Thank you very much, General Holland, General Brown, I thank you for your hospitality. And to the men and women of the finest military on the face of the Earth, I thank you for what you do. And my very special thanks to your families on this busy Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
Who's getting ready to deploy? This group. Terrific. Good for you. Where you off to? Ahh, you'd have to shoot me if you told me, right? [Laughter.] Just checking. [Laughter.]
Now, I've been walking around out here, and everyone's walked up to me and said, "Hi, I'm Joe. I'm from such and such a place. And I've been married X number of years," so I figure I'd better do the same thing. I'm Don Rumsfeld. [Laughter.] I'm 69 years old. I've been married 47 years, if you can believe that. [Applause.] [Laughs.] I've got three children and five grandchildren. And I'm a broken-down ex-Navy pilot, so everyone can't be perfect. [Laughter.]
But I've just had a chance today to see I supposed you'd have to say some of the most outstanding -- the most outstanding young men and young women in the armed forces of the United States of America. We have seen a lot of equipment today. We have seen some operations. We've seen some capabilities that have been front and center in Afghanistan. I don't suppose there's a day that goes by that I don't keep track of what your folks are doing in the north of Afghanistan or are doing in the south of Afghanistan. And it gives me just enormous pride to be able to say to each of you how much respect that we all have for you and for what you do.
You have well earned your outstanding reputation, and the world knows why, when the president dials 911, it rings right here in Fayetteville.
You're part of an organization that requires you to prove yourselves over and over and over again. You do it in training, and you do it when you're deployed. Strong backs, that's for sure -- I've shaken some big, strong hands today -- but also strong hearts, strong minds as well. The language talent that's on display, the medical talent, the weapons skills, communications skills, the psychological operations skills -- all of these things are so critical to your success and indeed to our country's success.
A couple of situation reports we received from your fellow soldiers in Afghanistan came in last week or a week and a half ago, I guess, kind of prove the point. I'd like to read you a few paragraphs that tell an important story.
One report from a Special Forces soldier in Afghanistan reads, quote, "I'm advising a man on how to best employ light infantry and horse cavalry in the attack against Taliban T-55 mortars, artillery, personnel carriers, machine guns, a tactic I think became outdated with the invention of the Gatling gun. They've attacked with 10 rounds of AK-47 ammunition per man, with snipers having less than a hundred rounds, with little water and less food. I observed a sniper who walked 10-plus miles to get to the fight, and he was proud to show me his artificial leg, from the knee down.
"We have witnessed the horse cavalry bounding from spur to spur to attack Taliban strong points, the last several kilometers under mortar, artillery, and sniper fire.
"There's very little medical care if injured; you get a donkey ride to the aid station, which is a dirt hut. I think they're doing very well with what they have. They've killed over 125 Taliban, while losing only eight.
"We couldn't do what we're doing without the close air support," he goes on. "Everywhere go to, the civilian and local soldiers are always willing to tell me that they're glad the USA has come. They speak of their hopes for a better Afghanistan once the Taliban are gone."
And with that, one amazing soldier went off on a cavalry charge with a Northern Alliance commander. I think of it as the Rumsfeld transformation of the Pentagon. [Laughter.]
Another report read, "We departed the position from which I spoke to you last night. We left on a horse, linked up with the remainder of the element. I had a meeting with the commander.
We then departed from our initial link-up location and rode into the Mazar-e Shariff on begged, borrowed and confiscated transportation. I'm proud of these men who have performed exceptionally well."
"Well, it looked like a ragtag procession. The morale in Mazar-e-Shariff was like a triumphal procession -- much waving, cheering and clapping. The U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force did a great job."
He went on to say that, "I have personally witnessed heroism under fire when we came under direct artillery fire last night, which was less than 50 miles away. I ordered them to call in close air support. They did so immediately without flinching, even though they were under fire.
"As you know, a U.S. element was nearly overrun four days ago, and continued to call close air support and ensure that our forces did not suffer defeat. These two examples are typical of the performance of your soldiers and airmen.".
