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DoD News Briefing - Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
October 12, 2001 12:15 PM EDT

Friday, October 12, 2001 - 12:15 p.m. EDT

(Also participating: Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Slides and videos shown in this briefing are on the Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Oct2001/g011012-D-6570C.html )

Rumsfeld: Good afternoon. This is the end of the first week of our involvement in Afghanistan from a military standpoint. And after six days of strikes against al Qaeda and Taliban military targets, we have disrupted their communications somewhat, and we have, we believe, weakened the Taliban military, and damaged but certainly not eliminated their air defense capabilities. And we have worked over a number if not all of their terrorist training camps. Those camps have been locations where terrorists that are today spread across the globe have been trained. Threats clearly still exist.

But even as al Qaeda's operations have been weakened somewhat, it is, as we all know, but one of a number of terrorist organizations that exist in the world. Fortunately, those organizations, we believe, have also been weakened. They've been weakened in the sense that there has been a very aggressive law enforcement effort taking place simultaneously, not just by the United States, but by any number of countries that are participating in the various cooperative efforts that are taking place. We believe that we have been successful in weakening somewhat their financial capabilities -- not with large numbers or large sums as yet, but increasing sums every day. And I believe diplomatically we have made progress. All of which contributes to the weakening of the terrorists and the terrorist networks that exist around the world.

As the president has made very clear, our goal is to deal with terrorists; it's to deal with terrorist networks and to deal with those countries that harbor terrorists. And, clearly, the way we will know that is when Americans can go about their business here in this country and elsewhere without being subject to terrorist attacks. Our goal is to create a situation in Afghanistan so that there are no longer terrorists in the country that threaten others in the world, and that they are not training terrorists in their training camps.

With that, I'll stop and be happy to let Dick Myers make some remarks.

Myers: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

We are continuing our campaign against terrorism, and our early missions are going according to our plan. We have made a good first step in the military effort destroying or damaging terrorist training camps, disrupting communications, weakening the Taliban military forces in Afghanistan, and damaging their air defenses.

Yesterday U.S. forces struck in six planned target areas that included a training facility and camp, garrison compounds, motor vehicle and ordnance facilities. That also included vehicle repair facilities. We used approximately 15 carrier-based tactical aircraft for those strikes, and about 10 land-based bombers. The targets struck were primarily troop garrisons, military training facilities, vehicle repair facilities, and the like.

Due to some overflight clearance problems, we did not fly humanitarian airdrop missions yesterday, but those problems have been cleared up, and we are dropping today or have dropped today or will -- excuse me -- will drop today.

Today we have several items to show you that depict some of our efforts. First, from Wednesday, we have a surface-to-air missile storage site located near the Kandahar garrison site in southern Afghanistan. As you can see, the SAM canisters between the berms have been destroyed.

Next we have the Kandahar airfield. If you look close in the bermed area, you will see fighter aircraft. The craters in the runway were made on day one.

The next image shows the aircraft destroyed. They were struck on day two and three.

And the final image is from Wednesday. Here is a terrorist training camp in eastern Afghanistan near Jalalabad. It consists of buildings and training areas, as well as some gun emplacements. As you can see in this photo or the next photo, the buildings have been destroyed, as have the gun emplacements. You also see some vehicles that arrived after the strike.

Now I would like to show you some camera film, gun-camera film, if you will, from Tuesday.

(To staff) Can we roll the tape, please?

The first is a set of two shots from the Kabul airfield. You can see a few transport planes. The first of the two videos show two of those aircraft being destroyed.

The third video we have is from Herat airfield. You saw the photos of this yesterday. If you watch closely, you will see one plane explode at the bottom of the video, and then the big transport plane get hit next.

(To staff) Roll the tape, please.

Military operations continue, but we are not doing any pre-planned operations today as Friday is the Muslim holy day. But we do have forces available to hit any emerging targets, so we are continually updating our plans.

As we've said before, this will be a sustained effort. And many of the conventional efforts that you see today are stage-setters for follow-on operations. Some of those efforts may be visible, but many will not. As the president said last night, all of us are having to adjust the way we are thinking about this new war. As for the use of conventional forces, we have a clear plan, but you cannot fight this asymmetric threat with conventional forces alone; it will take all the elements of national power and resolve to do this, and your military is committed to doing its part.

