Text: Pentagon Briefing with Stufflebeam and Clarke
Thursday, Nov. 28, 2001
Following is the text of a Pentagon briefing with Adm. Stufflebeam and spokesperson Victoria Clarke on the war in Afghanistan.
CLARKE: Good afternoon. Let me start with a few announcements and a couple of things.
Today, at 2pm, members of the technology support working group will be here to discuss their mission and how they identify, prioritize and coordinate interagency and international research and development requirements for combating terrorism.
Tomorrow, at 2pm, General Kadish, director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, will brief on the upcoming integrated flight test, IFT 7, which is scheduled to take place this Saturday, December 1st.
A couple of things I want to address up front. There have been reports of a massacre of 160 prisoners by opposition forces. We have worked really hard to run this one to ground, and the reports are just not believable. A U.S. liaison team is on the ground with opposition forces in the area. The team has not reported the capture of more than a handful of prisoners. Additionally, the team has not reported any information about improper treatment of prisoners and would certainly do so if they had witnessed that or learned of these sorts of deaths.
In fact, the opposition forces have taken a few prisoners, and reports that we have are that those prisoners are being treated properly.
Moving something closer to home here, we would like to extend our sympathies to the family of Mike Span, the American who died in Afghanistan. And if you haven't read CIA Director George Tenet's statement, I commend it to you. Mr. Span is just one example of the amazing men and women every day. And they're risking their lives in Afghanistan in defense of the freedoms we treasure so much here at home.
And that leads me to the second point, yesterday, Secretary Rumsfeld met with a fascinating group of religious leaders here in the Pentagon. And they talked about a lot of things. One point that they made very clear is that we need to constantly remind ourselves and remind people why we're engaged in this war. And quite simply, it is about self defense. It's about the thousands of innocent men, women and children who were killed on September 11.
And as secretary Rumsfeld has said many times--and I'm quoting here--''There is no question but that the United States has every right as every country does of self defense. The only way to deal with a terrorist that has all the advantage of offense is to take the battle to them and find them and root them out. That is what we are doing, and that is, in effect, self defense of a preemptive nature.''
And with that, I will turn it over to Admiral Stufflebeem.
STUFFLEBEEM: Thank you.
Good day to all. We're continuing to focus the pressure on Al Qaeda and the Taliban through strikes on fixed and emerging targets. We're also working hard to establish the capacity as well as capability for airfield operations in Northern Afghanistan which will enhance our humanitarian relief support effort operations.
We conducted airstrikes yesterday in eight planned target areas. Again, they concentrated primarily against Al Qaeda and Taliban cave and tunnel complexes. Most of our effort was against emergent targets, including Taliban command and control facilities and military forces in the south and in support of opposition group efforts there.
We used about 120 strike aircraft again yesterday which includes about 100 tactical sea-based platform aircraft, 12 to 14 land-based tactical jets and between 6 to 8 long-range bombers. We again dropped leaflets in the Kabul and Kandahar areas and continued our Commando Solo broadcast missions.
Humanitarian relief: support operations continue with two C-17s dropping about 34,000 humanitarian daily rations. That brings our total now to date to more than 1,970,000.
Today we have three videos for you from recent operations that depict coalition efforts to defeat Taliban and Al Qaeda forces near Kandahar. The first shows a strike on buildings reported to house Taliban forces near Kandahar. Subsequent strikes on the same facility destroyed or damaged the remainder of the compound. This was on the 27th. Also from Tuesday, the second video shows a strike on an aqueduct and tunnel complex that Taliban forces were defending. As you can see, there were multiple hits on the tunnel and defensive positions.
QUESTION: Where was that?
STUFFLEBEEM: Also near Kandahar.
QUESTION: When was it?
STUFFLEBEEM: This also was from Tuesday.
And, finally, the third clip shows a strike from Sunday on a Taliban armored personnel carrier outside of Kandahar. The white specks that were adjacent to--in the lower right-hand corner--of the vehicle, were infantry troops.
And with that, we'll take your questions.
QUESTION: Admiral, can you confirm in any way reports that the Northern Alliance and other opposition forces have begun to move into Kandahar and also reports that the DIA has told the CIA that the Northern Alliance has captured one, Abdel-Rahman, who is a senior figure in Al Qaeda training in Afghanistan?
