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DoD News Briefing: Tuesday, October 23, 2001

DoD News Briefing: Tuesday, October 23, 2001

DoD News Briefing: Victoria Clarke, ASD PA. Also participating: Rear Admiral John D. Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for current readiness and capabilities, Joint Staff, Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 2:15 p.m. EDT. Slides and videos shown in this briefing are on the Web. Source: News Transcript from the United States Department of Defense.

Clarke: Good afternoon. I just want to talk briefly about a couple of items, and then I'll turn this over to Admiral Stufflebeem.

First, on helicopters: The wheels shown on TV by Taliban officials were, in fact, from a U.S. MH-47 helicopter. During Friday night's mission, the helicopter's main landing gear came in contact with a barrier, which tore the wheels off. The aircraft continued its mission and returned safely. There was no further damage to the aircraft and no injuries to the crew.

Secondly, on Saturday, the 20th, a U.S. helicopter conducting recovery operations of the helicopter that crashed the day before in Pakistan took fire while refueling at a Pakistani airfield. After sling-loading the helicopter from the crash site, the recovery team stopped to refuel at an airfield en route to the forward base location. (Coughs.) Excuse me. While there, they took hostile fire, aborted the refueling, returned fire and departed. There were no casualties among the U.S. crew and no reports of casualties on the ground.

Also this weekend, two intended targets that were missed: At 11:24 [p.m. EDT] on Saturday, a U.S. Navy F-14 missed its intended target and inadvertently dropped two 500-pound bombs in a residential area northwest of Kabul. (Coughs.) Excuse me. The intended targets were military vehicles parked in an area approximately one half-mile away.

At 9:05 a.m. [EDT] on Sunday, a U.S. Navy FA-18 Hornet missed its intended target and inadvertently dropped a 1,000-pound bomb in an open field -- an open area near a senior citizens' home outside Herat, Afghanistan. The intended target was a vehicle-storage building at the Herat army barracks, approximately 300 feet from the facility.

Although the details are still being investigated, preliminary indications are that the weapons guidance system malfunctioned. As we always say, we regret any loss of civilian life. U.S. forces are intentionally striking only military and terrorist targets. We take great care in our targeting process to avoid civilian casualties.

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

Q: Whoa! Whoa!

Q: Wait! Wait! Wait!

Q: Torie, wait. Excuse me. That last one --

Clarke: (Chuckling) Come back!

Q: -- that was -- the F-18 you say was on Sunday?

Clarke: Yes. 9:05 a.m.

Q: Well how about the claim from the Taliban that a hospital was bombed yesterday and struck at Herat?

Clarke: Don't know anything about their claims. This is the information we have about what happened near Herat.

Q: So there's no indication that a hospital was hit -- that a bomb went awry yesterday and hit a hospital?

Clarke: No indication of a hospital. Our information is about what they are calling -- our people are calling a senior citizens' home outside Herat.

Q: And that's on Saturday.

Clarke: No, that was --

Q: You have no indications of anything else that was --

Staff: That was Sunday.

Clarke: That was Sunday.

Q: You have no indication of anything yesterday?

Clarke: No.

Q: Torie, were there injuries at the senior citizens' home? You said it hit a field. Did anything --

Clarke: We have no information on casualties.

Q: Torie, can I ask about the MH-47?

Q: Clarke: Sure.

Q: Yesterday, during yesterday's briefing, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Myers were asked, "Have you got any idea what it is we are seeing?" Reference to television pictures. Rumsfeld: "No." Myers: "No, not at all."

Given that yesterday's briefing was some 60 hours after the raid was completed, why did it take so long for them to get this information, and what does that say about the flow of information to the Defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs?

Clarke: Well, I think what it says -- and we were talking about this right before we came out -- it says that the people in the helicopter were focused on what's important, which was getting out of there. And Admiral Stufflebeem can speak to it better than I can. These are huge helicopters. [He] once hit a tree and didn't know [he] had hit the top of a tree. It is not unlikely that they didn't know what happened at the time.

Secondly, what we're really focused on right now is the military operations, to go after the Taliban, to go after the terrorists, and it just was not information that came forward until recently.

Q: Were there troops on board the helicopter? Was it fully loaded?

Clarke: We'll have to ask Admiral Stufflebeem that when he comes up.

