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DoD News Briefing 19/12 - Secretary Rumsfeld

NEWS TRANSCRIPT from the United States Department of Defense

DoD News Briefing Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2001 - 3:30 p.m. EST

Rumsfeld: I do not see a single soul who was on the plane with me.

Q: They're waiting for their bags -- waiting for their bags.

Rumsfeld: Is that right?

Q: (off mike)

Rumsfeld: (laughs)

We have just returned, and we had meetings, as you know, in Central Asia and then at NATO, where we met with the allied defense ministers. I expressed our country's appreciation for their support in the war on terrorism and discussed the challenges that would be facing us all in the weeks and months ahead.

I explained that the effort in Afghanistan is certainly far from over. There are still pockets of resistance in the country, and President Bush intends to see the campaign in Afghanistan through until Taliban and al Qaeda leadership have either been captured or killed.

The Afghanistan campaign, of course, is not the only terrorist problem in the world. There are other terrorist networks that threaten us and threaten our friends. They operate in dozens of countries, and we are fully intending to stay after the problem of all terrorists that have global reach.

We discussed the emerging threats at NATO, those that are facing us in the 21st century, and ways to strengthen the alliance to meet them by improving allied capabilities. And that calls for increasing defense budgets in the NATO nations, bringing in new numbers -- members, which of course is going to be considered at the Prague summit, and in reducing troop commitments in old missions as we're able to and as we take on new missions with respect to the war on terrorism.

As to the ABM Treaty, in the final communiqué:, the allies took note of President Putin's statement that U.S. withdrawal in no way threatened Russia.

In Afghanistan, I met with the interim prime minister, Mr. Karzai, and the interim defense minister, Fahim Khan. I assured them of our commitment to hunt down the al Qaeda and Taliban leadership, so that they can no longer destabilize Afghanistan and repress the people of Afghanistan, and our commitment to help the new government of Afghanistan as it seeks to bring peace and stability to that country, so that it does not once again become a haven for terrorists and terrorist training camps.

Walking away, the most special part of the trip was the chance to spend time with the men and women in the armed services in the region and in Afghanistan. They are brave and talented and well trained and dedicated. They're really doing a terrific job for the country. Gosh, I -- we think we saw them in two countries, and had a chance to visit with them, to wish them Merry Christmas. They represented several services; indeed, they represented several countries. So it was a -- clearly the highlight of our trip for everyone that was there.

Questions? Yes?

Q: Sir, you've said many times that al Qaeda cells operate in 50 or 60 countries around the world, but can you say now that al Qaeda is finished as a terrorist organization --

Rumsfeld: Oh, absolutely --

Q: -- in Afghanistan itself?

Rumsfeld: Oh, no.

Q: What's left to be done against al Qaeda in Afghanistan?

Rumsfeld: Well, we don't know for sure. We -- until the pockets of resistance are worked through -- and the odds are that most of those pockets include al Qaeda, if not exclusively, at least in large part. We suspect that some al Qaeda have gone across borders, which means that, in answer to your question about Afghanistan, they're -- if they can go one way, they can come back the other way. And I would think that it would be a mistake to say that the al Qaeda is finished in Afghanistan at this stage. They certainly aren't functioning well. They're running and they're hiding and they're having difficulty communicating with each other. But a large number of them seem to behave in a fanatical way, and I suspect that we'll hear more of them.

Q: Have the U.S. forces expanded the search for them into Pakistan on the ground or in the air?

Rumsfeld: The -- well, clearly we have sensors in the air that are looking and trying to see what's taking place.

The Pakistani army is doing a good job along the border of Afghanistan. They have captured a very large number -- hundreds -- of people who were fleeing over the border. And we have people that are communicating with them and doing everything humanly possible to avoid having the people that we're pressing in Afghanistan from moving into neighboring countries, where they could cause damage and terrorist acts there. Our goal is to stop them, not to simply move the problem from one nation to another.


Q: Mr. Secretary, there was a report earlier this week that five senior Taliban officials had made it into Pakistan, including the defense minister, interior minister, deputy foreign minister, and a couple of top commanders. Do you have any sense that that's true? And if not, do you know whether --

Rumsfeld: I've not heard that report.