Those men are living the dream. They're getting to do exactly what they signed up for -- on the ground, on horseback, and working with local forces. Right now they are hunting down the men who ordered the murder of some 4,000 Americans. This is a worldwide war on terrorism, and every one of you, and each one of the organizations you represent are needed. And I know -- I know of certain knowledge that when the call comes, you will be ready.
At the start of the campaign, President George W. Bush said, "We are at the beginning of our efforts in Afghanistan, but Afghanistan is only the beginning of our efforts in the world. This war will not end until terrorists with global reach have been found and stopped and defeated."
You are the men and women who will hand-carry that message to America's enemies, sealed with the muscle and might of the greatest warrior force on Earth.
Before September 11th, many in the Pentagon spent time working on transformation and on asymmetric advantage, the importance of which has been certainly proven by current events. But current events say something more -- that America's greatest advantage, asymmetric or otherwise, is the same one she's always had since the beginning of the Republic -- the strength, the power of a free people, especially when fighting to defend their nation and their families from fear and from terror.
Tomorrow, families across America will sit down to Thanksgiving dinner and give thanks to the Lord for the blessings and the benefits of freedom. And as sure as we are standing here today, you can be certain that as they reflect, they will be thanking God for all of you -- each of you -- who willingly put your lives at risk to defend our country and our freedom in far-off places all across the globe.
On behalf of the president, the Department of Defense, the American people, I thank you. I thank your families who so faithfully support you. I thank you for all you do to keep America free. We value and we respect your courage and your determination and your dedication.
I would like to add one thing. I told some of your associates earlier that I was in a National Security Council meeting this morning from about 8:30 to 9:30 or 10:00, and that was why I was a bit late here today, for which I apologize.
After the meeting the president grabbed me, and we had to talk about something. We went in a private room off to the side, and for about 20, 30 minutes, he was visiting on this subject. And then he said, "Well, where are you off to?" And I said, "Fort Bragg." He said, "Oh! I wish I were going there." [Laughter; chuckles.] And I can tell you for sure that he will be here sometime in the year 2002, without question.
So with that, I'll stop and say happy Thanksgiving. And be happy to respond to questions from anybody -- except maybe the press. [Laughter.] I've done that.
Who's up? Who's first? Where's a hand? Don't be shy! [Chuckles.]
No questions. I can't believe that.
Q We need a break.
SEC. RUMSFELD: [Laughs.] How long you been sitting out here? [Laughter.] Huh?
Q Not long.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Not long? Good.
I really would be -- now I'll take questions from the press. No, no -- that would be wrong. [Laughter.]
Q Sir? Sir?
SEC. RUMSFELD: You have one? [Chuckles.]
That is amazing. This is the most unusual group I've ever met. [Laughter.]
Well, I will take one from the press.
Q Sir, could you talk about exactly what is happening as far as the troops on the ground? Are there Marines going in?
SEC. RUMSFELD: The answer to the question can I talk about what's going on the ground -- the answer is, I could. [Laughter.] And the question as to whether or not the Marines are going in, as you know well, we don't talk about future possibilities.
Q A Saudi newspaper this morning said Osama bin Laden has instructed his followers that he should not under any circumstances be taken alive, that he has also recorded a video will, as it were, in the event that he dies, a message to the world to his followers to continue the fight. Can you give us a reaction to that?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I wish that Saudi newspaper would tell me where he is – [laughter] -- because we sure would like to find him, and we've sure got a lot of folks looking for him and for his senior leadership, and we do intend to find them.
I would have no way to know their validity or the lack of validity of that report, and I guess that's a rabbit I'm not going to chase.
Q Secretary Rumsfeld, do you want the catch him dead or alive or either way?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, the president's policy is dead or alive. And, you know, I have my preference – [laughter, applause] -- but that's not a government position. That's a personal position.
Q What is that preference, sir?
SEC. RUMSFELD: [Laughs.] I'll just leave it to your imagination. [Laughter.]
What else? How about over here? This is a bright, chipper looking group. What about a family member down here? Yes, sir?
Q In the wake of the Bush summit, can you indicate a role at all for Russia – [off mike]?
