September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
DoD News Briefing - Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz and Rear Adm. Stufflebeem 11:15 a.m. EST; December 10, 2001

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz Monday, December 10, 2001 - 11:15 a.m. EST


DoD News Briefing - Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz and Rear Adm. Stufflebeem

(Also participating was Rear Adm. John D. Stufflebeem, deputy director for operations, current readiness and capabilities, Joint Staff.)

Wolfowitz: Tomorrow, of course, is December 11th, and that marks three months since the attacks on the World Trade Center and on this building. We've made, I think, a lot of progress in that time, not only in the war in Afghanistan, but in the worldwide campaign against al Qaeda, including here in the United States. But if there is a single thing I would like to say this morning -- is, it ain't over yet. There is a lot of work to be done, including in Afghanistan.

We've created conditions now where, I guess, you could say we have accomplished one major objective, which is the defeat of the Taliban government. They are now, I think, a worthy example to any other countries that would aspire to support al Qaeda or to shelter or harbor al Qaeda terrorists. But it remains the case that large numbers of al Qaeda terrorists, including senior leaders, as well as senior leaders of the Taliban, are still at large in Afghanistan. It's going to be a very long and difficult job to find them, to root them out. We are recruiting some valuable local allies in doing it, and that's obviously going to be part of the key to success.

But it should be remembered this is a country roughly the size of the state of Texas. In other words, it is huge. The terrain is very rough and mountainous, and very favorable to people who want to run and hide. And moreover, the situation -- so that part of the job is -- promises to be difficult. And moreover, the conditions in Afghanistan are very far from stabilized. A lot of the progress that's been made has been a result of people switching sides. It means that you have a situation that is fluid and remains fluid, and could be potentially dangerous for our people who are there. So we have to stay alert. We mustn't make the mistake of thinking that it's all over but the shouting. There's a lot more work to be done.

With that, Admiral Stufflebeem and I would be happy to take questions.

Q: Mr. Wolfowitz, what kind of progress is being made in the Tora Bora area and Jalalabad? And do you believe that Osama bin Laden is still in that area?

Wolfowitz: Well, I guess it's a question of what constitutes belief; if you have to go by -- the best indications we have of where he might be, tend to point, I would say, almost entirely, but mostly to that area. I can't guarantee there isn't some crank caller right now saying that he's in another country, but we don't have any credible evidence of him being in other parts of Afghanistan or outside of Afghanistan. But the kinds of reports that we're working on are very fragmentary -- not very reliable. We're not talking about eyewitnesses who came in right afterwards and said, " I saw him in such and such a place." So -- but the reports that we get tend to leave him in that area.

And I'd like to emphasize something else, too, in terms of progress we've made: I -- it seems to me a -- though I can't prove this -- a reasonable assumption that we have substantially degraded his ability to communicate with other elements of his organization outside of Afghanistan. I think we've probably substantially reduced his authority over people who might be inclined to listen to him. This is a man on the run, a man with a big price on his head, a man who has to wake up every day and decide, "Do I keep all the security around me, which I need to make sure that some Afghan bounty hunters don't turn me in, but which help to give a lot of reports about my whereabouts, or do I go into hiding?" He doesn't have a lot of good options.

Q: Do you think U.S. troops -- as a brief follow-up -- do you think U.S. troops might have to be used to, as you put it, "root" al Qaeda out of these caves and tunnel complexes?

Wolfowitz: Well, U.S. troops are playing a role in supporting the Afghans who are doing most of this work right now, and we will do what we need to do. Obviously, just in terms of sheer numbers, but for many other reasons, the more we can get local allies to do that job for us, the better.

You, and then in back.

Q: Mr. Secretary, your description of Osama bin Laden as having lost a substantial amount of authority and ability to communicate, does that mean that al Qaeda has been effectively neutralized?

Wolfowitz: Not at all. Not at all. And I think this is a network. It's a network with lots of bad actors in it, many of them here, probably still in the United States. As we've said over and over again, there are some 60 countries that have al Qaeda cells in them, and you don't take out a network just by taking out one piece of the network. It's -- we really have to dismantle the whole network. But I think his ability, personally, to execute things has got to be reduced significantly.


