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Pentagon: Significant Progress Toward Objectives in Afghanistan

Aired January 7, 2002 - 11:59   ET



VICTORIA CLARKE, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: -- Enduring Freedom. And I just want to remind you of a few of the objectives he outlined that day.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We go directly to the Pentagon briefing which has (ph) just gotten underway.

CLARKE: Excuse me. The military operations are focused on achieving the following outcomes. To make clear to the Taliban leaders and their supporters that harboring terrorists is unacceptable and carries a price. To acquire intelligence to facilitate future operations against Al Qaeda and Taliban regime that harbors the terrorists. To develop relationships with groups in Afghanistan that oppose the Taliban regime and the foreign terrorists that they support. To make it increasingly difficult for the terrorists to use Afghanistan freely as a base of operations. To alter the military balance over time by denying to the Taliban the offensive systems that hampers the progress of the various opposition forces. And to provide humanitarian relief to Afghans suffering truly oppressive living conditions under the Taliban regime.

I think it's pretty safe to say that we've made significant progress toward accomplishing those objectives. The Taliban no longer run the country. An interim government is in place to begin the restructuring of Afghanistan. We have debilitated the Al Qaeda forces to a certain degree. We have killed or captured some of the leaders, both Taliban and Al Qaeda. And we have assisted in delivering a record amount of humanitarian supplies to the people of Afghanistan.

We can say with real confidence that our military operations are on track; we're pleased with the progress thus far; and, of course, we're very grateful to the men and women in uniform who continue to risk their lives daily in the defense of our freedoms.

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


Good afternoon, everyone.

Just a quick update on operations that continue in Afghanistan. Focusing continues locating Al Qaeda, Taliban and their leadership, to interview detainees in Afghanistan for intelligence and to prepare for their transfer and detention at the Guantanamo Bay facility and to support international humanitarian relief operations in Afghanistan.

In Zhawar Kili, we found a number of tracked military vehicles and artillery pieces after last week's strikes, and we have worked again to destroy them from the air. At Khost, we also found a small number of anti-aircraft weapons and used air strikes yesterday to destroy those.

The number of Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees transferred to U.S. forces in Afghanistan continue to grow and the current number now stands at 346. There are 300 in Kandahar, 21 at Bagram, 16 in Mazar- i-Sharif and nine on U.S. Batan. We expect to be able to begin transfer shortly of many of these detainees to the facilities in Guantanamo Bay.

I have a video clip for you today of an air strike from January 3 on the camp and cave complex near Zhawar Kili. The strikes came after members of Al Qaeda were observed attempting to regroup there. It's been struck on several occasions since last Wednesday, including over this past weekend. This is an image that's taken from an AC-130 video camera. The strikes were conducted by B-1 and tactical aircraft on the carriers.

We also have a set of still images of the same facilities which are of a pre-strike and post-strike image.

STUFFLEBEEM: And what you see there are the cave openings on the side of the cliffs that run down through this large wadi.

There are also -- previously, have been some above-ground facilities. And this was used to store military equipment, as well as supplies. And you can see here, many of the caves openings have been closed.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Admiral, Torie started the briefing by (inaudible) a number of aims and targets that the secretary stated, and the president stated at the beginning of this campaign. One of those aims was to bring the people responsible to this for justice -- Omar is still on the lose, bin Laden is still on the lose. How many senior people have you got -- Taliban, Al Qaeda people have you got in U.S. custody? And can you say that this -- there has been any success at all here, until you begin to bring these people to justice and put them on trial?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, you certainly can't say there haven't (ph) been successes; and many of those have been recounted. But I think, as the secretary also has said, this is the beginning of the global war on terrorism. The campaign is focused currently in Afghanistan, but there also are operations that are occurring around the rest of the world, not all which is visible to us.

So what you've seen is a work in progress. The job is not complete. And those leaders whom we wish to have from the Al Qaeda and Taliban chain of command, if you will, we are casting a wide net -- a worldwide net, as well as regional, for where they are.

