News Briefing - Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers
DoD News Briefing - Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers
NEWS TRANSCRIPT from the United States Department of Defense
DOD News Briefing Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld Thursday, December 13, 2001 - 1:00 p.m. EST
(Also participating was Gen. Richard Myers, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.)
Rumsfeld: Good afternoon.
The recent tape of Osama bin Laden has now been made available. [ news release: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Dec2001/b12132001_bt630-01.html ] I suppose everyone will be able to draw your own conclusion about it. For myself, I never had any doubt as to who was responsible for the September 11th attacks. It should be clear, from the very matter-of-fact way that he refers to the attack that killed thousands of innocent people from several dozen different countries, why terrorists and terrorism must be defeated before they get their hands on weapons of mass destruction.
Earlier today, the president made an announcement with respect to the so-called ABM Treaty. [ transcript: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/12/20011213-4.html ] You have heard what he said. It is a treaty that is some 30 years old, from the Cold War period, that does not really reflect the strategic realities of today. It did not and does not protect the American people from attack. It failed to recognize that the Soviet Union is gone and that Russia is, of course, not our enemy. And it ignores the reality that there is the possibility, at least, that weapons of mass destruction can come into the hands of rogue states and even non-state entities, which is an important change that's occurred over these past 30 years.
In short, the treaty called for mutual assured destruction at a time when what's called for is mutual cooperation. I will be meeting with the defense minister of Russia next week in Brussels and we will be continuing the discussions that we've had, the president has had, Secretary Powell has had, to find a framework that can replace the treaty that has existed now for some 30 years. I think that those discussions will be going forward just as they had been prior to the notification by President Bush to Russia.
Next, about the B-1 crash that went down yesterday in the Indian Ocean, as we've indicated all four crewmembers are safe. They've been recovered by Navy personnel with no serious injuries. And they're now aboard the USS Russell. [Update: they are now ashore.]
While it's, needless to say, unfortunate to lose an aircraft, they were able, by the process that took place, to really validate the exceptional skill and talent of our men and women in uniform and the effectiveness of the search-and-rescue procedures that were implemented. The crew ejected safely from the aircraft. They were assisted by military assets in the general area -- the Air Force KC- 10, which orbited the crash and remained in the area until the Navy rescue personnel arrived on the scene; and then, of course, the USS Russell, which was able to pick up the crew members.
So if we had to lose an aircraft, it certainly is fortunate that no one was injured seriously and everyone was recovered safely, and that the operations and the equipment and the ships and the aircraft operated as planned.
Myers: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, and good afternoon.
Operationally, we continue to provide air support to the opposition groups that are attacking the al Qaeda forces in the Tora Bora area. There has been no surrender by the al Qaeda offered or accepted. Nor has there been any cease-fire in this effort. Our mission to eliminate the al Qaeda, its network and the Taliban in Afghanistan remains the same as it has from the beginning.
In and around Kandahar, we know that there are a couple of areas of Taliban forces remaining, although opposition forces are at work in the city to clear these areas. With coalition support, our Marines, operating out of their base at Camp Rhino, continue their efforts to secure possible routes of escape for the Taliban and al Qaeda, who may try to flee the Kandahar region.
Yesterday we airdropped more than 17,000 humanitarian daily rations from one C-17, and 30 containers of wheat, blankets and daily rations from another. Now that occurred in the Northern Afghanistan area near Mazar-e Sharif and the Kunduz region.
And by the way, today we'll conduct our last airdrop mission, employing the flutter-drop method of delivering those daily rations. The greatly expanded flow of humanitarian relief supplies by rail, road and across the river, as well as airlifted to some of the airfields in Afghanistan, has rendered this form of delivery as unnecessary at this point.
Having said that, we'll stay deeply involved in the humanitarian effort as we can, and General Franks down at CENTCOM is our point of contact on that from the military standpoint. To date we've delivered more than 2.4 million daily rations in support of Afghan people.
And with that, we're ready to take your questions.