Q: Do you have any sense where some of those top --

Rumsfeld: We do have a sense where some of those folks are. We've got some of them. Some other folks have some of them. Some of them are dead, and a lot of them are missing.

Q: And you have some in hand?

Rumsfeld: And the latter category's larger than the former.

Q: Are you saying you have some of the top people in hand?

Rumsfeld: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)

Q: Mr. Secretary, when you said your goal is to stop the fleeing al Qaeda people, not to just let them flee to Pakistan -- Rumsfeld: Exactly.

Q: -- have any actually been engaged on the ground or from the air in the last day or two?

Rumsfeld: Oh, yes. There have been people who have been engaged in the last two days.

Q: In what fashion?

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't know quite what "engaged" means, but the -- in Afghanistan the -- what we used to call the opposition forces -- and now we're going to start, today, calling them the anti-Taliban forces, which I think probably is a better characterization -- are putting pressure on them. And as they move, there's periodic engagements. There is practically no air bombardment today, although there are aircraft up providing intelligence. But as I indicated, when they go across the border, they're being rounded up to the extent they can be found. I'm sure not all are being rounded up, but large numbers, hundreds, are being rounded up.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can you just clarify that point -- the U.S. role inside of Pakistan? Are you saying that Special Forces, that our own troops are involved in rounding up al Qaeda --

Rumsfeld: I didn't say.

Q: I'm just asking --

Rumsfeld: Oh.

Q: -- if they are involved in rounding up al Qaeda that may cross the border into Pakistan.

Rumsfeld: Well, let's put it this way. There are something like, the last time I looked, seven battalions of Pakistani army officials along that border who are doing that job.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: And I don't characterize what countries do beyond that, other than what they've announced.

Q: So if the U.S. military identifies al Qaeda in Pakistan, through our intelligence or through troops on either side, what is our role in capturing that al Qaeda cell?

Rumsfeld: Well, clearly the Pakistan army would do all the heavy lifting.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Yes?

Q: Mr. Secretary, what assurances do you have from Mr. Karzai or from other Afghan leaders, leaders of militias or anti-Taliban forces, that they will stick with the U.S. in going after al Qaeda and the Taliban?

Rumsfeld: Well, I mean, I just sat down with the interim leader of Afghanistan, and he looked me in the eye and told me so.

Q: Okay. And the other militias around the country? Do you have assurances from some of them, too?

Rumsfeld: Well, look. We intend to find as many of those people as we can. Everyone in that country knows that. We have told every one of the anti-Taliban forces. We have told the interim government. We are there, we are doing that, we are pressing. And I can't believe anyone doesn't -- isn't aware of that being our intention, nor has anyone indicated to me that they are opposed to that.

Q: Well, what I'm trying to get at is whether you can rely on their ground troops to do the dirty work.

Rumsfeld: Well, you may have to provide incentives, as we do.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Q: What are the incentives?

Rumsfeld: Well, what we've been doing all along. We've been providing the anti-Taliban forces ammunition, in some cases weapons, in some cases food, in some cases medicine, in some cases winter clothing and blankets and money, and we have provided air cover for them. We have worked with them with respect to the formation of the new government.

It isn't something -- we have to remember this. This is not -- this is a relationship, and it's multiple relationships. And it isn't something where someone says do this, or don't do that, or I will do this, or I won't do that. It is a discussion. They are not our forces, where someone says, "Go do this," and they go do it. This is a relationship.

So I met with Fahim Khan, the acting -- correction, the interim defense minister of Afghanistan and we discussed these things. Mr. Karzai and I discussed them.

You say, "Can you count on them?" You know -- it's a relationship. You work together. You work things out. And it's been very amicable. They're enormously appreciative, as are the people of Afghanistan, for being freed of the Taliban and the al Qaeda, and -- so there's this enormous relief in that country that those people are no longer governing, if that's what one wants to call it. "Repressing" might be a better word.

They also are fully aware that the United States of America is not seeking their real estate. We don't intend to try to occupy their country. We don't covet anything they have. We're helping. We're providing assistance. And we're anxious to see them succeed. So it's not like we have any interest other than stopping people from killing Americans and blowing up buildings and driving airplanes into the Pentagon.