I think that it would probably be useful to explain my position, as a joint staff operation's officer, to point out not so much the obvious, but how difficult it is to find an individual, but how important it is to develop an intelligence picture that is not just on one individual, but on all of the individuals who either posed a threat or could pose a threat in the future. And therefore, we're going to work very hard to build that intelligence.

Now, we've been walking somewhat close to the edge of the ice in describing where somebody was, where we think somebody is or where they are not. It is a fact that there have been a wide variety in number of reports and they put together a mosaic. And I think from this point, from a joint staff perspective, we will stop speculating openly bout where they may be at or where they think they're at as we build this intelligence picture, which will allow us to have, if you will, the sanctuary to be able to move when the time is right, without giving anything away.

CLARKE: Let me add two things to that. One, the secretary and others have made it very clear, it's not just about Osama bin Laden. He probably said it on October 7 and the days after that, that you could have Osama bin Laden then and you would not have begun to solve the problems that we're trying to address in terms of this war on terrorism at large.

And secondly, we have been successful in debilitating the leadership of both the Taliban and the Al Qaeda. To date, we have declined to give you names, titles, those sorts of things, and that's a decision to be made by the secretary, and he'll do it when he thinks it's appropriate.

So we have made progress in debilitating the leadership structure, and certainly is about much more than just Osama bin Laden or Omar.

QUESTION: But you won't even give us numbers of senior leaders that are being held. Why? That leads to speculation you have very few, if any.

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, you should not speculate that. We know senior leadership is being detained. We know senior leadership has been killed. And we know senior leadership is not yet in custody.

And, therefore, for those whom we either know have been killed or assume they've been killed, for those that we have in detention, we're using that as a way to help build a larger intelligence picture, which may include where can we go to get these others.

And until we get to a position where we have those majorities, or until the secretary's comfortable to talk about it, we are potentially giving away valuable information by saying who we have, when we have them, where we have them, et cetera. CLARKE: And, again, to go back to the secretary's comments on October 7, I think people in this room would agree, if on October 7 people had predicted that the Taliban would be largely out of power, there would be an interim government in place and all this other progress had been made, I don't think most people would have expected it. And, again, we try to point people to the fact that this is not just about military operations, the war on terrorism, it's also economic and financial and legal, and there have been significant steps made in those senses as well.

QUESTION: Admiral, Senator Graham was fairly categorical yesterday that bin Laden and Omar probably aren't in Afghanistan. Is that your assessment? Or is he wrong?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, I'm going to go back and, at least for the time being, I'm going to stand on a position of not talking about where we think he was or where we think he is. And there are many different opinions out there, and they're all being taken in consideration. But we're trying to build a book here, and as you gather your facts to write this book, you're going to a lot of different places and doing a lot of different things. And so what we don't want to do is to play our hands into what may be coming next or where should be the next place to go as we eliminate those things in public.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) few details on the strikes, please, at Zhawar Kili and Khost What aircraft was used? How many of the various types of aircraft? Were they carrier based, et cetera? Can you also tell us a date and time of the two strikes? And in the case of Khost, can you tell us, can you specify for us what and how many (inaudible) aircraft weapons were destroyed?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, the Khost target area was undertaken by carrier-based jet aircraft with precision guided weapons. They were called on through artillery pieces. I don't have a number as to how many there were that were attempted to be destroyed or were destroyed, but that is what the target was and that was yesterday.

To the first part of your questions, the strikes on the cave complex have been on the 3rd and 4th and, again, on yesterday. And they -- we've been flying, traditionally -- and I'd stopped provided the numbers only because it would become very repetitive. But we're flying a little bit more than 100 sorties a day. And we're using land-based aircraft -- the B-1s and the B-52s, long-range bombers. We're using a carrier-based aircraft and coalition aircraft -- carrier based as well as land based -- that are predominantly flying close air support missions or on-call interdiction missions, to be called in by the special forces working with any Taliban forces.


QUESTION: The detail of the strikes (inaudible) were these items that you pulled together and then destroyed, or were they things that, as you say, were targets of opportunity that were found? I mean, after two types of strike on that camp area, was it something that emerged? And also, could you give us some detail, if you have any, on the ambush involving Chapman, in which he died? Which type of individuals were involved in that? Was it a shooting from both sides? Evidently, there are some reports a teenager was involved.

