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Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability with Italian Minister of Defense Martino

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
October 18, 2001 3:30 PM EDT

Thursday, October 18, 2001 - 3:30 p.m.

(Media Availability with Italian Minister of Defense Antonio Martino)

Rumsfeld: Good afternoon. We've just had an excellent visit. The defense minister of Italy, Mr. Martino, is here visiting the United States, and we're delighted to have him.

I must say it's -- that Italy has of course been a long-time friend and ally of the United States. As a former ambassador to NATO, I've visited there many times and have many friends, as Mr. Martino has here in this country. We have a lot of mutual friends.

But this is an unusual time. I think you're probably the first NATO ally to be in this country when a NATO asset is flying overhead. The AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System]--

Martino: The AWACS.

Rumsfeld: -- aircraft and air defense system has been assisting our country, and for that we're very appreciative. We're also very appreciative for the wonderful support that you and your government have offered in cooperation with the effort against terrorism. So --

Martino: Thank you.

Yes, I was delighted to have this chance to meet the secretary of Defense, so that I could confirm the commitment and total support my country is prepared to give to this campaign against terrorism, which is a common enemy, a common threat against our countries.

And I also stressed that we don't forget the tremendous debt of gratitude all of Europe and my country in particular have with the United States. Our liberties were protected more than once during the 20th century by the courage and the generosity of the American people. And so at this time, I wanted to concretely show that we have not forgotten. We are here, aware of the fact that it is in our own self-interest, but also because we are delighted to have this opportunity to stand next to our great ally.

And I'm grateful to Secretary Rumsfeld for having mentioned the AWACS, because on those planes, may be a bit Italian pilots or --

Rumsfeld: Indeed.

Martino: -- or other technicians on board.

Rumsfeld: We'll be happy to respond to some questions.

Q: Secretary Rumsfeld, are you in the process of deciding how and where Italian troops and air force might participate in the campaign against terrorism?

Rumsfeld: The Italian government has sent some liaison officers to Tampa to meet with the -- General Tommy Franks and the CINCCENT [Commander-in-Chief Central Command] organization there. And they -- those are the kinds of things that will be worked out among them.

Q: Mr. Secretary, is the United States using cluster bombs or anti-personnel mines in Afghanistan, because Human Rights Watch says you are and you should stop?

Rumsfeld: I think that's a good question for General Myers. (Laughter.) My recollection is not. But on the other hand, I would not want to say that with absolute certainty, but I don't believe so.

Q: Mr. Secretary, on the question of Afghanistan, it is -- it has a government, a central government, a very repressive one. Do you think there's any danger if you take down that government and turn it into something like Somalia with no central government that it might in fact be a better breeding ground for terrorism? Is there any downside to the strategy you're pursuing?

Rumsfeld: No. It is hard to imagine something that would be worse than what is. It has just -- it has caused the loss of so many lives, and the human disaster of significant proportion that has been inflicted on that country by Taliban, by drought, by civil war, by conflict with the old Soviet Union combined have created a situation that is just inhumane.

Q: Are you giving any advice to the Afghan civilians there in terms of "flee the cities" or anything like that?

Rumsfeld: Well, as a practical matter, there are some radio broadcasts that go in, and they have various things to say about that. But the cities have been the relatively safe place to be. It's the military compounds and being around military formations and units has tended to be somewhat unsafe.

Q: And are you any closer to pinpointing Osama bin Laden's whereabouts today versus October 7th, when you started the bombing?

Rumsfeld: I think we'll know more about that probably from sources on the ground than you will from Washington, D.C. And it is an entire network, and the al Qaeda network are in 50, 60 countries. If bin Laden were gone today, tomorrow, the problem would remain, and we're determined to deal with the entire problem.

Q: Mr. Secretary, could you clarify your remarks about help is on the way for the opposition forces in terms of ammunition and the air support? Is that U.S. assistance on ammunition, and is it also close air support? Could you clarify that?

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't know that it needs clarification. I think what I said was that we are very much encouraging and in favor of forces on the ground that are opposed to the al Qaeda and that are opposed to Taliban and to the repressive government and terribly difficult situation that exists in that country.

In trying to be helpful to them, obviously we know we've been providing food. We did that before September 11th, we're doing that now. We intend to keep doing it. We're doing it from the air, and we'll participate in it, as President Bush announced, from the ground.

