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Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem Gives a Press Conference

Aired October 24, 2001 - 13:29   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Back now to take to you the Pentagon where Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem will be talking with reporters.


REAR ADMIRAL JOHN STUFFLEBEEM, DEPUTY OPS. DIRECTOR: Yesterday's operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, efforts continue to focus strikes against the forces in the field and on targets of opportunity and in engagement zones near Mazar-i-Sharif, the Shamali (ph) Plains, which is near Kabul, as well as Kundaz (ph) and Herat.

We hit five planned target areas, which included terrorist camps and forces, Taliban command and control, Taliban forces both afield as well as those in garrison, and that includes armor, vehicle, maintenance and storage facilities.

The CINC used about 90 strike aircraft. About 75 of those were carrier based. About 10 long-range bombers. And the remainder were land-based tactical aircraft, which included AC-130s.

We flew two C-17 missions yesterday in support of humanitarian relief to the people of Afghanistan. They delivered approximately 34,000 humanitarian daily rations. That brings our total now to over 785,000.

Today, I have an image from Monday's strike. On the pre-strike image, you'll see a set of Taliban barracks located near Kabul. This was used as a military garrison and a small unit training site. You'll also note that there is a fort, which is a historic structure, approximately 500 meters from the military buildings. In the post- strike image, note that the military facilities are all heavily damaged or destroyed, but the fort appears to be unharmed.

We have two video clips from yesterday's combat operations. The first is of a motor transport facility outside Kabul. There's a large maintenance and repairs facility with numerous warehouses, maintenance and administrative buildings. This is the third strike you will have seen on this facility, and you can see that there are three long warehouses that will have been destroyed.

The second video is from southern Afghanistan, near Kandahar.

STUFFLEBEEM: It shows an armored vehicle from the 1st Taliban Corps. The dark starburst patterns that you see on the ground are impact craters of prior strikes. I think that's on the video.

Finally, I'd like to clear up a question yesterday about the helicopter operations in Pakistan. You recall that on Saturday the 20th, two Marine Corps CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters went into Pakistan to pick up the disabled Black Hawk aircraft that went down in a mishap. And you recall that those helicopters flew into a refueling base in Pakistan, put that slung helicopter down and went to a refueling position when they started to take ground fire.

It was at that time that the fire was returned and the mission commander aborted the mission; shut off refueling operations, recovered all the personnel who would have gotten out, and safely exited the area, returned back to base.

I wanted to report that as of today, the Pakistanis have, in fact, secured the area, as we thought and knew that they would. The Marine 53s have gone back in and recovered that mishap aircraft and all are safely under U.S. possession.

QUESTION: That happened today?

STUFFLEBEEM: That was today.

And with that, I'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Admiral, are there any signs at all that the Northern Alliance is making any progress or that the Taliban are pulling back from entrenched positions north of Kabul or protecting Mazar-i-Sharif?

And I misspoke yesterday when I spoke about 5th Corps. Are you having any success at all in striking the 055 Brigade, which are mostly Al Qaeda?

STUFFLEBEEM: I don't have any reports as to how the battle is going today. I still firmly believe that we're watching this battle move rather slowly on the ground. They're still exchanging artillery. We are still attacking their forces. We know we're having an effect on their forces, based on what we see from pilot reports that are coming back.

I have seen some reports -- I guess, there's a report in the press that the -- some of the commanders in the Northern Alliance are feeling comfortable that we're having an impact. I have not seen that they have advanced their lines closer to Kabul or closer to taking over the airport.

STUFFLEBEEM: That's not to say they haven't, but I just haven't seen that.

In terms of the 55th, we are targeting all of the Taliban that we find. We have an interest in the 55th Brigade, because that is one that had previously been identified as being populated with Al Qaeda fighters. I can't tell you that I know exactly or specifically what the status of that brigade is, but it is under attack or has been under attack.

QUESTION: You made reference to an airfield. Are you referring to the Mazar-i-Sharif airfield or Bagram?

STUFFLEBEEM: In yesterday's attack?

QUESTION: Yes. You said, "I have not seen that they have advanced their lines closer to Kabul or to the airfield."

STUFFLEBEEM: Mazar-i-Sharif.

QUESTION: Mazar-i-Sharif.

STUFFLEBEEM: Yes. Because you know, they're going after both.

QUESTION: Admiral, some of the Northern Alliance forces, particularly the commander, Dostam, has indicated that they provided precise targeting information to the United States, and that, in fact, those targets have been hit effectively. Can you confirm whether that kind of close coordination is going on?

STUFFLEBEEM: I can say that, and it's really repeating myself, but as you know, we use all sources of intelligence, and we try to and do corroborate all sources of intelligence. All information that comes to us on potential targets, we take very seriously. We don't turn any down.

I don't want to characterize the specific relationship that we have with that commander on the ground right now, other than to say we are helping him and his troops and he is helping us in our effort.

QUESTION: Just to follow up another question from yesterday, you indicated some kinds of indications that the Taliban may be hunkering down, moving into cities, putting things near civilian targets or mosques. Can you tell us today whether that appears to be the case? Is there any more indication of that?


QUESTION: Can you give us any idea of what's happening in terms of their dispersal, moving next to civilian targets?

STUFFLEBEEM: I really can't tell you much more than what is being widely reported. I saw a news account of interviews with refugees coming into Pakistan. I read it this morning.

