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Text: Pentagon Briefing with Secretary Rumsfeld

eMediaMillWorks
eMediaMillWorks
Monday, Nov. 19, 2001

Following is the text of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon briefing on the status of the military campaign in Afghanistan.

RUMSFELD: Good afternoon.

The campaign against terrorism continues. As you all know, the opposition forces in Afghanistan, with a good deal of help from the coalition forces, had made good progress last week. Our immediate military objectives remain the destruction of the Al Qaeda network, the Taliban leadership and the end of Afghanistan as a place where terrorists are harbored.

We've been targeting command and control activities and successfully hitting a number of them, particularly in the last week or so. As I said on Friday, we have what seem to be authoritative reports that a very senior Al Qaeda leader, Mohammed Atef, was killed last week. But I also want to emphasize that, as enemy leaders become fewer and fewer, that does not necessarily mean that the task will become easier. People can hide in caves for long periods, and this will take time.

The delivery of humanitarian aid remains a priority. We are now out of the strictly air-drop stage, so to speak, and are turning the efforts towards rebuilding some roads and bridges and restoring other infrastructure so that substantial amounts of aid that will be needed before the onset of winter can be moved into the country, particularly from the area north of Mazar-i-Sharif. In this regard, the recent victories against the Taliban and their terrorist allies have brought some very gratifying displays of Afghanistan's newly restored freedom.

Nowhere is this more the case than, with regard to the condition of women in the country, a problem that I've made periodic reference to since the onset of this campaign.

In the wake of the first lady's report on Saturday, I would draw your attention to a State Department document, which has been published over the weekend. Before the Taliban took power, Afghan women were protected by law, had important freedoms, were active participants in the society.

Indeed, in 1977, women made up some 15 percent of the Afghanistan highest legislative body. By the early 1990s, women comprised something like 70 percent of the school teachers, 50 percent of the government workers, and 40 percent of the doctors in Kabul were women.

Then the Taliban took over, and they forbade schooling for girls over the age of eight, banned women from working, restricted their access to medical care and brutally enforced restrictive dress codes and even beat women for the crime of laughing in public. Now, with Taliban in retreat, the people of Afghanistan and especially the women are free of that repression.

Let me add that, just as the U.S. naval and air forces and the special forces have thus far done a very good job during the campaign, U.S. special operations are now doing the same on the ground. They have gathered information on enemy troop movements. They have targets for U.S. aircraft. They've blockaded roads in search of fleeing Taliban leaders and Al Qaeda leaders. And last week, as you know, they, with the help of some folks in the Northern Alliance, the special operations forces flew to safety some 8 detainees that had been held for the past three months.

On Wednesday, I plan to go visit Fort Bragg, North Carolina to salute the quick, resourceful and powerful part of our campaign. All of us at DOD are proud of this multiservice force.

Before taking questions, I should note that the war on terrorism is still in its early stages. Perseverance and will and patience and sacrifice is going to be required in the months ahead, and while the nature of what's taking place is changing, it is going to be no less difficult.

I'll be happy to respond to questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, have any of these special operations troops in the south actually gone into caves and tunnels hunting the Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership? And have you fairly sharply defined the area where you think bin Laden is? And can you give us some idea of how big that area might be?

RUMSFELD: It'd be foolhearty for me to try to speculate. The Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership can be any number of places, and they move frequently, and therefore, to try and think that we have them contained in some sort of a small area I think would be a misunderstanding of the difficulty of the task.

QUESTION: Again, have special operations troops actually gone into caves and tunnels looking for the leadership?

RUMSFELD: I don't know. For the most part, the special ops have been making assessments and interdicting roads and looking for supplies, moving north or south or east or west, attempting to prevent people that ought not to be going places from going places.

QUESTION: Have you had any people wounded or killed?

RUMSFELD: Special ops?

QUESTION: Special ops wounded or killed?

RUMSFELD: I think I have reported on all of the dead and wounded thus far.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, could you give us some idea, even generally, if that's what you prefer, of what proportion of Al Qaeda leadership have been eliminated at this point?

