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) use to extract them, though?

MYERS: That gets into our tactics and our techniques and procedures. And if I were to divulge that, then the next time we conduct an operation somewhere in this world on this globe, people would have an understanding of how we operate. And I'm just not going to divulge that.

QUESTION: Could you tell us approximately how many troops are involved? Were there any casualties?

MYERS: Again, I'm not going to discuss the number of troops.

In terms of injuries, we had, I think it was two people injured in the parachute drops onto the objective that you saw. They are doing fine. They are certainly not life-threatening.

You know about the helicopter. We had the tragedy of two fatalities. And we had three injured -- again, not life-threatening in that event.

QUESTION: And a brief follow-up, was this airfield -- was that the airfield at Kandahar, as had been reported by other U.S. officials?

MYERS: Again, I'm not going to -- the airfield was in southern Afghanistan. It was not the airfield at Kandahar.

QUESTION: General, could you tell us a little bit about the crash of the helicopter in Pakistan, as to what caused the crash, and comment on the claim by Taliban that they shot it down?

MYERS: Well, let me address the first part. I think it's pretty well-established the Taliban lie. And in this case, any claims that they shot this helicopter down are absolutely false.

This is being classified as an aircraft mishap. And it will be investigated as such, as we do all mishaps like this where there is loss of life or significant loss of equipment.

This was a middle-of-the-night landing. They prepared, of course, in great detail for this mission. They knew the conditions they were flying into. There was a significant amount of dust when you get to close to the ground. The rotor brings up the dust and makes landing very, very difficult. And we think that had something to do with it, but it's going to be up to the Mishap Investigation Board to tell us finally.

QUESTION: Was it an Army Blackhawk helicopter?

MYERS: It was a Blackhawk helicopter. QUESTION: Did the troops who assaulted the airfield meet any resistance? Did they kill or capture any Taliban? Could you give us a little bit more detail about that?

MYERS: As you would expect, going into Taliban-held territory, you would meet resistance. And we met resistance at both objectives, the airfield and the other objective. It was, I guess you could characterize it as light. That's probably here for us to say here in this room. Those experiencing it, of course, it was probably not light. And there were casualties on the other side. The exact number we do not know yet.

QUESTION: What was the other one? You said "the airfield and the other objective." What was the other objective?

MYERS: It was another Taliban command and control facility.

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: You had said that we have accomplished our objectives in that airfield. Does that mean the mission was successful, and could you elaborate on that? And also, what would you say to those in uniform who took part in it?

MYERS: The mission overall was successful. We accomplished our objectives. To those in uniform who accomplished it, let me just make a real general statement. You know, the credibility of Dick Myers or the Secretary of Defense or any of our senior leadership in the services rest really with the professionalism and the way our young armed forces members conduct themselves day in and day out.

They have never let us down, and yesterday was no exception. We were very, very proud of their abilities and their dedication and their courage. Everybody is very proud of them.

QUESTION: Sir, when you showed us the video, it was very obvious that -- one clip, perhaps the first one -- was seemingly a hangar deck onboard a carrier. It didn't look like it was sand. And the other one was clearly sandy. And since you don't operate C-130 from a carrier, can we safely assume that you used the Kitty Hawk and that the C-130s came off a land base? Can you tell us -- in Pakistan?

MYERS: No, I cannot tell you -- again, in my view, that gets into tactics, techniques and procedures. And I'm not going to tell you where we operated from.

We have good cooperation in the region. And next time it may be a whole different set of arrangements. But we're very satisfied with the support that we got.

QUESTION: Aside from the military objectives, what does this raid say about the success of the airstrikes to date and the ability of U.S. forces to operate on the ground now in Afghanistan?

MYERS: Well, I think you have to be careful with extrapolating this to the future. We have two primary goals in Afghanistan: One is to eliminate the support to al Qaeda, primarily the Taliban, and the other is to eliminate al Qaeda.

And we are going about that from the military part in a very measured and in a very careful way. I would not draw any extrapolations that this means anything like you're trying to impart to this.

But one of the messages should be that we are capable of, at a time of our choosing, conducting the kind of operations we want to conduct. And I think that's all it simply says.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Can you tell us if the two objectives last night were co-located and basically it was one paratroop drop that dealt with two separate locations that were nearby? And secondly, can you tell us how long U.S. boots were on the ground inside Afghanistan?

MYERS: Again, I'm not going to tell you how long they were on the ground. That gets into tactics, techniques and procedures. I will tell you that the two objectives were not co-located.

QUESTION: So there were two separate drops?

MYERS: I didn't say drops; you said drops. There were two separate objectives.

QUESTION: Can you say whether any Taliban leaders were captured or killed and...

MYERS: Again, one of the primary reasons we conducted these missions on these two objectives was to gather intelligence. And we are in the process of evaluating the intelligence that we brought out.


MYERS: We took -- let me just say this. I'm not going to get into that at this point. Again, that gets into, again, our tactics, techniques and procedures. We're going to have to evaluate the intelligence we found and...

QUESTION: The two objectives were hit by the same group of soldiers, or was it two separate groups that went in and hit them?

MYERS: Again, it gets into tactics, techniques and procedures, but there were two objectives. They were fairly far apart and...

QUESTION: Can you tell us where the second objective was, generally?

MYERS: In the vicinity of Kandahar.

QUESTION: General, (OFF-MIKE) supported by C-130 gun ships and attack helicopters, did you have support in the air, though?