Q: Mr. Secretary, can I ask what the United States hopes to gain -- since you already knew that Osama bin Laden was responsible, what do you hope to gain by releasing this tape? And if I may "MIRV," where is Osama bin Laden? A prominent U.S. newspaper reported yesterday he might have fled Afghanistan, and some of the Arab press is also saying he apparently has fled.
Rumsfeld: And of course, nothing's new with respect to that. There have been reports about his whereabouts, mixed reports, conflicting reports, every day since we began looking for him. So today is no different than any others. I don't know if the reports are from people who are -- who sincerely believe what they're saying. It may be that some people are making reports for the purpose of disinforming people. But the fact is, there have been conflicting reports consistently.
What do you hope to gain by releasing the tape? First of all, the decision to release the tape was not mine. I was asked to do it and I'm happy to do it. And we've done it in a way, I think, that will allow people to make their own judgment with respect to the statements being made by the participants on the tape. I don't know that there was anything that was intended to be gained. It became -- obviously, someone leaked the fact that it existed, and then there became a groundswell, an appetite for it to be made available. And as that groundswell built, somebody decided to make it available. And it is now available.
Q: May I ask just a brief follow-up. Are you confident that Osama bin Laden is still in Afghanistan?
Rumsfeld: Charlie! (Laughter.) The barnyard! (Laughter.) How can one be confident until they have him? We think he's in Afghanistan. We are chasing him. He is hiding. He does not want us to know where he is. We are asking everyone we can to help.
People are providing lots of scraps of information. The Pakistanis are. The people in neighboring countries are. Afghan people on the ground are providing information. We're providing -- we're able to gather various other types of intelligence information. We think he's there. We don't know if he's there. We're trying to find him, and when we find him, we will announce it.
Q: Mr. Secretary, you said that -- and you have said that you see different reports about his whereabouts all the time. Have you seen a specific report that you consider to be credible that he's still in the Tora Bora region?
Rumsfeld: I have seen reports that people believe are from reasonably reliable sources that in one case suggest he's still in Afghanistan, in another case suggest he's out of Afghanistan.
Q: So, no.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Q: Can I ask you a question about the tape?
Q: Mr. Secretary? You'll have to excuse me, I'm a little nervous being in the presence of a TV star this morning.
Rumsfeld: Come on, now. Don't give me that stuff. (Laughter.)
Q: Anyway -- no, let me ask the question, please.
Rumsfeld: I'll put up with a lot, but not that. (Laughter.)
Q: The question is that now that the United States has the green light to go forward and build even a limited missile defense system, never in the history of warfare has there been a system a hundred percent effective. And yet --
Q: -- if a rogue state such as North Korea would, say, fire off half a dozen missiles with nukes on them aimed at Los Angeles or San Francisco, if even one gets through, then the defense is useless, is it not? Can you build a system that you feel is a hundred percent effective that will, in a sense, protect the United States?
Rumsfeld: I don't know what would have changed about humankind that suddenly, for the first time in the history of mankind, we would be able to build something that was perfect. I doubt it. I think that's an unrealistic expectation. Nor do I think it's necessary that things be perfect. Nothing we have, nothing in the defense establishment, nothing you own in your homes is perfect. Your cars aren't perfect. Your bikes aren't perfect. Our eyeglasses aren't perfect. We live with that all the time. Does that -- if you cannot do everything, does that mean you should not do anything? I think not.
If you can have a weapons system, for example, that's about 85 percent accurate, as some of our so-called smart weapons are, we use them. And that's not bad. And they get better every year. So I think it's -- I think putting a standard out that something has to be perfect or it ought not to be done would suggest that we wouldn't be flying in airplanes today, because airplanes are defective, as well.
Q: Mr. Secretary, can you shed any light on this person who appears prominently in the tape with Osama bin Laden who is described only as an unidentified Saudi sheik, as to who he is, what his role in this whole thing was?
Rumsfeld: I cannot. Indeed I have not even heard what you said, that he was a Saudi sheik. I heard quite the contrary. I heard that he is an unidentified Egyptian. And I'm sure that there are probably 15 different things that one might say about him. I don't know who he is. And you may very well be right, that he is what you said he was, but I just don't know.