Q: Can you give us the location where the salvage helicopter took fire?

Clarke: It was in Pakistan.

Q: Pakistan. But where?

Clarke: That's all I have for you --

Q: And that was Saturday?

Clarke: That was on Saturday.

Q: Torie, the Saturday one -- you said at 11:24 p.m.?

Clarke: I'm sorry. Are you on --

Q: The first one --

Clarke: On Saturday, 11:24 p.m. That's right.

Q: And you say it was a residential neighborhood, and what were -- and were there injuries?

Clarke: Northwest of Kabul. We don't have any reports on injuries.

Q: Torie, were these dumb bombs -- the 500-pounders that were dropped by the F-14?

Clarke: Ivan, I'll have to get back to that -- for that information --

Q: Because if they were dumb bombs, we understand, but if not, if they were laser-guided, I mean, is there an internal guidance problem, or was it human error, or, you know --

Clarke: We'll get you some information. [The weapons that went off-target were precision-guided munitions; preliminary indications are that the weapons' guidance systems malfunctioned.]

Q: Are those their time, local time --

Clarke: Those are all Eastern time. Mm-hmm. Right.

Q: And these residential areas -- is one of them the village of Chowker?

Clarke: Don't have information on that.

Q: So you don't have the village names or other --

Clarke: We don't. No, we do not have the village names.

Q: About the hostile fire incident near the downed helicopter, does that lead you to any information about whether the helicopter may in fact have been shot down?

Clarke: Which one are you talking about, Phil?

Q: The helicopters that went to the downed --

Clarke: No, the helicopter that they went to recover crashed, and the information we have is that it had to do with something that was happening when it was landing, and the dust was being kicked up, and there was disorientation, and that's what caused the crash. It was not shot down.

Q: Where was the shooting? Was that close to --

Clarke: No, it was at an airfield. They had stopped to refuel, and it was in an airfield on the way back to the forward base.

Q: So it was a separate location?

Clarke: Yes.

Q: But is there any indication as to who had opened fire?

Clarke: We do not --

Q: Were these Pakistanis? Were they --

Clarke: We don't have information on who it was.

Q: Does the wreckage remain there, or have they made an attempt to go back again to get it?

Clarke: I think the recovery efforts are under way. I don't know the status of that.

Q: There were two helicopters, were there not, and one was a "Jolly Green Giant" that was actually lifting the downed helo?

Clarke: That's -- it had gone in to pick it up. It had it in its sling. On the way back to the forward base, it stopped to refuel at an airfield, and that's when they took fire.

Q: There were two. If they returned fire -- I mean, was there another gunship or something with them or just one Jolly Green Giant? Because I was told there were two.

Clarke: I'll have to check that for you, Otto. [Two U.S. transport helicopters were fired upon during refueling operations]

Q: Torie, when the helicopter crashed on Friday night, was it not at its forward base? Was it at some other location? You said it was trying to land. Why was it landing somewhere else other than at its base?

Clarke: It was at a location in Pakistan. That's all I have.

Q: But not at its base?

Clarke: All the information I have is that it was landing in Pakistan.

Q: Well was it making a routine landing or some kind of an emergency landing?

Q: Refueling?

Clarke: I don't know, Charlie. I'll have to let you know. [The cause of the mishap is under investigation]

Q: I'm talking about the helicopter that crashed.

Clarke: Right. I will check that out and get back to you.

Q: The wheels that were torn off were on the way in or the way out of Afghanistan?

Clarke: It was on its way out.

Q: Of Afghanistan.

Q: The Blackhawk, when it was trying to land, was it coming back from Afghanistan?

Clarke: Yeah, I don't have information on what it was doing.

Q: Can you get back to us?

Clarke: Yes.

Q: Please.

Clarke: I'll take that one. [The helicopter that crashed Friday did not enter Afghanistan; it was supporting the special operation mission that went into Afghanistan]

Q: Do you have any other incidents in the region of U.S. military assets -- I guess especially helicopters -- taking this kind of local fire as they move in and out -- either in Pakistan, Uzbekistan or other areas? Are they taking local fire?

Clarke: You know, I think I'll leave that one for Admiral Stufflebeem to talk. So far, what we have seen has been a relatively light resistance, but I'll let him take that one.

