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Adm. Stufflebeem Conducts Pentagon Briefing

Aired January 25, 2002 - 13:03   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to go the Pentagon, where the daily briefing has begun.

We don't want to miss that.

ADM. JOHN STUFFLEBEEM, ASST. SECY. OF DEFENSE: After the raids, an AC-130 gunship was called in to destroy the cache. And reports I have is that there were significant secondaries from that.

The screening and interviewing of the 27 individuals detained during this operation is ongoing, and I don't have any additional information to you today about who they are, what they are or what they were doing.

A total recap of the numbers of refugees to date is we have currently 302 in Afghanistan under U.S. control, and you know the 158 down at Guantanamo Bay, for a total of 460.

And finally, a Predator unmanned aircraft crashed yesterday as it attempted to land at an airbase in the region. It was coming back from a mission over Afghanistan. And while we're still assessing what might have caused the crash, it was clear that it was not due to hostile fire.

And with that, I'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Admiral, Victoria said this morning that these captives had some significant importance, what they were doing, what they were surrounded by, the accoutrements, whatever, and that there was some importance to these people.

Can you in any way go into that? Indicating they were not just foot soldiers, dumb (ph) feet, whatever.

STUFFLEBEEM: I understand what you meant. I don't have any information, and I just don't know, and therefore I just can't characterize for you what level or who these people were. I haven't seen any names, I haven't seen any jobs or positions.

The only thing that I know is the number of them, where they currently are, and they are being interviewed now. And that's all I know, so I'm waiting to see what reports may come out.

QUESTION: How about cell phones and laptops, that kind of thing? Any of that found?

STUFFLEBEEM: As I recall, it was clearly a weapons storage facility or weapons cache, is the way -- and there were more than just one specific location. They were probably what you would call several targets on how these weapons were warehoused and stored.

And now, let me correct myself -- I said weapons, but I meant to say ammunition; munitions.

There was only a minor amount of materials that were recovered. So I get the impression that this was not a great find of things like you mentioned.

QUESTION: You talked in the past about pockets of Taliban and Al Qaeda remaining around Afghanistan. This was clearly one of them.

But how do you assess these pockets? Are you seeing just the dregs? You know, the ones and twos? Are you seeing pockets that have any substantial ability to do anything to launch any operations, to communicate with each other? How do you assess these pockets of resistance?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, I won't say it's my assessment, but I'll say that the sense that I have is that these are groups of 20, 30 people, obviously getting together. With what intent, we don't know for sure.

As you know, we have lost a soldier in this combat, so we make a assessment or we make assumptions that these are hostiles, and they would then continue to intend to do hostile acts.

If they are Taliban, they probably don't want to give up the way of the Taliban. And if they're Al Qaeda, we know what their mission is, which is to kill people including Americans.

So is that descriptive enough for you?

QUESTION: Except just to go into one other point. You have talked about the fact you've degraded command and control or command and communications between various Al Qaeda elements.

Do you think any of the Al Qaeda have an ability to communicate to other locations from where they are? Or are these pockets of resistance completely isolated? The functioning of the Al Qaeda within Afghanistan now.

STUFFLEBEEM: The functioning of Al Qaeda as an organization has clearly been -- I dare not use the "E" word, but it's been clearly taken down in Afghanistan. The backbone of what gave them the communications capability is physically gone.

Now, the ability to buy telephones, cash -- you know, this is a society that lives off of cash out-of-pockets -- and so the ability to buy cellular phones is prevalent.

And so the ability to buy a phone and then to use it, or to borrow a phone use it, or to be on a tactical field radio with someone who does have a satellite-capable cellular telephone, is the way that I understand that, if they're trying to make contact outside or working from within, this is how they would conceivability do it.

QUESTION: So they're sort of just going to the Sikhs (ph) and buying cell phones and reestablishing themselves that way?


QUESTION: Admiral, the weapons cache, was that at just one of the compounds?

And can you explain the relationship between the two compounds that were attacked? Were they close to each other? Were they -- did they have different purposes, different groups of people?

STUFFLEBEEM: I've seen the imagery of what this looks like. And the best way to describe is that there would be, in a classic sense, what you and I would consider a compound that had a building, large building and, I think, a small building inside of a fenced area, and then outside of that were some more buildings.

And so, the way I'm inferring the attacks were on several targets that included more than one building and more than just what was inside the fence line. This was out in the hinterlands or the hills, very unpopulated, agricultural type of an area. It would be easy to see that if you were in one building you would have the, you know, a clear visual, view of other buildings. And so I think these were multiple targets in an area.

QUESTION: But there was just a single compound then, not two compounds, as was said yesterday?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, the way the raid is described is, there are two compounds. And the way that I'm looking at this, you know, again, looking at the picture in my mind's eye, is basically three different sets of buildings, one of which had a fenced compound around it. So I think that it's defined as two compounds.

QUESTION: Admiral, we've heard from this podium that there's a lot of intelligence coming out that's leading to finding some of these cells in south Afghanistan.

In early December, you pulled a lot of the 75th Ranger regiment. Is there now a move to put more rangers back in, seeing that you're finding more things? Is there an effort to beef-up the force on the ground now that there are, perhaps, more targets that are becoming available?

STUFFLEBEEM: You're tiptoeing into what could become future operations, and I don't want to retreat and give you a standard answer as much as to be as honest as I can with what I can say now.

You've got a good feel for what the range of forces are that are available to General Franks that he has in the theater.

He will move them in and out based upon either a rotation -- for instance, we've already disclosed that the Marines that had set up facilities in Kandahar would be replaced by Army of the 101st. So they're moving forces and rotations to allow other rotations to continue that would go from in and out of the theater at this point.

General Franks is comfortable with the type and level of troops that he has on the ground now, given what missions they're prosecuting. If he finds, as additional intelligence is developed, that there is a need for more forces to go do that, I think he'll respond that way.

So he'll do what he needs to do, and right now he's happy with who he has and what they're doing.

QUESTION: OK. So it's not leading to more strength going in based on the intelligence gathered so far?

STUFFLEBEEM: I see where you're going, and the idea being is, as we're getting smarter and learning more about all of this, do we need more forces to actually go take it down? Not yet. No indications yet that that's what we need to do.

QUESTION: Admiral, how many American forces were involved in those simultaneous raids, those two at the compound you were talking about? How many?

STUFFLEBEEM: You know, I don't know. I never thought to even ask how many it was.

Our Special Operating Forces traditionally move in relatively small groups, teams. When the Marine Corps moves to take an action themselves, they tend to be a lot heavier and bring a lot more sustainment with them. So a relatively small group is what I would say.

QUESTION: You're not through with that area, in the way you described Zhawar Kili earlier as being sort of through with, what's of interest to you there or not?




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