Q: Mr. Secretary, you said your goal is to stop al Qaeda and the Taliban -- not to shift the problem to another country.

Rumsfeld: Right.

Q: It appears -- especially in the Tora Bora region, but also in the border that is next to Kandahar -- that that is exactly what is happening -- that as they flee, some are being caught, but this body of people that have been radical and wanting to destroy parts of the United States have, in fact, gotten across the border and are bringing this plague onto another country, and to spread it out.

Rumsfeld: I think not so.

Q: No?

Rumsfeld: No. I think what's happened, basically, is that we have 100 percent of the problem people, and that exactly what I've said has happened. Some have been killed -- not a trivial number -- a lot. Second, some have switched sides and joined the anti-Taliban -- that some of the Taliban fighters have now become anti-Taliban. Third, some have just gone home, dropped their weapons -- these are Afghans -- and they've gone back to their villages and said, "To heck with it. I'm not going to do anything." Some have just drifted away in the mountains and into the villages, and maybe they're laying in wait. And maybe they're going to cause mischief later. Maybe they still like the Taliban.

The al Qaeda do not drift into the villages, particularly. They're still in some pockets. They're still fighting, in some cases. Some have gotten across borders. A lot have been killed. A good number has been captured most recently. And they are dangerous and armed and have more difficulty blending into the Afghan villages or mountains, because, in many cases, they don't know the language; in many cases, they just don't fit in; and, in many cases, they're not wanted.

Now, so it's all of those things that are happening. And we intend to pursue the al Qaeda who do leave the country and try to find them and try to stop them.

Q: And in the midst of all of this, Osama bin Laden appears to have vanished.

Rumsfeld: I don't know that. I don't think he's vanished.

Q: Well, he's certainly not in your hands --

Rumsfeld: He's either dug in some tunnel, or he's alive. And if he's alive, he's either in Afghanistan or he isn't. And it does not matter, we'll find him one day. And we'll know what's happened.

Q: Mr. Secretary --

Rumsfeld: And he is not the problem, the entire problem. The al Qaeda is the entire problem. And the other terrorist networks are the problem. So he is important. We're after him. We intend to find him. I believe we will. But we haven't.

Q: And if he turns up somewhere thumbing his nose at you --

Rumsfeld: We will go see about that thumb. (laughter)

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Yes.

Q: Can you tell us what role the United States might be having in advising or aiding the Yemeni attacks on al Qaeda right now, and anything on what you may have told NATO officials about Somalia?

Rumsfeld: Oh, I saw a funny report about some German saying something?

Q: Yes.

Rumsfeld: Nonsense. I said in NATO what I always say. I said that there are a well-known number of nations on the terrorist list. And I listed them. And that there are a number of those nations that are active developing weapons of mass destruction -- either have them or are trying to get them, and that it's that nexus that is worrisome to us. And the only time the word "Somalia" came up was at that moment, and whoever is saying something to the contrary obviously is getting it third-hand and is -- when he discovers how wrong he or she is he'll probably feel badly.

Q: Mr. Secretary --

Q: Wait. What about the other one? That is going on.

Rumsfeld: I mean the real -- no. Oh, good. (light laughter) I've got to be more serious.

Yemen. Osama bin Laden grew up near the border of Yemen. There's a portion of Yemen that the government of Yemen has difficulties with. This is true of a number of countries in the world, where there are sections, and -- it's true in Colombia, it's true up in the northern part of Georgia, near Chechnya. Obviously the Philippines has some areas that aren't governable, if you will. They're not being governed.

Yemen has a strip along the Saudi border that has that problem. And it has been known to be a haven for terrorists, and, I suppose, criminals and various types of bad people, including al Qaeda.

We have made it very clear, from -- for a period of months, that if these people go somewhere else, we'll go find them. Therefore, if I were involved in a country that was a likely prospect for their next home -- and certainly that area is familiar to the al Qaeda, as they've lived in Somalia, they've been in Sudan; there are other places that they might logically go -- I would want to try to clean out that crowd, too. And apparently that's what happened.

