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DoD News Briefing: Saturday, October 20, 2001

DoD News Briefing: Saturday, October 20, 2001

DoD News Briefing: General Richard B. Myers, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Saturday, October 20, 2001 - 12:10 p.m. Slides and videos used in this briefing are on DefenseLINK. Source: News Transcript from the United States Department of Defense.

Myers: Good afternoon.

Yesterday U.S. military forces conducted ground operations in addition to our air operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Under the direction of the president and the secretary of Defense and under the command of U.S. Central Command, General Tom Franks, Special Operations Forces, including U.S. Army Rangers, deployed to Afghanistan. They attacked and destroyed targets associated with terrorist activity and Taliban command and control.

U.S. forces were able to deploy, maneuver and operate inside Afghanistan without significant interference from Taliban forces. They are now refitting and repositioning for potential future operations against terrorist targets in other areas known to harbor terrorists.

I have several video clips of yesterday's action to show you. This video will be available on DefenseLINK and through the pool after this briefing.

In the first clip you'll see deployed Special Operations Forces preparing for their missions.

Q: Can you narrate a little? Some of the things they're putting in their packs --

Myers: The next clip is of the same forces loading onto transport aircraft and taking off for the trip into Afghanistan.

Next you'll see troops exiting the C-130 aircraft and jumping onto their objective, an airfield in southern Afghanistan.

I think that's pretty self-explanatory.

Next you will see actions taken by the Special Operations Forces on the objective. This occurs in the dark, of course, so the video was taken with a night vision lens. These troops are clearing the airfield building by building, and you're going to notice at one point in the tape the troops come across a small weapons cache including rocket-propelled grenades, a machine gun and ammunition. These weapons were subsequently destroyed.

That's all of the video. But before I take questions I'll also give you a quick recap of yesterday's air operations over Afghanistan.

On Friday we struck in 15 planned target areas. These included AAA sites, anti-aircraft sites, with dispersed armor and radar at those sites, ammunition and vehicle storage depots, and military training facilities including armored vehicles, trucks and buildings. We used approximately 100 strike aircraft, about 90 of them carrier-based tactical aircraft, and between 10 and 12 land-based aircraft including long range bombers and AC-130s.

Also yesterday we again flew four C-17 missions in support of humanitarian relief delivering approximately 68,000 rations and bringing the total rations delivered via air drops to date to approximately 575,000. Yesterday's drops were in western Afghanistan in Northern Alliance controlled areas.

Finally, let me pass on my personal condolences to the families of the two soldiers killed in yesterday's helicopter crash in Pakistan. They and all who are participating in Operation Enduring Freedom are heroes. They put their lives on the line on behalf of freedom and on behalf of America, and they do it each and every day. And I'm so very proud of them and their comrades in arms.

As the president has said, they did not die in vain.

I'll take your questions.

Q: General, how did you get those troops out of the airfield, or are they still there holding the field?

Myers: One of the things that I simply can't do is talk about any of the tactics, techniques and procedures that we use beyond what you've seen on that tape. We are, as we've said before, we're going to have ongoing operations around the world and we're simply not going to divulge --

Q: If I could just follow up, given that the secretary has said that the U.S. objective is not to hold any real estate, can you tell us whether that airfield is now under the control of the U.S. military, or have you left it?

Myers: We have accomplished our objectives on that airfield, and that's all I'd like to say about that.

Q: -- news account said helicopters, 100 (inaudible) landing. There were helicopters there. They were jumping in. Can you clear up that notion one way or the other?

Myers: What I will clear up is that we used a variety of aircraft. I will not go into specific types. Again, that gets into the tactics, the techniques and the procedures. We used a variety of aircraft for this particular operation, and I'll just leave it at that.

Q: What did you use to extract them, though?

Myers: That gets into our tactics and our techniques and procedures, and if I were to divulge that, then the next time we conduct an operation somewhere in this world on this globe, people would have an understanding of how we operate and I'm just not going to divulge that.

Q: Could you tell us approximately how many troops were involved? Were there any casualties?

Myers: Again, I'm not going to discuss the number of troops. In terms of injuries, we had I think it was two people injured in parachute drops onto the objective that you saw. They are doing fine. They are certainly not life threatening.

You know about the helicopter, the tragedy of two fatalities, and we had three injured. Again, not life-threatening in that event.

Q: -- airfield, was that the airfield at Kandahar as has been reported and told by other U.S. officials?

Myers: Again, the airfield was in southern Afghanistan. It was not the airfield at Kandahar.

