02 January 2002
Transcript: Department of Defense Briefing, January 2, 2002
(Current/future operations/policy of not commenting, terrorism/six
more groups identified by USG, Afghanistan/humanitarian efforts,
detainees/ numbers and locations, U.S. forces/replacements,
Afghanistan/current role of US special operations forces & Marines,
Taliban forces/surrender negotiations, Afghanistan/searches by U.S.
forces, Afghanistan/location of bin Laden & Mullah Omar,
Afghanistan/use of air power, Al-Qaida forces/whereabouts, searches at
sea, crash of reconnaissance plane, recent air strikes/targets,
military tribunals/use of Guantanamo base) (5300)
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke and
Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem, Deputy Director for Operations, Current
Readiness and Capabilities, Joint Staff, briefed.
DoD News Briefing Victoria Clarke, ASD PA
Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2002 -- Noon
(Also participating was Rear Adm. John D. Stufflebeem, deputy director
for operations, current readiness and capabilities, Joint Staff.)
Clarke: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy New Year! Charlie's not back,
so I feel like we can't get started.
Let me just address one thing up front here. Over the last few days,
there have been a lot of stories about activity in Afghanistan, and I
fully admit some of it has been confusing. So I just want to restate
what our general policy is, and that is, in general, we do not talk
about operational details for the obvious reasons. It puts people's
lives at risk; it gives the bad guys a heads-up as to what we're
We try hard to give you information when we can that tells you
something has happened, when it won't do any harm to a future
operation. But in general, we're not going to get into operational
details; we're not going to get into, as many people wanted to over
the last couple of days, you know, waving people on and off various
aspects of stories. If you do that, we can very quickly get ourselves
to a place where we've painted a very clear picture about what an
operation might be -- a current one or an upcoming one. So, in
general, we are going to try hard not to do that. But we are going to
try to give you as much information as we can.
Q: Torie, Central Command, yesterday morning, was talking about an
operation as it was in progress, and it seemed to only be 12 or 14
hours after Admiral Quigley said that there is no operation of any
kind. Was Admiral Quigley just misinformed? Was he lied to? And how do
you explain all of that?
Clarke: You know, I don't think it's particularly useful to go over
everything over the last couple of days. As I said --
Q: But it's confusing.
Clarke: As I said --
Q: And I don't think it was on the part of the journalists that made
it that confusing.
Clarke: I didn't say that. I said it's been confusing. And I'm just
trying to reassert and reestablish what our general policy will be.
Q: Did the United States military spokesman lie about --
Clarke: Oh, absolutely not. Absolutely not.
Clarke: Let me go on to a couple of other things. We always try to
remind people about this unconventional war is about more than things
military, and it continues to be fought on several different fronts.
On Monday, Secretary Powell, in consultation with the Secretary of the
Treasury and the Attorney General, designated six additional groups
linked to terrorist activities whose assets will be frozen. [ news
release: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2001/index.cfm?docid=7003 ]
The groups were identified last week by the Council of the European
And this morning, Moussaoui's being arraigned in Alexandria. He's the
first person charged as accomplice in the attacks on September 11th.
And I point these out just to underscore again this war is not just
military. It's economic. It's diplomatic. It will continue to be
fought and prosecuted on several fronts.
And then one more thing before I turn it over to the admiral: some
good news on the humanitarian front -- you may have seen some reports
of this, but in December alone, the people of Afghanistan received
more than 114,000 tons of food. And today, in Kabul, they are
beginning a three-month campaign to provide vaccinations to the
children in Afghanistan that aims to reach nine million children. So
it is a multi-faceted effort that we are continuing on many different
Stufflebeem: Thank you.
Well, good afternoon, everyone, and I'd also like to add Happy New
Year to you, as well.
Let me very briefly just catch you up on a little bit of what's been
going on with operations. And as you have seen, it's been relatively
quiet. We're continuing to fly missions in support of Operation
Enduring Freedom. Most of these missions are on call for close air
support, such that may be needed.