Q: He was described that way in the transcript that was released.
Rumsfeld: Let's go with the transcript: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Dec2001/d20011213ubl.pdf.
Q: Can I ask -- he seems to be as knowledgeable about the events as Osama bin Laden. So I was wondering whether you -- whether the government has investigated and somebody come up with some information about him?
Rumsfeld: He certainly interests us.
Q: Mr. Secretary, on the ABM, is this announcement going to now lead to a much more aggressive testing program? Can you give us any specifics about when a new sort of level of testing will be reached? And does the Pentagon, does the administration envision sharing this technology with Russia, who is no longer our enemy?
Rumsfeld: We have a test program that we initiated when I arrived. We asked them to try to do it unconstrained by the treaty. We bumped up against it in a couple of respects, and we will be doing more of that between now and the time six months expires. And I would think that what will happen will be the basic plan that's been put in place will go forward and that we'll keep trying to explore the best, most cost-effective and easiest way for us to get a capability deployed at some point in the period ahead that will deal with relatively small numbers of these very dangerous weapons.
Q: How about sharing the technology? Could you --
Rumsfeld: Our position hasn't changed with respect to that. We're certainly willing -- we're already sharing those technologies with a number of countries in the world. And the only thing I would say -- the immediate thing that we'll be talking about with the Russians -- and I think it's terribly important to mention it -- is the fact that we have each now agreed to reduce our offensive strategic nuclear weapons from thousands down to ranges of 1,700 to 2,200. So what we have is a situation where 30 years ago, that treaty put into place, there was an arms race, after the treaty was put in place; during all the periods of arms control, the numbers of weapons soared. And here we are without an arms control agreement and they're declining by thousands. I think that's not a bad lesson.
Q: Sir, can I ask you to address a perception, both on the ground in Afghanistan right now, and I think a widely held perception, that in your mind, perhaps the administration's, that killing al Qaeda is preferable to their surrender.
Rumsfeld: No. I would put it this way. I think that the goal is to stop terrorism and terrorists and states that harbor terrorists. The first choice clearly is surrender. It ends it faster. It's less expensive. And we can encourage people to surrender.
Now, there's a lot of misinformation floating around about somebody says this to somebody, that, "Gee, they'll surrender if we'll let them turn themselves in to the United Nations, or if you'll let us keep our weapons, or if you'll let us go back and become governor of Kandahar or something." I mean, this is not a drill where we're making deals. This is a -- the purpose of this activity, the reason we're doing this is to defend the United States of America and our friends and allies. And that means you have to go after the terrorists. And we want to get the terrorists. Without question, we want to. And the fastest way to do that is if they all surrender, come in with a white flag, turn themselves in and we could just deal with them. That would be wonderful.
Q: If I could just follow up on this, did the United States in any way veto or nix some sort of surrender arrangement that was in progress yesterday? And then I have a totally separate question on a different subject.
Rumsfeld: I'm not surprised. (Laughter.)
To my knowledge, the United States did not nix or stop or put the kibosh on anything. I do not even know if anything was really offered. I have read the same reports you have, where somebody opined that if we had done this and if we had let them keep their weapons and if we had let them turn themselves in to the Red Cross or somebody, that then everything would be fine and it would all end. Now, that's nonsense. We're not there for that. We're there to stop those people. And if they want to surrender, they can do it in one second. And they know it.
Q: On the ABM Treaty. You mentioned you're going to be meeting with your Russian counterpart. Did you give him any forewarning that the United States would be exercising its option to withdraw from the ABM Treaty?
Q: And what kind of reaction have you gotten from the Russians? That they knew it was coming and --
Rumsfeld: We've had a relationship that's been going on, Secretary Powell with the foreign minister and me with the defense minister, the president with President Putin, and we've said all along, "Look, we're bumping up against this thing, we want to set it aside, we want to get on with a new framework, a new relationship that's looking forward, not back." I personally think that people ought to be relieved that this is behind us. It has been kind of a sticking point that's just been sitting there for this period of time, "When are they going to withdraw?" The president said a year ago he was going to withdraw.