STUFFLEBEEM: We don't yet have good facts on the ambush that killed Sergeant 1st Class Chapman.

And that's probably the best way to leave it. We are trying to determine what happened, so that we can prevent something like this from happening again. It most definitely was an ambush, which would tell us that this was something that was anticipated and, therefore, in some regard must have been set up. And it was a small arms fire fight. But we don't have any more definitive details on that, and so we're trying to look for it.

Getting back to your question on the cave complex, in eastern Afghanistan, and particularly in the Paktia province, where we have conducted these strikes in recent days, this is what you would call relatively active area. Paktia province had previously been a support haven of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

There are, obviously, still Al Qaeda and pro-Taliban that are lose there, and we're continuing to find them, and we're continuing to strike their equipment as we've found them. So when you find tanks, it's pretty easy to determine that they're not ours, and therefore, they're clear targets.

QUESTION: Can you give any numbers -- dozens, handful?

STUFFLEBEEM: The sense I have is handful. I never saw how many numbers it was. It was positively identified targets, bringing aircraft on-call to take care of them. And the exact numbers, I don't know.

QUESTION: How far was that incident with Sergeant Chapman from the cave complex itself? And is what you just said, with regard to the locality there, that there was a lot of support there for Al Qaeda, does that extend also to that immediate area where the ambush took place? In other words, can you give us a little bit of a sense -- the context in which this ambush took place -- both geographic and political?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, I can't talk to the political, I don't know that. I just don't have a lot of specifics about what the team was doing that was in there at the time when the ambush occurred.

This is a continuation of our forces in concert with anti-Taliban forces, working with local tribes and knowing that there are bad guys that are loose in this area.

It was in the Paktia province. It was southwest of Khost. I don't -- I mean, I'm trying to call it in my mind's eye on the map. It was not in a cave complex area that we have struck recently. But how far away from it, it was, that I'm not sure. But it was not the same vicinity.

QUESTION: Was what you said, does that also apply to this area that there is a lot of pro-Al Qaeda sentiment in that area?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, I can't tell you that I know the sense of the Paktia province today. It had been an area in Eastern Afghanistan that had been very sympathetic to the previous regime and forces there -- well-known.

It obviously is an area of interest still because Al Qaeda had built a large training and supply complex in this area. I mean, not that far north is Tora Bora. And so, this region, if you will, or this province, had been a hotbed of support. This also is an area that we did not previously have a lot of anti-Taliban coordination or connection with, as we had initially in the north and as we have seen around Kandahar.

So to say it's a more dangerous area than the others right now is probably accurate.

QUESTION: Can you tell us in numbers at all of Al Qaeda fighters left? I know you had intelligence early on in this training camp, that they're regrouping there. Any idea of how many were regrouping there? Are they still traveling in convoys? Is there something identifiable about Al Qaeda fighters still that tips you off? I mean, not in terms of real intelligence reports, but generally how many you're seeing still or believe are in the areas?

STUFFLEBEEM: There's a couple of ways I can answer that. From the perspective of our special operating forces and soldiers on the ground, just the knowledge or the thought that one armed Al Qaeda member is loose in an area is a danger that makes all of the area dangerous.

We have not -- I have not seen reports that indicate to me that they have regrouped to the point where they, in fact, are now traveling again in convoys that we had seen previously, nor have, in the intelligence reports that I have been monitoring, do I have a sense that there are large groups that are ready to get back together. They are obviously widely dispersed.

They are attempting to try to regroup so that they can amass for leadership and mischief purposes. But the numbers that I sense, as I look at this broad mosaic of what they are, is that these are small numbers and they're just trying to find each other and then, obviously, to continue their war.

CLARKE: I also don't think you can make generalizations or characterizations singling out a particular area. Just look at what's happened in the last several weeks. You had the prison uprising in Mazar-i-Sharif, you had what was going on at the hospital in Kandahar, you had the activity, the regrouping of the strike last week near Khost. It is still a very dangerous country throughout, and even if it's a small pocket, it can pose a great risk, as it has.