Q: Sir, there were some reports over the weekend of the use again of these 15,000-pound daisy cutter type bombs, this time against the cave complexes, just, I guess, from the sheer force of the blast to try to knock these things down. Is it your assessment that the Pentagon is now shifting its emphasis to more rapidly acquire weapons like that and other things that industry has been developing that may come in handy, bunker busters and other weapons like that that you don't have enough of now? Would you like to see more of that?

Wolfowitz: We are looking at our munitions across the board. We're looking, for example, at JDAM production, which is a different kind of weapon than the one you're referring to, where we've been using them with great effect but also in very large numbers. And we're looking at how we can build those inventories back as rapidly as possible.

I'll ask Admiral Stufflebeem if he knows anything about the inventory on the 15,000-pounders.

Stufflebeem: Well, the weapon that was used yesterday in the Tora Bora area, although has -- not unusual and in -- certainly in limited supply, also has a specific type of purpose that it was used for and is used for. And to think that this is necessarily a model as we've used it here in Afghanistan for where we may have to go elsewhere to find al Qaeda, you shouldn't jump to that conclusion. So I think that the science and technology are looking for a number of options and opportunities to look for weapons here in the future that the secretary alluded to for where we'll need to do the work.

Q: There are reports that a number of the foreign Taliban are fleeing. Is there anything being done to interdict the Taliban fighters as they leave?

Wolfowitz: We are working closely with the Pakistani government to work with them to try to catch people coming across. Pakistan is one of the places that they are attempting to flee to. We're also now finding that all those allies that -- or coalition countries that offered naval ships at a time when it didn't seem that Afghanistan was particularly a naval theater, it now turns out that in fact running people down at sea may be part of the job.

Q: Have you captured any? Are you holding them? Or what's the status?

Wolfowitz: I'm not aware of any that have been captured outside yet. There are al Qaeda-related people who have been caught in Pakistan earlier. I don't believe they fled after the bombing started. But I can't tell you for sure.


Q: Mr. Secretary, what is the United States going to do with John Walker? We're told he is being detained, quote-unquote, at Camp Rhino and is now being treated under the Geneva Convention dealing with prisoners of war. Will he be tried as a prisoner of war, as a terrorist, as someone who committed treason? What's the thinking?

Wolfowitz: There's no decision made yet on how he will be handled legally. He's being treated fairly, humanely. He's being given good medical care. And we'll be keeping him at Rhino until a decision is made on what to do with him.

Q: Well, Mr. Secretary, as the Taliban has fallen at Kandahar over the weekend, as I understand it, no senior Taliban leaders have either given up or been taken into custody. Is it surprising that all of these senior leaders would suddenly disappear, or is there some concern that they may have, in fact, been given refuge in any kind of surrender deal that was struck with some of the opposition leaders?

Wolfowitz: First of all, I want to say you're really making the point that I've been trying to make, the secretary's been trying to make; there are a lot of people at large; we're a very long way from having caught them all. The number of anti-Taliban fighters that took Kandahar was much smaller, actually, then the number in the city. And I think, again, that brings home the point that a lot of what's produced, the progress here, especially most recently, have been people deciding, like rats, to leave a sinking ship. But we didn't have the whole perimeter of the ship guarded, so those people are loose.

I don't think, for the most part -- I don't believe that it was any kind of covert deal with the anti-Taliban forces, it was just, I think, almost inevitable that a lot of these people would get away.

We have captured, to my knowledge, at least one, and I think two or three important Taliban leaders, but there are many others still to go, and Mullah Omar, of course, is the one we're most interested in getting.

Q: Could you identify those who have been taken into custody?

Wolfowitz: I'd rather not, since I'm not sure I can.

Q: And is this since Kandahar fell, you mean, or are you talking about over the war?

Wolfowitz: Well, over the last few days.

Q: Can you help us with sort of a look ahead and give us some peripheral vision on how you are looking at some of the other countries that you are now starting to focus on, at least with surveillance and getting better knowledge of this network out in some of these other countries? What are you doing in Somalia, for example? What are you doing in Yemen, Sudan? How are you viewing places where, if he gets out, he and his network already have some comfortable place?