With that, we look forward to your questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, is the suspension of preplanned strikes just a one-day arrangement? And will the pace resume, as per earlier in the week, after this pause?

Rumsfeld: We don't discuss operations and plans for the future.

Q: Can I do a follow-up on that, please, Mr. Secretary? For the past month, you and the president have stated that this is not a war against Muslims or Islam but a war against international terrorism. On the 17th of next month, Ramadan begins, the holiest month of the Muslim calendar. Would you discuss at all whether or not ops will take place then, or would you stand down for part of that month, or all of it?

Rumsfeld: I think I'll not comment on that, what our plans are. The reason is, I don't want to create expectations either way. I should say, in answer to -- more complete answer to Bob, it would be wrong to think that the -- all of the aircraft from these films, that all of the aircraft have disappeared. They have not. They still have some jet fighter aircraft, they still have some transports and they still have some helicopters.

Yes?

Q: Mr. Secretary, we're getting more and more reports of the opposition forces gaining ground and certain Taliban units falling back. We have no sense from the Pentagon whether or not that is so from your perspective. Can you give us any sort of feel for, on the ground, what these front lines are looking like?

Rumsfeld: Well, if you think about it, the plan this past week has been to attempt to target al Qaeda and Taliban military targets. In some instances, those military targets are in reasonably close proximity to ground forces that oppose al Qaeda and/or oppose Taliban. Needless to say, we would not have wanted ground forces that are opposed to Taliban and al Qaeda to be moving into areas where we are targeting Taliban and al Qaeda military targets.

Clearly, at some point when we feel we have done a certain amount with respect to those Taliban and al Qaeda military targets, it may very well be more appropriate for ground forces to moving in areas where we previously have been bombing.

Q: Do you mean U.S. ground forces or opposition ground forces?

Rumsfeld: I was referring to forces that are on the ground. (Laughter.)

Q: Mr. Secretary, last -- well, I'll let Jack follow up. (Laughter.) (Off mike.)

Rumsfeld: You just lost your turn. (Laughter.)

(Chuckles.)

Q: Why don't you just lean over and tell us -- (laughter) --

Q: U.S. ground forces?

Rumsfeld: No, I really -- the proper way to answer it is that there are a variety of forces on the ground that oppose al Qaeda and oppose Taliban. There are even some in Taliban that oppose the senior elements of Taliban, the -- Omar and his lieutenants that have connected themselves so closely to al Qaeda. And it is those forces that have been understandably -- are reasonably static in their deployments during the period when we've been attacking the military targets. And at that point where we are not attacking military targets in close proximity to those troops, then it's for those troops to make judgments as to whether or not they intend to take advantage of the work that's been done for them.

Q: They are moving, apparently. That's -- my original question was, are you seeing them move now and advance down roads that you have not seen them advance down?

Rumsfeld: We have been bombing every single day for the last six days, and I believe the bombing is still going on.

Myers: Correct.

Rumsfeld: And I would -- furthermore, it is -- the visibility is not perfect in that part of the country. There's been a lot of dust in various -- and I guess the short answer is that I would be surprised if they've moved much.

Q: Mr. Secretary, last night, if I may --

Rumsfeld: Yes. Excuse me.

Q: Last night the president gave the Taliban one more chance to cough up, as he put it, Osama bin Laden -- an indication that then the U.S. might suspend its military activity in Afghanistan. Do you believe that the Taliban would at this point surrender Osama bin Laden, and if not, why did the president make that offer to them?

Rumsfeld: Well, it seems to me it's perfectly consistent. What he has said from the outset is that the United States of America and our coalition partners have an interest in Afghanistan which is explicit: It is to end terrorism, and terrorists, and the terrorist network, and the training camps, and the people who are harboring those terrorists. That is what our goal is. And that is why we are doing what we are doing.

And if that stopped, and the terrorists weren't there, and the terrorist network disappeared, and the terrorist training camps were used for some other purpose, and the people who had been harboring these terrorists, and decided that that was a good thing for them to be doing, were no longer there and doing that, clearly our interest would have been largely fulfilled.