Q: So it didn't come as a surprise.
Rumsfeld: Oh, no, indeed.
Q: Mr. Secretary, the tape this morning clearly demonstrates Osama bin Laden's detailed knowledge of the September 11th attacks. I'm wondering if there is any concern, therefore, at the Pentagon that he might have applied the same level of knowledge or preparations for this stage that we're at now where the United States is chasing him?
Rumsfeld: I don't follow the question.
Q: Well, I'm wondering if you can draw any lessons from the clear, detailed knowledge that he demonstrated on the tape this morning, as far as knowledge of the operational details of the September 11th attacks. Can we draw any lessons from that as to the kinds of plans that he might have made for this stage of the war where it appears that U.S. forces are trying to close in on Tora Bora?
Rumsfeld: Well, it -- it's interesting. I suppose one can come away from looking at not just this tape but his general behavior over time -- he clearly has a large network. He clearly has a well- financed network. It covers many, many countries across the globe. He's a careful planner. They also are clearly able to put things in compartments and let only certain people know certain things. He's also perfectly willing to do almost anything anyone can imagine to kill people.
Do I expect that he has other plans? Sure. Do I expect that he has places he thinks he might be able to go, someplace other than where he is if that becomes uncomfortable? Sure, I suspect that.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Q: Mr. Secretary, can you give us any details as to how this tape was obtained?
Rumsfeld: It came out of a house in a city in Afghanistan.
Q: And who obtained the tape? How did the U.S. come in possession of that tape?
Rumsfeld: I'd prefer not to get into that.
Q: And was there anything in particular on that tape that you think proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Osama bin Laden is responsible for September 11th?
Rumsfeld: As I said, I had no doubt before I ever saw the tape. I don't --
Q: But has seeing the tape --
Rumsfeld: No, I'm going to leave that to all of you. You all can make your own judgment. Everyone in the country and the world can.
Q: And one more follow up. As you viewed the tape, what was your personal reaction, not only as Secretary of Defense, but as an American, to what you were seeing?
Rumsfeld: I think I will not try to impose my feelings about that tape or that person on other people. I think everyone can make their own judgment about it. I know what I think.
Q: Mr. Secretary? (Inaudible) -- was asking. Just -- I think there's some other information I'd like to at least inquire if you give us. One, was it found by U.S. military, the tape?
Rumsfeld: I've said I don't care to get into the subject anymore.
Q: Okay. The second thing is, can you tell us when it was found?
Rumsfeld: Some weeks ago.
Q: No more precise than that?
Q: You've said today a couple times very aggressively that the U.S. wants to continue going after al Qaeda. General Pace yesterday raised the possibility, though, that in groups of tens and twenties and smaller than that, they could be escaping. Are you concerned at all that the U.S., while you've dismantled the Taliban, might be faced with a situation where the bulk of al Qaeda gets away, much like some Republican Guard units were able to leave after the Gulf War, live to fight another day?
Rumsfeld: Well, first, I don't know that that's an apt comparison. But I am not only concerned about it, but we've known it was a likelihood from day one. It is a big country with a porous border. These folks have moved back and forth across borders. They have money. They are, in many cases, fanatical and intend to keep fighting, and that is why we have been so determined to try to stop them from fighting. There is no doubt in my mind but that any number of al Qaeda have gone across various borders and do intend to fight another day. And we intend to find them, and keep looking.
Q: Can I follow up? A couple of days ago, you talked about a list that changes every now and then. Can you give us a sense of the scope on October 7th, going in, roughly how many were on that list, and roughly how many are on the list today? I know you're checking it fairly closely.
Rumsfeld: We've got some reward money out for a finite number of people that are senior al Qaeda. Within a short period of time, there will be reward money broadly communicated for a discrete number of Taliban officials.
I guess because it's a moving target -- some get killed, some get captured, others get added as we interrogate people -- I'm not inclined to get into the number.