RUMSFELD: I can't. I wish I could.

We have been targeting caves and tunnels and closing them up and getting a lot of secondary explosions, in some cases, when they were used for ammunition storage.

We have been targeting command and control and leadership activities where we can see--where we get information that leads us to believe that Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders are gathered, and we have been targeting those facilities.

Now, when we do that, we're not on the ground to make body counts, so we don't.

QUESTION: How would you know when you have eliminated them then?

RUMSFELD: We get scraps of information from people on the ground saying that they understand that this has happened or that's happened and this individual's been badly injured and those individuals have been killed.

QUESTION: I mean, when you reach your final goal of actually eliminating...

RUMSFELD: Oh, I see your point. Well, it may take some time. Our goal, of course, is to stop terrorists from attacking the United States and our deployed forces and our friends and allies. And there, undoubtedly, are sleepers out there who will continue to engage in terrorist activities. So even if we did feel that we dealt with the Al Qaeda network, there undoubtedly will be Al Qaeda people still out there, because they're spread across the globe.

How will you know? I guess, you'll have to make an estimate, a calculation that you have, in fact, so crippled and damaged that network that you can go about other pieces of that same type of business elsewhere.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, we're getting reports that Mullah Mohammed Omar is trying to negotiate a surrender from Kandahar--surrender for himself, the Taliban, including those now being encircled by Northern Alliance forces at Kunduz. Is that true? And if so, what are the terms of the surrender the United States will accept?

RUMSFELD: The United States is not inclined to negotiate surrenders, nor are we in a position with relatively small numbers of forces on the ground to accept prisoners.

The negotiations that are taking place are, for the most part, taking place with the opposition forces and elements that are putting pressure onto the various cities you've mentioned, whether it's Kunduz or Kandahar whichever. That means that those discussions are taking place.

Needless to say, we have some ongoing discussions with those forces. And it's our hope that they will not engage in negotiations that would provide for the release of Al Qaeda forces, that would provide for the release of foreign nationals, non-Afghans, leaving the country and destabilizing neighboring countries, which is not your first choice either. The idea that they would keep their weapons is not a happy one, from our standpoint either.

So we are able to provide input into that process, but we're not in a position of determining or controlling this.

QUESTION: Do you mean to suggest that if Omar strikes a deal with the local Pashtun leaders for his escape from Kandahar that you're not going to let him get out of Kandahar?

RUMSFELD: If the thrust of that question is, would we knowingly allow him to get out of Kandahar? The answer is, no, we would not.

Yes?

QUESTION: Sir, the effectiveness so far of special operations forces, both in the aerial part of the campaign, as well as supporting ground operations, can you expand on your feelings at accessing their effectiveness and how that might make them a more important part of planning and constructing the future military force that you've been trying to transform DOD in?

RUMSFELD: Well, their certainly doing exactly that which they've been asked to do and performing exceedingly well.

There's no question, but to the extent the United States of America is engaged with enemies that are--which is likely, which do not have large armies, navies and air forces, then the United States of America has to deal with those enemies in ways like the ones we're dealing with the problems in Afghanistan, and certainly special forces would play a role and a significant role.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, does the terrorist group in the Philippines, Abu Sayyaf, are they a terrorist group with global reach who fit the president's definition? And what sort of military assistance might the United States lend the Philippine government?

RUMSFELD: We have a team in making an assessment and providing some advice and working with the Philippine troops. The Filipinos have a very large force on that island. At the present time, we have a relatively small number of people assisting them. They have been putting pressure on the terrorists.

And with respect to the first part of your questions, there is no question but that there has been a good deal of interaction between the terrorist and the Philippines and the Al Qaeda and people in Iraq and people in other terrorist-sponsoring states over the years.

QUESTION: Secretary Rumsfeld, despite the success that you've enjoyed in this military campaign, I'm sure you won't be surprised to know that there are still critics...

(LAUGHTER)

RUMSFELD: Can you believe this?