The last strike that was conducted was on Friday, the 28th, and this
was in the vicinity of Gardez. We hit a compound where pro-Taliban
forces were at. To clear up one possible point of confusion, this
strike on Friday on a pro-Taliban compound is not the same that was
reported two days prior, on Wednesday, the 26th. That was south of
Gardez; this was north of Gardez. They both were military compounds --
good intelligence on that.
We've also developed detention facilities to accommodate more
detainees that have been turned over to the coalition. We're currently
holding approximately 221. Two hundred of those are in Kandahar --
eight of those are now on USS Bataan -- twelve at Bagram, and one in
In the coming days, you'll see some increased activity around the
Kandahar airport, as several elements of the 101st Airborne begin
arriving and turning over responsibilities from the 15th Marine
Expeditionary Unit. And they'll begin the back call on board USS
Peleliu shortly for further operations. But in keeping with our policy
of not getting into operational specifics, we won't provide any more
details other than that.
And with that, we'll take your questions. Charlie?
Q: Admiral, other than the U.S. Marines north of Kandahar looking for
information or intelligence on the whereabouts of Taliban and al Qaeda
leaders, are U.S. Special Operations forces participating directly in
searches for bin Laden and Omar?
Stufflebeem: Best -- the most accurate answer is, special operating
forces are involved in the search for al Qaeda and Taliban leadership.
When you ask, are they doing it directly, I infer that you're asking,
are they doing that solely on their own?
Q: Or taking part in it.
Stufflebeem: And they are, with anti-Taliban forces that are searching
for this leadership. So in that regard, they are on the hunt. To say
that we have U.S. forces that are specifically deploying and have a
mission requirement of only going to look for these two individuals
wouldn't be correct, though.
Clarke: But it would be correct to underscore, again, one of our
primary objectives is to get the al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership,
and we'll use whatever resources, in a very forward-leaning manner --
whatever resources it takes to get them, including Special Operation
Q: And is the U.S. military taking part in negotiations for the
possible surrender of Omar?
Stufflebeem: Well, I don't know that there are ongoing negotiations
specific to Omar. I am aware and have seen reports of Taliban forces
that are negotiating with anti-Taliban forces, specifically with Mr.
Karzai and his group, for terms of surrender in the region northwest
of Kandahar. But I think it's a leap of faith that -- if we believe
that that is on the benefit or on the behalf of Mullah Omar himself.
These are Taliban forces that are looking to negotiate themselves out
of a predicament with anti-Taliban forces.
Q: Could you give us a little more detail at all about the Special
Forces being "on the hunt"? Is this some new particular information
you have or is this -- this has certainly been going on all along. Is
there anything new here?
Stufflebeem: No, nothing newer than what you have been witnessing in
Tora Bora, for instance. Special operating forces have been searching
caves for evidence there, and special operating forces whom (sic) are
with anti-Taliban forces that are out are looking for leadership. So
to say it's a new mission or a shift in the mission is not true. We
will continue to look for the leadership, as we have been, so no
Q: Could you also give us a little more detail about the Marines and
the mission they undertook -- why 200 were needed, why so many Marines
were needed for this?
Stufflebeem: I'll say -- only this way, just sort of in a generic
sense. I don't know the specifics and the numbers of the Marines
you're speaking of. That may have been a point of confusion a couple
of days ago. I will say that they were -- now that this operation that
they particularly were looking at is over with, they were not on a
hunt, per se, for Omar. They were out doing survey evaluations, so
they are looking at locations and facilities where we had good
evidence that there had been previously al Qaeda and Taliban forces,
and they're collecting physical evidence. And maybe another way to put
it is that we're casting a relatively wide net to build intelligence.
Now, you asked specifically about the Marines, and so I'll go so far
as to say in a generic sense, you have to look at doctrinally, how do
the Marines train? They're self-contained, and so when they go out to
do a survey evaluation or a security operation, they take a relatively
heavy force for perimeter security, as well as securing the facility
inside of that, and then doing the work that they're there to do. That
doctrinally is somewhat different than how other special operating
forces train and do their business, which may be lighter and with
fewer forces. I think that's a better explanation of what you saw
Q: Sir, you --
Q: Go ahead.
