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Rumsfeld: Troops in Afghanistan

Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2001

Following is the text of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's news conference on U.S. retaliation efforts. Rumsfeld acknowledged today for the first time that U.S. Special Forces are on the ground in northern Afghanistan. Rumsfeld was accompanied by Britain's defense secretary, Geoffrey Hoon.

RUMSFELD: Good afternoon.

Minister Hoon is visiting the United States. He has been here a number of times. Indeed, we've met a number of times in the months since I've been serving in this post. And as always, we're delighted to have this representative of such a wonderful friend and ally of so many decades.

We have been visiting about a host of issues, not the least of which is the effort against terrorism and terrorist networks, but also some other subjects of interest to the United States and to NATO.

Mr. Minister?

HOON: I am going to say how much I welcome this opportunity to set out, yet again, the United Kingdom's support for the United States leadership of the world's campaign against international terrorism.

We all saw in the moving memorial service in New York on Sunday, echoed in the United Kingdom at Westminster Cathedral, as a reminder, if anyone needed, of why such a campaign is so necessary. Our two countries have long enjoyed uniquely close ties. The appalling tragedies of the 11th of September and our response to that has brought us still closer.

The United Kingdom has been involved in that campaign right from the start, primarily through the agreement to use the base at Diego Garcia and in supporting American strike aircraft by providing air-to-air refueling tankers and reconnaissance aircraft, and we've also launched cruise missiles against terrorist camps.

Last Friday, we announced that all of Britain's aircraft carriers be equipped to carry helicopters to join these forces together with an assault ship, two escorts, raw (ph) marines, naval auxiliary vessels and maritime reconnaissance and transport aircraft.

Overall, we will assign something like 4,200 of our forces, Cooperation Veritas, the United Kingdom's military contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom. It's a clear demonstration of our commitment to stand by our closest ally for as long as it takes. We're prepared for that long haul.

RUMSFELD: We would be happy to respond to questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Minister, you said yesterday and again today that Muslim sensibilities over Ramadan must be addressed.

And Mr. Secretary, you said yesterday that history is replete with examples of Muslims fighting each other during Ramadan.

Will your two countries continue the air campaign, bombing campaign during Ramadan?

HOON: What I actually said was that, ``we must take those sensitivities into account,'' and we will take them into account. But it does not make sense to indicate up front what might be our military intentions during that period. And that still remains my position.

RUMSFELD: And I said the same thing, I said that we clearly are interested in the views and opinions and sensitivities and that each country has their own circumstance and their own neighborhood they live in, and we're respectful of those.

QUESTION: Will it make military sense to halt the bombing during Ramadan?

HOON: It wouldn't make military sense to announce up-front what our intentions were during that period. It certainly wouldn't make military sense to afford the Taliban regime, which has been under very considerable pressure in recent times, the opportunity of regrouping, reorganizing during a predictable period of time. And it's not a sensible way to run a military operation.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I need to take my one question today and ask you to address some of the sentiments expressed, some of the editorial pages across the country. Particularly, in the Washington Post today, where William Kristol says, ``you're pursuing the wrong strategy''; Charles Krauthammer says, ``without enough might.''

Kristol says, for instance, ``that the administration's plan is shaped by three self-imposed constraints, no ground troops in Afghanistan, no confrontation with Iraq, no alarm at home.'' Krauthammer writing, ``that the war is not going well, and it's time to say why it's being fought with half-measures.'' He criticizes you for holding back on bombing front-line troops, et cetera.

Are these editorial writers or pundits delusional or are you in denial as he suggests?


RUMSFELD: Well, first, I'll be happy to respond. First of all, they're not editorial writers, I don't believe. I think technically they're op-ed pieces--opinion writers--and they're not necessarily connected with the newspaper editorial office, as much as they are their own views. And we have a lot of those in America and I would just be dumbfounded if I found that everyone agreed with everything that we did.

We expect that there will be differences of views. I must say that I find those differences of views often helpful and interesting and informative and educational. So I do read them.