Now, as a country we have other interests from a humanitarian standpoint. And we might very well be interested in continuing to provide food, just as we have all this year, well before September 11th. And we would have other, more diplomatic interests, I should say, as opposed to a military interests.

Q: Do you believe there's any chance at this point that the Taliban will surrender Osama bin Laden?

Rumsfeld: No.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I know you want us to hold this to one question, so I only have one question for you, and then one for General Myers.

Rumsfeld: Uh-oh. (Laughter.) At least stay on the topic.

Q: Before September 11, the Pentagon was wrestling with the decision about whether to invest more money into BioPort, the nation's sole maker of anthrax vaccine, which so far has had difficulty producing FDA-certified vaccine. Are you now prepared to put -- invest whatever it takes in that facility to produce a vaccine, or are you inclined to go in some other direction? And I have a question for General Myers.

Rumsfeld: The answer is, I think, that I would have to talk to Dr. David Chu and Pete Aldridge. They have been addressing that issue. And there were any number of issues around that situation which were quite complicated, for a variety of reasons. And it has been something that I -- preceded us, me, here as a problem for this department. And to my knowledge, those problems that have not been worked out. But I would have to talk to them.

Q: And General Myers, could you just clear up for us just a little bit about to what extent the 5,000-pound bombs have been used in this campaign? Has it only been a very -- can you give any number -- can you tell us whether they were the laser-guided variety or satellite-guided variety?

Myers: Let me just stay out of the tactics of it. There have been a limited number -- I won't give you the exact number -- a limited number, and they are generally used when you want to penetrate deeply a hard -- a hardened target. And I think I'll just --

Q: Can you say whether they were used against caves?

Myers: Yes, they've been used against caves.

Q: Mr. Secretary, it was announced today there is an agreement with Uzbekistan on basing, and in the statement, there was a reference to urgent consultations. [ State Department news release ] My question is, is there some immediate Taliban threat to Uzbekistan that prompted that call for consultation?

Rumsfeld: I've not seen that. We do know, of course, there have been threats to Uzbekistan for some period of time. They live in that part of the world, it's a tough part of the world, and there have been terrorist groups internally and cross-border that they have had to deal with over time. And I recall discussing this with the president when I met with him last week.

Q: But from the Taliban, have there been any movements of Taliban troops towards Uzbekistan?

Rumsfeld: Not to my knowledge.

Q: Will the basing in Uzbekistan enable you to increase the pace of your operations, or is it just merely an expansion of flexibility? And, in keeping with Jamie's tradition, can you also address the C-17 flights, the overflights. You sort of tantalized us with a bit of information there, but we're --

Myers: On the first one -- the second part first, there was a deconfliction issue and a flight clearance problem with the C-17 flights yesterday. And like I said, that's been cleared up now and we've gotten good cooperation like we've had for most of this for those C-17 flights.

And as far as Uzbekistan goes, they have been very helpful in providing us what we need, as has the rest of the region, for that matter. And it certainly gives us some flexibility we wouldn't have if we weren't cooperating with them.

Rumsfeld: I think we ought to have a new rule: you can ask two questions, and then we can pick the one we want to answer! (Laughter.)

Yes?

Q: The troop garrisons as a target, do you have any -- are you actually trying to destroy numbers of Taliban troops and their leaders? And what's your sense of what has been the result of that? There have been some reports even that Mullah Omar might have even been killed. Do you have anything -- any sense of what the result of that has been?

Rumsfeld: With respect to the latter, we don't have any information to that effect. With respect to the first part of your question, inanimate objects are not terrorists or terrorist networks, nor do inanimate objects harbor terrorists. It is people that do that, and it is people that train terrorists. And clearly, the foreign element that has occupied Afghanistan are individuals who -- from other countries who have taken up residence there and been the hard core of the fighters, and the hard core of the terrorists, and the hard core of the trainers. And it clearly is absolutely necessary to find them and root them out, as we've said repeatedly.

Q: Mr. Secretary, in all, you have been successful with the inanimate objects, but have you had any success with those individuals that you're seeking?

Rumsfeld: Yes.

Q: Can you be more specific?