STUFFLEBEEM: I cannot confirm either of those for you. I have seen the report made that Northern Alliance has entered Kandahar. That could indicate he Kandahar province. We can't deny that, I guess, is a better way to put that, but I could not confirm--and I've not seen any reports that any opposition groups have entered Kandahar city at this point.
QUESTION: On the capture of Rahman?
STUFFLEBEEM: Right. I have had no information about that capture at all, so I just can't confirm that.
QUESTION: Well, wouldn't you be aware if the DIA was aware of this and had told the CIA? I mean, wouldn't the military be aware of this kind of thing?
STUFFLEBEEM: You would think so.
I just have not seen reports; therefore, I can't confirm it for you.
CLARKE: We don't have any information for you.
QUESTION: You don't have--you just don't know? Are you...
CLARKE: We're aware of the reports. I just don't' have any information for you on that.
STUFFLEBEEM: I've seen that press report and of the reports that I've gone to look for, that's not one.
QUESTION: Well, are there intelligence reports to support the press reports? Have you seen those intelligence reports which indicate that the Northern Alliance may have? And do you know if anybody in the U.S. government has actually put eyes on or hands on--if we do that sort of thing--on this--on the sun or the shade?
STUFFLEBEEM: I have seen a lot of reports, including intelligence reports, certainly, and have not seen the report about Rahman at all. Nor do I have any reports that the U.S. has custody or is detaining any individuals at this point.
QUESTION: Torie, you keep saying, ``I have no information on that.''
QUESTION: Does that mean you don't know or you're refusing to discuss it?
CLARKE: It means we don't have that information and we wouldn't discuss intelligence matters anyhow.
QUESTION: Well, sometimes. In this particular case, though, are you saying...
QUESTION: Are you saying that--would you have seen that information if, in fact, the information existed?
STUFFLEBEEM: Yes, that's sort of asking me would I know what I don't know.
QUESTION: What I'm trying to find out is if you're denying or not denying, is what I'm trying to find.
STUFFLEBEEM: No, I won't go to say that I'm denying that. I am just saying that I have looked at all the reports that are available to me today and I have not seen that report, that individual has been taken.
QUESTION: And if I could just repeat the question, would that have been available to you if, in fact, there was a report to that effect?
STUFFLEBEEM: I assume that it would be available to me.
QUESTION: Can we return to the Northern Alliance and whatever progress they may or may not be making toward Kandahar? Clearly, the U.S. government and the military does track the movement of a large mass of force. Has the government, number one, seen a large mass of Northern Alliance force moving toward Kandahar province?
And the second question is, how would you assess that, since they are of different ethnic groups than the people who occupy Kandahar province and that could be trouble in and of itself?
STUFFLEBEEM: To the first part of your question, I've not seen any reports that indicate that there are opposition groups from the north that have moved in large force to the south. There have, in fact, been opposition groups, some of which are from the north, that have been around the Kandahar province, to the north of the Kandahar province.
I can accept that they may have entered the province, not in a large movement where we are embedded and can say let's announce it that way. So nothing nearly as definitive as you frame the question.
And the second part was?
QUESTION: The second question deals with the difficulty of having the northern ethnic groups enter the Pashtun area and the complications that that creates for the peace process, for the U.S. government, for, you know, a lot of different things.
STUFFLEBEEM: Well, I think the best way to answer that is a little bit open ended. We are not controlling any opposition group. We are working with opposition groups. We are not dictating what their objectives are or may be not. We certainly have made suggestions, we certainly have responded to requests and questions that they have asked us. We have provided tactical information when asked. We have volunteered what would be American expectations or coalition expectations of detainees that they might have in terms of treatment. We are not in the business of denying what one group would intend to do necessarily.
So it's very difficult then to assess if opposition groups from the north were to decide to make a move on the city of Kandahar, and the potential for how that might be received by Pashtun opposition groups from the south is obviously a problem that we all have to work through.
QUESTION: Prior to the great success of the Northern Alliance, the U.S. had an agreement with the Northern Alliance that they would not enter Kabul, and they decided to go ahead and do it anyway. Has there been advice, that you know of, extended to the Northern Alliance not to go into Kandahar, or has the United States not expressed an opinion on the northern forces moving into the southern stronghold?
