Staff Dep. Dir. of Operations Rear Adm. John D. Stufflebeem
Press Briefing on Operation Enduring Freedom
October 31, 2001
1:30 P.M. EST
STUFFLEBEEM: Well, good afternoon.
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
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 -
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
STUFFLEBEEM: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: 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
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.
QUESTION: 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
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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
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
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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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
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
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
QUESTION: 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? (Laughter.)
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.
QUESTION: How many videos are you receiving every day, for instance? How many
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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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?
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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
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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: Was it north -- were those reports north of Kandahar? The reports
that you've seen --
STUFFLEBEEM: They've consistently been --
QUESTION: -- did they put him north of Kandahar?
STUFFLEBEEM: Yeah. Consistently they've been Kabul, Kandahar area.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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
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.
QUESTION: (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.
QUESTION: 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
We're got time for two more questions.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
STUFFLEBEEM: I've got to make another conference. Thank you all very much. Have
a good afternoon.
QUESTION: (Off mike) -- can you give us a minimum number of the bombings? (No