SEC. RUMSFELD: In Afghanistan? Yeah. The question is -- concerns the possibility of a Russian support role in Afghanistan, given the very cordial and congenial summit between President Bush and President Putin.
I normally don't characterize what other countries do or offer to do, but in this case they did, in fact, publicly say that they have offered search-and-rescue assistance in the northern part of Afghanistan should that become necessary. It has not as yet. They also have been cooperating with respect to overflight rights and intelligence sharing and some other activities. So they've been cooperative. I think that, given their background in Afghanistan, they're an unlikely prospect for ground troops.
Q Do you have any report on your knowledge of the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden? Are you getting a better idea? Can you give us an idea of where you think he might be, or how close you are, that type of thing?
SEC. RUMSFELD: The question is, how close are we to finding Osama bin Laden. And I honestly have tried to answer that question and I don't know how to answer it well. My feeling is, until you have something, you don't have it. And things can look close, and then all of a sudden they don't look so close. And the only way I can characterize it is it's kind of like, as I said, running around the barnyard chasing a chicken; until you get it, you don't have it. And they keep trucking and dodging and bobbing and weaving, and we're looking.
But the amount of area that the senior Taliban and the al Qaeda terrorists -- al Qaeda in the broadest sense, meaning almost all the foreigners that are involved in Afghanistan; they may be from China, they may be from Chechnya, they may be from Pakistan, they may be from the Middle East -- that task is an important task, and the amount of real estate in Afghanistan that they have to function on today is considerably smaller than it was several weeks ago. So one would think that the task of finding them would be at least somewhat easier because of the smaller area you have to search. On the other hand, it is not ever clear, given the terrain and given the porous borders, you can't ever be certain that those people haven't scooted across the border or moved to another location and are hiding out. There are so many tunnels, there are so many caves in that country that it is a very, very difficult task. It has been said, correctly, that it's like finding a needle in a haystack.
But we're looking. We've got lots of good folks looking. And we've got also a lot of intelligence assets focused on him.
And besides that, we're putting out some pretty hefty rewards, hoping that some of the local folks will get inspired and follow the principle of economics -- University of Chicago economics.
Go ahead. Yes?
Q Do you – [off mike] -- or while they're actually doing it? It seemed like right off the bat, the press – [off mike] -- operations. And this is not – [off mike] -- a lot more operations – [off mike]. And if you – [off mike] --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Your point -- the question is, are we going to put on any security measures to keep the press from having access to Special Operations activities? Is that it?
Q Yeah. While they're in progress --
SEC. RUMSFELD: While they're in progress. And – [sighs] -- I – [chuckles] Wow. [Laughter.]
[Chuckles.] No, the short answer is that the press can go wherever they can go, physically, and they do. They -- they're -- at this point, any number of members of the press are in Afghanistan, and that is their right, like anybody else, to do.
We have been very careful to avoid having any discussion of current operations prior to their initiation and during the actual time that those operations are under way.
It is true that these things leak into the press from time to time, and it is -- and it does in fact put people's lives at danger, and the people who -- in the Pentagon and the government of the United States who have access to that classified information and then who mishandle it are in fact violating federal criminal law. And in addition, they are, as you point out, putting people's lives at risk.
The press has every right to print it, and they do. On the other hand, if there's something that's particularly sensitive, there's no question but that responsible members of the press have been, on a number of occasions, known to withhold that information and not print it, because they recognize that people's lives can be put at risk. And it's to their credit that they do that.
There's no way to stop speculation; we've got a lot of retired officers and enlisted personnel around the country that are asked on television, "What about this? What about that? What's the likely thing that's going to happen next?" And they begin speculating and speculating. And of course, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while and – [laughter] –[laughs] -- and they end up getting it right, which is awkward, because you didn't want them to get it right; you wanted them to get it wrong, or to not get it at all.
But overall, I think that the Pentagon's got really a darn good press corps. And indeed, a conflict, a war, tends to bring out the best in a lot of people; it brings out the best in soldiers and sailors and Marines. It also brings out the best, I think, in some members of the press, and they can manage their affairs at a level that they hadn't previously done because of their understanding and recognition of it.