Q: Sir, you pointed out that special operations troops are and have
been participating and that there's a search that is ongoing for al
Qaeda and the Taliban leadership. There's also the possibility that
has been raised by government officials that Taliban and al Qaeda
leadership have switched to Pakistan. Are special operations troops of
the United States participating in the searches in Pakistan?
Q: They are not?
Stufflebeem: Special operating forces are operating inside
Afghanistan. So the forces that are supporting them from neighboring
countries are there to support them, not conduct operations in those
Q: And a follow up. The search that was conducted by the Marines that
you've just described -- the search for evidence can be a very
specialized search. Were they accompanied by civilian investigators
such as the FBI?
Stufflebeem: I don't know. You'd --
Clarke: I don't know. I've not heard anything.
Stufflebeem: I don't know who was with them, to be honest. I'm sorry.
Clarke: And we don't have much of a report back in terms of what they
Q: On the same topic, about what they found, could you bring us up to
date on what's been found in the way of physical evidence in the Tora
Bora searches, which have been going on for some time now?
What have you come back with?
Clarke: My sense is that it continues to be evaluated. Again, we have
preliminary reports back. I don't know if you've heard much different
Stufflebeem: Right. Preliminary reports. And just to give you a sense,
they're collecting papers. They're taking photographs. They're
looking, in some cases, at equipment.
Q: How about bodies?
Stufflebeem: I've not seen any reports that indicate they have either
found or are looking specifically for bodies. So I don't know if
that's happened or not. They're clearly looking for physical evidence,
and in some cases you would call it forensic evidence. But I have not
seen anything on bodies.
Q: Admiral, if you could -- just to clarify, you said that Special Ops
are involved in searching for al Qaeda/Taliban. But it was over the
holidays that -- I mean, the head of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, said
there was this massive manhunt for Omar and that U.S. Marines were
involved in that mission. Is he misspeaking?
Stufflebeem: (To Ms. Clarke.) Sure.
Clarke: We're here to speak for the Department of Defense, and it's
enough of a challenge. It just would not be right for us to get in and
comment on everything the head of the [interim] government might be
saying or not saying.
But we've been very clear what our intent is. We are working closely
with, consulting closely with the interim government on those primary
objectives, and we have a great deal of confidence that they too are
focused on the same objectives.
I couldn't parse his sentences word for word, but we're going to use
all the resources necessary, including the Marines, in the appropriate
functions to get the job done.
Q: But CENTCOM says that these Marines were not involved directly in
the search for Omar. Is that true, or isn't --
Clarke: You missed my remarks at the beginning.
Q: All right.
(Cross talk, laughter.)
Q: There are officials and commanders in Afghanistan saying that they
now believe that bin Laden may be with Omar in -- somewhere in central
Afghanistan. Do you have any information to corroborate that, to shoot
that down, anything on whether bin Laden might be now with Omar?
Stufflebeem: Well, I have seen those reports that you're referring to.
As the secretary had alluded to, I think last week, the reports are
all over the map.
And so, there is not a preponderance of reports that would allow us to
pinpoint a location, because if we had that, well, we'd have a -- so
it's still widely varying as to what you hear and what it says. So we
don't put any type of credence in it right now.
Q: Admiral? There have been assertions that rival commanders are using
American bombing runs essentially to fight their own battles. And we
have been told that sometimes we use intelligence provided by others.
But can you describe to us what we use beyond that intelligence to
verify the targets we're hitting -- for instance, this convoy in
Paktia province -- is what we believe it is? Can you describe the
steps we take beyond what we may hear from other folks on the ground,
friendly forces on the ground?
Stufflebeem: Well, I cannot answer this too specifically much further
than to say that General Franks and particularly those forces in
Afghanistan are confident in the target selection process, or the
target assignment process, since we're dealing with close air support
for the most part.
To get into more specifics considering how we're collecting the
intelligence on that, I have heard a report, one report only, of what
you allude to, which may be that one competitor may be trying to use
our capability for the benefit of his versus another. And our special
operating forces on the ground and other government agencies work very
hard to prevent that from happening. So I don't believe that that is,
in fact, true. And I know that that is a priority for General Franks
Q: Admiral, there are lots of reports quoting Afghan commanders
directly, including Governor Shirzai of Kandahar, that some sort of
deadline has been set with the Taliban forces around the Baghran area.