Wolfowitz: (Chuckling.) That's a great way to try to get me to speculate about future operations, which you know I can't do. What I can say is that --

Q: Are you thinking about it?

Wolfowitz: -- obviously we are thinking. We not only are thinking, we're doing -- is to try to observe, surveil possible escape routes, possible sanctuaries. And, I mean, people mention Somalia for obvious reasons. It's a country virtually without a government; a country that has a certain al Qaeda presence already.

But I really want to emphasize we have a lot of work to do in Afghanistan. Our focus is on Afghanistan, and there's a great danger if we don't keep that focus, if we start spreading our net too wide, that we will lose the focus where it really has to be kept.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can you talk a little bit about how many al Qaeda leaders do you feel have been killed? You talk about large numbers throughout the country remaining at large, but how many do you feel you've killed or maimed in the campaign?

And on Tora Bora, there was a report on CNBC that the Northern Alliance has taken the Tora Bora complex. Could the admiral give us a sense of what the true state of fighting is there?

Wolfowitz: It's impossible to give precise numbers. Among other things, we may have killed people in caves, and we may never know that we got them, or it may at the very least be a very long time before we know. We may begin to conclude, if they simply don't turn up anywhere, that they're dead somewhere in Afghanistan.

The number that we actually know are gone is still relatively small, and that's why, again, emphasize there are a lot at large, and they are not only at large in Afghanistan.

And here I want to come back to another point. This is not primarily or exclusively a military campaign; there is a great deal of police work and intelligence work that is under way. There are -- I don't know the exact number, and I'm not sure we have it releasable, but it's in the hundreds of people who have been arrested in some of those 60 countries around the world, many of whom are probably key elements in that al Qaeda network.

So I would really urge all of you and the American people not to get focused on one or two individuals. There is a lot of work out there to be done.

Q: On the other part of the question --

Q: Mr. Secretary, why use the --

Q: On Tora Bora --

Q: And Tora Bora --

Wolfowitz: On Tora Bora, Admiral Stufflebeem.

Stufflebeem: Well, I'm not familiar with the report that's coming out about the Northern Alliance claims in the area. When I last looked at it, which is now a couple of hours old, it was still as it was over the weekend. The al Qaeda forces are still holed up in caves in the Tora Bora area. There still has been fierce fighting to defend their cave entrances, and we have still been providing strikes, as requested by the opposition groups and coordinated by our forces that are with them. So I don't have any new information that would update, that there's been any kind of a change either in hands or situation there.

Q: Mr. Secretary --

Q: Do you have any sense about the supplies that al Qaeda has? Is there a point at which, you know, lacking food or something else, he may have to come out?

Wolfowitz: I think we have a pretty good sense that they are -- that we've taken away a lot of their capability, and I don't just mean we in the campaign in Afghanistan. I think the work by the Treasury Department with finance ministries around the world to freeze assets and to suck up money has produced millions of dollars, and clearly their ability to get support inside Afghanistan is significantly limited.

Most importantly, their access to weapons is now significantly limited. We have seen reports of, I think, reasonable reliability that they have had difficulty smuggling money into Afghanistan. Of course, money is important if you want to flee and run and buy support and bribe people. But I don't think it's a matter that he will, at some point, have to come out with his hands up because he has no food to eat. It's a matter of reducing his options as much as possible.


Q: Mr. Secretary, why use the daisy cutter in Tora Bora? Is that a precursor to any larger U.S. presence there?

Wolfowitz: I'll let Admiral Stufflebeem take that one.

Stufflebeem: Well, I think General Franks would have a couple of good reasons why to use a weapon of that size. One is that there is a psychological effect of having a munition of 15,000 pounds of explosive capability that's brought into a very narrowly defined area. This cave complex is literally on the sheer walls of a valley, and therefore, the reverberation effect that goes up in those caves should have some kind of a negative effect. (Laughter.)

And the other -- the other would be just the obvious effect of the high explosive yield. It was -- it was at a target, at a cave target, and that cave target should no longer be usable for anybody to get in or out of.

Q: Why that specific cave target?

Stufflebeem: Well, it was believed that that's where some substantial al Qaeda forces would be, and possibly including senior leadership.

Q: Can I follow up on that?