Rumsfeld: It's hard to be more specific. The success I would characterize -- we know that we have found some concentration of Taliban and al Qaeda forces, and we know that they are moving, that their life is more difficult, that the places where they have stayed have -- some of them have disappeared, that their circumstance is more costly for them, and we get snippets of information that some people who have been helpful to them are less inclined to be helpful.

Q: And what about the nerve center of this operation? I mean, you've hit some of the troops in this, but those that are in -- making decisions and calling the shots --

Rumsfeld: Well, we've been working on that problem.

Q: Mr. Secretary, regarding the communication of pro-American messages in Afghanistan, what have you been doing --

Rumsfeld: Say that again.

Q: The communication of pro-American messages in --

Rumsfeld: Oh, I see. By radio --

Q: Yeah. What have you been doing, what have you been saying, and ultimately what's your goal?

Rumsfeld: Well, the -- as the kinds of things that are being communicated in there are through -- whether it's for the Voice of America -- anyone can listen to that -- the BBC -- anyone can listen to that. There's also another radio station that's broadcasting now, and basically what it's saying is the truth. And the truth is that the United States of America has no quarrel with Afghanistan and the Afghan people; we have no aspirations to reside or occupy in their country for a short period of time even. Our interest is solely, specifically and explicitly what the president has said; it is to root out the terrorists and the people that are helping them, and to help the people of that country get rid of the foreign invaders who have come in and taken over a major chunk of their country.

And, by the way, we also are anxious to try to see what we can do from a humanitarian standpoint. And we have been doing that all year, and we are doing it now; we're doing it both through the normal food channels of AID and the various non-governmental organizations and U.N. We're doing it directly through military airlifts -- through C-17s.

And underlining the truth that those who contend that this has anything to do with any religion are untruthful and lying. And they are the people who are going around the world killing innocent people.

Yes?

Q: Mr. Secretary, you've said repeatedly in the last couple of days the United States does not seek to influence the makeup of the future government of Afghanistan following the Taliban. And yet, surely by withholding specific military assistance in the form of either weapons or close air support from the Northern Alliance, you are, in fact, going to influence the outcome perhaps of the next government in that the Northern Alliance is made up primarily of minorities, and by withholding assistance, you are looking to get Pashtuns in a position whereby they might also be able to share in power.

Rumsfeld: You're right; regardless of what your intent is, if your intent is to get the terrorists out, quite apart from that intent, which is our intent, there are effects that can occur by how you do that and the timing of how you do that. So you're quite correct.

To my knowledge, no one has been withholding any assistance from anybody. We have been trying to, and in fact, successful in a modest number of instances, to work with a variety of elements within the country, including the Northern Alliance. And really, when they say "alliance" you really ought to think about that word, because the implication that it is a cohesive whole, it seems to me, needs to be analyzed a little bit. It is a variety of elements, just as in the south there are a variety of tribes.

We are not withholding. We are interested in assisting those on the ground who are anxious to throw out the terrorists and the Taliban and the al Qaeda, we are for. We would encourage that. And so we do have an interest in their being successful.

Q: Mr. Secretary, yesterday you encouraged people within Taliban who are opposed to al Qaeda to be bold. I'm wondering if there have been any significant defections of either Taliban forces or leaders since this has begun?

Rumsfeld: I'm not in a position to confirm anything.

Yes?

Q: Mr. Secretary, you noted when you started that al Qaeda is just one of a number of international terrorist groups. And I was just wondering, do you expect the U.S. military to have to wage campaigns similar to this against other terrorist groups, or is Afghanistan going to be a singular case?

Rumsfeld: I think that remains to be seen. There's no question but that there is something distinctive about the situation in Afghanistan. Let your mind run over the rest of the world, and I can't think of anything that is precisely that case. The pressure that is being put on all across the globe is important, and there's no doubt in my mind but that there will be things that will be done from a so-called military standpoint, both overt and covert, that will occur in other countries, but I can't think of anything that's on all fours with Afghanistan at the moment.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Yes?

Q: Sir, it's been confirmed that among the targets that were hit was the Suburban vehicle that belongs to Abdullah (sic) Omar. Was that an effort to kill him?

Rumsfeld: Um. How was that confirmed? (Laughter.)

Q: Reliable sources.

Rumsfeld: I had the feeling that's what was the case. (Laughter.)