Second, we have been devoting a considerably more than 50 percent of our air effort to opposition forces and any suggestion that we've been not addressing the front line troops that are opposing the opposition forces--that is to say the Taliban and Al Qaeda forces--would be a misunderstanding of what we're doing. We are very aggressively doing that. I would think for today, for example, I think the intention was to have something like 80 percent of our effort addressed to the front line troops.

Last, we do have a very modest number of ground troops in the country and they are there for liaison purposes and have been doing an excellent job of assisting with the coordination for resupply of various type as well as targeting. It is true we do not have anything like the ground forces we had in World War II or in Korea or in the Gulf War, but nor have we ruled that out. So I think it's helpful for people to write articles like that and have views and offer them.

QUESTION: Would you respond to the general criticism, though, that the strategy is wrong and that it's being fought with half measures under political constraints?

HOON: Well, I see no sign of that at all. And the United Kingdom, obviously, has been willing to play its part. I indicated the level of support that we were able to offer militarily. And certainly we have not ruled out further military interventions as and when appropriate.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary?


QUESTION: You mentioned a moment ago that 80 percent of today's bombing effort was directed at front line positions.

RUMSFELD: Planned to be.

QUESTION: Planned to be. Are there indications you're seeing in the last few days that the opposition forces are, in fact, approaching the moment when they can and will make moves in that direction?

RUMSFELD: You never know until they do it.

QUESTION: Are they making preparations for it?

RUMSFELD: There certainly are preparations that are being made. Those people are independent operators, and when they decide to move forward is really within their control. We are doing what we can to see that they have the kind of ammunition they need and the food supplies they need, and we're doing what we can to assist with targeting some of the forces that oppose them. But in the last analysis, they are their own forces and they'll make those judgments themselves.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, President Musharraf is saying today that he sees clear splits in the Taliban. You have been shying away from making those kinds of statements. Are there more cracks in their front than have been readily apparent? And why is he saying it and you aren't?

RUMSFELD: Well, he lives in the neighborhood. They know an awful lot of those folks. And they've known them over a period of time. And they've had diplomatic relations with them. And if I were to go with someone's view, I'd probably be inclined to go with his.

Our problem is that we hear a lot of scraps of information. How you take them and then validate them and connect them is a very difficult thing to do.

And therefore, I'm kind of a conservative guy, and I'm slow to make assumptions that are rosy. All I can say is, we hear rumors to that effect. I've not seen personally anything that I could validate that would suggest a major shift in one direction or another. Although certainly, we see the anecdotal information that he undoubtedly sees, but he may very well know more than we do.

HOON: One of those scraps of information which I found interesting is the fact that there are indications in certain parts of those areas controlled by the Taliban that the local Afghan population is beginning to make its own displeasure that the regime felt...


HOON: Well, they're beginning to make it clear that they do not like the idea of the Taliban continuing to control their country in the way that they have done. Now, I think that's very encouraging.

QUESTION: Much of the local anecdotal stuff that many of us are picking up is almost the opposite, that because of the bombing, the local population is afraid to resist the Taliban and are going in the other direction. So you don't...

HOON: That's why it's necessary to treat these scraps of information as what they are. But I'm fairly persuaded that this particular scrap of information is one that we can rely on.

RUMSFELD: One thing we have seen more than one or two scraps of information about and that is the fact that Afghan people are quite concerned that the Al Qaeda and Taliban are, in fact, using mosques as ammunition storage and meeting places and command and control, that they're placing their anti-aircraft batteries in close proximities to residential areas. And they feel--Afghan people feel that they are being put at unnecessary risk because of the co-location which clearly is for the very reason that they know we avoid targeting residential and civilian areas.


QUESTION: This is the first time that you've acknowledged publicly the presence of U.S. ground troops on the ground. I wonder if you could elaborate just a bit more. Are they just in the north? Are there some in the south? Do these liaison activities also involve training rebel forces? Strictly liaison for humanitarian aid and targeting purposes or...

RUMSFELD: I don't think it's the first time I've acknowledged that. I think yesterday a young woman down here said something about this, this and this, and I said, all the above.

QUESTION: Any of the above.

RUMSFELD: Did I? Son of a gun.


