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Enduring Freedom Operational Update: Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Enduring Freedom Operational Update: Wednesday, October 31, 2001

DoD News Briefing: Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem, Joint Staff, Wednesday, October 31, 2001 - 1:30 p.m. EST. Slides and videos shown in this briefing are on the Web. Source: News Transcript from the United States Department of Defense.

Yesterday we continued operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban. The focus of the operational efforts included targets involving terrorists in Taliban command and control locations, including bunkers and tunnels, as well as airfield facilities and Taliban military forces that support the opposition forces. Did I say that right? (Chuckles.)

And our efforts involve strikes in 20 planned target areas, as well as against targets in several engagement zones. We used about 70 strike aircraft, of which about 55 are carrier-based tactical jets, between four to six were land-based tactical jets, and between five and seven long-range bombers.

We dropped leaflets in the North and West and continued our Commando Solo broadcast missions.

I should mention that the number of planes that I've been providing to you is really just a portion of the actual number of planes that have been flying in support of the operation. We have other aircraft that fly intelligence missions, as well as tankers and support aircraft.

Last night we achieved a major milestone with our humanitarian daily rations airdrops. Two C-17s delivered more than 34,000 HDRs, which brought the total number of HDRs to more than 1 million. To recap our humanitarian effort to date, we've flown 61 aircraft sorties -- that's accounted for over 400,000 air miles. By somebody's math, that's 16 circumnavigations of the globe.

I have one set of images for you today. The image depicts our continuing efforts to wipe out the al Qaeda network. This is in a location called the Tarnak Farms, located near Kandahar. It's one of the major al Qaeda training camps funded by Osama bin Laden. Al Qaeda used to use this facility to train terrorist and small-unit combat operations.

As you can see from the second image, much of the facility has been damaged or destroyed. This has been over the course of the last couple of weeks.

Today we also have -

Q: (Off mike.)

Stufflebeem: I'm sorry?

Q: Where is that located?

Stufflebeem: Near Kandahar.

(We) also have three videos for you today. All three are from F- 14 and F-18 aircraft in operations conducted over the last two days. The first one is from near Mazar-e Sharif. It shows a strike on a group of dispersed armored vehicles of the Taliban military outside of Mazar-e Sharif. These vehicles are dispersed along a ridge line -- were dispersed along a ridge line facing the opposition, the Northern Alliance. And as you can see, the vehicles were destroyed.

The next ones are both near Kandahar. They're strikes in engagement zones on armored vehicles of the Taliban military forces south of Kandahar.

Both videos show direct hits on the armored vehicles attempting to find cover in a series of revetments. And as you can see, these vehicles will be destroyed.

And with that, I'll take your questions.


Q: Admiral, of all the strikes south of Mazar-e Sharif -- the airstrikes on the Taliban positions, have they all involved precision-guided weapons? Or have the B-52s started to drop strings of 500-pound unguided bombs -- colloquially "carpet bombing" -- now that you have better information on where these divisions are.

Stufflebeem: I'm not sure if it's -- if it's necessary to get into specific mission by mission, but it is -- it is fair to say that we're using both precision and non-precision weapons while attacking Taliban forces -- you know, while they're deployed.

Q: Could use deterrent carpet bombing and the strings of the unguided bombs against those positions around Mazar-e Sharif?

Stufflebeem: I'm familiar with the term "carpet bombing." I think it's an inaccurate term. It's an old -- an old expression. Heavy bombers have the capacity to carry large loads of weapons, and oftentimes if a target presents itself either in an engagement zone, or when directed, it's possible to release an entire load of bombs at once, in which case -- the real formal term for that is called a "long stick," which has also been called carpet bombing.

Q: Are you doing that -- (scattered chuckles) -- south of Mazar-e Sharif?

Stufflebeem: We -- that is part of our campaign. It is part of our capability, and we'll -- we do use it and have used it, and we'll use it when we need to.

Q: Admiral, first of all, a procedural question: Why do you continue to brief four to six land based, and five to seven bombers? I mean, what's the difference between four, five or six, or five, six and seven? Why can't you be explicit?