We do try to include press in those things where it's not going to put people's lives at risk. And we have a series of places where we try to embed the press into the process in a way that will allow them to report on the terrific work that's being done by the men and women in the armed services, but at the same time, to do it in a manner that doesn't put anybody's life at risk.
Q [Off mike.]
SEC. RUMSFELD: The point is, is that she says that she doesn't believe that anybody in the public really wants to know, if it means putting these -- the folks here lives at risk. And I certainly agree with you. I don't think the American people do want to know anything that's going to cause the death of any one of these enormously talented and dedicated and courageous people that are here today.
Q Mr. Secretary, can you talk about the importance of the Special Forces and the operations you saw here today in terms of the campaign?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I can, and I will do so. [Laughter.]
It is absolutely thrilling to be here and to see these folks and to look them in the eye and be able to say thank you, because we have -- I guess we -- it was September 11th, and then October 7th we put -- started putting some bombs on the ground in Afghanistan. And if you'll recall that early period, the Air Force and the Navy did a terrific job. They flew bombers, they flew fighter bombers, they flew all kinds of AC-130 aircraft and did a great job. But the fact of the matter is that it is very difficult to do unless you've got feet on the ground; people who are there who are communicating, telling the people up above where the targets are, arranging for a resupply of ammunition, arranging for resupplies of food. And from the time we got the first A team in, on the ground with a Northern Alliance element, the targeting success went up dramatically.
And the success of that operation has gone up dramatically.
And I don't know how many teams we've got in there now. You -- you all know better than I do, but it's probably better than a dozen, and they are doing a world-class job. And it makes an enormous difference to the outcome. The success of the targeting has just improved so dramatically that the favorable comments I read you from this Special Forces person on the ground is exactly right. It did enable -- the air war enabled the ground war to succeed, and for those Northern Alliance people, and for the Pashtun tribes in the South, to actually have that kind of success. And it turned when we had Special Forces down there to help with the targeting. And God bless them for doing it.
STAFF: Sir, we've got time for one more.
SEC. RUMSFELD: One more question. So wait -- wait. One more question. And I see the hand up. And we're going to grade -- we're going to have the whole audience grade you on the quality of the last question. [Laughter.]
Q All right. I'll take that challenge. You mentioned the challenges in terms of finding Osama bin Laden as the terrain, the porous borders and the caves. You have perhaps 100 Special Forces on the ground there, certainly not enough to look down every hole – [off mike] -- find Osama bin Laden. How can you overcome that challenge – [off mike] -- looking in the caves?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, first of all, we don't know if he's in a cave. When I get up in the morning, I picture him in a cave. [Laughter.] But he may not be in a cave.
How can we do it? Well, the answer is, it may take some time. And we will have to put forces on the ground that are necessary to enable us to do it. We'll have to get the cooperation of other coalition forces to help us on the ground, and there are some coalition forces on the ground today helping. We're going to have to encourage the people of Afghanistan to provide the kind of intelligence that will enable us to do a much better job.
We'll have to keep, as the president said, closing the noose and reducing the amount of real estate that those folks have to run around on. We're going to have to keep dropping -- we've dropped leaflet after leaflet all over Afghanistan offering high rewards for people to spend their weekends and evenings on an exciting pursuit, and they are doing that. And there are teams of people that are out looking. They're going to have to look in towns and villages. They're going to have to look in the mountains. They're going to have to look in caves, and it may be -- I mean, it's happened in other times in our history when people actually are able to leave a country and end up someplace else. But we'll find them there.
This is a very serious problem that our country faces where 4,000 Americans were killed by terrorist attack, and there are threats of additional terrorist attacks coming in every day. And what we need to do is recognize that you cannot defend against terrorists. You simply must go after them. You have to find them where they are and root them out and stop them. And given the nexus between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, we're talking not about 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 human beings; we're talking about tens of thousands or potentially hundreds of thousands of human beings at risk because of access to weapons of mass destruction. We have no choice, and we intend to find them. And by golly, the folks here deserve a lot of the credit for the success we've had so far.
I am pleased to see you. I wish you well. Happy Thanksgiving. [Applause.]