QUESTION: If we are to believe the Washington Post, some of these critics are right here in this building. Could I just get your reaction to the Post story of yesterday which said that ``red tape was, in some case, preventing effective targeting,'' and apparently one anonymous four-star general accused you of micromanaging the war?

RUMSFELD: When General Franks was here, he responded to that question. He was asked if he was getting targeting advice, I believe, from the Pentagon, and he (inaudible) how he was not, and I intervened and pointed out that, in fact, he was--that we were encouraging him to attack the enemy vigorously, and he smiled because the question was not generally, it was particular.

You mentioned that one of the people was unidentified. There was no one identified in the story, so not just the one you happen to be quoting. But it was a world-class thumb-sucker, with all respect to The Post, mind you. Where is our friend? I don't see him.

(LAUGHTER)

But think about what takes place. What takes place is, the president says, ``Go after terrorists.'' I sit down with the defense establishment, and a plan is developed, and General Franks is in charge of that. And he then presents that plan to me, and we talk about it with the advice of the chiefs and the chairman and the vice chairman. And then, at some point, we present it to the National Security Council and the president. He then goes off and implements that plan.

Now, at every level of that, I talk to him once or twice a day. He may connect with the president, you know, once every month--maybe a little bit more often, but not much more. And he then goes out and makes a series of very tough calls--he and the people under him. And I delegate to him the authority to strike targets, and he does.

He goes and uses that delegation of authority, makes his judgments, and he has to balance the question of doing the maximum amount to kill people on the ground, who might be part of the Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership, against trying to avoid so much collateral damage and blowing up of mosques and the like that he ends up creating a feeling against the United States and the coalition forces on the ground in Afghanistan and/or spreads the conflict to other countries by virtue of the seeming lack of interest in the extent to which collateral damage is imposed on the people on the ground, so he makes a series of judgments.

Now, then you're going to have a bunch of people around the side who aren't the CINC, and they're going to look at it, and they're going to say, ``Well, gee, if I'd been doing it, I would have done this. I would have done more of that or a little less of this or I would have done it faster or slower.'' There has never been a conflict where people didn't sit down and say, ``Gee, this CINC should have done this or the CINC should have done that.''

And my attitude is, Tommy Franks is doing a darn good job, and I think most of the people in this building believe that. And the fact that there are one or two anonymous people who seem to, at some point, have observed something that they might have done differently, ought not to surprise you at all, an expert like you.

QUESTION: You said last week that some Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been captured. Have they been interrogated and are you getting information from them?

RUMSFELD: Anyone who has been--we are not capturing people--the United States.

QUESTION: Opposition forces.

RUMSFELD: Opposition forces, right. And I assume that opposition forces who capture people are talking to them and seeing if they can find information that might be helpful to them in figuring out how they can get others to surrender, particularly in a place like Kunduz, which is a static situation, where there's a fierce battle going on. And to the extent that there are senior people, I'm sure we're having an opportunity to talk to them, as well.

QUESTION: And if I could follow up. Last week, General Franks, said U.S. teams were looking at a number of facilities where possibly chemical or biological weapons may have been made. Have there been updates from those teams?

RUMSFELD: No. I have no update. They have been and, undoubtedly, still are. They had a rather long list of locations that they were--a number of which were in area controlled by--that the Taliban no longer controlled, and therefore we would have ready access to. Yes.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) another Post story.

RUMSFELD: (OFF-MIKE) The Washington Post.

QUESTION: Is there another agency of the U.S. government conducting military operations, more or less, on its own in Afghanistan and, if so, how do you feel about that?

RUMSFELD: There isn't. The CIA--just to get it right up on the table--has had individuals in the country. They have been working very closely with individuals we've had in the country and they've been doing a darn good job. And they certainly are at--in some instances, they preceded us, so they were active, prior to the time U.S. military entered.

Since U.S. military had been involved, they are tucked in very tight with the U.S. military, and the reporting relationship goes up through the CINC. You can only have one person with his hand on the steering wheel, and that's General Tommy Franks.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you had mentioned earlier that the U.S. is not inclined to negotiate nor to accept prisoners. Could you just elaborate what you meant by ``nor to accept prisoners''?

