(AP) The Pentagon’s chief spokeswoman said Wednesday that reports about military missions in Afghanistan had led to confusion this week, but she denied that the public had been misled or deliberately deceived.
News organizations including The Associated Press reported Monday that Marines in combat gear had left their air base near Kandahar aboard helicopters, and interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai said an effort was under way to capture Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, spokesman for U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., told other reporters on Monday there was no such mission.
On Wednesday, at a briefing with Assistant Secretary of Defense Victoria Clarke, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem described the Marine deployments and said the units were in search of information, not specific individuals.
“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-Qaida and Taliban forces and they’re collecting physical evidence,” he said.
Clarke said, “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.” She restated Pentagon policy on public statements.
“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,” she said.
Clarke was asked whether a photographer was removed from Kandahar or asked to leave the base by military officials. She replied, “Not that I know of.”
She said later she was unaware that AP photographer John Moore had been banned from coverage on the base. Moore has covered unrest from Latin America to Africa, including the failed U.S. mission to Somalia.
“John Moore appropriately and accurately reported what he saw in Kandahar on Monday,” Vincent Alabiso, vice president and executive photo editor, said. “He is a skilled photojournalist whose work is valued by the AP.”