Q: But is the United States actively participating in the Yemeni operation right now?

Rumsfeld: No, not really. You know, I hate to say something like that, and then I'm going to find out somebody trained somebody or somebody gave some intelligence or somebody encouraged somebody to do something. But if you're saying are we in their rooting around at the moment, no.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I wanted to hear your reaction to an FBI official's characterization yesterday of al Qaeda after the Afghan strikes. This is from J.T. Caruso. He's the acting assistant director for terrorism for the FBI. He told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that even with the elimination of Afghanistan as an al Qaeda base, that would reduce their capability to, quote, "commit horrific acts," end quote, by about 30 percent, quote, "leaving about 70 percent of their capabilities to commit horrific acts intact."

Would you agree with that characterization? That seems like quite a lot remaining --

Rumsfeld: Well, I just would have enormous admiration for someone who could reach that kind of mathematical precision. I'm not capable of that.

What I do know is that as I've said from the beginning, you could have Osama bin Laden walk in here this minute and turn himself in and say he's sorry, and the al Qaeda network would exist. It has businesses across the globe. It has sleepers in various countries. It has cells. It has money. It has communication capability. And it has, I'm going to guess, one or two handfuls of people who are perfectly capable of continuing to operate that network. So if that's roughly what he said, then we roughly agree.

Q: I think his point was that most of al Qaeda's capability is not -- it was not resident in Afghanistan; it was around the rest of the world and --

Rumsfeld: Well, if you're in 40 or -- 30 or 40 or 50 or 60 countries, you're all over the world.

Q: Mr. Secretary, before you were so rudely interrupted by bin Laden, you were in the midst of restructuring the American military. On the basis of the --

Rumsfeld: No, trying to.

Q: Trying to, yes. (laughter) In the light of the Afghanistan experience, in your own personal view, have you drawn any conclusions, convictions about what you should and should not do on an accelerated basis? In other words, can you give us kind of a lessons learned that have come to you by -- (inaudible)?

Rumsfeld: Let me say two things. First, I'm not ready to give lessons learned. We're thinking about it. We have people working on it, and we will clearly learn some things that we did well and some things that we'd like to be able to do better and some things that we ought to have that we don't have. And that will go forward as it does after every conflict, and the process is now underway.

Does that --

Q: Well, I just wondered if you think we have to do more on Special Operations, whether you have to get the army lighter, faster. I mean, some of the --

Rumsfeld: Yeah. Let me give you a general answer on that. There are some who say -- to use the passive voice, which I find offensive sometimes -- that when you're in a war, by golly, it's not time to do anything else. You better not worry about that. Just get on with your job.

I don't agree with that. I think that, by golly, we have to go forward with transformation. It's important. The Quadrennial Defense Review: is a good piece of work. It has got a lot of things that need to be done and need to be implemented. And if anything, the fact that we're in this conflict and we're seeing what we're seeing, I would think it would add a sense of impetus and urgency to it. And so what we're doing is we are looking at the '03 budget build during this period, and while we had fiscal guidance and we had Defense planning guidance that flowed from the Quadrennial Defense Review and the Nuclear Posture Review, we are taking a quick look in the last three weeks to see, are there things that we ought to tweak in some way and accelerate? And we are doing that to some things.

Q: Just a quickie. It's not -- in your view it's not a one-of-a-kind war? It's something that's going affect your --

Rumsfeld: There are some things that are going to affect us, but there is -- it is hard for me to imagine another Afghanistan. Just from -- if you think about that situation, it is kind of distinctive. Now it doesn't mean that some of the things that are working there won't work elsewhere, but the totality of it is distinctive.

I mean, it -- look where it is geographically, and look at the circumstance, and -- it is -- I don't think we're going to run around with a cookie mold and repeat this.

(cross talk)

Q: Mr. Secretary, can I follow that up? Can I follow that up? Can I follow that?

Rumsfeld: Sure.

Q: Could you tell us what's the reason, then, for the delay in the decision-making about the permanent structure of your homeland defense set-up, Joint Forces Command versus --

Rumsfeld: I've been busy. I've been busy.