RUMSFELD: We have only handfuls of people there. We don't have jails, we don't have guards, we don't have people who--we're not in the position to have people surrender to us.

If people try to, we are declining. That is not what we're there to do, is to begin accepting prisoners and impounding them in some way or making judgments. That's for the Northern Alliance, and that's for the tribes in the south to make their own judgments on that.

QUESTION: So they would be taking--you're not suggesting they would be shot, in other words?

RUMSFELD: Oh, my goodness, no. You sound like Charlie.

(LAUGHTER)

Summary--I remember that line.

Yes?

QUESTION: To just continue this line of questioning, we would not have knowingly allow you, said, Mullah Omar, to get out of Kandahar. There's, however, many thousand of Al Qaeda-Taliban surrounded in Kunduz.

QUESTION: Is it in America's interest to have those people get out in any way as prisoners or in any way--prisoners who might somehow get out of being in prison at some future time, people who are dedicated to whatever the mission is of Al Qaeda and the Taliban?

RUMSFELD: Well, I've not done a head count in Kunduz, but my strong impression, which I've indicated here previously, is that the fierceness of the fight up there suggests that they are, for the most part, not Afghans. That they are Al Qaeda or people from other countries that had been supporting Taliban or Al Qaeda.

And you're quite right, the idea of their getting out of the country and going off to make their mischief somewhere else is not a happy prospect. So my hope is that they will either be killed or taken prisoner.

QUESTION: But there are, allegedly, these negotiations, there are calls for, perhaps, the U.N. coming in and intervening. You would not be in favor of either the negotiations or the U.N. coming in to intervene in that particular fight? Is that...

RUMSFELD: Well, I'm not in a position to have, really, an opinion on it. You know, the U.N. is going to do what it wants to do.

Any idea that those people in that town who have been fighting so viciously and who refuse to surrender should end up in some sort of a negotiation, which would allow them to leave the country and go off and destabilize other countries and engage in terrorist attacks on the United States, is something that I would certainly do everything I could to prevent.

QUESTION: So you would like it to be a fight to the death in that particular...

RUMSFELD: Oh, no. They could surrender.

QUESTION: But then what happens to them?

RUMSFELD: Well, one would hope they did not get let go into another country or even free in that country. They ought to be impounded. I mean, they are people who've done terrible things.

Yes?

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, are U.S. forces pursuing anybody across borders, for example, into Pakistan?

RUMSFELD: Not yet.

QUESTION: Sounds like that may be in the offering?

RUMSFELD: No. I hadn't really addressed it. But, at the moment, not to my knowledge. It flashed through my head that if one of those folk that we particularly wanted was known to be doing that, I think, we might have an early intensive consultation with the neighbors.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary?

RUMSFELD: Yes.

QUESTION: You've spoken in the past about wanting to ramp up the numbers of special forces within the country.

RUMSFELD: Yes.

QUESTION: Have your goals been met on that count? And are numbers still increasing in certain areas of Afghanistan?

RUMSFELD: They have been increasing and I've pretty much met my goal. My goal was to get enough special forces teams in with the elements in the country that we could improve our targeting. Our targeting has gotten very good.

QUESTION: But are there enough forces...

RUMSFELD: And it was that linkage with the special forces.

QUESTION: But now we've moved on to a different part of the war and I'm wondering if there are enough special forces to conduct cave-to-cave operations--manhunts of the back country?

RUMSFELD: That probably would require somewhat different types of forces.

QUESTION: Can you give us some numbers, parameters? I mean, how long the (inaudible), I would assume?

RUMSFELD: I could, but I'm not inclined to. You know, we've got several hundred folks.

QUESTION: Can we see your shoes? And do you like to stand up when you work behind your desk?

RUMSFELD: I stand up all day long.

QUESTION: And you do wear hiking shoes upon occasion? I've seen them some.