QUESTION: But does it tell you anything that they regrouped in this particular training camp, a place you'd bombed before? I mean, does that show real desperation? What does that tell you that a number of them tried to get together there? STUFFLEBEEM: That's a really hard question, because you're kind of asking me to sort of get into their heads a little bit.

We don't know what they're doing, other than they are trying to regroup. I mean, they're looking for the security that they can try to collect together in numbers. They've been dispersed, we have flushed them out of many areas, and they have run for their lives, literally, in many instances, and in some cases have been killed and also captured.

So those who have dispersed, it would appear, are trying to get back together and regroup so that they can ascertain, do they have leadership, do they have mission, can they do operations. And so that's what we're disconnecting.

QUESTION: I have a question about the teenaged pilot who crashed a Cessna in downtown Tampa. I understand that he flew over McDill Air Force Base for about a minute, a minute and a half. And my understand is that the base (inaudible) defense only has 50-caliber machine guns, and also that it relies on Tampa International Airport to alert it of any suspicious aircraft that may be headed toward the base. Representative C.W. Bill Young has raised concerns about the base security in light of what happened on Saturday.

So my question is, is McDill Air Force Base properly defended? And secondly, are there any plans for reviewing base security? CLARKE: First of all, I think anyone who is talking about what security may or may not be at McDill probably doesn't know, because to thwart bad things from happening we tend not to go into great detail about what security arrangements are.

And two, as an ongoing basis, we're looking at security at installations, at locations throughout the United States at all times. And I'm sure this incident is being looked at appropriately.

QUESTION: Torie, if I could follow up on that. I mean, the fighter jets that were scrambled were from down in the Miami area, 200 miles away. For you or the admiral, is that going to be enough to thwart an attack or protect Central Command?

CLARKE: You can talk about the practice that normally unfolds.

STUFFLEBEEM: Sure. There's a couple of things that you have to understand. One is that we maintain random CAPs and alert fighters on throughout the country. They respond to threats or unknowns. So part of that is an alert process.

When do we know that this is an unknown or a threat aircraft? Now, there are an indeterminable number of training fights that occur throughout the U.S. all the time; student pilots who are learning to fly. There was previously no indication that there was trouble with this individual or trouble from this airfield.

Therefore, let me back up just to say that we need to allow the time for the FAA and NORAD and the commander of the Air Force Base at MacDill to go back and ascertain the facts and to post more to this to know exactly what happened and then what would need to be different, if anything at all.

But from what I know of it so far -- the alert process -- there was not a perceived threat. I mean, here was a 15-year-old flight student who did something untoured and unknown to anybody else. He didn't take off with a flight full of explosives. His flight instructor had given him, I think, a requirement to do some preflight, and it was not his aircraft that he had actually rented. When he decided to, for his unfortunate personal reasons, to start it up and then take off, there was no way of knowing that he wouldn't just try to turn around and land again to prove his prowess as a flight student.

So how long did it take to be recognized that this was something that had gone seriously wrong and warrants a military response? And that's going to have to be looked at to get answered as better part of the question.

QUESTION: Admiral, can we get back to Omar for one second, please? After local officials seem to say last week they had him surrounded, he seemed to have gotten loose again.

My question is whether this incident -- last week where they said, "We're almost there," and now they say, "We're not," -- whether that has made the U.S. rethink the strategy of relying on locals to find these top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders?

CLARKE: First and foremost, there are any number of reports of all sizes and shapes from a variety of sources about what may or may not be.

And to go to something the secretary said earlier, probably the people who may have some sense of his whereabouts aren't saying, at least on our side, because we wouldn't want to telegraph what we might be doing.

But there are so many different people and so many different players, there will be a variety of reports that you'll hear, and we are not going to be in the business of chasing every single one of them.

But in terms of our strategy, it's never dependent on a single thing. It is never dependent solely upon working with the Afghans on the ground. That is an important piece of it, absolutely. And let's never forget: It is their country, not ours. So that's a piece of it.

We have other ways of surfacing intel and information. And it's the combination of those pieces of information that work that will probably produce the results we want.