And the other thing is, with the special forces on the ground the secretary talked about yesterday in modest numbers, can you identify those? Are they Green Berets for the most part? And are the FACs Air Force FACs?

Stufflebeem: To your first question: The point of making them an inaccurate number is really for that purpose. It's just hard for us to understand the specifics of knowing exactly what number of aircraft participated. And I'll give you an example of why we don't think that's necessarily important. When an air wing is fragged onto the mission to fly from an aircraft carrier, for instance, they would intend to launch a number of sorties. As the aircraft get airborne, they may have system malfunctions and decide that that aircraft should not go "over the beach," as we term it, and go to a target. So with an intent of what number of aircraft you may want to use to hit targets, as opposed to what number of aircraft actually participated, it's a variable.

So it gives you the range of about the level of effort, and that's kind of what we're trying to portray here is what the level of effort is rather than just the specifics.

To your second question, I do not want to characterize what service or specialty of those liaison forces on the ground. There may be a time that it's appropriate, but for the time being now, they are U.S. forces.

Q: One follow-up? The secretary talked about air-dropping ammo, and he implied that weapons would soon be air-dropped, if not already are supplied. Are you dropping new weapons, and are you training the Northern Alliance in the use of these weapons that they did not have before?

Stufflebeem: I don't have any reports that would tell me that we're dropping weapons or training them in weapons. I believe what we're providing is what they have asked for, and what I have seen that they've asked for are supplies, to include ammunition.

Q: Admiral? May I follow up a little bit on Charlie's question? Witnesses in Afghanistan are saying that this is the heaviest bombing that they've seen of the troops' positions. Is it fair to say in the last 48 hours, B-52s have flown in and are using a larger number of anti-personnel weapons against them? Or can you characterize it at all in terms of now picking it up since you now have the U.S. liaison forces directing it?

Stufflebeem: I won't go into specifics. What I will say is all of our capability, which includes long-range, heavy bombers that have the capacity to carry large loads, as well as tactical aircraft, are all being utilized and they're all being considered. And we are applying the strikes and the power, if you will, against good targets, against known targets. If the targets are large or wide-spread, then it would seem logical that we might find large bombers with large loads that are capable of attacking it just as effectively as a number of smaller tactical jets. So it's not an implication as much as it is an application. And if, for instance, there are a number of engagement zones to man and to look for emerging targets, and therefore aircraft are apportioned into that, what do you have left that is maximizing your effectiveness? And so we move them and use them for that reason.

Q: And following up on that, the large targets you were talking about would presumably be a large group of troops, for instance?

Stufflebeem: Well, so are training camps. That's a large target area. So are columns of trucks, as they may be trying to resupply. So large groups of troops are one of those kinds of good targets.

Q: The support aircraft that you mentioned earlier in your statement, can you give us any idea of how many of those support flights are going on? What is it -- you know, the bombers and the fighters get all the glory, so to speak, but what does it take to get 70 strike aircraft over Afghanistan in any given day?

Stufflebeem: I don't know specific numbers. I know from my professional background it takes a number of tankers to be able to refuel all of the aircraft that are going to come from carriers and from land-based to be able to get in. These are long missions. I've seen reports that some aircrews are flying missions in durations of 10 to 13 hours. And any aircraft that's going to spend that much time airborne, either loitering or in distance travel, is going to need fuel.

So my sense is, is that we have a good number; a good number could be 10 to 12 for an evening event. Again, I'm giving it to you as a representation, I just don't have specific numbers.

In terms of the other support aircraft -- and I wouldn't necessarily call them all support aircraft as much as they are supporting the effort. Every one of them, as you point out, is integral to what we need them for, including intelligence gathering.

Q: Admiral, could you kindly explain to us how you choose the videos you show us here every day? Who makes the decision on which video to disclose to the public, and on what criteria? And what kinds of videos would you never want to show here?


Stufflebeem: I honestly don't know. I think Central Command picks the videos.

(To staff) Do we know?

Staff: They come up here and -- (off mike) -- look at them. But, you know, we don't see very single camera.