Q: Let me just ask you one other question, too, about Tora Bora. We have a correspondent on the ground there who he says he hears choppers right now. Are there gunships that are being used? Are there people being ferried in or out of Tora Bora?

Stufflebeem: Well, our Special Operating Forces are in there. The fact that they may be resupplied for what they need probably is ongoing. The air forces that are being used to support the strikes that are requested by the opposition groups are primarily fixed-wing aircraft and not helicopters. So the attack gunship wouldn't necessarily be there.

(Cross talk.)

Q: Brief follow-up please. You said "senior leadership." Does that include bin Laden?

Stufflebeem: It would certainly -- would hope -- be hopefully so.

Q: Sir, could I --

Q: It was assumed that when this daisy cutter was used that bin Laden may have been in that target area?

Stufflebeem: Well, I don't think anybody makes that assumption as much as there are reports that you get -- and we've talked about this many times before -- that could come from many quarters, and they're conflicting, but sometimes you get a report where someone says he may have seen bin Laden or associates that are known to be close around him. And when that's done and the SOF forces are acting to a request of hitting a particular area because someone believes that's where that leadership may be -- in this case, we used a bigger weapon to do that with.

Q: But were you successful, then? Was it successful? Do you have any sense, then, of the success of what happened to that cave, who -- is anybody dead?

Stufflebeem: Not yet. Not yet. It's still a hot area, as I mentioned a moment ago, and so with the fighting that's been going on, it's been difficult to get into that area to confirm exactly what happened on the ground.

Q: Could I follow up on that? Could you be a little more specific about what you're trying to do with explosive effects, regardless of the type of bomb you use? Are you trying to, for example, collapse the doorways of caves, therefore essentially -- do you therefore think you're burying people alive? Are you trying to get them to -- drive them out an exit so they can be rounded up by ground troops? What exactly are you trying to do with these explosives that you're using?

Stufflebeem: It's a good question, and all of the assumptions that you would make for answers are part of what the answer really is. The outcome, the intended end-state, is to get al Qaeda and to get al Qaeda leadership, because we know that this is where they have been. This has been their sanctuary. So to deny that means to get at the leadership and to get at those areas that have been their comfort haven. So the psychological effects of taking caves away, the intended direct effects of killing al Qaeda members, of denying caves -- all of that has added up to the intended end- state.

Q: Admiral --

Q: When you say denying caves, are you talking about collapsing, destroying --

Stufflebeem: Entrances to caves.

Q: -- entrances to caves?

Stufflebeem: Correct.

Q: Are these believed to be one-way caves, or is there a doorway in here and then it takes a left and then it comes out somewhere down the way?

Stufflebeem: Just about every conceivable type of cave is there: one-ways; small caves; large, extensive tunnels with multiple entrances; all of that.

Q: Admiral, there seem to be a lot of problems with ammunition and supplies for the actual Afghan fighters fighting the al Qaeda forces. Can you tell us about efforts -- you talked about resupply efforts for U.S. Special Operations forces. Can you talk about resupply efforts to help the anti-al Qaeda fighters, who seem to be very low on ammunition right now?

Stufflebeem: Sure. The reports that you're referring to are somewhat sporadic, though, because there are some forces and areas that have all of what they have asked for and all of what they need. And then there are other forces in other areas that would like to have more. There also is a little bit of -- what weapons do they have? Are they Russian-made weapons? Were they Russian-supplied weapons, and therefore are they being Russian resupplied -- as was indicated early on. So determining exactly what their needs are is one of the missions of the Special Operating Forces in the areas.

Now, we've mentioned before that there are not teams with every opposition group, and therefore I would suspect that some of these teams are putting their hands up to say, hey, we need some of that stuff, too, but we don't have anybody to liaise directly with. And so that is part of working with this on the ground.

Q: So is that part of getting more American liaisons in there to help the resupply effort?

Stufflebeem: Well, it is to a point. It's not an intention, I don't believe, that we'll try to provide teams to every opposition group that's there because, one, they were competing with each other for a little bit, but many of these groups are also working together in loose alliances with each other. So we're working where the centers of gravity are.

