Staff Dep. Dir. of Operations Rear Adm. John D. Stufflebeem
Press Briefing on Operation Enduring Freedom
October 24, 2001
1:30 P.M. EDT
STUFFLEBEEM: 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-e Sharif, the Shomali Plains,
which is near Kabul, as well as near Kunduz 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 carried based;
about 10 long-range bombers; and the remainder were land-based tactical aircraft,
which include 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 repair
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. The video shows
an armored vehicle from the First 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 clips.
Finally, I'd like to clear up a question yesterday about the helicopter operations
You recall that on Saturday the 20th, two Marine Corps CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters
went into Pakistan to pick up the disabled Blackhawk aircraft that went down
in a mishap. And you recall that the 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've 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-e Sharif? And I misspoke yesterday when I
spoke about Fifth 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 they are reported in the press -- that 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. 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-e-Sharif
airfield or Bagram?
STUFFLEBEEM: In yesterday's attack?
QUESTION: No, you said you haven't -- you said, "I have not seen that they have
advanced their line closer to Kabul or to the airfield."
STUFFLEBEEM: Yeah. Because you know they're going after both.
QUESTION: Admiral, some of the Northern Alliance forces, and particularly the commander,
Dostum or Dostum (changes pronunciation), 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: Jamie, 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: And 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 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; I think it's from yesterday's papers -- that 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 authorities 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 the 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 Tarin Kot and
the other one is Chukar, 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'll forget one of the questions, I'm afraid.
QUESTION: Sorry. Two villages. Poison. (Off mike.) (Subdued laughter.)
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
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 -- well, another way to put that is that
it's a very difficult environment to get anything out of there. There are very
few and substantive 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. So we're still
QUESTION: So imprecise information and you're still looking on those --
QUESTION: Okay. And then --
STUFFLEBEEM: 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 of food supply.
STUFFLEBEEM: The United States has obtained information that the Taliban might
intend to poison humanitarian foodstuffs. The report that we would do that is
categorically false. We would never poison any foodstuffs. 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 -- 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: 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're not open-source reports. I would say we obtained
information that they may tend to do that.
QUESTION: Admiral, could you clarify, the Marine CH-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're drafting or
conscripting people and then arming them to fight. 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.
QUESTION: If I can 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.
Let's move over here.
QUESTION: Yes, sir. About two and half weeks into this campaign, what can you -- 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
STUFFLEBEEM: Well, 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 their -- 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 put it.
QUESTION: Given that surprise, 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 from this podium,
we've always had wars where you had clear lines and you knew clearly who the
enemy was. And this is no longer the case. And I think the president has also
correctly alerted the American people that this is going to take a long time
because these are the kind of people who, one, want to survive to be able to
rain their terror and fear on others around the world, and they're very patient.
It takes years, apparently, to put together some sophisticated operations that
we have seen firsthand. We have to expect that that's going to continue to be
their modus operandi, and we're going to have to have equal patience and we're
going to have to have more determination to win. But this is going to be a long,
QUESTION: Admiral, can you go back again to the poisoning of the foodstuffs, to explain
why it is the United States should be believed on that claim, and if there's
any more way you can elaborate on that? And also, is the United States taking
any precautions, because those people in Afghanistan now, hearing that, may
be alarmed to eat anything? What could you say to them?
STUFFLEBEEM: I want to reaffirm that there is no truth that we would poison
it. I want every person who can receive humanitarian assistance to do so from
an agency that they can trust. And those who have control of those foodstuffs
that are not reputable, is one way to put it, I guess -- for instance, the Taliban,
who we know have control of some Red Cross warehouses of foodstuffs, or Taliban
who may be collecting the humanitarian daily rations that are dropped -- if
it comes from that source, I would be very suspect.
We are confident in the information that we have, that they may intend to poison
one or more types of food sources and blame it on the Americans. We are releasing
this information preemptively so that they will know if the food comes from
Americans, it will not be tainted. If the food comes from any other source --
well, that's not true; there are many non-governmental organizations that we
all trust. But if it comes from Taliban control, they must be careful. It's
not the Americans.
QUESTION: Are you indicating that to people in Afghanistan who might eat the food?
Are you communicating that?
STUFFLEBEEM: We're going to make sure that that is as widely known as fast and
as far as we can.
QUESTION: Admiral, what does your information tell you on how they may attempt to contaminate
this food? Do you have specifics on how they may attempt to do that?
STUFFLEBEEM: No specifics, Mick. Just that they may intend to poison it and
try to blame it on the Americans.
QUESTION: Okay. And one follow-up. Al-Jazeera TV is reporting that a U.S. base has
been established somewhere between Kandahar and Herat. Can you address that?
Is that true?
STUFFLEBEEM: Can neither confirm nor deny.