Look, the --

Q: What was the license plate? (Laughter.)

Rumsfeld: The United States is seeking out concentrations of people who are involved in these terrorist activities and in the terrorist training camps and in the terrorist network, and when we find them we do try to deal with them. I'm not going to get into that particular case, but I think that people should be on notice that it is not trees or rocks that cause terrorism. It's people.

Q: Mr. Secretary. Not to draw a comparable situation, but in the case of Iraq we have not had a U.N or other inspectors for the better part of three years. It's well clear that Saddam Hussein wanted to continue embarking on weapons of mass destruction. It's fairly well established that Iraq has fostered and encouraged terrorism. Can we say that if all that is true, would Iraq be a possible next target for American military action?

Rumsfeld: Well, obviously I don't talk about future operations. I think you're quite right when you say that there are a number of countries that are on the terrorist list. We all know which ones they are. There are a number of countries that have fostered and harbored terrorists, and we know what those countries are. And we also know what the president thinks about terrorists and terrorist networks. But what kinds of decisions or judgment would be appropriate prospectively are certainly well above my pay grade.

Q: You just said you're going to have a bombing pause because it is a religious holiday.

Rumsfeld: I did not.

Q: Oh.

Q: Myers did.

Rumsfeld: Someone asked a question to that effect.

Q: Well General Myers, is there going to be a pause?

Myers: No.

Q: So no pause?

Q: You said Muslim holy day.

Rumsfeld: I keep getting quoted on things I didn't say. (Laughter.) It's just amazing.

Q: No preplanned targets, I think you said. No preplanned targets.

Rumsfeld: And I was -- okay. In fact, I was quoted by somebody here yesterday as having said something that Dick said. We're going to have to figure out how we --

Myers: I kind of like that. (Laughter.)

Rumsfeld: The situation is this: We are going to address fixed targets as we find them. We are going to address emerging targets as we find them. Things will not be necessarily continuous. The fact that they are something other than perfectly continuous ought not to be characterized as a pause. There will be some things that people will see. There will be some things that people won't see. And life goes on. Our task is to deal with the problem. And there are a variety of different ways to do that. And we will be trying to utilize all the various tools that are available.

Q: So when the British say that there is going to be a pause over this religious holiday, are they speaking as part of your game plan, or are they off in the ozone?

Rumsfeld: Well, they are certainly not off in the ozone. They are a wonderful ally and have been a close participant in this. They may very well be speaking for themselves in this instance. But I think it would be unwise for terrorists and terrorist networks to believe that they have certain periods of time that they can do anything they wish.

We'll make this the last question. Yes?

Q: There was a British officer quoted the other day saying that the current military operation could last well into next summer. Would you agree with that?

Rumsfeld: You know, he may know an awful lot more than I know. (Subdued laughter.) But -- and he may be right. But I'm -- I am very conservative, and I just don't know. I don't have any idea how long it will take. And it seems to me it's not possible to know, myself. And I'm kind of old-fashioned. I kind of like to have some basis for saying something like that, and I don't know what it might be.

Q: Secretary Myers -- I mean General Myers, can you just outline any British involvement?

Rumsfeld: Now you give him my title as well as my -- (laughter) --

Q: So much for civilian --

Rumsfeld: (Laughs.)

Q: But he's bigger than you are, Mr. --

Rumsfeld: He sure is.

Q: You've talked about the importance of the alliance with Great Britain. We know that they launched cruise missiles on the first day. Have they participated in any strikes since then, and can you give us any idea of how?

Myers: They are participating in a variety of ways, not just with strikes, but in other meaningful ways. And they're not the only ones participating. You know, we get a lot of support out of the region, out of the countries in the region. We have other countries that are providing assets as well, and it may not be that they're providing them directly for what's going on in Afghanistan; they may provide somewhere else in the world that relieves our forces to participate in Afghanistan. So there is some of that action going on as well.

Q: Have British planes dropped any bombs in Afghanistan?

Myers: You know, I just don't want to get into the specifics of it, but there are British aircraft flying over Afghanistan. Let me just leave it at that.

Q: Mr. Secretary, just one on the civilians --

Rumsfeld: We're all through. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Q: See you tomorrow.

Q: Thank you.

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