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America's New War: Pentagon Briefing

Aired October 26, 2001 - 14:00   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go directly to the Pentagon, the briefing we were at, and Stufflebeem.

JOHN STUFFLEBEEM, DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: ... around Kabul in the Shomali Plain, as well as in the south near Kandahar.

The targets included terrorist and Taliban command and control elements in cave and camp complexes, airfield and air defense assets, storage and supply depots, Taliban military forces in garrison and deployed, and emerging targets in engagement zones.

The CINC used about 80 strike aircraft. About 70 of those were carrier-based. About four to six were land-based tactical jets and the remainder were long-range bombers. We also used a small number of Tomahawk missiles yesterday.

We dropped leaflets across the northern region, as well as near Kandahar, and flew several Commander Solo broadcast missions.

We also continued our support for humanitarian relief operations in Afghanistan with two C-17s dropping approximately 34,000 humanitarian daily rations. And that was in the north. That brings out total now up to over 850,000.

We have four video clips from yesterday's operations to show you. The first two clips are strikes near Kabul. This helicopter was in an engagement zone and became an emergent target.

The next clip shows a hit on a Taliban communications facility in the outskirts of Kabul, and represents our efforts to continue disrupting and degrading Taliban command and control.

The third clip shows a strike on the Kandahar military training facility in southern Afghanistan. This is a complex of barracks and bunkers. We hit two of these here that were used by the Taliban First Corps.

And the last clip is a hit on an armored vehicle, in this case an armored vehicle that was until yesterday used by the Taliban Fifth Corps in the Mazar-i-Sharif area. This was a successful strike in what appears to be deteriorating weather conditions. As we said before, we have an all-weather, all-season, including winter, force.

And with that, I'll take you questions. QUESTION: Admiral, what's the United States reaction to the capture and execution of Abdul Haq? And were any Americans, including troops -- did any Americans including troops go into Afghanistan with him, and were any captured?

STUFFLEBEEM: To the first part of your question, I have seen the reports that the commander was captured and may have been executed. But those are reports, I believe, that are coming from the Taliban, and we have yet to be able to either confirm or deny those. We have no indications that there were any forces captured, certainly not American with him. So there's just not information for us to be able to confirm it.

QUESTION: So no Americans went in with him?

STUFFLEBEEM: None that we're aware of.

QUESTION: Did any American forces attempt in any way to rescue Abul Haq, as some Taliban reports also indicate, that there was a rescue attempt -- helicopters, anything of the sort?

STUFFLEBEEM: I don't have any information that any rescue attempt was made. And again, you know, this is coming from inside enemy territory, so it's an unconfirmed report as far as we're concerned. We can't confirm in fact he has been captured much less executed. So we're just going off for what the Taliban are putting out. And I have not heard or seen any reports that indicated, in fact, that we know in fact that happened, much less of any kind of search and rescue effort.

QUESTION: At any point did Abdul Haq, whether he has been captured or not, did at any point he communicate with the U.S. government that he was in trouble, and that the U.S. military somehow attempted to respond in a rescue effort? You would know whether the U.S. military responded in some way.

STUFFLEBEEM: Yes, that's correct, but I haven't seen any reports of that at all.

QUESTION: Just to be clear, Admiral, did the U.S. fly any combat support operations to try and help Abdul Haq? Not search and rescue, but combat support?

STUFFLEBEEM: Not that I'm aware of. Again, these are unconfirmed reports coming out of the Taliban, and so we just don't know the veracity of them. I don't know of any instances in yesterday's efforts that were in support of an individual.

QUESTION: You don't know that the Central Command -- whether or not the U.S. Central Command provided forces to try and help Abdul Haq?

STUFFLEBEEM: I have no reports that indicate that they did that.

QUESTION: And I thought it was today, not yesterday. Wasn't it early this morning? STUFFLEBEEM: Well, the reports have come out this morning that he was captured and may have been executed but...

QUESTION: Just so we don't have a time difference here, that's all I care. So you don't know in any time frame that the U.S. did anything in any way to assist him when and if there was an emergency call?

STUFFLEBEEM: That's correct. I think the best for me to try to be clear about it is that, the first that we'd heard about this incident was when it was reported, and I think that had been released by the Taliban. So I have no reports that the Central Command in any way was aware of this, much less responded to it.

QUESTION: If Haq were executed, would that deal a significant blow to our efforts in the south?

STUFFLEBEEM: I don't know. I know that he was very well respected in the area, but that's all I know. In terms of the effectiveness of what that means to opposition groups, I really don't know.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about reports from the ground that that Red Cross food warehouse was hit again, was either hit or had got bomb damage?