QUESTION: Part of what I'm asking, though, is whether his slipping out the second time -- if that's true, granted -- makes you rethink whether the people that we believe are allied with us in the field are really our allies.

CLARKE: I don't think you can make a general judgment that way. Some are, some aren't, some change. You know, we know over the last several weeks and months, some people have changed sides probably more than once. I just don't think you can make a judgment like that and make that kind of assessment.

QUESTION: If the U.S. is to conduct an effective search, however, for Omar, bin Laden, is there a consideration to increase the number of U.S. ground troops that are participating in that kind of search?

CLARKE: There's also consideration given to what's the appropriate number and type of resources at any given time, and that's what we apply. And it is an extremely fluid, asymmetrical kind of world.

The admiral can speak to it more articulately than I can.

But we use a variety of resources, a variety of people, and it's not the same everyday, every week or every month. So we'll apply what we thin is appropriate at any given time. If we think it's more of these kinds of people, we'll use that. If we think it is more work with particular groups on the ground in Afghanistan, that's what we'll do.

QUESTION: Well, then, I guess, the question is, does the Pentagon now consider it appropriate, or Tommy Franks, consider it appropriate to increases the number of grounds troops to aid in the search for, let's say, Mullah Omar?

CLARKE: That's General Frank's and Secretary Rumsfeld's decisions. And I'm sure when they think it's appropriate to talk about what's next or what's different, we'll talk about it.

QUESTION: Could I follow-up on Chapman a second? Admiral, you said earlier that if there is a suspicion that there might have been a set up. Because of that, is the U.S. now -- do they have any particular groups or people in mind that may have set up Chapman and that group? Or has the U.S. cut off any contact or cooperation with any group that, perhaps, could have been a position to set up Chapman and the CIA operative?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, I've not seen any reports that would indicate that we knew who might have been involved in the ambush. Therefore, we don't know whom we would not trust, in terms of that set-up.

We have not withdrawn support from any Taliban forces yet that I am aware of, and we'll continue to work with those who are continuing to prove themselves to be anti-Taliban. For those whom -- and again, General Franks has got people looking at what happened in this occasion to find out what the facts are, as best he can determine.

And I think that if he determines that this is something that we hadn't expected, one, it'll be a lesson learned for troops on the ground to be able to avoid in the future. And secondly, it will also determine, well, then whom really is anti-Taliban and whom are pro- Taliban and whom do we now need to add to the list to go after. QUESTION: Have you put forces on the ground yet to investigate the cave complex, training complex and, if not, why not? And secondly, setting aside Mullah Omar, last week, there was all these talks of negotiations at Baghran, Northwest of Kandahar. You were monitoring those. I think General Franks said some weapons were surrendered. What happened to the 1,500 Taliban fighters that were there?

STUFFLEBEEM: We probably assumed a little too much. I would say some assumed a little to much, in believing that the negotiations that were ongoing were on the behalf of Mullah Omar. There were pro- Taliban forces in the area that were negotiating with anti-Taliban forces -- Karzai specifically -- for their surrender or whatever the details were that they wanted to have.

That, I can't tell you that I know exactly how that has been resolved, but it has not resulted in detainees that I'm aware of. So I'm assuming that there are people who have crossed over, laid down their weapons. There are those who may have paid money for their way out. There are others who probably have just evaporated into the mountainside, as has been their ilk all along.

So that -- what I gather is that nothing significant came of that. Now whether or not Mullah Omar was ever there, we don't know and we're going -- we're stepping back now, in terms of a tactic, if you will, and stop talking about what we think was or what we thought it was and dealing more with what we want and how do we go about getting that.

And we're going to stop chasing, if you will, the shadows of where we thought he was and focus more on, you know, the entire picture of the country, where these pockets of resistance are, what do the anti-Taliban forces need, so that we can develop a better intelligence picture. And that's what I mean by casting a wider net.

Your other question, I'm sorry, was Zhawar Kili.


QUESTION: ... put people on the ground.