Q: Okay. That's it?

Rumsfeld: And I've been using my brain and knowing that there's a lot I don't know. So I've been asking the opinions of others. And for whatever reason, the people I've asked have been busy. And they've been somewhat slow getting back to me. And --

Q: When do you expect that will be settled?

Rumsfeld: Well, they've come back twice, and I've felt unfulfilled. So they're coming back again. And when that will be I don't know. I've been out of town for a few days and a long weekend.

Q: (off mike) -- not fulfilling about their response --

Rumsfeld: Well, I didn't feel that I had all the answers to all the questions that leapt to mind. And I suspect the next time they come back they'll have a lot more answers and I'll feel better about it all.


Q: Could you explain what's going on in Tora Bora? The impression that I have from local news coverage there is that many of the Afghan fighters have gone back to their villages and that the force is greatly reduced, yet the danger is very high because they're doing the hardest part: cave to cave searches. So can you give us some sense of how large that force is now that's doing it and what percentage of it is U.S.? And can you also tell us a little bit more about the three Afghans that are in the -- on the USS Peleliu? I meant the three non-Afghans that are on the -- the three Westerners -- the non-Westerners. You know what I'm saying. (laughter)

Q: (off mike) -- what she means --

Q: I'm not the Australian.

Q: -- what she's trying to say.

Rumsfeld: I do know what you mean!

Q: Yeah.

Rumsfeld: I could but I'm not going to.

Q: Okay. On Tora Bora.

Rumsfeld: The three are there.

And on Tora Bora, let me put it this way. I am a little out of date because I've been on an airplane and I've only had one phone conversation with General Franks during the period since I left NATO. You're correct that people in those anti-Taliban units may drift in or drift out as the circumstances may be. So the numbers do change.

The battle, the pitched battle that was going on for some period of time is not taking place at the moment. That does not mean it will not start up again. A good many of the caves and the tunnels have been closed, bombed, damaged, blown up; a good many have not been. There are an enormous number of caves and tunnels. So what's taking place is since there is no longer a large physical resistance, the people that are there are moving into the open -- still-open tunnels and caves and looking around, gathering intelligence information, seeing who's there, and proceeding kind of systematically with that.

There are still anti-Taliban forces in the area. There are still U.S. forces in the area. There are still airplanes that are available to do whatever they are called upon to do. And at the moment, it's in just a slightly different phase than it had been.

(cross talk)

Q: Mr. Secretary, at NATO you said that a German official perhaps perceived a conversation wrong when he was quoted as saying that Somalia is the next phase for the U.S. military effort. Can you tell us: Are any U.S. troops in Somalia in any anti-al Qaeda effort?

Rumsfeld: To my knowledge, there's no U.S. military in there. You know, I don't know -- there could be someone on leave or something, but -- (muted laughter)

Q: Mr. Secretary --

Rumsfeld: You weren't here when I responded to that question earlier, but the German was wrong. He didn't mean to be, and he's probably sorry, but he was flat wrong.

Q: Mr. Secretary, there's been a lot of reports that European allies are against the U.S. taking the war on terrorism to -- using military force to oust Saddam Hussein. I'm wondering, having met with NATO allies, can you characterize your discussions about Saddam Hussein and their attitude about removing Saddam Hussein from power?

Rumsfeld: Well, but the -- all of the things you say you hear didn't come up. I did not hear that during my two days at NATO.


Q: Mr. Secretary, could you elaborate a bit on what's happening to the prisoners held by the Pakistanis? Are there American officials interviewing them? Are they being screened? Have any been turned over to U.S. forces?

Rumsfeld: I'm not as knowledgeable as I might be in 24 hours. There are very large numbers of them. My assumption -- and slight information tells me that they've been rounded up, contained, disarmed. And very likely -- and I think this is correct -- a quick sort takes place. And the quick sort very likely would be to distinguish between Pakistanis and all other for a first cut.

And then I'm told that a -- some sampling's been done, and they begin to get a sense of what countries these people are from and what they're up to. And they then probably put them into baskets and -- some under -- this category of people would be in one place, and another category, if they think they're senior people, would be in a different place. And we then are advised of what they have. And clearly, we will be deeply involved in interrogation and intelligence gathering, because it should be a treasure trove.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Yes?