Q: Can you give us the location of the senior center, first of all? And second of all, is it possible that the senior center you're talking about is what the U.N. workers there are calling the hospital -- military hospital inside a military compound?

Clarke: I'll try to get you something better in terms of information. I just have it's outside Herat. But yes, it is possible. But it's been described to us as a senior citizens' center.

Q: And the 300-foot distance? What was that? From where to where?

Clarke: The intended target was a vehicle-storage building at the army barracks, which is approximately 300 feet from the facility.

Q: So the bomb landed in between those two?

Clarke: Right.

Q: When you're -- you don't know the village names, and I don't know, maybe Admiral is the better person to take this, but there are now two villages reporting in with a fair number of injured and dead, one of them nearly a hundred people dead, they are claiming, with pictures of dead bodies. And the other one a place called Tarin Kowt, where they're reporting about 30 dead.

You don't know specifically anything about those?

Clarke: We don't. Most of the information that has come out from the Taliban, I daresay just about everything we've heard for the last few weeks, has been wrong and outright lies. And they regularly throw out numbers about casualties, most of which are completely outrageous. What we're trying to do in as timely a fashion as possible is, as we get the information about things that have happened, we're trying to get the information out for you. Since we do not --

Q: When you -- you said that two 500-pound bombs went into a residential area near Kandahar. Is that --

Clarke: Those were in Kabul.

Q: Kabul, I'm sorry. That is, in Kabul itself?

Clarke: No. Northwest of Kabul. And I'll try to get -- if we can get some distance, I'll try to get that for you. [Impact was 3.6 miles from the center of Kabul]

Q: So that would be a village, probably? Okay.

Clarke: Okay? Rick.

Q: The -- of course the United States expresses its sadness when there are casualties in that fight. But beyond that, is there a concern that the casualties which seem to continue at one level or another almost on a daily basis could become a problem for the world's reaction, particularly the Muslim world's reaction, to the U.S. war effort?

Clarke: Well, we take extraordinary care on the targeting process. Our targets are military. Our targets are al Qaeda. That is what we're going after. There is unintended damage. There is collateral damage. Thus far it has been extremely limited, from what we've seen. And I think you look at what is going on around the world in many Muslim nations and their support for what we're doing, and we feel quite good about the support we're getting around the world in the war on terrorism. But I'll say again, we care deeply about the loss of life, unlike the people who on September 11th went to great pains to kill thousands of innocent people.

I'll take one more question, then turn it over to the admiral.

Q: Torie, when the thousand-pound bomb was dropped, was there intelligence that said that was a senior citizens home 300 feet away?

Clarke: I don't know what the intelligence said, and I probably wouldn't be saying it from this podium, anyhow. But the target clearly was a vehicle storage building in an army barracks area.

So, Jonathan, let me take that later if you need, but I'll turn this over to the admiral.

Stufflebeem: Good afternoon. Let me give you a brief recap of yesterday, and then we can get back into answering more of your questions.

Well, yesterday we entered the third week of operations against the Taliban and al Qaeda network in Afghanistan. Yesterday we struck 11 planned target areas, and those included airfields, radar, Taliban forces, which includes armor, vehicles and buildings, and those include targets that are in garrison and deployed; lines of communication, military training facilities, and striking targets of opportunity in a few engagement zones. The CINC used about 80 strike aircraft. About 60 of those were carrier-based tactical jets. About 10 land-based tactical aircraft were used, and that includes AC-130s, and about 10 long-range bombers were part of the strikes.

We also flew four C-17 missions in support of humanitarian relief to people in Afghanistan. They delivered approximately 57,000 humanitarian daily rations. And that now takes our total to up over three-quarters of a million. Yesterday we also assisted USAID in delivering 30,000 blankets to Islamabad.

Today we have one set of pre-strike and post-strike images to show you from Sunday: a bunker and communications complex near Kabul. This is used to store ammunition and equipment and is also a Taliban communications station. In the post-strike image, you can note that a portion of the bunker and entrances are collapsed.