Q: Well, was it like in the 50s or --
Q: Mr. Secretary, can I follow up on that, about Tora Bora? Do we have any reports about senior leadership being killed at Tora Bora, or do we have any credible bomb damage assessment of what the U.S. bombing campaign has done so far?
Myers: (To the secretary.) We have no numbers yet.
Rumsfeld: I have not seen any -- I can't remember. I may have seen a scrap of intelligence about a single person that they thought might have been wounded or killed -- a senior person might have been wounded or killed in that area in the last seven days.
I haven't seen the battle damage.
Myers: No, sir. Neither have I.
Q: Mr. Secretary, to follow up on that, can you talk about whether or not there's been an increase in the number of U.S. Special Operations forces in that area, in the --
Rumsfeld: The answer is yes.
Q: And can you talk about the degree to which there's been an increase, what type of magnitude we're talking about?
Rumsfeld: More. (Laughter.)
Q: What numbers are we talking -- what's the range now we're talking about?
Rumsfeld: I don't keep track of moving within geography. There's been a slightly -- there's been some modest increase in the country overall of U.S. military. And there has been an increase -- something above a modest increase of the number of Americans in that immediate area, between, say, for example, Kabul and the Pakistan border. And there's --
Q: Are they doing something more than liaison work now? Are we seeing a slight shift in what they are doing?
Rumsfeld: I think the -- it is certainly likely that they could be doing something other than what you characterize as "liaison work."
Q: Sir, I wanted to ask General Myers, if I can, going back to the report on the U.S. military "waging a war of extermination." General Myers --
Rumsfeld: The report by whom?
Q: In today's Washington Post, mentioned a war of extermination.
Rumsfeld: Wow! That is inflammatory language, isn't it? Who said it?
Q: They quoted another military official as saying that.
Rumsfeld: In what country?
Q: The USA.
And, General, they also mentioned --
Rumsfeld: Say it again? (Laughter.)
Q: A war of extermination.
Rumsfeld: Make a full sentence for me. (Laughter.)
Q: You were asked about earlier reports that the United States was not interested in having a surrender, that would have -- this report was suggesting that the United States was more interested in killing al Qaeda fighters than in seeing them surrender. And buried inside --
Rumsfeld: But where does the word "extermination" come in?
Q: Buried inside the story, it talks about U.S. military officials seem more intent on waging a war of extermination. And they quoted another retired military official as saying that.
Rumsfeld: I'll bet he is. (Laughs; laughter.)
Myers: Likely to be (more so ?) in the future.
Q: But he also pointed to U.S. military people as using words such as, "eliminate," which General Myers said earlier, "eliminate the al Qaeda." And I just wanted to get his --
Myers: "Network," I said, you know, and that's somewhat different than extermination. Extermination seems to apply to termites. But this is not what we're talking about here; we're talking about the al Qaeda network, and that's what we're -- and that's what we're -- so this is not a war of extermination. I think that's very loose use of the English language and imprecise.
Rumsfeld: Yeah, that's an unfortunate characterization. And I must say, I don't think that that type of phraseology is useful or accurate.
Q: Back on the ABM treaty; if the intention is to develop a mutually cooperative relationship with Russia now, why did the United States act unilaterally here? Why didn't it wait and achieve some kind of cooperative mutual withdrawal from the treaty?
Rumsfeld: Well, we worked very hard to try to find a mutual -- a basis on which we could withdraw together, and spent the better part of the year working on that and were not able to quite achieve it. So instead, what we've done is we have -- the president has announced that he is going to notify them that the six-month withdrawal period, which each side has a right to do under the treaty, would go forward today, and that we would spend that six-month period working on an arrangement to take the place --
Q: Were there particular sticking points with Russia --
Q: -- or did they just object to the whole idea?
Rumsfeld: Well, no. There were sticking points on both sides. We offered any number of proposals and different ideas and papers -- the president did; the national security adviser did; Secretary Powell did; I did. We've had all kinds of discussions at our level, we've had discussions at lower levels. They are going to continue.