STUFFLEBEEM: I've heard a report that the possibility of a Red Cross warehouse was damaged in the vicinity of one that had previously been struck. But I don't have any other information on that. I don't know if it was damaged by Taliban forces or anyone else. So I'm sorry, I just don't have anything for you on that. But we have heard the reports, and we're digging.

QUESTION: Are you talking about the report from the Red Cross in the press, or are you talking about reports from your own military people?

STUFFLEBEEM: The reports that I have heard are from the Red Cross.

QUESTION: Admiral, you mentioned in your introduction that cave complexes have been hit. Did those include leadership posts, and were they hit with bunker-busting bombs? Can you give us any details on those attacks?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, I won't specifically respond to the type of weapon that we're using on specific targets.

And I have said before that we are trying very hard to pull down all forms of intelligence and then verify what it is that we have. The caves that we believe are inhabited by either Taliban or Al Qaeda forces, by whatever way that we can get those and verify those through a second source, is maybe a good way to put it, we will attack. The character of which caves and who may be in there, we don't have that finding... QUESTION: Did this fall in that category? I take it you're saying this did fall in the category of having obtained intelligence to indicate that there was, in fact, leaders populating these caves.

STUFFLEBEEM: Forces. I don't think that -- I wouldn't characterize to you that we know who specifically is in them. We know that they're being occupied and by forces that are opposed to us. And therefore, that's why we struck them.

QUESTION: Admiral, it was one week ago today that we learned about the special forces raid. There have been no reports since then of anything comparable. Does that indicate that there has been nothing comparable since then?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, the chairman has articulated that there are times when we'll do things invisibly and keep them invisible, and there are time when we'll release the information that comes. I think the best way to leave that is that we have a campaign, and a very complicated campaign, that has a number of objectives, and we have a time line for a number of these objectives.

There will be opportunities for us to use all forms of force in all kinds of ways. And we'll stick with -- some of that will be just withheld, due to the sensitivity of those missions. So I wouldn't want to characterize whether we are, whether we aren't. I'll just confirm or deny, and just continue with that we are prosecuting it in all ways we can.

QUESTION: Admiral, Northern Alliance leaders continue to say that if U.S. air strikes increased on Taliban front lines, that they would be able to take Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif without U.S. ground troops. Yesterday, General Myers said that the attacks, the airstrikes are not piece-meal and that the frequency and amount of bombing is proceeding according to plan. What is the plan?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, I think a way to describe it is that there may be more than one plan. The plan, of course, that we're working off of is ours. General Franks has a very systematic campaign laid out with objectives as to what it is that we must be able to achieve. The Northern Alliance may also have their own plans. They certainly have their objectives.

We are supporting the Northern Alliance. What they are doing is supportive of part of our effort. But it would be unfair to characterize that we have meshed necessarily what may be their plans with ours.

We're sticking to our game plan, our strategy.

QUESTION: Which is what?

STUFFLEBEEM: And again, where it crosses with wherever the Northern Alliance may have, that's a good thing. But we are not going to adapt our game plan to theirs necessarily, nor would we expect them to adapt to ours. So we're mutually supporting each other. I understand that there may be a level of frustration in some of the areas that it's not exactly what they would hope it would be at that particular place on the ground on any given day, but we are supporting them. They are doing things that we think are helpful in fighting the Taliban, but we're very focused on what we're after and how we're going to do that. And we'll do that on our time line.

QUESTION: If I could follow, we're dropping about 300 bombs, on average, a day. In the big picture, that's not a lot. Could we do more? What is the plan here?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, dropping bombs is specifically related to targets. And we do -- we work very hard to make sure that we've got exactly the right kind of targets that we wish to go after, in consonance with our strategy.

There is a perception that there are front lines and that there are force-against-force traditional armies out there, which is really not the case. This is a much looser and a much different kind of environment than what you're maybe alluding to.

And therefore, I understand there may be a frustration that there may not be or should be more bombs in a particular area on troops. But it's not that clean, it's not that clear that the lines are drawn that straight or that easy to be able just to go ahead and pick apart.

QUESTION: Admiral, let's just say for the sake of argument that in the past week there haven't been any ground operations like we saw last Friday, even though you have made a very strong case for the contribution that ground forces provide in certain circumstances.

What is the thinking about, if in fact they haven't been used, what would be the thinking for why they have not been used? You said that there have to be opportunities for them to use them. What are some of the factors that would go into that decision?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, it's a good question and it's a fair question.

I don't want to get into characterizing what our future operations may be. Within our armed forces and the capabilities that we have to bring to bear, it's fair to say that we'll consider everything. Where we will do it and when we will do it will be for a very specific example, and we wouldn't want to broadcast that either in intentions, even in a hypothetical. We just don't want to give them any particular chance to be ready. We want to be able to use surprise on our side. And that's why many of these kinds of operations will remain invisible.

QUESTION: There are some circumstances that are better for the use of ground troops than others, apparently.