QUESTION: Admiral, on the information, can you give us, though, just a little bit more
information about the type of information this is, such as is this an electronic
intercept, a signal intercept? Can you be a little more specific in that?
STUFFLEBEEM: I cannot. We use all-source intelligence methods, and I would not
want to hazard how we come by this information.
QUESTION: But given that, then, are you concerned in the least that the Taliban supporters
are going to claim well, we're making one claim and the Pentagon's making another
claim, and the world will have to pick who to believe?
STUFFLEBEEM: No, I'm not concerned. And I think you have to look at how we're
releasing this information. We are confident in what we have obtained as information.
We are choosing to release that information now before it might become a fact.
If it becomes a fact, it's not because the United States is doing something
untoward, it's because somebody else is.
QUESTION: Are you communicating that to the Afghan people by way of leaflets as well
as the broadcast -- airborne broadcasts?
STUFFLEBEEM: I think that message will get out in a variety of ways and at a
variety of times.
QUESTION: Admiral, you spoke a few minutes ago of the inevitability of what must happen
to Mullah Omar and his regime. But the tactic of withdrawing to the cities,
hunkering down, riding out the bombings, bringing in your military equipment
and your best troops, that served Saddam Hussein just fine.
He's still in power 10 years later. Why should it not serve the Taliban just
STUFFLEBEEM: Well, the analogy to Saddam Hussein in Iraq may not be an accurate
depiction of what we're facing right now. In that instance, we were in a U.N.
coalition to -- for U.N. sanctions in supporting those. And in this case, the
United States -- or, if you will, the peace-loving world has been attacked by
terrorists who are a much different type of warrior than regular forces that
we faced in Iraq.
And I think that -- I've lost the thought. Give me the question again, because
I know there was another part I wanted to mention.
QUESTION: Why wouldn't hunkering down in the cities work just as well for the Taliban
as for Saddam?
QUESTION: We don't want to go fight in cities.
STUFFLEBEEM: But as the president has reaffirmed, what we're doing isn't self-defense.
We are taking the fight to the terrorists rather than waiting for them to bring
it to us. We don't have a luxury of not going after terrorists. We have to do
this. This is in our -- our right of defending ourselves to go after them. It
is an extremely difficult proposition if the Taliban were to decide to make
this into an urban warrior kind of environment, i.e. in the cities. But we'll
use every available instrument of power known on this Earth to be able to find
a way to root them out. We'll not disregard any way or any possibility of how
we could do that.
I would also say that we will do it without threatening the locals in the cities.
It is not our intention to reduce cities to rubble while they hide in there.
We will find clever ways to go after. But -- but it's extremely difficult. Very
few people know of any more difficult kind of warfare. And so it's going to
be very methodical. It's going to take time. And I think that what also has
to be recognized is that the local nationals must realize that the biggest reason
that they're having a problem is who is bringing the problem to them. And therefore,
I think that at some point, they'll grow pretty weary of being used as shields
and will start to help that problem as well.
Staff: Just a couple more.
QUESTION: Admiral --
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you to go back to the 55th Brigade. You said they've come
under attack. But isn't it also true that they're dispersing small units to
other Taliban kind of militia groups to shore them up? And if that's the case,
wouldn't it be difficult to really do a lot of damage to the 55th?
STUFFLEBEEM: Well, we've heard some reports that al Qaeda is distributing Arab
warriors to other Taliban elements. I don't know -- I just don't know if it's
true that the 55th is being disbanded to do that.
We are attacking every garrison of troops, every concentration of troops, every
article of military hardware that we find throughout the country. And we know
that all corps and all brigades are affected by that or impacted by that. But
I don't have any specific information to say that the 55th is being broken down
and distributed out through the corps.
QUESTION: Can you give us a better sense of how the attacks are going on them, how
strong they are after the attacks?
STUFFLEBEEM: Don't have any specifics. Again, this is an extremely difficult
environment to get information out of. And so to say that we are able to keep
track of al Qaeda warriors versus Taliban warriors, it's not possible.
I have time for one last question.
QUESTION: How much, in general, do you think they have left on the ground, since you've
only seen individual tanks and not masses of forces, as you discussed yesterday?
Do you think they've been able to protect and save quite a bit of their capability?
STUFFLEBEEM: I can't quantify for you how much has been saved. We have good
confidence in what we have destroyed, and we are systematically continuing to
do that. There are less visible physical targets as much as there are now more
targets of opportunity. So that would tell me that many of those military elements
that they have counted on from the beginning are being attrited.
How much they have left? We're not going to assume anything other than they
-- until they're willing to give up, or until they are gone, we're going to
respect that they have a capability that is going to take the full weight and
the full power that we have to be able to take it down.
And with that, I've got to go. Good afternoon. Thank you.