We've also got three gun camera clips from yesterday's operations. The first two clips highlight our efforts to attrite Taliban V Corps in the north, near Mazar-e Sharif. The first hits show on a Taliban command post, eliminating key parts of the command and control that helps us limit their ability to run ground operations against the Northern Alliance. The second clip shows a direct hit on the Taliban V Corps, in this case a tank in a defensive position in a wadi. The third clip is from southern Afghanistan near Kandahar and shows an armored vehicle from the Taliban's I Corps. You'll note that the first weapon either misses or skips off the vehicle without exploding, but the second weapon detonates on impact.

And with that, I'll take your questions. Charlie?

Q: Admiral, that's interesting, what you said about the V Corps. Are you making any progress? Is the V Corps gathered tightly? Are you making any progress in destroying it, being kind of the heart and soul of the Taliban? And is the Northern Alliance taking advantage in any way of these direct strikes on the Taliban front line? Do you see any progress at all by the Northern Alliance toward Mazar-e Sharif or Kabul?

Stufflebeem: Well, we are seeing advances, I guess, in our strikes.

And this is just by some small pieces of evidence as we hit those military -- either pieces of our hardware or command posts. And so we know that that's having an effect and an impact on the corps. Whether or not that is having a direct impact into the Northern Alliance movement is not yet clear, certainly not to me.

Q: And how about the damage to the V Corps?

Stufflebeem: Well, we know we're attriting elements of the V Corps, and so their effectiveness, we know, is being degraded. To what degree, we don't know.

Q: Admiral?

Stufflebeem: Yes, sir?

Q: Going back to the raging battle, apparently, between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance at the airport at Mazar-e Sharif, because of the airstrikes now on the Taliban directly, are they hunkered down -- to follow upon Charlie's question? And is the Northern Alliance -- are their troops advancing on the airport, and have they captured the airport, or are they close? What can you tell us about that?

Stufflebeem: I don't know the current state of the battle that's going on at the airport. I feel confident to say that we are still watching a battle that is moving back and forth. And if you listen to Taliban reports, I think they will claim to continue to have the upper hand and that they're not taking the hits that we know they are. I think the Northern Alliance has also made allowances or overtures that they wish that we had more to apply to them in a particular area at a particular moment. But we know it's also having a positive effect.

You heard the secretary yesterday in his hopes for what the Northern Alliance would intend to do, and we know that we are positively helping that. But that particular time line or their particular objectives of when to move is not necessarily clear or open or even meshed with ours.

Q: Part of my question, do you get indications that the

Taliban forces around Mazar-e Sharif are hunkered down now? Are they dispersing? Can you tell us anything about that?

Stufflebeem: You know, I really don't know. I know that they hunker down when an aircraft is overhead. I don't know what they're doing if an aircraft is not overhead.

Q: Members of the Northern Alliance, while not blaming

anyone, said that some of their positions were mistakenly bombed, or they believed were mistakenly bombed, in recent days. Do you have anything on that?

Stufflebeem: I have no reports, Jamie, that we have inadvertently struck their positions. But it's a tight line. They're in artillery range one of another. That's close. And that means that we've got to be very precise in where we're putting our ordnance down. And I would tell you that our pilots are positively identifying their targets before doing that. If, in fact, there may be weapons that are landing close to the Northern Alliance, then I would suspect that's where they're hunkered down.

Q: Are you getting -- particularly in situations like that, what kind of targeting advice, counsel, instructions, information are you getting from Northern Alliance troops on the ground? I mean, it would be helpful to have a ground FAC there, I guess, to make it even more precise.

Stufflebeem: Well, your second observation is absolutely correct. But you're getting into an all-source intelligence capability that we have, and I don't want to get into that.

Q: Admiral, can you give us any kind of a tally to date on the types of targets and the numbers of targets that have been hit in terms of terrorist camps and Taliban military units?

Do you have any kind of a tally of that?

Stufflebeem: I can tell you that we have struck all of the terrorist training camps that we are aware of. I can't tell you that I know what a number is, and I think that you can appreciate that if al Qaeda has an ability to train, they will try to make or find a camp that they can use. There aren't going to be any camps that we're going to allow them to use, and when we find them, we'll strike them.

I think that to get sort of down into the details of the exact numbers of how many there have been and how many there are are not nearly as important as the larger perspective of the campaign, that we're going after al Qaeda in its entirety. So wherever we find it and whatever evidence we have that there are training camps, we're going to attack it.

Q: How about the Taliban? Can you assess what kind of damage over the three weeks so far that they've sustained?