For example, we tried to figure out some way we could resolve the testing issues. And it turned out that we do need to test, and we've waited now a year. And now we have to wait another six months before we can proceed with some of those tests. And it seemed that the thing to do was to get the clock ticking on the six months so that we won't be constrained by the treaty after that.
But we still have exactly the same attitude and approach that the president and President Putin announced, and that is that we are looking forward; we're not looking back; that we consider -- do not consider them an enemy and that the basis that we want to go forward is to find ways that we can deal with transparency and predictability with respect to the behavior of each country on offensive and defensive nuclear weapons. And we intend to do that.
Q: Mr. Secretary, and/or General Myers, there is a very obvious and visible focus on the Tora Bora mountain complex in the hunt for al Qaeda. Is there a U.S. military focus on any other specific mountain complex in that hunt for bin Laden and/or al Qaeda senior leaders?
Q: Which one?
Rumsfeld: Well, I mean, you've got -- Omar is missing. "Where is Omar?" (Laughter.) We're looking for him and his senior people, as well.
Q: Is there another cave complex that's a focus?
Rumsfeld: There are other locations that are focuses.
Q: General Myers, is there anything that the U.S. is doing militarily to increase the chances of taking senior al Qaeda leaders alive, given their possible usefulness for U.S. intelligence?
Myers: Obviously, as we've said many times, that we're -- not only the leadership, but anybody that we think has any knowledge -- so it can be at various levels -- we'd like to have a chance to interrogate. So there's an obvious advantage here if we can capture them alive. As the secretary said, we're perfectly willing to have them surrender. And --
Q: But in terms of military methods, things you might do differently to increase the chances of actually taking them alive.
Myers: I think right now we're in the middle of a pretty big fight in the Tora Bora area. It's war. And in the middle of the war, we're going to do what it takes to win that piece of it. We hope we come out of there with, of course, some intelligence information. If that means taking people alive, then that would be very good.
Q: Mr. Secretary, how was it determined that the bin Laden tape is a credible tape, that it's what it appears to be?
Rumsfeld: Very carefully. The tape was taken, received and put through a process by various people in the government to make sure that it was authentic, that it was, in fact, who it appeared to be. It was then looked at to see if it had been tinkered with. And it then was translated into English by one expert, and then it was taken to at least two other experts for translations and to determine consistency. It took some time, and we believe it was done carefully, but we do not stand behind it. It is not our tape. It is not our translation. We did the best we could. We tried also to see that the words were put in reasonably close proximity on the tape to the individual speaking the words, so that the body language would connect. It is what it is; take it for what you wish to. As I say, I didn't need it to have conviction on this subject.
Q: Mr. Secretary, last week General Franks said 20 of 40 suspected WMD sites were free and clear, apparently, of evidence of such weapons. What's the status of the others? And secondly, is there any evidence yet that al Qaeda had access to fissionable material or perhaps used Afghanistan as a transit zone for fissionable material?
Rumsfeld: The last number I saw was up to around 26, '7 or '8 out of -- that have been investigated. There are some that have not been. And the number remaining changes from time to time because one learns more information through interrogations and the like.
Myers: And some results yet to come back.
Rumsfeld: Oh, that's right. And in cases where they've sent things away to be tested, the materials have not yet come back with the information, so, while we've looked at it, we don't know the answer yet.
Q: So no evidence of fissionable materials going in and out of the country over time, for the past several years --
Rumsfeld: I don't know what you mean by evidence. If you're talking about physical evidence?
Q: Physical evidence, documentation, that sort of thing.
Rumsfeld: Oh, I can't say, because it takes so long to translate all that stuff. In terms of physical evidence, I've not heard of any physical evidence.
Q: What do you mean, you do not stand behind the tape?
Rumsfeld: It is not for me -- I don't speak Arabic; therefore, it's not for me to say that the words are what the translation says they are. All we can do is the proper due diligence. We have had the tape checked by experts.