Two or three days is sometimes mentioned. There are reports that
weapons are being surrendered by Taliban forces up there. What is the
status of this surrender request, if anything? And what is the U.S.
position right now? I mean, what's the state of play? Is the United
States waiting for this surrender to happen? Are our forces on standby
while that surrender is in process?
Clarke: Let me say two things about -- one, we have made it very, very
clear what we intend to do and how we intend to prosecute this
campaign. And we don't plan for or anticipate of have any pauses going
on, anything like that. We continue to operate in a very
forward-leaning manner. And then in terms of what you've heard, I'd
just say there are lots of different reports, and over the last weeks
and months we've often heard about deadlines and negotiations and
We still have relatively few eyes and ears on the ground. So we deal
with the best information we have. What's most important, I think, is
that we intend to prosecute this in a very vigorous fashion.
Q: Okay, how about the weapons part of that?
Clarke: Again, I've seen and heard those sorts of reports. I don't
have any information on those.
Stufflebeem: I don't -- I -- the only -- I can't add much more than to
say, again, these are Taliban forces negotiating with anti-Taliban
forces. And so they're trying to work this out amongst themselves.
Anti-Taliban forces know exactly what our position is. There has been
no change in the posture or the intentions or objectives that the U.S.
or the coalition, I should say more properly, has in this campaign.
And so we're monitoring it very carefully, and we will intend to
participate for as much as they will let us.
Q: Admiral, if I could follow up on that, what are you going to do
with a negotiated surrender? Are you going to try to snatch the
Taliban fighters, particularly the foreign ones?
Stufflebeem: Well, this is very similar to what we've seen throughout
the country already. I mean, there have been many instances where
there were surrenders. There have been many instances where they've
just evaporated -- changed sides. And I think this is just another
example, that we're seeing the same thing. It's the culture within
this area. And so, as the secretary has said more than once, those who
would intend to do harm to others -- we don't want that to happen. And
therefore, we want to have positive control over whom those would be.
Q: Mostly foreign people --
Stufflebeem: Correct. If there are those who are Afghan nationals, and
they work it out with other Afghan nationals to their satisfaction, to
the constitutional government -- provisional government's
satisfaction, then we'll respect that.
Q: Admiral, negotiating the deal to go home, I mean, are you going to
move in and --
Clarke: Just to -- just to underscore what the admiral said, we've
made it very, very clear, consistently, what we expect the disposition
of these people should be -- particularly the leadership. We've made
it very clear, and so far, the cooperation has been quite good.
Q: Admiral, you --
Q: Admiral Stufflebeem, can we go back to that, though? And having
said all of that, what about Omar, himself? Are you willing -- the
U.S. willing -- to let him face justice in Afghanistan, or must he be
in U.S. hands?
Stufflebeem: I think the U.S. government position has been very clear
on that. And with the leaflets out for the reward of Mullah Omar, I
think -- I don't there's any doubt about what we want to see happen.
Clarke: I think we've --
Q: Could you just clarify for me, then: What is it that you want to
see happen to the mullah?
Clarke: It has been made very clear that we expect to have control of
him and, to go against a little bit what I was saying earlier, from
what we have seen from reports from the interim government, from
anti-Taliban forces, they understand and have said, "We understand
that if we come under control of Omar, he will be turned over to the
Q: Admiral, there has been some concern expressed that with the
escalating tension between India and Pakistan, Pakistan has indeed
taken some of its troops off its western border. And I'm wondering if
it's the Pentagon's concern and belief that many al Qaeda fighters
have in fact fled into Pakistan with fewer Pakistani troops at the
Stufflebeem: Well, it's not clear how many al Qaeda have in fact
crossed the border. In the area where there have been reports and
where there have been arrests, Pakistanis have in fact detained a
number of al Qaeda forces, some of which have been turned over to U.S.
That is in a federally-administered, controlled area, which is not the
same necessarily as what may be in the rest of Pakistan. So that's a
very difficult area to administer. We're watching very closely the
tensions that exist between the two countries, and we're very hopeful
that they'll exercise judgment and prudence in not getting engaged
with each other. But at this moment, I would say there's no concerns
here about what their forces are doing.