Stufflebeem: In terms of things, in terms of aircraft, in terms of pieces of air defense -- air defense assets, we are keeping track as best we can from what we knew that they had operational or how much they might still have. We're not going to allow ourselves to become confident in the air and not maintain our prudence that they still have some capability that they couldn't use somewhere that we just hadn't planned on. But we know that in the majority, their air defense capability is gone. Their country-wide command-and-control capability is gone. They have got to be feeling, from my opinion, quite a bit of stress at not being able to do what they thought they would be able to do.

Q: Admiral, in some of the gun-camera footage we've seen over that last few days, there's been several examples lone tanks being hit in what I assume are engagement zones. Can you say whether or not there have been strikes against massed forces, or has this really become a tank here, a tank there? And how do you know whether these tanks are even operational? Are they moving? Are they --

Stufflebeem: Well, there's all kinds of ways to know if they're operational or not. Obviously, if a tank was not in a wadi the day before where it was yesterday, then we know how it got there.

Q: But in terms of like armored forces that are massed, where you're hitting more than one tank in a single strike.

Stufflebeem: We're not finding evidence that they are trying to amass firepower.

I think that they're learning from this campaign that we have a tremendous lethality in going after their military articles. And therefore, I think we are seeing that they are trying to disperse them to save them. I am seeing anecdotal reports that they are considering using neighborhoods and mosques and other areas where they can try to hide or get in the close proximity of to try to salvage some of their capability.

Q: Yesterday General Myers was saying the Taliban is trying to reinforce their units using trucks, since all the aircraft have been taken out. Have they been successful in doing this, and are you taking out their trucks as well?

Stufflebeem: Well, I would say that we are systematically working on what we find. I wouldn't comment on what we're doing today, but you notice that one of the planned target sets was a line of communication or lines of communication. Lines of communication, to a strike fighter pilot, means an area probably to be used as a road, road transportation, trucks, and so those are the kinds of things that I, as a strike fighter pilot, would go after in a line of communication.

Q: I'm asking specifically about reinforcements. Have they reinforced their lines anywhere in the North, anywhere else?

Stufflebeem: I don't know if they have reinforced their lines. I am hearing anecdotal reports that they want to do that. But I think that we have -- are doing a good job of making that difficult.

Q: Admiral, have you seen -- what do you know about -- that you can share with us about the Taliban's supply -- resupply capabilities? They have to have food. They have to have fuel. What is the situation? And they have to have ammunition.

They were reliant on Pakistan for a lot of their wheat and for their fuel imports. That border is closed. Can you talk about -- are they getting resupply, or are you -- have you fairly seriously dented their ability to resupply?

Stufflebeem: Well, I'm not going to characterize that we have somehow taken all of that away. We have to assume that they are able to resupply.

But I've seen a couple pieces of anecdotal information which I would say, in my mind, sort of set a little bit of the tone to help answer your question. One is that the Taliban have taken over some Red Cross warehouses of foodstuffs. They're denying that to the people who need it. I make an assumption that they're keeping that for themselves, because they don't have an ability to resupply easily.

We have targeted their petroleum facilities that they would count on or were counting on for resupply of their armored vehicles. But the fact that their armored vehicles are still moving tells me this is going to be a very long and slow process.

Q: You've said that you're targeting --

Q: Admiral, the U.N. has expressed concern that more airstrikes are going into residential areas around Kabul, and they say that that's in part because the Taliban are dispersing their forces in those residential areas.

Have there been more airstrikes in residential areas around Kabul? Are you seeing Taliban forces move into those areas, and are you striking them in those areas?

Stufflebeem: Probably the cleanest way to answer that in all three parts is no. And let me go back and parse that out just a little bit.

We are not going into the cities to attack the cities. What hits that may have occurred in residential areas are rare mistakes -- or rare errors is probably more appropriate. When we do go into Kabul, as we have done, we're going after a very specific military target, Taliban target, and we're using very precise ways to get at it. So the only way that we would not be hitting that target is through some sort of a system error or a weapon error, or maybe even an atmospheric.

There is not an intention to open or widen attacks into cities. We will find other ways, as the chairman has said, using the full-spectrum capability of our military to get at those who might cowardly decide to hide in residential neighborhoods.