STUFFLEBEEM: Yes. Absolutely.

(LAUGHTER) QUESTION: As you know, the British announced today that they are committing commando units. Does that mark the beginning of a phase in the operation that's coming up, the fact that they are now going to be in place where they were not before?

STUFFLEBEEM: I wouldn't characterize it that it is a mark for a phase, as much as I would believe that our coalition supporters, our coalition members have intentions and capabilities that they want to offer to this effort. When they will do that is obviously at their timing, and the advantages obviously for them when they can do that.

And how and when they will be folded in and utilized within the coalition is still to be worked out in some cases, and in others it already has been worked out. I think the best way to leave that is just that we're very happy for all of the support that the coalition is bringing to bear, and it comes in a number of forms, and we are blending those in. But we will do that under the unified command of General Franks, who will determine when and where the appropriate force is to be brought to bear.

QUESTION: They're moving into place now, not last week, not next week, now. Again, wouldn't that indicate that now is when some new phase of this is going to be -- and you can choose whatever word you want from "phase" -- but that a new facet of this operation is going to begin?

STUFFLEBEEM: I think the best way to describe that particular answer is to say that we now have this capability added to the capability that we have in theater. To believe that it marks a beginning or an end of something is not as accurate as it is an additional force that has been brought to bear.

QUESTION: Admiral, there is a growing chorus now -- it's still a small chorus, but it's getting louder -- of critics who are saying that the United States appears to be bogged down, that the superpower's military might is not proving effective against the Taliban, and that the campaign itself doesn't appear to be going anywhere.

Can you address the criticisms that it is getting bogged down and that it may be having a more negative affect on the region than a positive affect on the ground?

STUFFLEBEEM: I'll comment on that this way: I don't personally believe that we are being bogged down or are getting bogged down. This is a very complicated operation. This is not traditional force- on- force warfare.

And there isn't anyone who is better informed or better prepared to put together a strategy for this than General Franks, the current commander in chief. He has built the strategy. It has been approved by the national command authorities. And he is, in a very deliberative way, executing that on a time line that allows the objectives that he wishes to bring back to the national command authorities to be completed. There are those who understandably are frustrated that this is not happening faster or that a particular aspect of it is not being employed more, but I don't think that they have the perspective that the CINC does. They are not in a position of where he is at to know what the campaign strategy is, what are the objectives to be done in the intermediate, and therefore, how the progress of that appears.

General Franks is satisfied, we're satisfied with the way that the campaign is being conducted.

And we all have to just recognize that because this is nontraditional warfare, we see nontraditional warfare means employed when I bring examples of strikes up here, and some of the reporting that's coming out. But this is a different kind of war than we've every fought before.

And the complexity of it is what the chairman referred to as the most difficult task we've had since the second World War. And therefore, it is -- there's a different way and there's a different time to get this job done rather than just moving on to the concerns that it is not going quickly enough. We have to learn -- if we don't have patience -- we have to learn to have the patient to allow us to be able to achieve our objectives. And they're interrelated with many, many factors that are beyond the control that we had, say, in the case of going into Iraq.

QUESTION: Well, part of the overall game plan is to not lose the support of the moderate Arab world. You have people like Hosni Mubarak and Egypt saying, the United States needs to accelerate this and get it over with rapidly. But he is not the only voice among American friends in the region that say the bombing phase needs to get over with quickly. You are saying it is a deliberate campaign and could go on for weeks or months or longer than that.

How do you reconcile the fact that American friends in the region are desperately pleading with the United States to move ahead?

STUFFLEBEEM: I guess, I'd reconcile it this way: Since we have this responsibility to defend ourselves and have built a campaign to be able to do that, the last thing we want to do is to overdrive our own headlights in trying to achieve an objective before it is ready to be consumed.

Said another way, we do not want to do anything that, obviously, would break down our support in the world to do this. And that may become a factor in how the campaign is prosecuted.

But part of the campaign is also showing our resolve and showing our strength. We're in the right; the terrorists are in the wrong. And therefore, it's important for us to do the right thing and to exercise our right of defending ourselves.

And I think that, as time goes on, however long that may be, those who recognize that will remain and support that.

QUESTION: You mentioned a strategy that you're sticking to. In that strategy, does the use of ground forces become more likely, more extensive or more necessary? Does their role increase if the air campaign proves less successful? Is the role of ground forces based on the success or lack of success of the progress of the air campaign?

STUFFLEBEEM: A ground operation is not a result of a failure. A ground campaign is done in coordination in this case with the portion of the air campaign.

We will utilize all of our forces and all of the types of warfare that we have to bring to bear, with the exception of using weapons of mass destruction, to be able to prosecute this. The time of when that's to come would be in consonance with having achieved certain objectives.