Q: General, can you tell us a little bit about the crash of the helicopter in Pakistan, what caused the crash, and comment on the claim by Taliban that they shot it down?

Myers: Let me address the first part. I think it's pretty well established the Taliban lie. In this case, any claims that they shot this helicopter down are absolutely false. This is being classified as an aircraft mishap and it will be investigated as such as we do all mishaps like this where there's loss of life or significant loss of equipment.

This was a middle of the night landing. They prepared, of course, in great detail for this mission. They knew the conditions they were flying into. There was a significant amount of dust when you get close to the ground, the rotor wash brings up the dust and makes landing very very difficult. We think that had something to do with it, but it's going to be up to the mishap investigation board to tell us finally.

Q: Was it an Army Blackhawk helicopter?

Myers: It was a Blackhawk helicopter. U.S. forces Blackhawk helicopter.

Q: Did the troops who assaulted the airfield meet any resistance? Did they kill or capture any Taliban --

Myers: As you would expect going into Taliban-held territory, you would meet resistance, and we met resistance at both objectives, the airfield and the other objective. It was, I guess you could characterize it as light. That's probably easy for us to say here in this room. For those experiencing it, of course, it was probably not light. And there were casualties on the other side, the exact number we do not know yet.

Q: You said the airfield and the other objective. What was the other objective?

Myers: It was another Taliban command and control facility.

Q: You said that "we have accomplished our objectives on that airfield." Does that mean the mission was successful, and could you elaborate on that? And also, what would you say to those in uniform who took part in it?

Myers: The mission overall was successful. We accomplished our objectives.

To those in uniform who accomplished it, let me just make a real general statement. The credibility of Dick Myers, or the secretary of Defense, or any of our senior leadership in the services rests really with the professionalism in the way our young armed forces members conduct themselves day in and day out. They have never let us down and yesterday was no exception. We were very, very proud of their abilities and their dedication and their courage. Everybody's very proud of them.

Q: When you showed us the video it was very obvious that at one clip, perhaps the first one, was seemingly a hangar deck on board a carrier, it didn't look like it was sand; and the other one was clearly sandy. Since you don't operate C-130s from a carrier can we safely say that you used the Kitty Hawk and that the C-130s came off a land base? Can you tell us where? In Pakistan?

Myers: No. Again, that gets in -- In my view that gets into the tactics, techniques and procedures and I'm not going to tell you where we operated from. We have good cooperation in the region, and next time it may be a whole different set of arrangements. But we're very satisfied with the support we got.

Q: Aside from the military objectives, what does this raid say about the success of the air strikes to date and the ability of U.S. forces to operate on the ground now in Afghanistan?

Myers: I think you have to be careful with extrapolating this to the future. We have two primary goals in Afghanistan. One is to eliminate the support to al Qaeda, primarily the Taliban; and the other is to eliminate al Qaeda. We are going about that from the military part in a very measured and a very careful way. I would not draw any extrapolations that this means anything like you're trying to impart to this.

But one of the messages should be that we are capable of, at a time of our choosing, conducting the kind of operations we want to conduct. I think that's all it simply says.

Q: Can you tell us if the two objectives last night were collocated and basically it was one paratroop drop that dealt with two separate locations that were nearby?

And secondly, can you tell us how long U.S. boots were on the ground inside Afghanistan?

Myers: Again, I'm not going to tell you how long they were on the ground. That gets into tactics, techniques and procedures. I will tell you that the two objectives were not collocated.

Q: So there were two separate drops?

Myers: I didn't say drops, you said drops. There were two separate objectives.

Q: Can you say whether any Taliban leaders were captured or killed in these raids?

Myers: Again, one of the primary reasons we conducted these missions on these two objective was to gather intelligence, and we are in the process of evaluating the intelligence that we brought out.

Q: Did you take prisoners, sir?

Myers: We took -- let me just say this. I'm not going to get into that at this point. Again, that gets into our tactics, techniques and procedures. We're going to have to evaluate the intelligence we found.

Q: -- by C-130s or attack gunships?

Q: These two objectives were hit by the same group of soldiers or was it two separate groups that went in and hit them?

Myers: Again, it gets into tactics, techniques and procedures, but there were two objectives, they were fairly far apart, and --

Q: Can you tell us where the second objective was generally?

Myers: In the vicinity of Kandahar.

Q: General, were they supported by C-130 gunships and attack helicopters, did you have this support in the air?

Myers: Again, I'm not going to go into the specific aircraft that supported this operation. It was a variety of aircraft. I've said before that we're going to use the full spectrum of our capabilities, and essentially that's what we did.