Q: Admiral, are you seeing that happen? Are you seeing that phenomenon now? You said they're learning from their mistakes. Are they moving more into residential areas? And are you taking fire from residential areas?

Stufflebeem: Well, we know they're not using the compounds that they have used for garrisons. And we have brought you some visual evidence about how we're systematically taking those away. So they are trying to find places that they can go to husband their assets -- or to protect their vehicles.

Give me the second part of your question again.

Q: Well, are they then using that -- that they are going into -- do I take that to mean you are seeing evidence they are moving into residential areas, then?

Stufflebeem: I would say I'm hearing anecdotal reports that they're going in --

Q: Okay. And do you give thos reports credence?

Stufflebeem: I'm sorry.

Q: Do you give those reports credence? Do you believe those are reliable reports?

Stufflebeem: I personally believe that the Taliban will use whatever means they have, including the people of Afghanistan, to shield their capability, yes.

Q: Are you taking fire from those areas? Have they moved their capabilities into the residential areas, and are they now directing fire?

Stufflebeem: I've not seen any reports that any of our aircraft have been taking fire from within the residential areas.

Q: Admiral, in recent days you've struck at caves or bunkers of the Taliban or of al Qaeda. Do you have any idea how many of them there are and what -- if, in fact, you have struck at them, what capabilities have you been using to do so?

Stufflebeem: Well, caves are clearly in target sets, and because that's where al Qaeda has traditionally hidden. The numbers I don't think are known to anyone on this earth. There are hundreds if not thousands of caves. We're using all kinds of weapons available in our arsenal. And we're not going to get into specifics of what particular weapon and on a particular target is necessarily the best, if that's what you were asking.

Q: Well, you did say that you've used bunker-busters in the past, the bunker-busters. Are you using AGM-130s as well?

Stufflebeem: We're using every weapon that's available to us in the inventory.

Q: Admiral, could you clear up just one thing about this -- the helicopter that had its landing gear clipped, MH-47? How many troops were on board at the time, and was this the most significant damage to any of the U.S. forces during that raid?

Stufflebeem: I don't know how many were on board the aircraft when that aircraft hit something. I'll tell you, though -- let me give you a little bit of a cockpit perspective of that.

I've had an opportunity to train with special operating forces and have been in a 47 at nighttime on goggles, lifting out of a "hot zone", as it's called. And when you load the troops that you're supposed to have and you lift, you're going to fly in as low and as fast as you can possibly get out of there. Ms. Clarke referenced an experience that I had, which was I thought we'd hit something as I sat as a passenger; no one else seemed to notice. But when we landed back at our home pad and got out, the undercarriage was full of treetop [brush]. In this case it would seem evident that this particular H-47 clipped a wall or something on his left, and it knocked off a wheel. It did not knock the aircraft down. The aircraft and all of the soldiers were safely lifted out. And I think that the way to characterize the most significant damage that we have experienced would be the aircraft mishap -- mishap -- that occurred in Pakistan, where we had lost that aircraft.

Q: Well, I guess what I'm just trying to get at is people may wonder why, since this came up in yesterday's briefing, why it took so long for the information to get out from the secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Stufflebeem: Well, it's not a perfect system. And it's unfortunate that we didn't bring that information forward to the secretary so he had that at his fingertips. I think that when I put myself in those commanders' positions down there, they are very concerned about their operations, and at that time they're very concerned about getting the troops out after an operation.

And probably the last thing that's on their minds is what amounts to somewhat of an irregular, but not uncommon, air event that occurred with that. The fact that I was in a helicopter that managed to clip some treetops wasn't intentional, certainly, and it didn't cause any particular damage. But it's part of the hazard of that kind of business, and I think that this is just another one as that.

So I think that the significance of that is really pretty far down in terms of the chain below. I suspect now that there's a sensitivity to make sure the secretary is armed to be able to answer the questions.

Q: At a news conference in London today, the British defense minister, Geoffrey Hoon, said that we -- meaning the U.S. and the Brits -- destroyed all nine al Qaeda terrorist camps in Pakistan (sic). Whether the number is eight, 10, nine, do you know if in fact coalition attacks destroyed all of the al Qaeda terrorist camps in Afghanistan?

Stufflebeem: I know that the coalition has struck all of the known al Qaeda camps. I personally do not know what that number is.