Q: Just to follow up -- but have you made any estimates based on the
amount of fighters you thought were at Tora Bora and then the amount
of -- the body count and the amount of prisoners you have, about how
many might have in fact escaped the region?
Stufflebeem: Well, we have not categorized numbers in particular
areas. What we really do believe has occurred is that they have
disbanded into smaller groups. It would be, I think, obvious that some
have probably gone over the mountain into Pakistan. But we also
believe that there are -- some of these small groups are still within
Afghanistan and may in fact be trying to get back together. Evidence
of that recently we saw with those strikes around the Gardez area.
So we believe that those dangerous groups are still in Afghanistan.
There are probably some that have gone to Pakistan, some of which have
been rounded up. But we're not losing focus. We're not taking our eye
off the ball. This is where the central hub of al Qaeda has been, and
the job here is to get rid of al Qaeda. But it's also a global job,
and so we also have got this net cast around the world to find out
where al Qaeda is or may be going to.
Q: Admiral, can you update us on the search at sea? There was a report
I think in the last several days that while there had been a large
number of bridge-to-bridge contacts, relatively few boardings.
Can you tell us if that's accurate and, if so, why that is? And have
the boardings that you've done yielded anybody in the way of Taliban
leadership or al Qaeda leadership?
Stufflebeem: I don't have any numbers in front of me, Bill. We have
queried hundreds of ships. We have done permissive boardings, and in
both cases have we -- we've not come up with anybody that we're
The pressure is constant. It's not going to change. We're going to
keep looking for al Qaeda or anybody trying to flee who is an obvious
warrior in this area.
To date, nearly all of these queries have been cooperative, and
therefore the information we're getting prevents us from having to go
aboard the ship.
Q: You said "nearly all." Has somebody denied permission to board?
Stufflebeem: I don't know specifically, and I don't want to just get
myself boxed into a categorical statement, because I can't tell you
that I know that somebody has said, "No, you can't."
Q: Admiral, on the survey operation you talked about -- (inaudible) --
when did that begin exactly?
Stufflebeem: Well, I can't tell you that I know a date that we
started, but all along we've been doing surveys. I mean, the -- I use
that term --
Q: I'm talking about the operation this week. Did it begin yesterday?
Did it begin New Year's Eve?
Clarke: Oh, survey of the compound.
Stufflebeem: I don't know when that started, to be honest with you.
Q: Well, I think that's what I'm getting at -- is, Torie, what you
talked about at the beginning. Again, why was it that Admiral Quigley,
12 to 14 hours before it seemed like it began, to us -- why was he
saying there was no operation taking place at all? I just want to
understand whether you believe that Admiral Quigley is owed an apology
by whoever he talked to, given that he came out and told us something
that was clearly confusing, as he would say.
Clarke: No, I think what went on in the last couple days is a
reflection that there's lots of different kinds of activity, and some
we can talk about, some we can't talk about it. There were lots of
different people talking about what was going on. I don't think it's
more -- there's more to it than that. And we'll try to get you more of
a certain time as to when that survey took place. It was within the
last, let's say, 36 hours -- approximately, but we'll try to get you a
more specific time.
Q: Apparently, photographers viewed some 60 Marines boarding three
twin-rotor helicopters sometime around New Year's Day at --
Clarke: Do you know, just to push back on you slightly, with all due
respect to the people who are on the ground looking at things, because
I wasn't -- but over the course of the last two days, or whenever this
started, I had -- conservative estimate -- six or seven different
people. One told me 20. Another told me a hundred. Another told me, I
think, 30 or 40. So --
Q: What do you tell me?
Clarke: What I'm saying is that the Marines went into the compound and
conducted their survey.
Clarke: We'll try to get you an exact time. [The mission began shortly
after midnight on Jan. 1 and concluded around sunrise on Jan. 2]
Q: Torie, were -- (inaudible) -- photographer who first reported it --
this event, was he removed from the base at Kandahar? Was he asked to
Clarke: Not that I know of.
Q: Can you check that?
Clarke: Sure. [No photographers were asked to leave the airport.]