MYERS: Again, I'm not going to go into the specific aircraft that supported this operation. It was a variety of aircraft. I've said before that we're going to use the full spectrum of our capabilities, and, essentially, that's what we did.

QUESTION: But you did have -- they did have close air support?

MYERS: They had all the support they needed, let me assure you.

QUESTION: General Myers, sir, can you talk anything about why these were chosen? Does that get into the tactics?

And secondly, you were saying "we took," and you stopped. Does that mean that we're to infer that you did take prisoners?

MYERS: No, don't infer that. We took intelligence. We gathered some intelligence, which we're evaluating. We gathered up some intelligence, some items, and we're going to evaluate that.

QUESTION: And why the targets?

MYERS: Primarily for their intelligence value, and one of them was a Taliban command-and-control facility, so we're hoping to find intelligence there. And the other airfield was similarly, we thought, of intelligence value and so...

QUESTION: Were you hoping to find commanders, as well as intelligence at this command-and-control facility?

MYERS: We did not expect to find significant Taliban leadership at these locations. We, of course, were hoping we would, but we did not expect it, and we did not find senior Taliban or al Qaeda leadership.

QUESTION: Sir, was this a pre-planned target days ago, or one of these emerging targets of opportunity that you had several hours to hear about and then mount the attack?

MYERS: Let me just say that, again, gets into sort of the tactics and our ability to react, and I'm just not going to get into that.

But it's like everything we have tried to do inside Afghanistan and, for that matter, in other parts of the world. We have the capability to go in and take emerging targets. We -- some targets lend themselves to more planning. And I'll just leave it there and so -- without telling you which this was.

QUESTION: General Myers, can you tell us, beyond the command- and-control center, was this a building above ground, an underground bunker? Was it hardened in any special way that required boots on the ground to do this job?

MYERS: Again, if you're trying to get -- you could simply take the targets out perhaps with bombs, but that would deny you the capability to get the intelligence.

QUESTION: Was it a building, though, or was it some sort of underground bunker that you had to go into?

MYERS: Buildings and some hardened complexes.

QUESTION: General, the secretary said the other day in answer to a question that he believed that Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda were involved in the strike on the Rangers in Somalia in 1993, in which 18 Rangers were killed. Were the Rangers chosen for this mission partly because of that, in retribution, or were they just chosen because they're great fighters?

MYERS: As you know, the United States is not into retribution. And so we carefully matched the target to the capabilities that our forces have, and that's what we did in this case. And in the judgment of General Franks and other commanders, we matched the best forces for the target.

QUESTION: A follow-up, if I may. The Rangers did not operate alone. You said special forces including Rangers. Can you tell us, were SEALS, DELTA Force and others involved?

MYERS: Again, I'm not going into the tactics, techniques and procedures.

QUESTION: General, were these the only two objectives sought last night, or were there other ground operations going on as well?

MYERS: I'm not going to talk about that. These -- let me just say this: Those were the two primary objectives last night.

QUESTION: General, could you say whether these were purely Taliban targets, or were there also al Qaeda elements associated with them?

MYERS: There was the potential for there to be al Qaeda to be associated with these targets.

QUESTION: The potential for that.

QUESTION: Intelligence about al Qaeda?

MYERS: Sure. That's what we're hoping for.

QUESTION: The al Qaeda leadership, can you say, were they expected to be in this area? Would you characterize...

MYERS: Yes. I'll characterize the one target as one of the locations where Omar lives. And it's a fairly large complex. It's a command and control compound for the Taliban leadership.

QUESTION: Were bin Laden or his associates, were they thought to be in this area?

MYERS: I don't want to comment on that. As I said before, we had very low expectations that any of the senior Taliban or al Qaeda leadership would be involved in these particular targets.

In the back?

QUESTION: Because Omar's compound had been bombed before, so you just assumed he wouldn't be there?

MYERS: The Taliban have several command and control and leadership compounds. Some have been bombed. This one had not, in fact.

Last question.

QUESTION: Sir, can you give us just a ballpark idea of how many troops actually went on the ground in these two separate...

MYERS: Again...

QUESTION: Ballpark, 100, 200, altogether?

MYERS: I just can't get into that, because future operations, if potential adversaries know how many you're bringing in on various objectives, so.

QUESTION: These are two separate raids. They took place at the same time, but they're two separate operations.

MYERS: They were two objectives separated by some distance, and they were struck in a coordinated manner.

And with that, thank you. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) this is the beginning of the ground war, and would you characterize it like that?

MYERS: I would characterize our activity as -- this is absolutely the last question.

The question is, is this the beginning of the ground war?

The war on terrorism started on 11 September. As we said before, some of our operations are going to be visible, some are going to be invisible. Some of the invisible operations we will provide information on, as we've done today. There will be other invisible operations where we will not say a thing about them and you will see no film about them. We may not have film about them.

So, to answer your question indirectly like that, I think, is the way I'd like to proceed.

Thank you very much.

KAGAN: He might be new to the job, but General Richard Myers is very clued in to reporters and their tricks to get one last question there. That is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff giving a briefing at the Pentagon.

Some of the things we learned. Two targets of the U.S. military overnight: an airfield in Southern Afghanistan; also, what was described as a Taliban command-and-control facility. At both places, the general saying that the Taliban not putting up much resistance or interference as the U.S. military went in and tried to take control of both of those.

The general also talking about the loss of life. Two U.S. soldiers lost their life in a helicopter accident, a Black Hawk helicopter accident in Pakistan. The general pointing out that this helicopter was not shot down, that this was a mechanical mishap, and there certainly will be an investigation into that situation.




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