RUMSFELD: Today I did not, and I wear them when I mentally feel I would prefer to be in Taos, New Mexico. They make me feel like I'm there and today I haven't got them on. My wife's there, however.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, could I follow-up on Jamie's initial question? Were there any instances here the U.S. held its fire, where they had Al Qaeda or Taliban leadership in its sites and held its fire for fear of collateral damage? Or if, indeed, they got Taliban or Al Qaeda leadership in their site, would the U.S. be told to hold its fire for fear of collateral damage?

RUMSFELD: Look, those are decisions that are made by the CINC and the people under the CINC. And I am sure there are instances where a target was sited and it was thought that it would be a good target, but the only weapon available was one that was indiscriminate and would have caused considerable collateral damage, and that they made a judgment that they would wait until the people moved and go after them somewhere else. I suspect that's the case. I'm quite sure that's the case.

And those are the kinds of judgments they make all day long. Pilots make those decisions. That is, there's no surprise there. That's what people get paid for. They go out there and they come back and the commander is in charge of those decisions and they have rules of engagement and they have decisions they make and they delegate those. I delegate to him and he delegates down the line. I'm sure calculations get made like that.

QUESTION: But isn't it understandable that some might think, then, that they are fighting this war with one hand tied behind their back?

RUMSFELD: Certainly not. In any war, people have made exactly those same kinds of judgments and nobody's generally felt that--there's certainly no one in Washington holding anyone's hands behind their back, I can tell you that; not the president and not this person.

Bit in no conflict have we just gone in and indiscriminately bombed cities because we thought that was a nice thing to do that day. We have a goal. The goal is to get that leadership. We're trying to get them and we're pursuing them. And we make calculations about what the cost-benefit ratio is.

What do you gain by hitting a location--and the CINC has to decide these things and the pilots have to decide these things--what do you gain by hitting that location, if in the process you're going to blow up three hospitals and four orphanages and three schools to get four people? Now, is that going to do you more good or more harm? I take an extreme case just for the sake of discussion.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can you give us some more information on this new stage in humanitarian relief effort that you mentioned? And to what extent are U.S. military forces involved in that?

RUMSFELD: Well, we are, for example, probably going to be helpful in trying to get roads open and do some help with some demining and help get airports so that they are accessible to people who can bring in food.

Right now, we've been able to bring in large amounts of food. And there are people who do gross calculations that you're going to need X-number of tons per month for these kinds of needs and we're getting close to that on roads and from the air. Ours will be a part of it along with lots of other organizations that are interested in the humanitarian side of it.

Yes?

QUESTION: Can you lay out for us what's happening in Kandahar? Who is fighting the Taliban? How many of them are there? What is the situation?

RUMSFELD: Kandahar?

QUESTION: Yes. Is it a siege situation, what is it?

RUMSFELD: It is, apparently, at the moment, still a standoff. That is to say, there are southern tribes that are applying pressure and engaged in discussions and there is firing and the coalition forces have provided some air support.

Yes?

QUESTION: And in Kunduz, can you give us a little bit more flavor in terms of a fierce battle going on, you said?

QUESTION: Are we talking about a last stand almost that the Al Qaeda forces there are fighting? Your indications are they'll be fighting to the death on this one?

RUMSFELD: I don't know. You know, I just don't know what they're going to decide. They, obviously, have some very good reason why they don't want to surrender and haven't, so they've been fighting.

QUESTION: Can you confirm the reports that some Taliban troops in Kunduz have been killed to prevent them from surrendering?

RUMSFELD: I have seen reports that people have been found with bullets in their heads and not in the fronts. And been told what you just repeated, but I just do--I have not been down on the ground. Our people have not been in that close proximity. Although, as I recall, some of those reports have been by people who have, in fact, escaped from Kunduz, who have made those reports, but I'm not in a position to validate them.

Ma'am?

QUESTION: Sir, have you received any specific information that would contradict what the U.N. was reporting last week about human rights violations on the part of the Northern Alliance in Mazar-i-Sharif? Last week, we talked about it, but you didn't have any specific information.

RUMSFELD: Yes. I have received not even the beginnings of a scrap of validation of that allegation and I don't believe it was by the U.N. I think it was by a person who might have been employed in the country by a U.N. agency, but I could be wrong on that, but...