We have had the tape looked at to see if it had in any way been tampered with. We had people who are respected in their fields do the translation. I did not do it. I have every reason to believe that they are honorable people and did their best. It's interesting that they all seem to have agreed, which suggests that maybe the words are fairly close. And I made one other comment that I hope that those words are in reasonably close proximity to the mouth saying them on the tape. And there again, I can't know that.
Q: Mr. Secretary, excuse me. You said earlier that the United States is about to offer rewards for senior Taliban as well as the rewards --
Q: -- as well as the rewards that have been offered for al Qaeda. Do you plan to offer millions of dollars for the capture of Omar?
Q: What -- could you say how much? Would it be $25 million? You figure he's as valuable as --
Rumsfeld: Think 10. (Laughter.)
Q: Ten million?
Q: How many others?
Q: Will there be others -- others in the Taliban?
Rumsfeld: You bet.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Q: Mr. Secretary, the Chinese government has asked to turn in those prisoners of Chinese origin to the Chinese government if you catch them. Are you going to do that?
Rumsfeld: I was not aware of that, and that's an interesting thought. I was aware that there were some people who seemed to be Chinese that had been captured with the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. I had not heard that there had been a request for them, nor have I reflected on that possibility.
Q: And if there are Taliban fighters in Pakistan or Somalia, are you going to keep hunting them in those countries?
Rumsfeld: We intend to look for terrorists and terrorist networks and nations harboring terrorists aggressively.
Q: Base closings?
Rumsfeld: Oh. (Laughter.) I'm very disappointed.
For the sake of those who don't follow this subject, we -- the administration and I -- have proposed that we be given the authority by the Congress to close unneeded military bases and installations around the country and the world. We ask for that authority effective in 2003. The Congress has -- at least thus far, in the bill it looks like they're going to propose that it be done in 2005.
What that means, very simply, is that the United States will continue to have something like 20 percent to 25 percent more bases than we need. We will be spending money that is being -- taxpayers' money, hard-earned money that is being wasted to manage and maintain bases that we don't need. Given the war on terror, we will be doing something even more egregious, and that is we will be providing force protection on bases that we do not need. And that means that the money and the people that are devoted to that task cannot be devoted to something truly important with respect to the war on terrorism, and it's a shame.
Every single living former secretary of Defense is in support of the base-closing proposal. Every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the chairman and the vice-chairman have said privately and publicly that they think that's the thing to do. It is the thing to do, and it's most unfortunate.
Q: Are you disappointed enough, as you said before, to recommend that the president veto this if it's 2005, or would you reluctantly -- could you reluctantly accept it?
Rumsfeld: I'm going to have to sleep on that. (Laughter.)
Q: Just to follow on the BRAC proposal, in the fine print, Congress seems to be telling the military how to define military value. There's some very specific language in there, and I wonder if that is an improvement over your proposal or if it makes your life more difficult?
Rumsfeld: I'm going to have to get some folks and sit down and go over the language word by word. I'm told what you're told, that there is some debate about it. There may be some things in the bill that could provide some assistance to the services in the event that they decided they wanted to make some changes with respect to a base as to some aspects of its operations that could be positive, although I also understand there's some negative aspects of it as well. And I just don't have the answer.
Q: Secretary, there have been comments by some government officials that have seen the tape in the last few days that one of the most damning aspects for Osama bin Laden was that he deceived some of the hijackers, that they were sent to their death without knowing they'd been on a suicide mission, and that that would undermine his credibility in the Muslim world. But in the tape, while he says that some of the hijackers didn't know the operational details, he clearly says that what they did know was that they were sent to this country on a suicide mission. So does that -- was that a little bit of hype that undermines, maybe, the impact of the tape now?
Rumsfeld: I'll leave every interpretation of the tape to every single citizen of this country.
It's there. You all have it. You can all draw your own conclusions.
Q: Has the U.S. sent forensic teams to the Tora Bora area to look at -- to help identify people who have been killed? If you are trying to fill in some of the blanks on the top leadership, how will you know that they have been killed without being able to do some of the identification work?
Rumsfeld: I don't believe we have sent forensic teams.
