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Pentagon Briefing

Aired November 28, 2001 - 13:30   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem, briefing just beginning at the Pentagon.



We conducted air strikes 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-17 dropped again 34,000 humanitarian daily rations and one C-17 dropped 16 containers of wheat and blankets. And this was near Mazar-i- 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. These are Navy F-14 images you're seeing.


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

QUESTION: 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 the 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.

STUFFLEBEEM: And as you can see, the facility was virtually destroyed.

QUESTION: How many bombs were coming down?

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

QUESTION: What kind of munition was it?

STUFFLEBEEM: Precision-guided.


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.

QUESTION: Admiral, now that Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul and Kunduz 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. The 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.

QUESTION: Have you any indication of surrenders in Kandahar like there were in Mazar-i-Sharif and Kunduz?

STUFFLEBEEM: No reports as of yet that give you that same magnitude that you saw in Mazar-i-Sharif that are occurring right now. However, there still are active negotiations ongoing and we could see that; that's possible. QUESTION: 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 gun ships which are very good against urban warfare? Are they being used on that?

STUFFLEBEEM: I haven't seen any reports of any of the strikes that have showed actual attacks inside the city of Kandahar.

STUFFLEBEEM: So I can't say categorically, no, that the AC-130s have not fired into Kandahar, but I've not seen any reports that they have.

QUESTION: 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 on that. I just haven't seen anything other than just a confirmation of who he is and that he was killed.

QUESTION: 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 incident I just don't know.

QUESTION: 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.

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-i-Sharif, especially in those foothills, is a good physical example of an area that those weapons would be most often used.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what type of cluster bombs were used?

STUFFLEBEEM: What type? I'm sorry, I couldn't tell you what -- cluster bomb munitions is all that I know them by and what they do. QUESTION: 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 acted 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: 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, and from -- positively identified as belonging to Taliban, they were successfully attacked. And we don't have any indicators as to what their intent was.

QUESTION: So you don't know if they were on a suicide attack mission against the Marines?


WOODRUFF: Let's go back to the Pentagon briefing now. Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem.

QUESTION: -- in different areas and landing. With all 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 their stated intention of rebuilding their embassy. We'll leave it to Russia to determine what it is that they're doing.

STUFFLEBEEM: 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 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.

QUESTION: Admiral, 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.

QUESTION: Admiral, you mentioned 120 strike aircraft in the last 24 hours, and I think by my count that's about 30 more than three or four weeks 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 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 of this is the way it's been and the level of effort is going to be relatively constant throughout the AOR because you just have so many available.

STUFFLEBEEM: The other part of your question was, how much of the aircraft are returning? From day to day it'll vary. From yesterday's mission, 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 control or authority to release it.

QUESTION: 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, but I just don't know the answer.

QUESTION: 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, 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 the U.S. government, in fact, is working through how we would -- and 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.

QUESTION: 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 aren't in 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.

STUFFLEBEEM: 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're having a positive effect and so I know that we're happy about that.

I have time for two more questions.

QUESTION: You've talked about breaking the chain of command on 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 are 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, we're looking for -- based on intelligence and all-source reporting, we're looking for where the leadership is to get at it for that reason.

QUESTION: Are Mullah Omar and bin Laden still calling the shots though?

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.

QUESTION: Admiral, you mentioned that we're still dropping humanitarian rations. With all the airfields that are now at least opposition control, why have we are not going in into flying 130s or something like so we can deliver them in bulk a little more efficiently than the airdrops? 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 disperse. 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.

QUESTION: One clarification: On the drop on the compound, were the B-1s the only ones to drop or unmanned-manned -- were the B-1s the only ones?

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

QUESTION: And that was it? That was the only aircraft that dropped on...

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

QUESTION: And the F-16 (inaudible) didn't drop?

STUFFLEBEEM: Did not (inaudible).

Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem. We missed part of the briefing because we were listening to President Bush and his remarks to a farm group. But to -- just to quickly recap a couple of important points, we do know, there at the end he was saying, when asked whether the Taliban and the al Qaeda leadership are in control and still giving guidance to the troops under them, he said we know that elements are trying to reach their seniors for guidance, but he said we also know that the leaders have much less control than they've had in the past.

He had said, a little bit earlier, that the pressure is building in all these areas in the southern part of Afghanistan where it is believed the Taliban and al Qaeda leadership may be hiding, and he went on to say there are fewer Taliban resisting than there were days ago.

Separately, he showed four videos of strikes that were carried out in the last few days, including on a column that was moving east in the area just south of Kandahar that the Marines, who were just arriving in the country went after, and airstrikes were called in, and when asked what that column was doing, what its mission was, Rear Admiral Stufflebeem said, well, we will never know, frankly.

Two other quick points. On the CIA officer who died as part of that Taliban revolt in the north in Mazar-e Sharif, he said, "I really don't have any specifics, as you can see, the officer was 32-year-old Mike Spann," but Stufflebeem really gave us very little information. He said, "I don't know for sure that he was working with -- excuse me, with special forces." He said, but "I really can't tell you very much about it."

And finally, he was asked about a report from south of Kandahar. Apparently a local opposition leader from one of the Pashtun tribes has told reporters that his men captured 160 Taliban prisoners, and then executed them in a firing squad. Now, this is very much hearsay. A reporter was quoting a report that he had heard, and this -- this particular opposition leader said that U.S. forces had objected, but that the execution had gone ahead. Stufflebeem said, "I know about that report," he said, "we are now trying to track it down."




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