STUFFLEBEEM: I'll ask Ms. Clarke if she has anything? I do not know (inaudible) in your question, as I've not heard there's been advice offered.
CLARKE: I'm not aware of advice being offered. I would just underscore what the admiral has said, which the secretary has said repeatedly, to say that we can control or dictate what the opposition groups might do is just an over statement; we can't.
QUESTION: But that's not the issue. The issue is, you can't dictate, but you certainly can watch it happening and you can be concerned about it, you can advise them, please don't do it. I mean, those are all options that the U.S. has.
CLARKE: I'm not aware of such advice being given. I'm not saying it didn't happen. I'm just not aware of such advice being given.
QUESTION: Is there a level of concern if they do move into that province and into that city?
STUFFLEBEEM: I think the answer is yes. There will be a level of concern, but it may be a concern of the opposition groups. It may not yet be a concern of General Franks. And so, again, you've got to put things on balance.
And what you're asking for is an assessment of something that may not yet have happened.
CLARKE: To add on to that, I think it is too soon. I mean, the reports of what have happened or is happening are so early and so sketchy. I think it's too soon to start making assessments or putting characterizations on it.
QUESTION: Sir, there's a huge difference between entering the province of Kandahar and entering the city of Kandahar, and I was just going to ask you to quantify that difference. How far at the northern end of that province is that from the city of Kandahar, do you know?
STUFFLEBEEM: I've seen it on a map, and I just have to try to recall in my mind's eye. It goes quite a bit up to the north. It doesn't go as far as Ghazni, but it heads up in that director a good bit.
QUESTION: One hundred miles, 50 miles?
STUFFLEBEEM: Boy, I'm really stepping out here on a scale. I'm going to guess it's better than 50 miles.
QUESTION: General Franks in an interview with the New York Times, if I'm not mistaken, suggested that Northern Alliance forces could go into the South in conjunction with tribal forces there.
QUESTION: I mean, he indicated that that was a possibility. I mean, could it be that Northern Alliance forces are needed in the south in order to have the critical mass necessary to take a city like Kandahar without U.S., you know, without U.S. ground troops?
STUFFLEBEEM: Well, you can (ph) say that that's a possibility. I think that the situation as it has developed to this point is different in Kandahar than what we have seen up in the north. The city of Kandahar is in a large way relatively surrounded by opposition groups. The major road that goes to the south toward Quetta is controlled by opposition groups.
So the city is somewhat ringed by opposition groups. To say that they feel that they're inadequate or not prepared to conduct a major siege on the city, I think--well, first of all, it's making a supposition on their part.
But secondly, they're very active in negotiations. From those who are within the city and those who are outlying, we know there are Taliban forces that are digging in, intending to fight, would be my assumption.
We know there are non-Taliban forces there as well who have already broadcast their intentions to dig in and fight to the death. But we also know that there are Taliban forces that, in fact, are fleeing. We know that they are headed toward and have crossed into Pakistan, for instance. We know that there are those who have turned in their arms and are blending back into the city as citizens, as opposed to armed fighters.
So there's all of that mosaic still in front of us in this point. What I would characterize that is going on in earnest right now are negotiations between these factions, between these groups.
QUESTION: You mean, opposition groups, you mean, between the opposition groups? The negotiations you talked about...
STUFFLEBEEM: Well, between opposition groups and the forces that they're opposed to. Now, maybe to the last part of that question was, well, what about the north and the south? I certainly haven't seen that there's been any negotiations or coordination that's being done between them. I haven't seen that one commander's called for another one to come down.
QUESTION: Admiral, may I follow up on that, because Khan (ph) actually is quoting as saying that--Khan (ph) from the Northern Alliance is quoted as saying that their move in the outskirts of Kandahar is like the first step toward the invasion. They also point out that the southern tribes also are going to be on the move. I mean, he seemed to have made the connection that this is part of a concerted effort, that just the beginnings of a move into Kandahar. You haven't seen anything like that?
STUFFLEBEEM: Well, I have seen many statements. I have seen almost all of the opposition forces, and what they would broadcast is their intentions. For instance, there is a three-day deadline for Taliban forces to give up Kandahar, the city.