(To General Myers) Do you know?
Myers: No, sir. I don't --
Rumsfeld: I don't think so. It's a little early. We're in a pitched battle over there. There's a lot of fighting going on and a lot of people exchanging ordnance and people getting hurt.
The answer as to how will we know is, it won't be easy. We'll have to talk to people. We'll have to look at what's left after it's over and see if we can't sort it out.
Q: And you also indicated that the Special Ops people will be doing something different than liaison. What? What are they doing that is different? Are they now --
Rumsfeld: We won't know till they do it.
Q: Are they much more engaged in the fighting?
Rumsfeld: We won't know till they do it.
Q: And they haven't done it yet?
Rumsfeld: (Pauses.) Well, I don't know that I want to get into it. You know, at any given point we've got people on the ground, Special Forces and Special Ops people, that are working with the Afghan forces that are doing the heavy lifting. We have people in the air that are helping. It is not a set piece; that is to say, you do not have a predictable set of things that are happening and you can predict will happen prospectively and, therefore, you bring in people who will do this, that and the next thing. It is something that is evolving, it is fast moving.
We have put people in there who have capabilities to do a host of different things, and they are people who are combatants; they're engaged in the process. What they might do if one or three or five of the various hypothetical things one can imagine might occur is obvious; they would be there to do whatever needed to be done to get their hands on the kinds of people we're looking for.
Q: You said earlier that they now -- the forces on the ground stretch from Tora Bora to the Khyber Pass. Have any of those forces on the ground intercepted any al Qaeda trying to flee the Tora Bora area?
Myers: I think the focus right now, there are in the Tora Bora area a couple of main valleys there that we're trying to keep people from escaping, and that's the focus.
There are other opposition groups that are working the Kabul to Khyber Pass area, and I think we, from time to time, have some liaison folks, again, with them, combatants. I can't recall whether we've --
Q: General Myers, is there now an increasing emphasis, following on your earlier answer, to seize some of these senior al Qaeda leaders alive? And is there an increasing number of people in there with special capabilities who can do that?
Myers: Well, I'll just go back to -- this is a pitched fight. I know there have been some reports in the media that, "Well, it looks like there's a cease-fire," and so forth. And I think it's because of some things you can see, depending on your vantage point, and other things you can't see. But it's been pretty much a continuous fight. The al Qaeda fighters are fighting for their lives. I don't think there's been the opportunity to put that kind of nuance on it.
Rumsfeld: We're not going to have a lot to say about it. If they surrender, they may come out alive. If they don't surrender, they may not. And it's kind of their choice. I, personally, would like to see people surrender. I, personally, would like to see us get our hands on them and be able to interrogate them and find out about the al Qaeda networks all across the globe. These people know things, and I'd like to know those things.
Q: Are these forces in there to try and make that happen? Are you trying to get those forces in there to try to make that happen?
Rumsfeld: They're all in there trying to stop the al Qaeda, and whatever Taliban that are in there, and to do it in the best and most expeditious way possible with the least loss of life, yes.
Q: On the B-1, you said that the rescue efforts -- the technology, the people, the operation -- went very well. But what more do you know, if anything, at this point, about what brought the aircraft down in the first place?
Rumsfeld: Oh, my goodness. It just happened. There will be an investigation to see what they can do -- they, obviously won't find the airplane, so they won't be able to do that. They'll talk to the pilot and the crew.
Q: There's no effort to recover the aircraft?
Rumsfeld: Oh, I would doubt -- I don't know. I have no idea, but I would doubt it. But I just don't know. We've got a few other things we're doing.
Q: A quick one for General Myers on the technology being used over there to help in the hunt. Can you confirm that Predators are pointing out targets for these AC-130 gunships almost in real time as they orbit?
Myers: We've been able to link our assets pretty well together and it's "Yes!" The answer is yes.
Rumsfeld: Thank you.
Q: See you tomorrow, Mr. Secretary!
Rumsfeld: I doubt it. I'm leaving tomorrow.
Q: Where are you going?
Q: Well, we'll see you when you come back!