Stufflebeem: We are offered a number of representative video clips that come back from the Central Command -- obviously not all of them. I don't think there isn't any that we would want to show you, unless we just can't find a target that you can identify as a target. If it just looks like nothing but ground to us, it's really sort of ineffective and, therefore, it wouldn't serve our purposes to show it.

Q: How many videos are you receiving every day, for instance? How many videos?

Stufflebeem: I'm sorry, I just -- I don't know. Let us take that question, and if we can find out, we'll get back to you.

Q: Admiral, what's the rationale for not saying where the B- 52s hit Tuesday, because we're getting reports from eye-witnesses they hit, I mean, the bad guys know where you hit. What's the big secret?

Stufflebeem: We're talking in terms of specific weapons or a weapon system applied against specific targets. It's one thing to have seen one fly overhead, if you're on the ground, and watch what the result may be; it's another thing to broadcast an intention of a type of a target or a type of a tactic, and a specific weapon system or platform that is optimized against that.

If there is an air defense capability left, we prudently want to avoid broadcasting what those intentions would be.

Q: That would make sense before the raid, but this is after the bombs have landed, the raid is all over, people are going and looking at the damage. I don't quite get your explanation.

Stufflebeem: Well, let me turn it around on you a little bit, then. What specifically are you asking about in terms of the B- 52?

Q: Is it true that the B-52s bombed extensively north of Kabul, and they were concentrated on a ridge there to hit Taliban forces near the road to Kabul? That's what the reports out of Afghanistan say. So what's the big secret?

Stufflebeem: Well, I'll honestly tell you I don't think there is a big secret. I also don't specifically know which target the B-52s went after. I have also seen video images -- I think it was from Al-Jazeera -- that what would look like to be obviously B-52s may have struck. The B-52s are being utilized in areas all over the country, including on Taliban forces in the North.

Q: What we're trying to get here, I think, is a sense of newness or novelty in terms of the use of the B-52. In the last two or three days, as part of strategy, have B-52s been concentrated on Taliban forces in the North more so than they had been in the last month? I think that's the thrust of the questioning here, the newness value.

Stufflebeem: It's not limited to the B-52. And it's not a newness in the sense that I perceive your question.

Q: In the last couple days or so, yeah.

Stufflebeem: The secretary articulated yesterday that we have shifted the focus of a majority of our strikes to those Taliban forces arrayed against the Northern Alliance, against opposition forces. And we're using all the elements of our capability in that. And historically speaking, that has included B-52s.

I wouldn't want -- it would be incorrect to try to characterize to you that we've now had a shift in a campaign strategy and therefore it means that in this case a B-52 is being specifically applied for that reason. We're using tactical jet aircraft, land-based and carrier-based, doing the same missions. So we're applying a concentration of firepower into an area because there are good targets there, just as we'll use that concentration of firepower on other targets, like training camps.

Q: Admiral, any sign of the much anticipated Northern Alliance offensive that we've all been talking about for the last three or four or five days? Any sign of that?

Stufflebeem: I've not seen any reports that say that in the last 24 hours that there has been a major push.

Q: Admiral, are U.S. forces on the ground assisting Northern Alliance troops in their insurgency operation in Afghanistan? Their insurgency operation. Are troops on the ground assistance Northern Alliance troops in their insurgency operation?

Stufflebeem: We're providing liaison assistance. It is there to help coordinate for the request that they have asked for. If you're asking in terms of their military tactics or military objectives, no. They're there to assist in the air strikes for the benefit of our campaign, and it happens to be in their location, and to provide them assistance in getting them the supplies they've requested.

Q: Admiral? At a news conference earlier today at the National Press Club, Haron Amin, the spokesman for the National Alliance here in Washington, said that earlier this month, the Alliance had shared information with the coalition about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and that he specifically had been seen in the province of Oruzgan, north of Kandahar. I'm wondering, can you confirm this information? And if you can, what did we do with this information?

Stufflebeem: I cannot confirm that information. I've not heard that. I've seen many reports over the last numbers of days, I haven't counted it, of where people attribute Osama bin Laden either was or may have been, but I've not specifically heard that report.