Wolfowitz: And it's very different from where we were six or eight weeks ago when we knew the people we needed to supply who were engaged in heavy fighting with Taliban, and we were pretty sure what the weapons were going to be used for and that they were needed. Now there are issues of the reliability of the people you're giving them to. I mean, we're getting some very recent defectors, or people who have changed sides, who now suddenly need weapons. We'd like to make sure that those weapons are going to be used to advance our objectives and not to get involved in some internal fight in Afghanistan.

So I think we really are in a different stage in terms of resupply, and I wouldn't take the concerns about shortage, personally, as seriously as I did when General Dostum, for example, had real shortages up north.

Q: Mr. Secretary? Mr. Secretary, you --

Q: If I could follow up on Tora Bora. You mentioned the daisy cutter --

Wolfowitz: I'll get back to you.

Q: You mentioned the daisy cutter. What about fuel air explosives? Have those been used to date, and do you plan on using those to actually suck the air out of some of these caves?

Stufflebeem: I don't think they have been used to date. It's been a long time since I've looked at our inventories, but I'm not sure that we have any fuel air explosives left in the inventory from after Desert Storm.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you've been one of the fiercest advocates within the administration for taking the war on terrorism to Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Is it still your belief that Saddam Hussein must be eliminated, in that Iraq currently poses a major danger to the U.S.?

Wolfowitz: Don't believe everything you read. I don't believe everything I read about what I supposedly think! (Chuckles.)

Again, I want to repeat, it is very important to keep our focus on this war in Afghanistan. It's a classic military mistake to leave a partially defeated enemy on the battlefield in one form or another -- let them survive. And there are a lot of people we have to get after there, a lot of work we have to do. And we may be, in certain respects, into one of the most difficult phases because up until now, I think there has been identity of interests between us and the Afghans we're supporting in terms of a common desire to get rid of the Taliban regime. With that regime gone, our objectives may not be quite as high a priority for them, and they may start pursuing some local objectives that interfere with us. So there's a lot to keep our eye on.

With respect to Iraq, I think the president had been very clear, the secretary's been very clear, the combination of support for terrorism with the development of weapons of mass destruction is clearly one of the most dangerous potentials in the world.

And Iraq is under an obligation from the end of the Gulf War to give up all weapons of mass destruction and all programs for developing them, and under an obligation to accept inspections to verify that they've done so. And as of now, they have neither given up the weapons nor, for three years, accepted the inspectors. So that is a problem.

Q: Having said that, what do you believe should be done?

Wolfowitz: There are a lot of ways to think about that. But I think the problem -- the president stated the problem very clearly. He's also stated very clearly, from the very beginning in his address to a joint session of Congress [ transcript ], that this is going to be a very long campaign against terrorism, against not just al Qaeda, and al Qaeda means not just Afghanistan, but 60 countries where there is an al Qaeda presence. We've seen, frankly, increasingly one of the things that comes through in the intelligence picture that you get from the various -- interrogations of various -- we're getting a lot of information about al Qaeda we didn't have. Among that information are lots of connections to other terrorist networks. So we have a much clearer picture even than before that these networks operate with one another. And as the president said from the beginning, the problem of state support for terrorism is one that we have to solve before this is over.

Q: Are you limited, sir, to fighting them sequentially? I mean, you sound as although you're almost talking about, you know, the two-MRC issue where Afghanistan is so much --

Wolfowitz: We're not fighting them sequentially, we're fighting al Qaeda in 60 countries simultaneously. We didn't fight the Afghan campaign sequentially either. I mean, I think it is very different from Desert Storm, where we actually had phases and a very clear air campaign phase, a very clear ground campaign phase. This is a matter of -- and I guess the network is part of the way of thinking about it, where when you start trying to take down a network, which is something that's designed to survive, taking on a particular piece, you've got to go after it everywhere. And as you go after it in one place, you may flush out information that allows you to hit it somewhere else.

Q: You seem to be cautioning us. When we ask you about next steps, you keep saying, "Well, we've got to stay with Afghanistan." You know, you seem to be --

Wolfowitz: Because I do believe it's important to keep a focus on Afghanistan. I've heard people say, "With the war won in Afghanistan, we now have to focus on winning the peace." Well, we've actually been focused on winning the peace since roughly October 1st. I know before the bombing started, we were talking in the U.S. government about the need to think about a post-Taliban reconstruction effort. So that is under way. But the part of that statement I take great exception to is, "with the war won." The war in Afghanistan is not won. There are too many people who are acting -- talking as though it were won. And I'm not saying there aren't all these other problems to deal with, but we really have to recognize, the American people have to be prepared for the fact that we may be hunting Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan months from now.