Stufflebeem: Let's go to the back here.
Q: Can you give us any additional details about the Global Hawk crash?
And given that the statement about that said that the aircraft was to
be recovered, does that mean, at least according to the information
you have, that it will be repaired and put back into service, or are
you just going to recover it just so that you don't let it fall into
somebody else's hands?
Stufflebeem: Well, it went down on land, not in Afghanistan. I
hesitate to give you specifics of where because there's a host-nation
issue to respect. Initial indications are that it went down for a --
what you would call a malfunction, a maintenance-related malfunction.
Clearly it was not shot down. The site of where it went down has been
confirmed, and there may already be an accident investigation team on
the site to recover, to determine the cause of the accident. When an
aircraft goes down -- a Global Hawk, even though it's unmanned, is a
pretty sizeable craft, and when it goes down, there's not going to be
much you can put back in the air.
Q: Will that be an Air Force recovery team, or does it matter?
Stufflebeem: No, I think it will be Air Force. I think -- they're
treating it like an aircraft accident.
Q: Can you tell us anything about the two air strikes that you
reported on Friday, last Friday and last Wednesday? And can you
confirm that the intelligence chief of the Taliban was killed in one
of those strikes, and if so, which one of those strikes?
Stufflebeem: I cannot confirm that the intelligence chief was killed.
We don't have good confirmation that he was. The strike --
Q: But you have heard reports.
Stufflebeem: I have heard the reports, but I just can't confirm it. We
just don't have the evidence that's proof positive.
The strike that occurred on the 26th, on Wednesday, was on the
compound that was of the intelligence ministry, Taliban intelligence
ministry. Good confirmation of that. That intelligence piece had been
worked up quite extensively before the strike occurred. Subsequent to
that, two days later, north of that compound, a different compound,
pro-Taliban forces, not related to this intelligence compound at all.
Does that help you?
Q: Any information on who may have been injured or killed in either of
Stufflebeem: Well, we know that they were Taliban that were killed.
We suspect without confirmation that there were non-Afghans there, as
Q: Excuse me, Admiral --
Q: Admiral, could I follow up on that?
Clarke: Two more questions: Mick and then Jim.
Q: Could I follow up on that? Why would it take three months into the
war to attack the Taliban intelligence industry? It would seem to me
that that would be a pretty much fixed target that you'd want to take
out pretty early in the going.
Stufflebeem: Well, I -- your -- it's a good assumption, but what -- I
don't know; therefore, I am making an assumption. I don't know that
that was where the ministry of intelligence was during all this time.
And as we dismantle this government, as it were, they got up and
moved. And so the inference that I make is that this is where we found
Q: That's my original question. (Laughter.) And if I could follow up
on that, it was, you know, bugging me a little bit: What's the latest
on Guantanamo? Has the decision been made to conduct military
tribunals there? And if not, then what are you going to do with all
the prisoners that will be transferred to Guantanamo?
Clarke: No decisions have been reached on the tribunals. It's still
under the secretary's review, and we'll let you know when we have
information. We will put that out. He has given the go-ahead to
prepare Guantanamo as a detention facility. That's all we're saying
about it now. It is probably some weeks away before anything gets done
Q: And has it even been decided whether military or Justice Department
takes control of these detainees? Where is that in the process?
Clarke: Under review. Okay?
Clarke: Now we're going to go to Jim. And that's it.
Q: The Taliban forces that are involved in these negotiations -- do
they also include al Qaeda forces? And there have been reports, I
think, that there may be as many as two (thousand) or 3,000 of them.
Are those reports accurate, to the best of your knowledge? And I
believe you said that they were northwest of Kandahar. Is that in
Helmand province? And is that in that cave complex in the mountains
northwest of Kandahar?
Stufflebeem: Well, the reports that I'm tracking speak specifically to
Baghran, which, I believe, is in Helmand province. The numbers -- two
(thousand) to 3,000 is much higher than what I have seen. I've seen
something on the order of maybe half that. And I've only heard of
Taliban forces. Now I make an inference that that may include
pro-Taliban forces, but all I've heard is Taliban.
Clarke: Thank you.
Stufflebeem: Happy new year.
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