The rest of it, or to go any further, gets into what may be what our future operations could be, and I don't want to take it any further than that, other than just to reaffirm that all of the elements of our capability are going to be brought to bear. When we do this and how we do this will be visible sometimes and obviously not at others. But the assumption that one is a beginning and one is an end, or that there is a failure to be able not to achieve something which would cause you to go into another art or another way of warfare would be incorrect.

QUESTION: You said that the weather is deteriorating. You did not specifically say that that is beginning to hamper air operations. Is it?

STUFFLEBEEM: It has not yet begun to hamper air operations.

QUESTION: We knew that the Marine helicopters were used in that recovery last weekend. Is there anything else you can tell us about what that Marines (inaudible) have been doing, have done -- not are going to do or anything like that. There are reports that some of them are ashore, providing security at some of the bases we're using. Can you tell us anything about what the Marines are doing in-theater?

STUFFLEBEEM: I can't give you specifics of all of the missions that they are currently performing because I honestly don't know.

I do know what they are trained to do. They have a tremendous capability in the tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel. They have a terrific capability in non-combatant evacuation operations. They are experts in small unit tactics and ground warfare.

STUFFLEBEEM: So I think that it's safe to assume that they are being used in the way that optimizes their strength. And they will continue to be employed as part of the campaign in ways that either support our main effort or our rear effort. I don't want to be any more specific than...

QUESTION: Admiral, you said...

STUFFLEBEEM: One last question.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: While the admiral continues to field what has turned into a very provocative line of questions, about both the politics of war and the execution of the campaign, I want to bring in the we can for a few minutes retired General David Grange. General Grange's background is in special forces. A couple of questions came up.

General, it's nice to see you.


BROWN: Just quickly, on the British commandos, how, to the extent that you know, how different is their role likely to be based on their backgrounds training, experience and the like?

GRANGE: The British commandos very much like the United States Marine Corps. They're good at raids. They'll be doing some things possibly like our rangers have done. They also have brought in special operating forces. They're equivalent of special forces the SAS, the Special Air Service, and haven't served with them, they're quite good.

BROWN: And just on this other line of questioning, I'm not sure this is so much a particular area of expertise, but it's an interesting area for us to talk about, do you have any sense that this campaign is gotten bogged down?

GRANGE: Well, there is a lot of talk about it being bogged down. There's definitely a plan, a deliberate campaign plan, that the CinC, the commander in chief is following in that theater. However, like most military leaders, he's not going to fall in love with the plan. He will adapt to what he finds on the ground, what he finds in the current situation, and adjust accordingly. I don't think it's bogged down. I mean, it's nothing that will get over quickly. I know this concern because the fragile alliance with the Islam states in the theater of operations. But I don't think it's bogged down. It's going to take a while.

I would love to see them -- the Northern Alliance that is -- take Kabul, and then take Mazar-e-Sharif and isolate Kandahar to the south. Let it be isolated let them stay in the caves for the winter. So what? Isolate the Al Qaeda and hardcore Taliban from the people. Work the refugee camp issue. Establish the Northern Alliances control of the area.

BROWN: And do you see that as the outline of the plan that they're trying to do, or is that if you were writing the plan how you might do it?

GRANGE: Yes, that's if I was writing the plan. I have no insight from there information, of course.

BROWN: And just quickly, then, I think in some degree it maybe self-evident, but just how much more complicated is it from a military's planners point of view to have to keep almost literally every day worrying about the politics of the region and how much needed allies are feeling? GRANGE: Well, the area we're working in, the type of propaganda that's coming out, trying to drive a wedge between this looking like a crusade against the Islam people, it's a tough information warfare task that we have. But we have to hang in there, we have to go the distance with this, as part of doing business in a guerrilla war. A guerrilla war, at the same time the country go through a civil war, very complex.

BROWN: It's not really -- maybe it is an information war. But it just seems from the line that things we've heard from Egypt and other moderate states is that those countries know they can only hold, or believe -- I don't know if they know it -- they believe they can hold the line for so long, and they need to see some kind of visible success pretty quickly, or they are going to have domestic problems.

GRANGE: Well, they will have domestic some problems. They will have to be tough as well. Some of the regimes are very concerned. Saudi Arabia, I'm sure, Egypt, they are lot of internal strife that threatens the powers to be in those countries. But they will have to hang in there, because it is going to take a little bit longer. Now some of the effects that could be shown, obviously, some Northern Alliance successes, maybe Mazar-e-Sharif up north and Kabul. Kabul being more of a political objective, Sharif being more a key terrain objective. Maybe that will help. Humanitarian assistance of -- no kidding, very well organized refugee camps where they've provided food, shelter, medical care for the people before the winter, which is big challenge.

BROWN: General, I apologize for turning you into diplomat in this. I'm not sure you signed on for that.

Thank you.




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