Q: But they did have close air support.

Myers: They had all the support they needed, let me assure you.

Q: Can you tell us anything about why these were chosen? Does that get into the tactics?

And secondly, you were saying "we took" and you stopped. Does that mean that we're to infer that you did take prisoners?

Myers: No, don't infer that. We took intelligence. We gathered some intelligence which we're evaluating. We gathered up some intelligence, and items, and we're going to evaluate that.

Q: Why the targets?

Myers: Primarily for their intelligence value. One of them was a Taliban command and control facility, so we're hoping to find intelligence there. The other, the airfield was similarly, we thought of intelligence value.

Q: Were you hoping to find commanders as well as intelligence at this command and control facility?

Myers: We did not expect to find significant Taliban leadership at these locations. We of course were hoping we would, but we did not expect it and we did not find senior Taliban or al Qaeda leadership.

Q: Sir, was this a pre-planned target days ago, or one of these emerging targets of opportunity that you had several hours to hear about and mount the attack?

Myers: Let me just say that again gets into sort of the tactics and our ability to react, and I'm just not going to get into that. But it's like everything we have tried to do inside Afghanistan and for that matter in other parts of the world, we take a, we have the capability to go in and take emerging targets. Some targets lend themselves to more planning. I'll just leave it there without telling you which this was.

Q: General Myers, can you tell us beyond the command and control center, was this a building above ground, an underground bunker, was it hardened any special way that required boots on the ground to do this job?

Myers: Again, if you're trying to get -- you could simply take the targets out perhaps with bombs, but that would deny you the capability to get the intelligence. And --

Q: Was it a building, though, or was it some sort of underground bunker you were going to?

Myers: Buildings and some hardened complexes.

Q: General, the secretary said the other day in answer to a question that he believed that Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda were involved in the strike on the Rangers in Somalia in 1993 in which 18 Rangers were killed. Were the Rangers chosen for this mission partly because of that, in retribution? Or were they just chosen because they're great fighters?

Myers: As you know, the United States is not into retribution. So we carefully match the target to the capabilities that our forces have and that's what we did in this case. In the judgment of General Franks and other commanders, we matched the best forces for the target.

Q: To follow up if I may, the Rangers did not operate alone. You used Special Forces including Rangers. Can you tell us were SEALs, Delta Force, and others involved?

Myers: Again, I'm not going to go into the tactics, techniques and procedures.


Q: General, were these the only two objectives sought last night, or were there other ground operations going on as well?

Myers: I'm not going to talk about that. Let me just say this. Those were the two primary objectives last night.

Q: General, could you say whether these were purely Taliban targets, or were there also al Qaeda elements associated with them?

Myers: There was the potential for there to be al Qaeda associated with these targets.

Q: -- intelligence about al Qaeda?

Myers: Sure. That's what we're hoping for.

Q: The al Qaeda leadership, can you say? Were they expected to be in this area? Can you characterize that in any way?

Myers: Yes, I'll characterize the one target as one of the locations where Omar lives, and it's a fairly large complex. It's a command and control compound for the Taliban leadership.

Q: And was bin Laden or associates, were they thought to be in this area?

Myers: I don't want to comment on that. As I said before, we had very low expectations that any of the senior Taliban or al Qaeda leadership would be involved in these particular targets.

Q: Is that because Omar's compound had been bombed before so you just assumed he wouldn't be there?

Myers: The Taliban has several command and control and leadership compounds. Some have been bombed, this one had not, in fact. Last question --

Q: Can you give us just a ball park idea of how many troops actually were on the ground in these two separate --

Myers: Again --

Q: A hundred, 200, all together?

Myers: I just can't get into that because future operations, if potential adversaries know how many you're bringing in on various objectives, so --

Q: These were two separate raids that took place at the same time. They were two separate operations.

Myers: They were two objectives separated by some distance, and they were struck in a coordinated manner.

And with that, thank you very much.

Q: [Inaudible] -- and this is the beginning of the ground war, and would you characterize it as that?

Myers: I would characterize our activity as -- this is absolutely the last question, Tony. Tony has a habit of -- (laughter). The question is, is this the beginning of the ground war.

The war on terrorism started on 11 September. As we said before, some of our operations are going to be visible, some are going to be invisible.

Some of the invisible operations we will provide information on, as we've done today. There will be other invisible operations where we will not say a thing about them, and you will see no film about them. We may not have film about them.

So to answer your question indirectly like that I think is the way I'd like to proceed.

Thank you very much.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).