STUFFLEBEEM: I don't want to answer your question, for this reason. It's an ongoing operation. We had bombed there on the 3rd and 4th, we bombed again yesterday, but we're not done there. And so it's an ongoing operation. And you shouldn't assume that we won't go in there and verify, but we're finding stuff, and we're attacking that stuff, so it's a current operation. So when and until those people are on the ground there, we'll just sort of leave that unanswered.

CLARKE: And one clarification. When you say we probably assumed too much about the negotiations with Omar, we meant we in the broadest sense.


(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: Can I follow up just on Zhawar Kili, though, just one clarification? There's been a lot of attention, as you've mentioned, on Zhawar Kili. I think, by your own count, some 250 bombs last week alone. Did you have any intelligence suggesting that Osama bin Laden was there?

STUFFLEBEEM: This was an Al Qaeda training facility and an Al Qaeda storage facility and a command facility. I'm sure at some time Osama bin Laden may have been there, but I don't know that. And we're not chasing that shadow as to when he may have last been there.

QUESTION: But I guess my question is, was there anything, even a soft intelligence report last week, that prompted such a heavy strike last Thursday and last Friday?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, the strike was prompted by the intelligence collected that there was a lot of stuff there. That's a large camp. There are kind of three areas to this camp as it moves down this large wadi, above ground and in two separate cave areas. There are a number of caves to shut down, a number of above-ground facilities that have been leveled now, or at least most of them have, and, after the strikes on the 3rd and 4th, over this weekend, lo and behold, we find tanks. So something is coming out of the ground and we're after it.

QUESTION: And are forensics experts with the ground troops that are moving now to try to assess what the damage was?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, we do have people who are experts in collecting information, including some forensics. Whether they're with a group that will go in this area, right now I'm not sure.

QUESTION: Admiral, I want to take another crack at the issue of how many Al Qaeda leaders have been killed or are on the run. Last week, the U.S. spokesman in Islamabad, Kenton Keith, put out a chart of 42 leaders, he distributed to reporters and said six Al Qaeda had been killed, the rest are either hiding or on the run. We haven't seen that chart here in D.C., but is that the rough order of magnitude, you and the Joint Staff believe 42 is the universe and about six or seven have been killed to date?

CLARKE: I haven't seen the chart either, and I've asked for it so we can take a look at it. And for reasons that he may or may not explain to you, the secretary at this time is declining to talk about titles, names, numbers, for this time. When he thinks it is appropriate and helpful, he will talk about those things.

QUESTION: You mentioned we're still going to go after the caves and all that.

Has the U.S. used this new thermal-barrack bomb that Mr. Aldridge talked about the weekend before Christmas? That was front page news across the country. Are those bombs in theater, and have they been used to date? Do you anticipate them being used?

STUFFLEBEEM; Well, Mr. Aldridge did say that our R&D or science and technology groups have put together something and sent it to the theater. I have not seen any reports that Central Command has used the weapons as yet, so I don't believe they have.

QUESTION: You would know though if they had, given the...

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, if I went and asked the question, I'm sure I'd find out. I haven't asked the question, but I've not seen it used. I've only seen just JDAMs.

Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: At the Pentagon, Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem and Torie Clarke telling reporters, answering a lot of questions about what happened to those reports last week that a large number of Taliban fighters were, in effect, encircled in Southern Afghanistan, Southwestern Afghanistan, that there were negotiations under way to get to these people through other anti-Taliban fighters.

In effect today, the Pentagon seems to be backing down off of that, saying: We don't want to give you much more information about that. We cannot account for the numbers.

At one point, they were saying 1,500 Taliban fighters were in that area. Now they are saying: We don't want to give you numbers. We don't know. We are going to focus on going forward. And we did hear Admiral Stufflebeem there at the end refer to one area where they did find a huge -- a large amount of al Qaeda supplies, weapons, artillery. They said that that area -- they dropped bombs on that area. And they showed some pictures.

Now, the only other point that I would mention as a highlight was, when asked about the teenager in Tampa who flew a small airplane into a high-rise building in that city, we heard Admiral Stufflebeem say that there really -- it is very difficult to say if the military could have done a better job of intercepting that small plane. He said it takes some time to determine whether someone or something is a threat, and this flight was a very short flight. He said the investigation continues.




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