To the extent that we have relationships with elements on the ground, needless to say, we would be happy to assist them if it makes sense from a standpoint of ammunition, various types of supplies, as well as food, but also, to the extent we can be cooperative from the air, that is a useful thing to do.

If they have -- if they're engaging the forces that we're against, we're for them.

Q: Would the Italian -- you were nodding in agreement. I wondered what your thoughts were.

Martino: I can't hear you.

Q: You were nodding in agreement. I wondered what your thoughts were on that issue.

Martino: No, no, I'm in perfect agreement.

Q: Mr. Secretary, to follow up simply, is the United States now providing ammunition to the forces opposed to the Taliban?

Rumsfeld: I think what we'll do is leave my statement where I left it.

Yes?

Q: You mentioned that cities currently are one of the safest places to be. Is there any concern that unless you smoke out al Qaeda, that they will go into civilian areas and make your job harder down the road?

Rumsfeld: There's not concern; it's reality. There's no question but that the al Qaeda and the Taliban are using mosques, they're using heavily populated areas for their command and control and for their gathering places, purposely, because they know that we are a country that tries to avoid high-collateral-damage targets, and have in the past and will in the future. So they do take advantage of that. In fact, we see snippets of information where they're saying that to each other.

Q: Mr. Secretary, what level --

Rumsfeld: You also find places where they are taking the food that we're delivering, in some cases, from the people that it's intended for.

Are there questions from the Italian press?

Q: Italian sources said this morning that U.S. is going to ask Italy to send their tanks to Afghanistan. Did you talk about it with Minister Martino?

Rumsfeld: I think what I said was that there is a liaison office, that many, many countries, most NATO countries, have them, in Tampa, with our commander, combatant commander, General Franks. I do not -- we do not ask countries to do things. Countries decide what it is -- in what ways they would like to be helpful, they come forward, we discuss it. Sometimes it's public, sometimes it's private. And we always leave it to them to characterize what it is they're doing.

Q: So, what is going to happen? Is Italy going to be part, maybe, of the U.N. peacekeeping troops after, in the post-Afghanistan?

Martino: I respond in Italiano. (In Italian.)

Q: If I could ask, Minister Martino, in English, what is Italy offering then?

Martino: Well, we offered to participate concretely in this common campaign against terrorism. It's in the interest of all of us. The target was the United States today. It could be an Italian city tomorrow.

And with respect to our parliamentary procedures, we will participate in a concrete way, not just with words, in this campaign.

Q: Mr. Secretary, is the use of American ground forces unavoidable, or do you believe that the opposition can provide that ground force to root out and finish off the Taliban and al Qaeda?

Rumsfeld: Well, first let me say that we don't talk about what it is we might do prospectively. My interest is not to simplify things for the other side, but to complexify them, if there is such a word --

Q: (Off mike.)

Rumsfeld: "Make more difficult," I guess, is -- my high school English teacher would be -- prefer that.

Martino: (Chuckles.)

Rumsfeld: And I don't think I'd rule out anything. I mean, I think that it would be unwise for anyone in a situation like this, where you have a new circumstance, a very complex set of problems that are notably different from other conflicts, to think that you can see around four or five corners and know precisely what might or might not make sense in this country or another country. Clearly, we are encouraged by the progress that's being made by the forces on the ground, and hopeful that they'll be successful.

Yes?

Q: Do you mind explaining why it is such a sensitive subject to discuss whether or not you're providing ammunition to the anti-Taliban forces?

Rumsfeld: Let me see how I can explain it. First of all, at any given moment, someone might be doing something or not doing something. Second, you might be doing it for some person and not somebody else yet, in which case it gets complicated for them as to why one is getting it and another is not getting it.

It is not as though there is a unified, cohesive set of elements opposing Taliban and al Qaeda in that country. Even the so-called Northern Alliance is a cluster of a number of different elements, factions, on different sides of mountains with difficult communications.

And it seems to me what I've said is ample. We are delighted to be helpful in a variety of different ways to forces on the ground that are doing what we believe is in the best interests of the Afghan people and in the country, and that is to help root out the terrorists and the foreign invaders, and the Taliban that have been supporting those people.

Staff: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Rumsfeld: Thanks, folks.

Q: Including ammunition, sir?

Rumsfeld: I beg your pardon?

Q: Including ammunition?

Rumsfeld: I said we'd like to be helpful with food, with ammunition, with supplies, with -- we'd like to receive targeting information. We'd like to do lots of things that make them more successful, and the folks we're against less successful. It seems reasonable.

Q: Thank you.

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