That three days now has been kind of moving along for a day or so. So I think we take them a little bit softly, maybe. And to exactly, you know, do you really mean exactly what you say. This is a country where we don't necessarily believe everything that we're hearing, especially when it comes out for the first time. So even with a report like that, that doesn't necessarily tell me that I would expect an imminent attack by northern groups on to Kandahar, the city.
QUESTION: And he was making it clear also that this would be in conjunction with southern tribes.
STUFFLEBEEM: I would say that that certainly is possible. I, myself, have not seen the reports that have come from our forces that would say these particular commanders have met and discussed.
QUESTION: Has the United States played any role--I gather, not--in mediating or having communications between the north and the south?
STUFFLEBEEM: None that I'm aware of.
CLARKE: No. And I think--let me try to make a generalization here--we're trying to find clarity in hard edges in a situation that does not have a lot of clarity, a lot of hard edges at this time.
QUESTION: Admiral, how would you describe the Taliban leadership's ability to control its own forces at this point? And how would you describe the Taliban forces as a cohesive military unit?
STUFFLEBEEM: In a word, ``fractured,'' I guess. And I hope I don't play that word too strongly.
CLARKE: There's not another word, so that's OK.
STUFFLEBEEM: We know that there are locations where commanders, in fact, have forces with them. So obviously, they have very positive control over those forces. For how much longer, obviously that remains to be seen; and to what end, that remains to be seen, because there are some commanders who are negotiating for surrender of their forces. There are others whom might take Mullah Omar's orders literally and intend to dig in defensively and fight to the death; that's a possibility.
But there are other units that are severed from competent or legitimate leadership that they would look to. And that's where we are seeing sort of this dropping their weapons and trying to blend back into the countryside. So it's kind of a full gambit there.
QUESTION: Admiral, the government of Russia has confirmed that they have soldiers who are on board in Afghanistan, and based on the units it would appear that these are Russian special forces in places like Bagram and Kabul. Is this something the Pentagon has seen and are you comfortable with it?
STUFFLEBEEM: Yes, we have seen the Russians, and we understand that their mission to come in and, as I think they stated, they intended to build a hospital and they intended to rebuild their embassy.
I take what forces that they may have on the ground as security forces not unlike what we have there.
QUESTION: Can I follow on that? Before they--did the Russian Federation advise or inform the United States before it moved the emergency military troops into Kabul?
STUFFLEBEEM: Not at an operational level, I didn't see that there was any coordination for that. But then again, I'm not sure that I would expect to see it either.
This is not a country that is controlled by the U.S. I mean, this is a country where we are there to get at Al Qaeda and to topple Taliban. We don't intend to own and control Afghanistan and control the borders.
So if another sovereign nation is intending to come back and reestablish their formal ties with Afghan interim government or what's to be, I think we probably are supportive.
CLARKE: And I...
QUESTION: Is the Northern Alliance deciding which international forces, troops can come in and which can't? Are they making those decisions about international peacekeeping or whatever other forces are on the ground or going in?
STUFFLEBEEM: I think it's fair to say that opposition groups are certainly providing their feelings about what they may see. I don't know that I have seen that they have issued any particular edicts or statements to say whom we do or don't want to see here.
I think they wish to be consulted before somebody comes in, but I don't see...
QUESTION: But, there have been some that have been kept out, correct?
STUFFLEBEEM: That have been kept out?
STUFFLEBEEM: To be honest with you, I'm not aware of that.
CLARKE: Not that I know of.
QUESTION: Royal Marines.
STUFFLEBEEM: Well, there have been some forces from the U.K. that in fact have been in the country, and you know, they're moving in and out, kind of, all of the time. In terms of when they decide to move more forces in, I think that's their decision.
And I don't know that that...
CLARKE: To go back to the other point, in a general sense, the coordination and the cooperation and the consultation with Russia, as it has been with many of the coalition partners, has been quite good.
QUESTION: You mentioned Mullah Omar a moment ago. Is it now the conclusion of the Pentagon that he is safe, that he was not in that bombing effort that occurred on Tuesday?
STUFFLEBEEM: Indications that I have seen is that he likely was not in the compound that we struck two days ago. I think I'll just leave it at that.
QUESTION: Any idea who was? Have you determined that yet?