Well, we do. We do have some military people on the ground. They're in the north, and we've had others on the ground who have come in and out on the south, but the ones that are there are doing exactly what I said; they are uniform military personnel who are assisting with resupply, assisting with communications liaison, assisting with targeting and providing the kind of very specific information which is helpful to the air effort. And because they are there now, the effort has improved in its effectiveness over what had been the case previously.

QUESTION: May I follow-up on that question and also to the British secretary, Mr. Secretary? What would you see as the circumstances now for moving beyond the modest number of people you have on the ground now to a more robust number? Under what circumstances might that happen for both U.S. and British troops?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think we've already each answered that already, that we don't talk about things that might happen prospectively or the kinds of circumstances that might bring that about, other than to say the United States of America has certainly not ruled out the use of ground troops.


HOON: Nor have we.

QUESTION: Your top officer, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, said a few days ago that ground troops might have to operate in Afghanistan for weeks at a time. Would you agree with that?

HOON: Again, I'm not going to give you any indication as to precisely what plans there are. What I think is important is that we keep the Taliban regime guessing. We do not want to indicate to them what our precise intentions are. Saying that, we will continue to keep them under very significant military pressure and therefore there will be operations that continue to do that.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you mentioned that the ground forces in the north, the Northern Alliance, are independent operators, outside of your control. Yet they seem to be asking for greater interaction, greater coordination between air and ground, and you've got these liaison officers. So is this an area you're trying to improve to get it to the point where in fact they are working in coordination with the U.S.?

RUMSFELD: We've been trying to prove it since the very beginning, and it's taken some time because of weather and various other things to get the kinds of help on the ground that can provide the specificity needed for good targeting from the air. The U.S. forces on the ground are not currently with each of the various opposition elements in the country. They're with a limited number of the opposition elements. And therefore what you're going to hear is uneven as to how effective the work from the air is. It's going to be more effective in the instances where we do have people working with those forces.

QUESTION: Are you able to say to them, we'd like you to move on X date and get their assurance that they can do that? Or does it not work that way?

RUMSFELD: No, no, no, it doesn't work that way. What we are basically involved in is providing assistance and supplies and food and ammunition and liaison with the air in a way that the targeting can be more precise. These people have been fighting in that country for ages. You're not going to send a few people in and tell them they should turn right, turn left, go slower, go fast. They know their own minds and they're going to move when they think it makes sense. And they've survived over the years, and it will remain to be seen if and when they actually decide to go forward.

But there is no question but that we are providing significant assistance from the air for the forces where we have people on the ground.

QUESTION: Mr. Minister, the secretary said that the United States has troops on the ground. Does Britain have troops on the ground in Afghanistan now?

HOON: Not at the present time.


QUESTION: To answer this criticism, just to follow up on this question about the criticism that you're prosecuting this campaign somehow half-heartedly. You mentioned that the performance is uneven because of the limited number of U.S. troops on the ground. What would you say to the critics who say, ``Why not ratchet that up by putting more people on the ground, spotting more targets, intensifying the bombing campaign in order to put more pressure on the Taliban''?

RUMSFELD: Well, were anyone to make that suggestion, it would reflect a lack of understanding or knowledge as to the effort we've been putting into it. is not easily done. We have worked very hard on it. We are working very hard on it today. And we will continue to work very hard on it because we're very serious about what it is we're doing.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, along the lines of questions about the success of the effort thus far, there's a poll today that shows that the belief that it's going to be...

RUMSFELD: This is beginning to be a pattern over on this side of the room. The next question is over here. Kind of wait over here.


QUESTION: The poll that shows--a New York Times Poll--that shows that people who believe that the war is going to be successful, there's a bit of a slippage in the number of people who believe that. Is that something that concerns you?

HOON: Well, I've seen some polls in the United Kingdom very recently that show that 84 percent of the population are entirely happy with the bombing campaign. They are determined to see a successful outcome. We share very deeply the hurt that the United States suffered on September 11, and we want to see that campaign reach a very successful conclusion.

QUESTION: Secretary Rumsfeld, are you concerned that there's starting to be a slippage a little bit in the...

