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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Press Briefing

Aired November 20, 2001 - 13:29   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I am told right now that at the Pentagon, the daily briefing if getting underway, and this looks like Victoria Clarke. We'll listen.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

VICTORIA CLARKE, PENATGON SPOKESWOMAN: As you know, we will continue to deliver humanitarian rations. We're now over 1.6 million daily rations delivered; an additional 8 is being provided by USAID. Last week the 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.

The U.S. military will soon begin to work with coalition members in the area to clear selected roads in and around Mazar-i-Sharif to pave the way for future humanitarian assistance operations, and that work may include engineers for road repairs and explosive ordnance details to clear mines and boobie 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, dssrewards.net, for more information. I know press ops has made available the Commando Solo scripts in the leaflets, but we do have those if you need them.

Looking ahead, Secretary Rumsfeld will travel to Fort Bragg and Pope 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, the Navy Seal teams and Air Force Combat Control teams. 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 11. As we move into this holiday season, we want you to know that you are in our thoughts our prayers and we're caring about you.

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

QUESTION: Can I just ask just as a point of information? How about briefings over the Thanksgiving weekend?

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

QUESTION: Does that include tomorrow? Or is that a normal day tomorrow?

CLARKE: Tomorrow is a normal day.

QUESTION: Can I ask you two follow-ups?

CLARKE: Sure. QUESTION: The secretary, where does he plan to spend the Thanksgiving weekend? Is he going to tell us? And secondly, if I were in Afghanistan and wanted to claim my $25 million reward, what kind of currency would I be paid in.

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

Admiral?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, good afternoon everyone.

Yesterday our operations continued towards our objectives; dismanteling 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 are 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 Kunduz 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. And I'd like to point 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 the Taliban and Al Qaeda supply complex at Pewarkandar (ph) 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 the last remaining Taliban stronghold, coalition forces are focusing the air strikes in that area. And that was from the 15th as well.

A 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 is destroyed.

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

And with that, we'll take your questions.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

STUFFLEBEEM: That was also on Sunday.

QUESTION: Also Sunday, thanks.

QUESTION: Did you say that the United States was working on negotiations with the opposition on the surrender of Kandahar and Kabul?

STUFFLEBEEM: No, the opposition forces are working with Afghans.

QUESTION: 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 hardline 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. As 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.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: 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, and then I have a follow up.

(LAUGHTER)

CLARKE: And we try not to discuss our operational details at all -- not just...

QUESTION: Are there U.S. Marines on the ground now in Afghanistan? And if so, how many? And if you won't answer that, if there were U.S. Marines on the ground...

(LAUGHTER)

... how many would there be, and what would they be doing? And 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, the 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 operating under. And the forces are available to General Franks to use either to the set conditions, or because the conditions are such that he would like to use them at that time. And just let it go.

QUESTION: 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 for the Taliban and supporters in Kunduz, are our bombing efforts standing down or diminished somewhat during that standoff period?

STUFFLEBEEM: The airstrikes that are supporting the opposition groups, and specifically to Kunduz 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.

QUESTION: Admiral, there's reports that Northern Alliance have been increasing 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 kinds of troops are coming in as far the coalition is concerned? I mean, are these concerns somehow playing into the troop deployment -- Northern Alliance concerns?

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

QUESTION: 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.

QUESTION: Colonel, you said both Kunduz and Kandahar are at a standoff. Could you elaborate on that?

QUESTION: And also, does the U.S. military have any real concerns that, say, for instance, that Kunduz could turn into the blood bath? Or what is the U.S. military worried about in 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-i- 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 the non-Afghans and what they would intend to do, which would intend to be dig in and have to be dug out, I suppose.

So there's 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 in -- 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 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 air strikes are having, which at the moment appear to be providing good pressure, and see how that facilitates the outcome of it.

QUESTION: Is that in both cities?

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

QUESTION: Admiral, are we planning on continuing attacks, bombings on Thanksgiving? And second question: What are we doing for Thanksgiving dinner for our troops out in the theater of operation in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and ships in the region, Arabian Sea? Any special -- any... 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.

STUFFLEBEEM: 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 standdown, and we wouldn't anticipate one either.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Admiral, on -- you mentioned around Mazar-i-Sharif, U.S. forces a working with coalition forces to prepare the way for relief supplies. Is the U.S. military 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 the 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. The focus right 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. QUESTION: 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 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's pointed, 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.

QUESTION: And my follow-up is, is that based on you answer, is that...

WOODRUFF: We are interrupting the Pentagon briefing to show you a videotape of President Bush just a short time ago, meeting with the Philippine President Gloria Arroyo.

(INTERRUPTED FOR CNN COVERAGE OF A LIVE EVENT)

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