Q: Mr. Secretary, have you see this new videotape of Osama bin Laden? And if so, what can you tell us about it?

Wolfowitz: I've seen it. I think my characterization of it was "disgusting," and I think I'll stick with that characterization. I think -- of course, I'm assuming that -- since I didn't understand the original Arabic, I'm assuming the translation that was given to me was correct. And the body language that I saw really was disgusting. I mean, that people would take delight in having killed innocent civilians is horrible.

Q: Does it remove any doubt that bin Laden was behind --

Wolfowitz: I haven't had any doubt since somewhere around September 12th, so --

Q: Well, if anybody else had any doubts, is this a smoking gun?

Wolfowitz: Well, we're working right now with the rest of the U.S. government, particularly with the intelligence agencies, to make sure that if we do release it, that we haven't in any way compromised sources and methods. We'd like to be able to release it, and then the American people and anyone else who has any questions can judge for themselves, and I think I'll let them judge for themselves.


Q: A part of the criticism of losing the peace in Afghanistan was some of the critics for the nongovernmental organizations, saying that they are fearful of getting aid into Afghanistan because they're still fearful of the bandits there, there's not enough protection either from U.S. forces or from any of the coalition forces -- not enough. What is the status of that? What's the plan to improve that situation?

Wolfowitz: Okay, let me be clear. I'm not criticizing people who want to be sure we don't lose the peace. I'm just cautious about people who say we've won the war. The peace is very important. Those concerns that -- expressed by the humanitarian organizations are very important.

We've had humanitarian relief as part of this campaign, as you know, from day one. We've just had a major breakthrough in that regard, with the opening of the land bridge from Uzbekistan. And we hope now to be able to start delivering supplies in quantity overland, instead of having to sort of drop them out one at a time from airplanes.

One of the reasons for cautioning that this isn't over -- I don't know whether it's part of the war or part of the peace -- if you have bandits that present -- prevent relief supplies from being delivered, it's a job we want to make sure gets dealt with. And again, the size of the country, the lawlessness, the traditional lawlessness in large parts of the country mean that problems like that are not something you just walk away from easily. We are determined that when we're finished, that Afghanistan will be the sort of country that doesn't once again become a sanctuary for terrorists.

Q: But what about the coalition forces that -- could they now supply more security? Could they be brought in now or can U.S. forces provide more security for the humanitarian relief?

Wolfowitz: Again, think about how huge this country is. We're not talking about a little place like Bosnia or Kosovo, and we're talking about a wild place culturally, as well as physically. I think the -- and I guess most importantly, we're talking about a country that doesn't have much appetite for foreign presence. We have to figure out ways to encourage the Afghans to behave in such a way that these problems don't reemerge. I think we have a lot of means of influence. I think we've earned enormous respect and authority with local commanders by the kinds of things we've done during this war. I think we're going to have a lot of leverage through the reconstruction aid and economic aid that we and other countries will provide.

But I think any solution, to work, has got to rely -- just as this campaign has relied so far -- principally on the efforts of the Afghans themselves.

Q: You mentioned that there were perhaps as many as three Taliban leaders in custody. Could you clarify who -- whose custody are they in? And if it's not U.S., what guarantees are you getting that these people will not be -- just disappear at some point?

And I also wanted to ask you to go back and just bring us up to date more on the interdiction operation in Southern Afghanistan. How is that being increased, and what actually is taking place there as the Marines move closer to Kandahar?

Wolfowitz: I think the interdiction I referred to was the maritime interdiction off the coast. I'm not sure --

Q: I believe Admiral Stufflebeem mentioned that interdiction -- Marine interdiction was continuing in --

Wolfowitz: Okay. I'll let him take that part.