STUFFLEBEEM: I think it's from yesterday's papers. It interviewed some refugees who were describing how the Taliban are moving into neighborhoods, staying in people's houses, putting their troops into university dormitories or using religious mosques to hide their vehicles. I think it's now a matter of fact and we're getting that from open-source reporting.

QUESTION: Admiral, when the Pakistani authority secured the area from where that ground fire came, did they apprehend anybody? Or were they able to determine who fired on the American helicopters?

STUFFLEBEEM: We don't know if they apprehended anybody in that small occurrence on Saturday. I just don't have any more information for you on that.

We know that they secured it. We were comfortable to go in and retrieve the helicopter that had been downed in a mishap, but we don't know who they were. I would suspect that they don't know who they were. I think it was confusion in the fog of some operation happening in the vicinity where there may have been people confused as to who we were and what we were doing.

QUESTION: Admiral, can you provide us with some clarification on issues raised yesterday? Maybe you still don't have them. Two villages where there are pictures of lots of dead people, supposedly civilians. One of the villages is Tencot (ph), the other one is Chuckor (ph), number one.

And number two, there are reports of the Taliban messing with food supplies, poisoning, so on and so forth. Do you have any knowledge of any of those sorts of things?

STUFFLEBEEM: I forget one of the questions, I'm afraid.

QUESTION: Two villages poisoned. Just that one.

STUFFLEBEEM: We have been pulling very hard -- on the specifics of your question -- with those villages. We do not have any factual reports of what occurred in those villages. I don't know that that was done by errant weapons or if it was done by other forces. And I think that it's best -- you know, the only way to put that is it's a very difficult environment to get anything out of there. There are very few and substantial reports that we can count on coming from out of enemy territory.

Once we have accurate information, we will always confirm what we have done, including if we've not done it correctly. But at this point, we just can't confirm what is being shown to us or described to us from on the ground.

STUFFLEBEEM: So we're still looking.

QUESTION: So, imprecise information and you're still looking on those?



STUFFLEBEEM: And now, the second question was?

QUESTION: Reports that some of the food supplies coming into the country are being modified or altered by the Taliban. Maybe poisoning the food supplies.

STUFFLEBEEM: The United States has obtained information that the Taliban might intend to poison humanitarian food stuffs.

The report that we would do that is categorically false. We would never poison any food stuffs. We are humane people; we want to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need. It's just beyond our comprehension that we would consider poisoning a food source.

But we have obtained information, so I will confirm for you, that there are reports that the Taliban might poison the food and try to blame the United States.

QUESTION: Are you talking about the HDRs or some other -- or wheat, or what kind of food are you talking about?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, the United States is providing more than just the HDRs. We're providing, I think, the predominance of what humanitarian assistance has been brought to bear to date. So I think that -- I don't know the context of how the Taliban has characterized this threat, but I would view that they might consider any food source or any humanitarian aid as something that they might taint.

QUESTION: But you have no evidence they have done this. You have reports, not open-source reports, but you have other reports indicating that they may intend to do this? Is that how you're stating it?

STUFFLEBEEM: I would say they are not open-source reports. I would say we obtained information that they may intend to do that.

QUESTION: Can you explain a little more about... QUESTION: Admiral, could you clarify, the Marine MH-53s, were they off the Peleliu, or were they operating from a land base in Pakistan?

STUFFLEBEEM: If you don't mind, I would not like to characterize where they're operating from.

You know generically what forces we have in the area. You know that Marines typically come on amphibious ships. Whether they were operating off the ship or off a land base is really immaterial to this.

QUESTION: Admiral, there are some reports on the ground that the coalition air campaign is actually gaining -- strengthening support for the Taliban. And the Taliban feeling a little bit more confident handing out weapons to people there. Does that present a problem? Are you concerned about that? And how do you differentiate good guy from bad guy if that's the case?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, this is another instance of very imprecise information coming from inside this enemy environment. I could take that a couple of different ways. I would view that as a very desperate measure if they are drafting or conscripting people and then arming them to fight.

STUFFLEBEEM: I think that's a desperate situation if that were true. On the other side, it's also of alarm if there are more forces that may be coming to bear in this campaign to fight against us.

QUESTION: If I could follow-up, has the U.S. struck a deal for the base in Uzbekistan? Is there a lease there or some kind of deal with the Uzbeks?

STUFFLEBEEM: I'd have to ask you to take that to policy. I don't know anything about a base contract or lease.

QUESTION: It's now two and a half weeks into this campaign. What have you learned about the strengths and the vulnerabilities of your enemy? Do you see the Taliban any differently now than you did before the campaign began?

STUFFLEBEEM: That's a good question and I can take that pretty far along, so let me think briefly.

They are proven to be tough warriors. We're in an environment they obviously are experts in and it is extremely harsh. I am a bit surprised at how doggedly they're hanging on to power -- I think that's the way to put it. For Mullah Omar to not see the inevitability of what will happen surprises me.

But we are prepared to take however long is required to bring the Taliban down. I think that's the best way to answer that.

QUESTION: Given that surprise, is the only implication of that, as far as tactics and strategy, that you need to be more patient than you might have thought you would need to be? Is that the only strategic implication or tactical implication?

STUFFLEBEEM: We definitely need to have patience. The entire world needs to recognize that terrorism and terrorists are a much different kind of threat than we have ever faced before. As the secretary has said...

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: The admiral is going to continue -- the admiral is continuing his briefing. We are going to go to the president. President Bush is in Glen Burnie, Maryland to talk about the economic stimulus package and so we will pick up the president now.





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