Q: Since you have just now come back from the area, the patience in India is running out after the attack on the parliament. What they are saying is this the same kind of attack which took place in Washington and New York, and the same group based in Pakistan and with a connection with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Now what I'm asking you is if you have spoken with anybody in India at the highest level, like in the Defense Ministry or so, and they are asking the United States to take action against these terrorists and --

Rumsfeld: Not to my knowledge. I have not had a chance to talk to anybody on this subject, and I'm not knowledgeable. I've read what I've seen in the paper, and I saw that everyone has condemned the act, but that's --

(cross talk) Yes?

Q: The military is on alert from both sides, and there might be some kind of action --

Rumsfeld: You have more knowledge than I do. I'm not a good source on this subject.

Q: So what the U.S. military will do? Let's say there's some kind of attack --

Rumsfeld: I don't get into hypotheticals.


Q: Mr. Secretary, you talked about how now this cave-to-cave search is one that's a systematic one, but it's relying apparently on forces -- anti-Taliban forces that are shrinking or at least fluctuating in number. Are you satisfied --

Rumsfeld: We've got folks there, too.

Q: Yeah. Are you satisfied with the pace of that, given the concern --

Rumsfeld: Oh, goodness. It's a tough area. People are getting frostbite. It's cold. It's dark a good deal of the time. The weather's been terrible.

Am I satisfied? Who am I to say I'm not satisfied? I mean, that's tough, dirty work.

Q: I'm just thinking about the pace of operations up there --

Rumsfeld: I'm not unsatisfied at all. I think they're doing a very good job under very difficult circumstances.


Q: Mr. Secretary, what is your sense of the place where the multinational force will operate in Afghanistan?

Rumsfeld: It's an open question. That's up to the interim government of Afghanistan. And at the moment, they have for the most part said that the Kabul area was what was intended. And it's my understanding that the force that's being put together and hopes to be in there sometime close to the 22nd of December intends to go into the Kabul area in some way, shape, or form.

Whether or not at some point they would have an international security force anywhere other than that is something that I think is down the road.

Q: Mr. Secretary, where --

Rumsfeld: We'll make this the next-to-the-last question, and that's the last question.

Q: What can you tell us about the 15 detainees that are being held in Kandahar now? Are they senior Taliban, al Qaeda? Who are they?

Rumsfeld: They're people we're interested in interviewing. I guess that's the word -- interrogating.

Q: Would you call them al Qaeda or Taliban? Either one?

Rumsfeld: Could be a mixture. I'd have to go back and look.

Q: And are there any al Qaeda that have been taken in Tora Bora that are now in U.S. custody?

Rumsfeld: I don't know. I don't know. I suspect so, but I -- the problem with U.S. custody is we have so few people in that area and they're quite busy. And having a prisoner is a pain in the neck. You've got to disarm them. You've got to make sure they don't get away. You've got to contain them. And that takes people to do that, and our people that are up there are there for a different purpose. So for the most part, we're trying to see that detainees are detained by larger forces, namely the anti-Taliban forces.


Q: Mr. Secretary, of those prisoners who are in Pakistan, do you know if any of them are top al Qaeda leaders, and if so, will the U.S. ever be able to get their hands on them, if it is proved they are someone who was involved in the September 11th attacks?

Rumsfeld: Well, if they're al Qaeda -- and it's hard to believe a non-Afghan would be fleeing out of those valleys into the arms of the Pakistani army, fleeing from the anti-Taliban forces and U.S. air forces and U.S. ground forces -- it's hard to believe that they were innocents. And it doesn't require that someone had been directly involved in the September 11th bombing. If they're part of al Qaeda, al Qaeda was involved. That's good enough for me. These are terrorists. They are bad people. They are people that need to be stopped. And you can be darn certain we're going to try to get our hands on them. So.

Q: Mr. Secretary, one more?

Rumsfeld: No, that was the last one. (laughter)

Q: One more transformation question? How 'bout it? (laughter)

Rumsfeld: No. Thank you.

Q: Thank you.


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