I would go on to say that I think that the finite number is relatively unimportant. Whether it was nine or eight or 10 is not as significant as the fact that there were camps that we knew of; they were struck. If al Qaeda were to ever raise their head to train again, we will try to find those camps and strike those camps. I don't think that it is something that we can feel comfortable that we struck camps and therefore the problem is over. For as long as al Qaeda has a capability to put terrorists on this Earth, they will find a place to train. Our job will be to go after and find those and take them away.

Q: Admiral, the defense minister also said that the British were very close to making a decision on whether to commit their ground troops to the war on terrorism in Afghanistan. Does the Pentagon have any idea how they might use British ground troops in the current conflict inside Afghanistan?

Stufflebeem: I have no first-hand knowledge of how the coalition would work in the other countries who wish to and will participate. I think we probably would do better to get back to you once we've solidified that.

Q: Admiral, on this podium last week, it was said that at least 2,000 bombs and missiles have been used in the campaign. Could you update that number for us at a minimum on how many bombs or missiles have been used?

Q: Just a round number?

Q: A round number, as a --

Stufflebeem: Charlie, let us take the question and get you a good answer.

You have to understand that at least in what it is that I do, I'm not very much focused on these finite numbers. I am much more interested in the effects that we wish to have and the campaign that would get us to those effects. And so I just don't actually track those numbers down. So please let us take that, and when we can provide it to you, we'll get it back to you. [More than 3,000]

Q: Can you follow up on that question I asked Torie -- other incidents or a general description of the experiences of taking small arms fire around the region, as your helicopters move around? She indicated you could provide further information on that.

Stufflebeem: I can talk about small arms fire, but Barbara, give me a little bit more about the question.

Q: Well, you know what the helicopter in -- when it went back to retrieve, it took some small arms fire in the region. And we have heard reports that there have been similar incidents around the region, that forces are operating -- not that your aircraft have taken fire, but that you've had other incidents of taking perhaps small-arms ground fire as your helicopter forces have moved in and out. And if I understood Torie, you perhaps had other indications of that.

Stufflebeem: Well, we do know that we have been fired upon. We have pilot reports who come back and have described -- and many of you have seen the reports as well, that have come off the aircraft carriers and from the bomber crews, of what they experienced and what they saw.

This incident in Pakistan is a little bit different, in the sense that this was an administrative -- I'll call it "administrative" because there's not a war zone left. This was a larger helicopter sling-loading a smaller, disabled helicopter within a country that is supporting the United States. There was some confusion -- apparently, a lot of confusion on the ground. We don't know where the firing -- or, I should say, we don't know who was firing on our forces. We returned fire to stop it. The mission commander called an abort to the mission, which was to refuel, and just collected everybody out and left. We feel very confident that the Pakistanis will take control and that we'll be able to go back and recover the aircraft that was lost in a mishap.

Now the other part of your question is one that I have to tell you, as a pilot, is a supposition. I would never fly into a hostile environment and assume that I wasn't being shot at by small arms or MANPADS. I am assuming that I am being fired at when I'm there, and therefore I'm going to fly in the smartest way I can to avoid that.

Whether I actually observe that or not depends on a lot of things, but probably mostly luck, because I'm going to be very focused on my target and not so much on what else is happening around me.

Q: Have you had other incidents of small arms fire in Pakistan as you have moved in and out, or except for Afghanistan, other countries in the region where you may be operating?

Stufflebeem: This report in Pakistan is the only report I've seen of us taking small arms fire.

Q: I have a question about the pace of the campaign and what impact weather is having -- anticipation of bad weather is having on the planning considerations. One, in particular, laser-guided bombs get degraded by atmosphere, as you alluded to, and electro-optical sensors can't see through clouds. How is that going to -- how is that planning complicated -- or, the weather complicating the pace of operations and what you want to accomplish before the onset of bad weather?

Stufflebeem: Well, if it was a perfect world, we'd like to wrap this up before the bad weather moved in. We don't think that that's realistic.

We are an all-weather-capable force. We have weapons that will work in some kinds of good weather, and some that will work in all kinds of weather. So the planners will adapt to whatever the conditions are at the time to be able to put the most effective weapon on the target so we can identify.