QUESTION: And more thing, totally unrelated. Are special operations forces going to be used in cave-to-cave operations because that's what's sort of all our speculation right now, or is going to be left to Northern Alliance folks and whatever special ops forces may be with them?

RUMSFELD: If we were to do that, I would not be discussing it and we have large rewards out. And our hope is that the incentive--the dual incentive of helping to free that country from a very repressive regime and to get the foreigners and the Al Qaeda out of there, coupled with substantial monetary rewards, will incentivize through the great principle of University of Chicago economics...

(LAUGHTER)

... incentivize a large number of people to begin crawling through those tunnels and caves looking for the bad folks.

QUESTION: Has it happened, then?

RUMSFELD: There is no question there are people out looking.

QUESTION: Can you--you said all along that you want to take apart Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda's in 50 to 60 countries. Could you give us a sense where some of the other countries, where there's a lot of activity and how successful have you been in disrupting those networks in other countries?

RUMSFELD: As always, it's tough to measure those kinds of things.

We do know that we have been trying to shut down bank accounts. I'm hopeful that more and more countries will continue to cooperate with us and initiate their cooperation so that we can do a still better job of doing that.

As I have indicated also, there have been hundreds of people arrested who are being interrogated and information's being accumulated. So I think that that process is underway, and my impression is that life today is more difficult for Al Qaeda and other terrorist networks than it was not too many weeks ago.

Yes?

QUESTION: What is the status of efforts to base strike aircraft in Tajikistan? Are you making progress on that front?

RUMSFELD: They've been--I'll tell you, I am not current since this weekend; and, therefore, I'd be inclined not to answer. And furthermore, as you know, I've been inclined to let countries announce for themselves what they've decided and agreed to do in cooperation with it.

Yes?

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, despite earlier predictions, so far the U.S. has achieved several objectives in Afghanistan while suffering remarkably few casualties. What are the main factors that contribute to this? And what does this mean for public expectations of the U.S. ability to fight an antiseptic war?

RUMSFELD: We will not be able to fight an antiseptic war. The cause we're engaged in--if you're going to put people's lives at risk, you better have a darn good reason, and we do. This terrorist problem is an enormously dangerous one for our country and for the world. You couple people who are willing to do anything in the world to harm people--innocent people--with the potential for very powerful weapons and you have a problem of enormous proportions. So it merits putting lives at risk. Lives are at risks and lives will be lost. And anyone who thinks that you can have an antiseptic war is wrong.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the reward money you mentioned, how are you getting the word about the reward money? Is that a leaflet operation?

RUMSFELD: Among other things. We have leaflets that are dropping like snowflakes in December in Chicago.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, not a question but a simple statement. If we don't see you tomorrow, may we wish you, all things considered, a Happy Thanksgiving to you?

RUMSFELD: Thank you very much. I appreciate that.

QUESTION: How much is that reward, just in case I happen upon them?

RUMSFELD: If you have nothing to do over Thanksgiving weekend, it's $25 million for a select few.

QUESTION: Only one at a time? Is that $25 million per--you have to turn in three?

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Is it for each one?

RUMSFELD: When I see you in your camouflage suit, I will give you the details.

The answer is that that would be for a single person, relatively few individuals.

QUESTION: Is it for information or you have to bring them or what?

QUESTION: Do you have to bring them in or just have information that results in their capture?

(LAUGHTER)

RUMSFELD: I am not going to make legal pronouncements about this. That is really not my field.

Last question.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do you consider, finally, Osama bin Laden is the prime suspect or the responsible person who coordinated the terrorist attack of September 11? And what happened to the evidence, more than two months now since you have been charged with this huge military campaign against Afghanistan?

RUMSFELD: There is no question but that the Al Qaeda organization was responsible for the attacks in the United States. The evidence is clear and it has been--all one has to do is listen to bin Laden's comments himself if one needs reassurance as to the accuracy of the charge.

Thank you. Have a nice holiday.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company