STUFFLEBEEM: No, we've not. We've not either by position or name who may have been.
QUESTION: Admiral, if it is true--and I know you couldn't confirm it--that the Northern Alliance or other opposition groups have Ahmed-Rahman, first of all, would he be a candidate for one of these military tribunals that the president has talked about? And secondly, does the military or the U.S. have some kind of agreement that exists right now with the Northern Alliance that would let them transfer that person or those persons to our custody? Can you talk about that?
STUFFLEBEEM: I'm sorry. I cannot. That's well above my sphere of...
CLARKE: I would just, on the first part, we can't confirm anything about his whereabouts because we don't have that information. Secondly, on the military tribunals, as the secretary said several times, we are taking that very, very slowly. There are lots of serious issues that need to be addressed. We want to do it right. We want to do it very carefully. And beyond that, we're just not answering questions about how it will work or hypotheticals. It's just not useful to get into that conversation.
QUESTION: But do you have some kind of agreement or understanding with the Northern Alliance that, if they were to apprehend some of the Al Qaeda or Taliban leaders, that there'd be some kind of mechanism to transfer over to our custody?
STUFFLEBEEM: Well, we have made our wishes known, that we would like to have access to detainees and that there may be some that we might like to have more access to. I don't know if, you know, the close-end coordination has been done for that, but I do know we have transmitted what we would request in that regard.
QUESTION: Admiral, a question about the Marines at the forward-operating base. Some pictures have come out showing them discharging 81 millimeter mortars, and I wondered if I could ask you to comment briefly on any combat engagements that you're aware of that the ground forces have been involved in? Also adjunct to that, have Harriers from that same Marine expeditionary unit been forward-based at that FOB with the helicopters that are there--the gun ships that you mentioned yesterday or the day before?
STUFFLEBEEM: I have not seen any engagement reports yet that the Marines from that forward-operating base may have--well, I'll leave it at that. It's categorical. I've not seen any reports that they've had any engagements. The Harriers are not at that forward-operating base.
QUESTION: Operating from elsewhere?
QUESTION: OK. Admiral, what about helicopters?
QUESTION: If Kandahar falls to the opposition, do you think that that would greatly increase the chances of getting Osama bin Laden? Or do you tend to think that he's up around Tora Bora, the way the opposition leader's quoted in some stories today?
CLARKE: I think it's--again, just to go back to what we were saying earlier, it is too soon to start assessing the situation there. So you're getting into a hypothetical.
QUESTION: Do you agree with the assessment of the opposition leader, who's quoted today as saying he's 90 percent certain that he's in the Tora Bora area?
CLARKE: There are so many different reports and so many different assumptions that it's just not useful to go from one to the other.
QUESTION: Do you have anything further on the Taliban intelligence chief that's supposedly defected? Do you have the name? Is it that Qari Ahmedullah, whose name I can't pronounce? And also, back on the Russians...
CLARKE: Which one?
QUESTION: The Russian question seems to be one of--because there's a power play going on in Afghanistan to see who will be in charge later, I think there's some critics out there who are saying that allowing the Russians to go in and establish only makes it more likely that the Northern Alliance will have that ally there in the country, and sort of set the stage for further conflict with other tribes and other groups in the country.
QUESTION: So, do you think these are valid criticisms of the Russian presence there, and, you know, is that a scenario that's likely to play out?
CLARKE: That starts to get to lanes that are beyond mine, certainly ours.
CLARKE: Intel Chief? I have nothing on that.
QUESTION: Admiral, could I ask you, in your opening statement, you mentioned establishing a capacity for airfield operations in Northern Afghanistan. You said it was for humanitarian operations. Can you give a few details about where exactly, and whose doing that work--what kind of work exactly are they doing, and also, what about the related issue of establishments of airfield access in the (inaudible)
STUFFLEBEEM: Well, nothing new to add about airfields in the north. We have teams, and we're not the only ones. I would say coalition forces have teams that are doing surveys and repair of Mazar-i-Sharif airport, Bagram air field.
And we're also looking at other airfields to determine their suitability. Remember again, most of them have been struck in the earlier part of the joint campaign, and therefore, it's now time to get there and do assessments and to get the professional engineers in there to do the assessments and determine what it will take to make those fields usable. That is enhancing what that capability we hope to grow for humanitarian assistance.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) for humanitarian assistance?