Q: Precision is key here because you -- as you can see here, one or two bombs going awry is causing international episodes. JDAM bombs have a, you know, 90 feet error of probability, whereas laser- guided bombs are more effective and more precise. Are you concerned that as you move into -- if you use less laser-guided weapons you're going to be hitting more civilian targets, actually, that way?

Stufflebeem: Well, the one thing that you have to know about Afghanistan is that even as the winter comes on, it's not going to be overcast and full of snow throughout the entire country, throughout -- for the entire period of the winter. There are going to be good flying days. There are going to be days where it's not so good, and for those days that we have targets that we can identify, we'll mix it with the appropriate weapon.

Now, I can assure you and would assure anyone who would ever have a concern there will never be an indiscriminate way of targeting, and that collateral damage is always going to be considered. So if any particular weapon is not the one that would give us a comfortability in respect to collateral damage, then we'll move to one that does give us that.

Q: Can you talk to us about the psychological operations part of this? Are you seeing any effect at all from the Commando Solo broadcasts in terms of getting Taliban to lay down their arms, or getting people who live in these areas to rise up against them? And have those broadcasts changed?

Are you still broadcasting the radio messages that we heard, or are there -- I understand during the Bosnia and Kosovo operations there were regular programs, news programs, that you did in addition to the more propaganda kind of things that we've read in terms of encouraging people to give up.

Stufflebeem: The last part of your question, I'll have to ask if we can take that. I don't know what we're broadcasting. Commando Solo is continuing to fly and to pass messages. [There is other programming, to include local music, played during the broadcasts.]

We are hearing anecdotal reports that there are still defections, that there are still those who are changing sides. I think that you are reporting, or at least members of the press are reporting, those who may have changed sides between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban forces across from them. And that, as the secretary has alluded before, is sort of the ilk of this area. You know, Afghanistan is not so much a country as it is a frame of mind. These are tribes, and the tribes and their leaders have allegiances that, one, allow them to survive and to be able to flourish. And so I think that when they are getting the message through these radios, when they're getting the leaflets, or when they're seeing that the tactical advantage is moving against them, they'll do what they need to do to survive. And therefore, I think that -- I'll use that as anecdotal. We're not keeping any kind of a tally on that one.

Q: Admiral, given that the Pentagon has said it's targeting Taliban and al Qaeda forces, and given that there's been an increasing emphasis on troops at or near the frontlines, do you believe that there are al Qaeda fighters among the Taliban positions on the frontlines? And if so, in any significant numbers?

Stufflebeem: I, personally, believe there are al Qaeda fighters. I believe that because there has been an arrangement that is well known within Afghanistan between Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar for some time. They are mutually supportive. I'd be surprised if one can survive without the other. To believe that Afghan foreigners can come to the country and train and not fight, just doesn't seem credible.

So we believe that al Qaeda do have fighters that are with the Taliban. We're not keeping a particular score of how many have we accounted for. That's not a tactic were interested in. We're interested in destroying al Qaeda, we're interested in making the Taliban give up their support of al Qaeda, and we're interested in getting at weapons of mass destruction that can be made available to terrorists worldwide.

Q: Isn't the heart of the Fifth Corps al Qaeda? Aren't most of those people in the Fifth Corps al Qaeda?

Stufflebeem: I'm sorry, I think what you're referring to is the 55th brigade.

Q: I'm sorry. The 55th brigade.

Stufflebeem: Right. And I've not heard it specifically attributed to the Fifth Corps.

Q: Fifty-five -- you mean the 55th brigade.

Clarke: One more question.

Stufflebeem: One more question.

Q: Admiral. Admiral. You spoke earlier about the possibility of Taliban forces hiding in the cities, hiding in mosques, et cetera. And you referred to the wide spectrum of resources that would be available if that eventuality occurs. Are you talking, sir, about the use of ground forces, since anything from the air would be more indiscriminate?

Stufflebeem: I'm talking about our full-spectrum capability.

Q: But can you elaborate on that at all?

Stufflebeem: I would say that there will not be any elements of coalition capability that will be disregarded. Everything will be considered. And the best possible or most effective way to be able to root out this military will be done. If it is done with all of it, which includes air power and ground power, I can't imagine that it wouldn't be considered.

Have a good afternoon. Thank you.

Q: Thank you.


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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).