RUMSFELD: Not at all. I think that this is a long, hard effort. It is not going to be quick. I have a lot of confidence in the American people that they're going to stay the course. The threat to the United States is substantial, let there be no doubt. We lost thousands of people already, and the threats to additional thousands of people are clear.

And what we are doing is pursuing this effort according to the plan that was laid out very early on. It is going according to plan. And there's no doubt in my mind that when we finish, we'll still have good support.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I have a question about the anthrax vaccination program. Congressman Shays says that the previous administration squandered the vaccine by giving it out so widely. Was is your reaction to that?

And a couple of weeks ago, you said you were going to try to give Bioport one more chance. What did you have in mind?

RUMSFELD: I would rather have you talk to Pete Aldridge about what we have in mind. It involved, as I think I indicated at the time, some complex negotiations and discussions about how they might find a way forward that would be useful and constructive from the standpoint of the Department of Defense. I have not gotten a report back with respect to how that might have evolved, those discussions.

Would I agree with the Congressman's statement? I was not here during the prior administration, and it wouldn't be wise for me to opine on that.

QUESTION: Could you define modest when you say number of troops? Can you define what you mean by modest, just ballpark?

And secondly, could you tell us what kind of success you're having in attacking the caves and the tunnels? There were some reports that we were focusing on the entrances to some of these hideouts. Can you give us a status report?

RUMSFELD: Modest means small, as opposed to large.


RUMSFELD: And as...

QUESTION: What, 100?

RUMSFELD: No. Modest, I said.

And as far as the tunnels and caves go, there are an enormous number in that country. And they have been well developed. They are long. They are large. I'm sure you've seen photographs of them. And they've been making effective use of those caves and tunnels for a long time.

Are we making progress on them?

Sure. We keep finding them, and we keep working them over. What does that mean? Does that mean we're 10 percent or 20 or 30 or 40? One can't answer that kind of a question, because you don't know how many there are until you find them. And we keep finding new ones all the time.


QUESTION: ... I don't think there were any particular levels or expertise the British forces bring to this campaign that you might otherwise not have, or is just the value of having another friend along side you?

RUMSFELD: Is this to me? Well, there's no question it is an enormous advantage to have our friend and ally aboard on this exercise and engaged, both in the planning and the discussions about it but also physically involved, as the minister said in several different ways.

They do have considerable expertise in a number of areas, as you know well. And they bring a great deal of experience and talent and skill and training to this effort, and we're delighted and grateful.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary?

RUMSFELD: We'll make this the last one? How's that sound to you?

HOON: Sounds good to me.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary you said that...


RUMSFELD: So we'll each answer it?

QUESTION: You said that the air strikes are deliberately designed not to hit residential centers, but you also say that the Taliban is hiding weapons, stockpiling weapons in residential areas. Have you ruled out the possibility of dropping leaflets days in advance of an air striking to get residents out and saying this could become a military target? Is that something, without discussing future operations, could you see that possibly coming to fruition?

RUMSFELD: We drop leaflets. The likelihood of dropping those kinds of leaflets, of course, would tell the innocent people that they should stay out of mosques, but it would also tell the other people they should stay out of mosques. It is not quite clear to me how we would advantage ourselves.

QUESTION: What can you do then about that?

RUMSFELD: In any conflict there are constraints, and there are constraints because weapons have only so much precision. There are constraints because there are some things you simply don't want to do, and you make a conscious decision not to do them. And it is a calibration. And what you have to do is you have to continue to work the problem.

They cannot do battle from inside mosques. Therefore, if they're going to eventually prevail, which is their intention, they're going to have to come outside and quit hiding in caves and hiding in mosques and hiding in residential areas. I could say cowering in caves and cowering in mosques and residential areas. And when they do, obviously, you have an opportunity.

HOON: What I would add to that is to say that an enormous effort is made on both sides of the Atlantic to avoid any risk to civilian casualties.

Now, there's always going to be some risk, but great efforts are made in the targeting and in the execution of that targeting to minimize those risks. And that's something that we have done right through this campaign and something that will continue.

RUMSFELD: Thank you very much.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company