STUFFLEBEEM: Well, those are part of the conditions that General Franks wishes to set, getting those conditions right so that non-governmental organizations and humanitarian assistance can be effective. Now, obviously airports are used for a whole lot of things, but that is principally what we're moving toward at the moment.
Now the other part of your question has to do with the airfields. General Franks in the Central Command are still working with the details with many of the countries that are surrounding Afghanistan for the ability--for our coalition forces to utilize them. So there's nothing more add to that, other than that they're still working out the details of that.
QUESTION: Have those assessments been made whether or not to bring Western planes into those countries yet?
STUFFLEBEEM: Well, they have made offers, and we have had assessment teams to look at the fields, and now it's down to working out those details so that General Franks would be satisfied that we have Force Protection considerations, you know, larger security issues as well as access capability.
QUESTION: But has any decision been made to bring planes into those pending such plans as your talking about?
STUFFLEBEEM: I see.
QUESTION: Support, protection, that kind of thing. Have decisions been made to bring (inaudible)
STUFFLEBEEM: I don't believe so. I think that General Franks would intend to wait to know the status of the airfield and have those details worked out, but for making a decision of what type aircraft would go in there.
QUESTION: Admiral, and Tori, if you have anything to add to that, there have been reports that the governor of Guam was notified that Guam was on a list of sites for a military tribunal. Have you narrowed down--has the Defense Department narrowed down a list of sites? Is there a region where this is going to be held?
CLARKE: No. I'll just repeat what I said earlier. The secretary has said repeatedly, we're taking this very slowly, very carefully.
We're looking at all the issues. We want to make sure we do it right. And beyond that, we're just not talking about it. But I can say there are no lists.
QUESTION: So no one's been notified?
CLARKE: Last question.
QUESTION: Just going back to the airfield (inaudible) the carriers have been providing most of the air power in this whole campaign, and they've been pretty much in it now for about a month and a half. Are they starting to show the strain on this? Would it make sense to have these ground-based aircraft in there (inaudible) how are they doing?
STUFFLEBEEM: The carriers are doing outstanding.
QUESTION: All right. How are the...
QUESTION: How are the crews doing?
CLARKE: I knew he'd get to the Army-Navy game before we were done.
STUFFLEBEEM: That's a purely joint perspective.
QUESTION: How are the crews doing? Are they showing the strain, do they need this sort of break from this (inaudible) or what?
STUFFLEBEEM: Not that I can tell at the moment. I am able to correspond with friends of mine who, in fact, are out there on station. And they are still pumped up. They still have plenty of energy.
I do acknowledge--and I put myself in a cockpit to say that--when you're flying long duration missions, over time that can be debilitating. But the way that I understand the way they're doing, conducting business is, is they've got a rotation for those flights and then off-time so that it does not become debilitating. So the sense that I have from those I've talked to on the carriers is that, they could sustain this indefinitely.
QUESTION: Just an update on the 10th Mountain Division and what they're up to?
QUESTION: Provide as much information as you can.
CLARKE: Small numbers.
QUESTION: In sentences.
CLARKE: They are getting so demanding.
STUFFLEBEEM: Again, because this is an ongoing operation and because there are future aspects to this, we don't want to get into too many details. Please respect that.
There are small numbers of the 10th Mountain Division that are in northern Afghanistan. They are there for security operations and they are in two locations in the North. They are part of the forces that are in the theater that General Franks will move around, increase the size of a footprint in one location and shrink it in others. And it just so happens that this is the current state of play, as we talk about it right now.
CLARKE: And the final comment on Saturday's game.
STUFFLEBEEM: If it's not inappropriate for me just to--I never get to ask a question. So I'm...
STUFFLEBEEM: I'm just astounded that there hasn't been a question about a certain football game that occurs tomorrow...
QUESTION: Do you expect Navy to eviscerate Army?
CLARKE: Don't answer it.
QUESTION: Secondly, the Navy (inaudible) embraced a Billy goat. Are you going to be doing the same as part of the preparations for...
STUFFLEBEEM: I'm going to do whatever it takes to see Navy Blue come out victorious.
CLARKE: Thank you.