Q: But that --

Wolfowitz: On the question about guarantees of custody, I think outside of things that are under the control of U.S. forces directly, "guarantees" is probably not a good word to use. But we've made very clear to everybody what our desires are with respect to these key leaders. I think when there was some talk a few days ago about possibly negotiating something Mullah Omar, the secretary made it very clear right here that that was unacceptable to the United States, and I think you saw the attitudes in Afghanistan change rather quickly.

General Dostum has some people that we're interested in, and I think we're pretty confident that he now has them under good control. They learned a terrible lesson from that prison riot in Mazar -- so did we. But I think the key people that we're tracking, I think, if and when we're ready to take custody, we'll make that decision. But to the best of my knowledge, there's no one that is in the hands of the opposition that we're not pretty sure they now know we want them, and they'll safeguard them properly.

(To Admiral Stufflebeem) Do you want to answer the question about interdiction?

Stufflebeem: Yes, sir.

In terms of Kandahar, since the changeover of control from Taliban to the Pashtun forces, it's been a relatively quiet weekend with some tension, is probably the best way to describe it. Marines continue their reconnaissance and interdiction patrols, and they have not met with any resistance or had any engagements in the last 48 hours -- actually, for longer than that now. Special Operating Forces who are with the opposition forces around Kandahar are also reporting it's been quiet, but it's tense.

Q: And where is Mullah Omar at this point? The guy who you had relative confidence that you knew he was in Kandahar on Friday, now appears to not be in Kandahar. How are you assessing his whereabouts and the likelihood you're going to get him?

Stufflebeem: Well, from a perspective of military intelligence and operations, we make an assessment, if you will -- would be too strong a word -- but we've got good indicators that he has not left the area.

He may, in fact, not be in the city, but we don't believe that he left the area. So we're continuing to pool through reconnaissance -- to work with locals to try to refine where it is he may be. And as -- we've said many times before, boy, if we knew where he was, we'd have him in a minute.

Q: Your level of confidence was relatively high on Friday -- not yours, but the Pentagon's -- that this was an achievable goal -- getting him and getting him in a relatively short time frame.

Stufflebeem: I'm not sure I could characterize --

Wolfowitz: I'm not sure who you're quoting. It was never mine. I mean, I think we -- I thought it was pretty clear that the way the situation was in Kandahar with, as I mentioned, sort of still relatively small opposition forces coming in, that when the place collapsed, it could sort of spread out in a rather chaotic manner, which I think is what's happened. And part of our assessment about his location now partly has to do with just the amount of time he's had to flee, but also, to the extent we have reports on his presence, they still keep him in that area.

One last --

Q: Anything new on maritime interdictions? You mentioned maritime interdictions. Have any additional ships been boarded? Anybody seized off any of these ships?

Stufflebeem: Well, we have done a number of queries where you challenge a ship as to whom you are, what do you have, what are you doing, will you stop. And as of yet, I've not heard any reports, as of a couple of hours ago, that we have detained anybody from those queries.

Wolfowitz: One last one.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you said you wanted to focus on Afghanistan, but there are reports in Somalia of a group of U.S. military personnel visiting the bases by Doha, possibly accompanied by Ethiopian soldiers. Would that be an assessment mission for possible operations in Somalia? Or what can you tell us about that?

Stufflebeem: I don't know. I don't have anything that I could add to that.

Wolfowitz: I'll take one more, because I can't add to that one, either. (Laughter.)

Yes, sir?

Q: Just a clarification on the custody: President Bush has emphasized the need to bring people to justice. Did I understand you to say that there are no senior al Qaeda leaders that are currently in custody that could be brought to, for example, a tribunal? Or what's the state of -- as far as al Qaeda, as opposed to Taliban, Afghan Taliban? How many senior al Qaeda people are in custody now that -- in whom the United States would be interested?

Wolfowitz: First of all, I think the president's phrase is "bring them to justice or bring justice to them," and I think we've brought justice to a few of them already.

But as to having any actually in custody, I'm not aware of any yet. We are -- that's again, it just bears -- brings home the point. There are a lot out there loose, and there's a lot of work still to be done.

Thank you.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you said two were captured -- two Taliban leaders were captured. We captured --

Wolfowitz: No. No, I said I think up to possibly three, and I'm not sure of the exact number. And not captured by us.

Q: Thank you.

U.S. Government Website

September 11 Page

127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT 06511.