Q: Was it north -- were those reports north of Kandahar? The reports that you've seen --

Stufflebeem: They've consistently been --

Q: -- did they put him north of Kandahar?

Stufflebeem: Yeah. Consistently they've been Kabul, Kandahar area.

Q: Admiral? I'd like to ask you a question about the central part of Afghanistan, the most mountainous part. I'm told that there's a large number of al Qaeda and Taliban people there, but yet every day when we see the location of these strikes, they all seem to be outside or along the -- close to the borders. Is there some reason why the military is not hitting targets in the central mountains of Afghanistan?

Stufflebeem: That information that you have is counter to what I understand. The heavily -- or the severe mountain area of Afghanistan is so harsh and inhospitable, it doesn't appear to us that it is a stronghold of either forces, and that most of the forces and certainly most if not all the fighting is occurring from below. We are going after where the known targets are. And I don't have any information that there are concentrations in the high mountains that we would or could target.

Q: Back to the tunnels and the caves. For about the last 10 days, you've always included that in what it is the U.S. is striking, yet we have not seen a single image of one of these being attacked. Is there a reason why we're not seeing these?

Stufflebeem: They're difficult to see. From a cockpit perspective, a cave looks like nothing more than a shadow on the ground. If we had a coordinates for that -- as a pilot speaking, I would have the coordinates for a particular cave if an individual cave was given to me as a target. I'll slue my weapons systems cursors over that, and it may look like just a small black dot.

Q: (Off mike) -- gun camera.

Stufflebeem: Well, a gun camera can be a little bit deceiving. And I think that you may, as I have, had times looking at the gun camera imagery, and is that really a tank that I see, or is it some other kind of a vehicle? I'm not sure. A cave is even more difficult to discern than that, and therefore it just doesn't make a very good visual image. If we have some good images -- or, let me put it this way. All of the best images of caves that I have seen have been still photography, not video gun cameras.

Q: What about misses, of which there has been a paucity during this campaign of you giving us anything that approaches a miss? Why?

Stufflebeem: Well, first of all, the misses have been rare. In the cases of weapons that are not precision-guided, there is not imagery that supports where those weapons have gone. And thirdly, we're bringing a representation of the great number of positive hits. It strikes us that that is considerably reinforcing how our campaign is, in fact, being executed, not with the negative kind of imagery.

We're got time for two more questions.

Q: We've -- Admiral, we've heard from here that you're not in the business of body counts. But can you at least give us a general sense -- we've heard a lot about civilian casualties. We haven't heard a lot about the Taliban forces. Now, if you have a number of how many forces you think they had in the beginning, you must have some sense of what they have now. Can you shed some light on that without getting into details, how much -- how many of those forces you've struck?

Stufflebeem: I understand your question, but the Taliban is not broadcasting what their casualties are that I'm aware of. We know they had between 50,000-60,000 that they considered troops before this started. I think that because of the lines -- because the lines of communication that have been cut, their inability to communicate, they probably don't have a very good idea as well. And if they did have a good idea, it just may not be readily apparent to us or even to themselves.

One more question. We'll go back over here.

Q: I just wanted to follow up on the command and control issue you just mentioned. Is it your sense that their command and control is basically severed and that now they're down to a bunch of individual groups, or do they still have some form of centralized control over the forces, particularly Mazar-e Sharif, from Kabul or Kandahar, or somewhat like that?

Stufflebeem: I can say that their command and control has been cut, severely degraded. They're having extreme difficulty communicating one to another. Mullah Omar is still their leader, their commander. They are still attempting to be able to communicate with Mullah Omar. They are also trying to be resupplied and reinforced, and they're having difficulties in all of that. We believe that that puts a terrific amount of stress on their military capability as their regional commanders, who have been used to a lot of top-down control, may not be getting that now. I don't have firsthand information to characterize to what degree it's been degraded, but we certainly have many reports that are indicating that they're under severe stress from that.

Q: Admiral?

Stufflebeem: I've got to make another conference. Thank you all very much. Have a good afternoon.

Q: (Off mike) -- can you give us a minimum number of the bombings? (No response.)

Stufflebeem: See you tomorrow.


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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).